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Grant Green ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’

Recorded 21 Dec 1962, ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’ was the last of the “theme” records Green would explore that year. Having previously gone west and then south of the border in previous sessions, Green recruited pianist Herbie Hancock and the ace rhythm duo of bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins to take us all to church. The material is a collection of familiar spirituals like “Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, transmogrified into modern, soulful hard bop. The approach here ranges from reflective to celebratory, with the blues running deeply throughout. The interplay between Green and Hancock is marvelous, and while the tempos never really swing hard, the intensity is palpable. This is 1979 Japanese King pressing GXK 8117, stereo, a reissue of BST 84132. Preach

Stan Tracey Quartet ‘Under Milk Wood: Jazz Suite’

Imagine Thelonious Monk’s 60s quartet attempting a mellow, modal, ‘Kind of Blue’-esque album, occasionally infused with a quirky, British sense of humor. Now imagine something even better than that. Go right to the standout track “Starless and Bible Black,” which has been called one of the greatest British jazz tracks ever (for good reason). This is a truly unforgettable performance, seductive and evocative. It sets quite a a mood—the night is shrouded in mystery, and one can choose to embrace the darkness with all its uncertainties, or close the shutters to its risks and remain in the safe, warm light of home. Compositional credit goes to pianist and leader Stan Tracey, but the hero of this particular track is tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, whose solo could go toe-to-toe with any of the great tenorists from the US jazz scene in that stellar year of 1965. Spectacular. The rest of the album is of uniformly high quality, though it’s tough to compete with “Starless and Bible Black,” which is just one of those rare jazz tracks that transcend the top shelf. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention stellar bass performances by Jeff Clyne and excellent drumming by Jack Dougan. Overall, there’s a relaxed vibe to many of the tracks here, but don’t confuse that with laziness. This quartet is in it to win it, even if they choose not to drive in the fast lane often. There are several different vinyl pressings, ranging from “semi-affordable, and findable if you’re willing to put in the effort” to “if I find a M- copy, I’ll have to re-mortgage the house and sell the children for scientific experiments” *BUT* happy news! It is readily available digitally. You can listen RIGHT NOW! This copy is a 1969 pressing of the 1965 Landsdowne session Columbia/EMI SCX 3589, stereo. PS—This “Starless and Bible Black” has nothing to do with King Crimson AT ALL…sorry to disappoint you, my fellow prog rockers

McCoy Tyner ‘The Real McCoy’

Stylings of the classic quartet and Second Great Quintet blend beautifully, creating a post-bop tour de force that’s both celebratory and reflective. There’s a lot to enjoy here. “Passion Dance” opens the record and grooves with unadulterated joy. Pair it with a strong cup of coffee, and your day is off to a GREAT start! “Contemplation” and “Search For Peace” are introspective ballads, thoughtful and deep but not somber. “Four By Five” is a labyrinth of intertwining lines and shifting time signatures, an engaging game of musicianship where everybody’s a winner. Then there’s “Blues On The Corner,” which certainly has blues in its DNA, but it’s more distantly related, like a second cousin, twice removed. One thing I always find striking about this session is the uniqueness of Joe Henderson’s voice. It’s easy and almost reactive to envision him as a understudy given the context, but that’s simply not the case. To my ears, Henderson is almost defiant in his insistence on being himself. His attack is sharp, and his lines are aggressive yet melodic. He prowls each measure like a restless panther, attacking with counterpoints to Tyner’s block chords with lithe athleticism. He doesn’t do so with the cold, ruthless efficiency of a predatory cat, but rather with a passion and soulfulness that brings the most out of every tune. All the while, Ron Carter brings the @milesdavis SGQ structural and time freedoms to bear, NONE of which throw Elvin Jones off, even for a moment. Years of partnership with Tyner under the mentorship of Coltrane have created a personal, sympathetic communication between them that ensures they’re working in lockstep. I don’t know that this is the best @mccoytyner album, but it’s certainly one of the two I reach for most often. Essential. Music Matters Jazz 2XLP 45RPM pressing…best I’ve ever heard it

Coltrane

Trane’s classic quartet creates a 5-star album, weaving DNA from ‘Ole!’, ‘My Favorite Things,’ and the nascent ideas that would build ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Crescent.’ @johncoltrane fans had a lot to unpack in the early 60s. The success of his Atlantic recordings like ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘My Favorite Things’ catalyzed a flood of reissues from his late 50s hard bop Prestige sessions. Simultaneously Trane was pissing-off critics with what they described as an “anti-jazz,” avant-garde-tinged residency with Eric Dolphy at the Village Vanguard. He made his first (and last) big band record. So when this record appeared in the shops who knew WHAT to expect? Greatness. Expect greatness. While it’s impossible to know an artist’s mind, perhaps the criticism of Trane’s edgier music stung. So while the same drive and energy of the Vanguard gigs are present here, the sharp edges are absent. The opening 14-minute, aptly-titled of “Out of This World” is a profound modal excursion, as strong as anything the quartet recorded for the label. You get a moment to catch your breath with the lovely balladry of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” before getting thrown back into intensity with an almost unrecognizable take on “The Inch Worm” (the first track to be recorded for this LP). The heat continues with the Trane original “Tunji,” named for percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Here, Trane & Co leverage their collective skills as a team, with a deceptively simple piano/bass chord structure upon which Trane weaves a powerful, complex solo; and suddenly, somehow by the time McCoy Tyner is building a helluva solo of his own, it’s a blues number. Also, Elvin Jones deserves a Nobel Prize for his drumming on this track—superb. The album closes with Trane’s “Miles’ Mode,” an all-out, full-contact throwdown where everyone comes to play and play HARD. Restraint? That’s the other guy’s problem. So all-in-all, this mysteriously under-valued title in John Coltrane’s impressive catalog is a MUST HEAR, and in my opinion, MUST OWN title. Spin it now. You’ll be glad you did

