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Kenny Dorham/Jackie McLean ‘Inta Somethin’

Great set of advanced hard bop recorded live at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco 13 Nov 1961. The set is mostly standards, plus a blues-based original and (most notably) the first appearance of Dorham’s “Us” (aka “Una Mas”) which he’d truly nail in April ’63 with Mighty Joe Henderson in the sax chair. But back to Nov ’61, the Dorham/McLean frontline work marvelously together. McLean—who was definitely wearing a bit of Coltrane on his sleeve that night—was slowly inching towards the more progressive sounds he’d find in 1963, and Dorham was also enjoying the edges of hard bop but there aren’t yet many sharp angles in their playing. Instead, they channel their more adventurous impulses into intensity, with “Lover Man” and “It Could Happen To You” being exceptionally well-played. All-star points to pianist Walter Bishop Jr. who sounds like he’s been playing with these guys for years. Bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Art Taylor bring plenty of finesse and swing—if you like your hard bop served up sizzling, you’ll be happy the tape was rolling that night. This is Japanese reissue from 1978 via King Records GXF-3119 of Pacific Jazz PJ-41, stereo

Eric Dolphy Quintet At The Five Spot

The roar of this quintet may not be for everyone, though I do recommend that everyone hear it. I was initially intimidated by ‘At the Five Spot’, concerned it would be a challenging listen. My concerns quickly evaporated. Yes, there are moments that go out to lunch as these are all players who are comfortable (and some forged a reputation upon) playing “outside”. Yet while this live session—the final and sole night to be recorded of their two week residency at the Five Spot—is often advanced, it’s quite accessible. That said, the heart wants what the heart wants, and the scope and velocity at which ideas spring from these men occasionally push past traditional notions of harmony, time and structure. Never for long, and not in a way that’s abrasive. More like watching five magicians showing sleight-of-hand card tricks when you thought you’d seen them all—most are impressive, many of them delightful, and some downright jaw-dropping. So I like this record more with each play—always a good sign. Booker Little (trumpet) would be dead at age 23 three months after this was recorded—a tragic end to an extraordinary player. Drummer Ed Blackwell is crisp, sure-footed (handed?) and nimble—never overplaying, never underplaying. Pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Richard Davis are heroes of the night. On first listen they don’t seem to be front and center, but pay attention…they’re actually the heart and soul of everything. It’s with these incredible musicians that Dolphy’s inner Khaleesi utters “Dracarys!”, and whether he’s on alto sax or bass clarinet, the fiery torrents of creativity that emerge are tales of the unexpected—at times curious, at others unsettling, occasionally aggressive, and sometimes otherworldly. When he gets on a roll and starts coloring outside the lines, it feels like a journey skywards and inwards at the same time. Not for the timid, but worth it for those with an advanced sense of adventure

Shelly Manne & His Men ‘At the Black Hawk’

Among the finest live jazz recordings ever. The tl;dr—excellently recorded and not a dull moment across 4LPs/5CDs. In more detail—drummer/bandleader Shelly Manne’s style is tasteful, favoring a less-is-more approach. He’s a true Jedi, controlling the groove and velocity with what appears to be a series of effortless, light percussive touches. Victor Feldman—better known as a vibes player—proves himself a badass pianist, with a sharp attack and keen sensibility for when to support and when to turn up the heat. The brass frontline of Richie Kamuca (tenor sax) and Joe Gordon (trumpet) are great players and even greater listeners, preventing what could have easily become a grandstand-y blowing session into a team effort that’s now viewed as one of the great live runs in small combo jazz. To my ears, the true hero of the session however is bassist Monty Budwig. His ability to anticipate the beat and determine how to make it more musical is superhuman. It’s a masterclass in LISTENING. You’ve got to hear it for yourself and while these records may not have the marquee value of more famous jazz combos, they are for the most part their equal and in many cases superior…I find myself reaching for these recordings often and they never fail to pull me in. As the story goes, after the first Black Hawk gig is was Manne himself who phoned Contemporary label boss Lester Koenig and told him something special was going on and he should grab a recording rig and come to the Black Hawk to record the remaining shows. Good call Shelly. Mandatory listening! “Cabu” from Vol 4 a personal fave