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

The entirety of Wayne Shorter’s legendary @bluenoterecords run is some of the greatest jazz ever recorded. ‘Speak No Evil’ has a special magic: every time I play it I enjoy it a bit more. I don’t know that there’s a bigger or better endorsement of an album. It’s everything one could ask for: thrilling compositions that are memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuances of the session. If this were the first jazz record you ever heard, you’d have picked a fantastic entry point. Veteran jazz listeners return to it again and again for good reason. On this Christmas Eve 1964 session, Wayne brought along two of his @milesdavis Second Great Quintet bandmates: Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass). By this point, they had enough stage and studio experiences with @wayne.shorter to knock it out of the park. Add firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drum powerhouse Elvin Jones and it’s no wonder that ‘Speak No Evil’ rises above great. The secret sauce here is bassist Ron Carter, whose creativity and unwavering sense of groove liberates both Hancock and Jones to make the most of Shorter’s compositions. Carter’s center-of-gravity was clear to engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who places Carter prominently in the mix. As a result, his playing really stands out, especially on this Music Matters 33 pressing. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. Happy New Year everyone

Tyrone Washington ‘Natural Essence’

‘Natural Essence’ is tenor sax enigma Tyrone Washington’s “one and done” as a leader for Blue Note. Recorded 29 Dec 1967 with a formidable lineup of Woody Shaw-trumpet, James Spaulding-alto sax/flute, Kenny Barron-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Joe Chambers-drums, this is one of those inside/outside records that grabs you on the first listen and then reveals itself even further with repeat spins. Washington’s approach nods to several contemporaries including Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, though he’s clearly got some Eric Dolphy in him as well. The compositions are all really interesting, requiring a band of this caliber to pull them off so well. Even during the quieter moments, there’s a perpetual restlessness afoot that makes you feel that this band is eager to explore all the potential tangents within the compositional framework. A disappointing fade out and what sound to my ears like one or two unnecessarily shortened solos make me wonder exactly how far out they could have taken some of these tunes! While there are sharp elbows from time to time, this isn’t an avant or “out” record at all. I’d classify it as modal/advanced hard bop, with the occasional left turn into skronkville but those moments don’t occur very often. The last track “Song of Peace” is probably the freest. It’s an environment that Joe Chambers thrives in, and those who’ve enjoyed his work on some of the in/out LPs by Bobby Hutcherson or Grachan Moncur will enjoy his work here a great deal. Washington only made a couple of records as a leader, though he also did notable sideman work on Horace Silver’s ‘The Jody Grind’. He recorded last in 1974 before dropping out of music and finding religion, never to record again. This LP is a bit of a rarity on vinyl but turns up more often than you’d expect, and it is widely available across the digital spectrum. Don’t miss it! While not a household name, it’s a terrific, unconventional title that deserves wider recognition

Wayne Shorter ‘Juju’

The exceptional compositions and phenomenal musicianship on ‘Juju’ takes every song supernova. Charged with energy, passion, and adventure, it’s often described as Shorter’s most “Coltrane-esque” album, and given the presence of McCoy Tyner-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Elvin Jones-drums, no wonder. However, while Trane’s spirit is a clear (and welcome) presence, vive la différence: Shorter’s travels were with an occasional glance in the rearview mirror, returning to variations of his beautifully written melodies; whereas Trane took the scenic route, and would worry about finding his way back later on. Not that Shorter’s playing here is conservative—his torrents of ideas and emotions were equally relentless, but they were Wayne Shorter’s; even if he was playing with a big, bold sound that may feel like an homage to his mentor. Coltrane-isms aside, the overall vibe of the record is uplifting which I find inspiring as the day’s first spin, but it’s equally at home in the small hours of the night—you can easily lose yourself in Tyner’s spiraling piano lines and Shorter’s odes to joy. Everyone plays superbly, though the true hero is bassist Reggie Workman, the gravitational force providing the center around which everyone orbits. His bass is precise and muscular when necessary, driving to coalesce the team around an idea. Other times, his sinewy counter-leads duck and weave like an Olympic-caliber fencer, light on his feet and challenging the others to find an opening. Then there’s Elvin Jones whose power and dexterity on this record puts the full range of his skills on display—it’s one of my favorite performances from him, EVER. 1964 was some kind of year for Shorter, recording three classic LPs for Blue Note—this one, ‘Speak No Evil’ and ‘Night Dreamer’—as well as joining Second Great Quintet. Fifty-five years later, he’s still recording and touring…more power to you Wayne! This is a Music Matters 2XLP 45RPM pressing, which sounds AMAZING. Hard to pick a favorite among these 1964 albums but today, it’s this one

Miles Davis ‘The Complete Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions’

Here in one stylish package boasting excellent sound are the complete Prestige sessions of @milesdavis “First Great Quintet”, one of the most important small combo jazz groups ever! While the recordings as originally issued are the stuff of legend—whether you’re in the mood for ‘Relaxin’, ‘Steamin’, ‘Workin’, or ‘Cookin’—it’s best to think of this @craftrecordings package as its own beast. Craft made the decision to present the sessions in chronological order on this terrific set, taking the entire trip the Quintet made down the hard bop highway as Miles looked for the exit ramp from the Prestige era. In a sense, this quintet—John Coltrane-tenor sax, Red Garland-piano, Paul Chambers-Bass and Philly Joe Jones-drums—join Miles in a set of mostly standards, though the performances themselves are hardly standard! In fact they’re essential, key titles in any jazz collection. I enjoy the listening experience of everything in chronological order, the sound is really great, the vinyl is high quality, and Bob Blumenthal’s liner notes are a good read. It’s also a pretty great value—currently selling for just over $100 on Amazon, while preferred reissues of the Miles titles (I’m using @analogueproductions for comparison) would run you about $35 each X 4=$140, plus with this set you get additional material, expanded liner notes and solid packaging. It depends on what’s important to you and how you feel about the integrity of the original albums as issued. Had Miles gone into recording with different intent…with an album mindset…”hey, I wanna make a record called Relaxin’ and we’re gonna play a bunch of stuff that fits that vibe”, I’d have a hard time taking the music out of the original album context. But these sessions—while amazing in every way—were more about Miles moving on to the next thing, which was sort of Miles’ ambient state…moving on to the next thing. So I’m happy with this reimagined presentation, and if you’re looking to fill some holes in your collection, seeking a different listening experience for this incredible and incredibly important music, or gift shopping…👍! @craftrecordings @johncoltrane

Andrew Hill ‘Smokestack’

This is one of the toughest Andrew Hill records to get your head around. Many of the compositions feel like Hill’s stream of consciousness—ideas, thoughts and emotions are on full display without traditional structures or tonal centers. Some of these resolve into beautiful melodic fragments, but those moments are fleeting. It’s what fascinates and frustrates me about ’Smokestack’—sometimes my listening experience is that of pleasant surprise, while other times I feel like he’s just gotten an idea developed into something interesting and tuneful, and then killed it off prematurely before it had a chance to really take flight. But it’s impossible to know Hill’s mind, and the fact that I keep coming back to it even after an unsatisfying listening session must say something. It’s certainly compelling even it if isn’t always easy to listen to. It’s not exactly free jazz, but it’s not a toe-tapper of a hard bop session either. The presence of TWO bassists is an interesting choice. Richard Davis Is in a role I’d describe as “lead bass” while Eddie Khan is bassist in a more traditional rhythmic sense. So Hill and Davis are on the frontline while Khan and drummer Roy Haynes hold down the pulse (or what passes for pulse in these compositions where the time signatures likely read “perpetual change”). This is most starkly on display in “Wailing Wall” where Davis goes arco and his bowed lead lines do in fact wail in a way that borders on the unsettling, while Khan holds that low end down fiercely. As a counterpoint, “Verne” which Hill composed for his wife is a beautiful ballad that one might expect to hear on a more traditional jazz piano trio record. This was Hill’s second session for Blue Note, recorded this date in 1963, though held for release until 1966. Challenging music. Not for the squeamish

Donald Byrd ‘Free Form’

A tale of two sides, with Byrd mostly in the composer’s chair across both. Side A is classic Byrd in hard bop mode, leading a quartet that includes his mentee Herbie Hancock on piano and a young Wayne Shorter on tenor sax. Butch Warren (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums) anchor the proceedings which begins with ‘Pentacostal Feelin’, gospel-influenced rug-cutter, then moves into a mellower groove with the lovely “Night Flower”, followed by the groovy mid-tempo “Nai Nai” which features a KILLER Wayne Shorter solo. Side B is where things get even more interesting as some of the hard bop goes sideways, modal playing becomes a thing and the resulting swing is just EXPLOSIVE. “French Spice” manages to pique your curiosity and rouse your libido at the same time. It’s definitely about foreplay and/or should be played during. Then there’s the title track which gets caught in several post bop riptides, manages to break free momentarily, only to get pulled out even further. It’s pretty freakin’ great. The song really takes its time to develop, morph, evolve and explore the edges. Wildly enjoyable. Byrd made a lot of strong-to-great records in the 50s/60s, all of which have some facet to recommend but for me this one stands a cut or two above the others. Highly recommended. Recorded on this day 11 Dec, 1961 but held for release until 1966. This is one of the few original first pressings in my collection—BLP 4118, mono