Alice Clark

Strength. Despair. Longing. Determination. Heartache. Redemption. You’ll hear all this and more in this OUTSTANDING soul/jazz blend. Watch out though—Alice Clark’s voice delivers tales of world-weariness and heartbreak with such authenticity you may find yourself calling your fifth grade crush and spilling your guts before the echo of the song leaves the room. This Mainstream Records cult classic has had an underground following for awhile, kicked up a notch in the early 90s as acid jazz DJs embraced the track “Don’t You Care” which became a dancefloor favorite. The original LP is mega-rare and its credits didn’t reveal much, so this Record Store Day release courtesy of the revived label (tip o’ the hat to comedian/filmmaker Judd Apatow whose grandfather Bob Shad was the original label head and producer of this session) is most welcome. What we now know is that a bunch of Aretha Franklin’s backing band (including Cornell Dupree & Ear Dunbar-guitar, Ernie Hayes & Paul Griffin-organ/Rhodes/piano, Bernard Purdie-drums, Gordon Edwards-bass, Joe Newman & Sonny Cohn-trumpet and additional unknown/uncredited horn players) gathered for a two-day session under the supervision of Shad and conductor Ernie Wilkins as Clark worked her magic, nailing this one LP and a handful of other tracks before disappearing from the music scene entirely. It’s difficult not to love this album—one look at the cover alone and you can tell that Clark speaks the truth. Her voice is sheer emotive power—I love the fact that even though she falters once or twice it’s in the service of the heartfelt message, not the perfection of the take. It only adds to the raw emotion that’s written all over her face on the cover photo. Furthermore, these are real jazz cats backing her up…you won’t find any half-assed arrangements or cheesy cliches that turn this into a syrupy, sappy, adult-contemporary mess. This is a jazz-infused, soul-powered, love-gone-bad album for the ages, and I can’t get enough of it. Highest recommendation

Woody Shaw ‘Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard’

Dracarys!🔥Killer live set marked by energy, passion, precision and effortless swing in a charged club atmosphere. There’s a *LOT* going on here. Eschewing the commercial elements that dragged both jazz and fusion down in the 70s, Shaw’s band is fully engaged—no missed opportunities, wasted notes, grandstanding, going through the motions, or phoning it in. The quintet takes things from telepathic simmer to modal boil until the intensity gets so fierce it feels like things are about to go off the rails. This is one of *THE* live jazz records to own. The recording quality is jaw-droppingly marvelous—each instrument sits in the mix exactly where you’d picture it—crisp, clear and perfectly balanced. It has plenty of live ambience but enough polish to please even the most discerning audiophile. It’s also widely available across a variety of formats, including the highly recommended Complete Columbia Albums collection which adds an entire second disc of performances from the same August 5/6 1978 Village Vanguard shows that gave us this original LP, all in that same superb sound quality. I’m fond of this Japanese reissue from 1978 CBS/Sony 25AP 1175 which is a superb pressing. The band: Woody Shaw-cornet, Carter Jefferson-tenor/soprano sax, Onaje Allan Gumbs-piano, Clint Houston-bass, & Victor Lewis-Drums. I’m on the hunt for a Japanese pressing of Woody Shaw’s masterpiece ‘Rosewood’ (my favorite jazz record EVER) CBS/Sony 25AP 977…if anyone has a copy for sale/trade, please DM @woodyshawlegacy

Harold Land ‘A New Shade of Blue’

The musical partnership of Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) & Harold Land (tenor sax) had become a true brotherhood over the course of several releases on Blue Note in the 60s. All of those records are worth hearing, and most worth owning. But there’ are five additional chapters of their story told outside of @bluenoterecords, one on Cadet (the outstanding ’The Peace-Maker’), one on Jazz Music Yesterday (1990’s ‘Blow Up’ which I’ve never heard), one on Muse (1981’s ‘Xocia’s Dance’ which looks terrific but another one I’ve not heard) and two for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label, of which this one ‘A New Shade of Blue’ is the first, recorded & released in 1971. Take the already incredible dynamic duo—the Hutcherson/Land frontline—add the rhythm section from Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet (Buster Williams-bass and Billy Hart-drums) and inject some additional groove courtesy of Bill Henderson (piano/electric piano) and Mtume (congas) and you’ve got a killer line-up. Despite several online “meh” ratings (all of which I disagree with), there’s a lot to like (if not love) here. Blues, modal, hard bop, advanced soul jazz, and spiritual jazz flourishes abound, and this 2017 reissue courtesy of @wewantsounds sounds TERRIFIC. While I don’t have an original to compare, it’s a lovely gatefold with new session photos unearthed for this reissue, as well as new liner notes. The standout track is “Mtume”, previously delivered with a bit more urgency by Hutcherson/Land on Hutcherson’s ‘Head On’ LP, though the more deliberate approach here actually works beautifully. It’s a long, deep, modal journey that’s a terrific showcase into what makes the Hutcherson/Land partnership work so well. Digital/CD versions have a bonus track called “Dark Mood

Booker Ervin ‘The In Betwen’

There’s bop. There’s hard bop. Then there’s Booker Ervin’s ‘The In Between’ which is hard-as-nails-and-twice-as-tough-bop. There’s a near-recklessness powering this quintet’s approach that’s electrifying. Side one in particular is filled with the kind of edge-of-your-seat playing that only a group of well-rehearsed virtuosos can pull off without the whole affair collapsing on itself. This quintet relishes in shaking the pillars of hard bop until they become structurally unsound to see who chickens out and bails first. Certainly not bandleader/tenorist/composer Booker Ervin, whose Texas-toned swagger is big, bold and unwavering. Nor trumpeter Richard Williams, probably the best known member of the group after Ervin. The rest of the band isn’t exactly a who’s who—Bobby Few (piano) Cevera Jeffries (bass) Lenny McBrowne (drums)—but they take these six Ervin originals to the edge and occasionally a bit beyond. It’s a truly bold, brave acoustic jazz record given its era. Fearless in fact. I’m somehow reminded of a scene in ‘The Hunger Games’ where heroine Katniss Everdeen is showing her archery skills to the disinterested powers-that-be, and in a moment of defiance and frustration she lets loose a perfectly aimed arrow through their midst. Well, that’s this album: a sharp, urgent flight of hard bop aimed at the executive elites who were fixated on commercial potential while artistry was taking a back seat, as the rock explosion of the mid/late 60s began to push jazz downwards on the priority list. Well this one’s a burner that makes no compromises, has no sappy covers, syrupy strings or weak funk. It’s in full-on, kickass mode throughout, and engineer Rudy Van Gelder—the Notorious RVG—really harnesses the full might of the players so that the sound punches you square in the face. Fear not—you’ll shake it off and say “thank you sir, may I have another?” DON’T SLEEP ON THIS ONE

Nathan Davis ‘The Hip Walk’

You need this record in your life: it’s got memorable tunes, fantastic interplay, expert musicians, a wide variety of styles and stellar sound. It’s a record I return to frequently, and each time I do I find another facet to explore further and enjoy more deeply. ’The Hip Walk’ was recorded 1 Sept 1965 at a session led by Dr. Nathan Davis (tenor/soprano sax, flute) joined on the frontline by Carmell Jones (trumpet), and the DEVASTATING rhythm section of Francis Boland (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). This is one of three records recorded that year in Europe, all of which are scarce on vinyl. This is a superbly done Speakers Corners reissue which is an exact replica of the original SABA pressing. It’s available in the digital realm, as is its “sister” album ‘Happy Girl’ (an excellent quintet date featuring a young Woody Shaw, and Larry Young on piano). The third LP in the trilogy, ‘Peace Treaty’ (also featuring Shaw) is digitally MIA. Dr. Davis is one of the great, unsung heroes of jazz. He was a brilliant player, clever composer/arranger and a superb bandleader with a keen eye for up-and-coming talent. He had offers to join the Jazz Messengers and sign to Blue Note, but he chose a different calling—education. He left Europe in the late 60s, pioneering jazz academia back in the US at the University of Pittsburgh. There, in addition to establishing multiple educational frameworks for jazz, he kickstarted a variety of lasting works including the Pitt Jazz Ensemble, the William Robinson Recording Studio and the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives. He received a doctorate in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974. By choosing the road less traveled, his contributions to jazz academia will resonate for decades! Sadly, as Dr. Davis recorded sporadically for smaller labels, so his catalog is not widely available. I hope given willingness, resources, time and emotional bandwidth his estate is able to address recorded legacy as he made a lot of amazing music deserving of more ears

Paul Jeffries ‘Watershed’

Great quartet session by an under-recognized hero in jazz. Kudos to tenor saxophonist Paul Jeffrey, whose impressive resume includes recordings and tours with @theloniousmonk @charlesminguslegacy @bbkingofficial and Sam Rivers. Much of his life however was dedicated to music education, serving as director of jazz studies @dukeuniversity since 1983. ‘Watershed’ recorded in 1971 and released in 1973 features Richard Davis (bass), Thelonious Monk Jr (drums) and secret weapon Jack Wilkins (guitar). Wilkins is nearly a co-leader, with explosive single lines and wildly creative chordal trickery throughout. Not to be outdone on his own record, Jeffrey RIPS on tenor sax through largely uptempo material, but his technique is well-rounded as he delivers a ballad with restraint and sensitivity. He and Wilkins have terrific repartee (this session led to Wilkins himself getting signed to do a solo album for which was recently reissued), and alternately pushed/supported by the nimble rhythm section they deliver a gem of a record. Widely available across the digital landscape and common enough in the used LP bins, this is worthy of picking up and perhaps (hopefully) as @juddapatow continues the revival of the Mainstream label it might see the light of day on vinyl again

Rudolph Johnson ‘The Second Coming’

Modal/Spiritual grooves galore from this killer quartet. Issued in 1973 on the Black Jazz label, session leader/tenorist Rudolph Johnson (who plays no flute here despite cover photo) pens four originals and pianist Kirk Lightsey contributes one. Bassist Kent Brinkley is a marvel: tone, chops and overall control of his instrument are masterful. Drummer Doug Sides has a deft yet assertive touch. Pianist Kirk Lightsey is a terrific melodic sparring partner for Johnson, anchoring block chords to emphasize and weaving lead lines to tantalize in equal measure. I love the sound on this LP—really upfront with barely a hint of reverb to be found and each instrument balanced perfectly. Mr. Johnson made a couple of records for the Black Jazz label as a leader and played on several as a sideman, though he’s better known for his three decade tenure as a member of Ray Charles orchestra, and his work with Jimmy McGriff. Great stuff here