Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

Wayne Shorter’s entire @bluenoterecords run is great, but if pressed I’d have to say this one is my favorite. 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 hummable, memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuance 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. The year was 1964 and Wayne brought along 2 of his Miles Davis second great quintet band mates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) who by this point had both stage & studio experience enough with Wayne’s music 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. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. This is Music Matters MMBST-84194, reissued in 2015 and sounding SPECTACULAR

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

Kenny Drew Undercurrent

Kenny Drew ‘Undercurrent’

One of the most underrated, underdiscussed and underappreciated record in the @bluenoterecords catalog. Love to hear arguments for/against this notion so fire away in the comments. Breaking this down a bit further:
1. This is easily pianist Kenny Drew’s best album as a leader, though he’s better known as a sideman (“Blue Train” for example). He’s nimble and fleet-fingered, capable of dropping jaws during a solo but he’s also got mad swing and a gorgeous approach to balladry: “Ballade”, the album’s sole downtempo track and the album’s closer, is also it’s highlight.
2. The one-two punch of Hank Mobley (tenor sax) and up & comer Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) who basically say “screw fire & ice, how about fire & more fire!” Here in this pure hard bop context, these two have mad rapport with both each other and Drew, making for a captivating frontline.
3. They rhythm section of Louis Hayes (drums) and Sam Jones (bass) are relentless and dynamic, driving the frontline with freight train intensity—they’re not going to let the frontline have all the fun.
I suppose the title could set expectations that won’t be met—“Undercurrent” might imply an atmosphere that’s laid back or tranquil but other than the closing ballad, this is an uptempo affair. Don’t sleep on this one! This is a Music Matters 33RPM pressing MMBST 84059, stereo

Freddie Roach Good Move

Freddie Roach ‘Good Move’

Two sessions make up this fantastic Blue Note rarity: a trio session with Freddie Roach (organ), Eddie Wright (guitar) & Clarence Johnston (drums) from 29 Nov 1963, expanded to a quintet with the addition of Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Hank Mobley (tenor sax) for a second session on 9 Dec. Freddie Roach’s ‘Good Move’ is a cooker, though you’ll rarely hear Roach launch a blitzkrieg attack on the Hammond B-3. He prefers to build a groove that prioritizes blues over bravado, and gospel over grandstanding. Not that Roach doesn’t toss in the occasional flourish to remind you that he’s got the chops, he just doles them out on an as-needed basis. He’s also masterful at leveraging vibrato to underscore a mood. The opening track—an eerie, almost unsettling take on “It Ain’t Necessarily So”—is a great example. While there’s a bit of a dark undercurrent, and a slower, more deliberate tempo than versions I’ve been spinning lately (lookin’ at you Grant Green/Sonny Clark), it still swings pretty hard. As I listen to this trio play it, I keep expecting them to bust into The Animals take on “House of the Rising Sun” at any moment…I’m sure a musicologist among you has an answer for that, particularly in that The Animals didn’t release that until 1964! Moving on…this isn’t all a downtempo affair. The original “Wine, Wine, Wine” is a cooker, with Mobley having himself quite a blast during his time in the spotlight. “When Malindy Sings” is a terrific mid-tempo groover with a really well-executed solo by Blue Mitchell…great vibe. This copy is a 1963 original stereo pressing (BST 84158) with RVG and Plastylite “ear” in the dead wax

Curtis Amy Katanga

Curtis Amy & Dupree Bolton ‘Katanga’

The transcendental 10-minute track “Native Land” is a potent blend of Grant Green’s “Idle Moments”, John Coltrane’s “Equinox” and Phish’s “Reba” (yeah, you read that right). Exquisite. The entire album is an obscure gem. Truth is, the big names/heavy hitters in jazz produced such a vast and varied body of work in the 50s and 60s that a lot of lesser known but equally great albums flew under the radar. ‘Katanga!’ is one of those albums. It’s a sextet led by Curtis Amy on tenor & soprano sax (he’s probably best known to the wider world for horn arrangements and sax work on The Doors “Touch Me”), Dupree Bolton (the hero of this album) on trumpet, Jack Wilson on piano, Ray Crawford on guitar, Victor Gaskin on bass, and Doug Sides on drums. From the high impact opener “Katanga” to the gorgeous ballad “Lonely Woman”, I really can’t say enough about this record—beginners and jazz enthusiasts alike will find it rewarding spin after spin. Dupree Bolton is an interesting (and rather sad) story in jazz history—a virtuoso trumpet player who cut ’The Fox’ with tenorist Harold Land, disappeared for a couple of years, made this record, then disappeared into decades of addiction, incarceration and obscurity, dying in 1993 having never recorded again. Tragic. This album is part of the Curtis Amy collection issued by Mosaic on CD but seems to be otherwise out-of-print, and sadly unavailable on digital platforms (c’mon @bluenoterecords …what’s the problem here?). It is all over YouTube however if crate digging isn’t in your wheelhouse, but vinyl or Mosaic is the recommended way to go. This copy is a 1992 reissue Pacific Jazz PJ-0070, mono

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

Sam Rivers-Contours

Sam Rivers ‘Contours’ (Tone Poet edition 2019)

Mesmerizing. Fearless. Challenging. Indispensable. ‘Contours’ is a gripping record that will compel you to play it again and again. There’s one track called “Mellifluous Cacophony”—an apt description for this extremely progressive hard bop session that occasionally flirts with the avant-garde. You’ll hear beauty, anger, sadness, longing, confusion, and elation…the range of the music is staggering. It does have occasional sharp elbows so those who prefer a more distinctly melodic tonal center may have moments of panic but hold on tight—it’s worth it. Definitely music more for the head than the dancefloor. Intense, fascinating, dynamic, and endlessly replayable—the hallmark of a great, classic record. Mad respect to Sam Rivers (sax/flute), Herbie Hancock (piano), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass) and Joe Chambers (drums) who gathered on 21 May 1965 to create this rare unicorn. This is a brand new reissue, the latest in @bluenoterecords “Tone Poet” series overseen by Joe Harley. Sonically, this is some of the best work he’s done—spin this one for your friends/family who don’t understand the lure of vinyl. Props to all involved here…original pressings and reissues are all long out of print, and prices have gone sky-high. Now for $30 or so, you can own one of the all-time great under-recognized jazz records that sounds better than ever. Highest recommendation @jazzsaraswati @herbiehancockofficial

Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons ‘Firebirds.

Roaring with the fury of a contrapuntal tornado through the metaphorical trailer park of your mind, ‘Firebirds’ will leave you in a heap of happy, smoldering rubble. This album blew me away. I’d already been pretty enamoured of Prince Lasha & Sonny Simmons debut LP ‘The Cry’ but fast forward a couple of years and add secret weapon Bobby Hutcherson and they’ve lept from terrific to dazzling. Fair warning: this is not a kick-back, easy listen. There’s often so much going on simultaneously it can take a few spins to sort it all out but trust me, it’s worth your effort. The free-bop/modal foundation takes a myriad of twists and turns, swooping and diving through avant-tinged, hard bop tunnels. It’s like riding a jazz themed roller coaster in total darkness—you just don’t know when the next sudden drop will occur, how deep it’ll go or where you’ll wind up. It’s a helluva thrill ride. As far as acquisition, this seems to be a “regional rarity”, findable in some places, absent in others. The CD seems pretty common, the vinyl less so, and digital platforms totally absent save for YouTube but you LP collectors should keep your eyes open…this one is spongeworthy (Seinfeld fans will get the reference). Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute/alto clarinet) Sonny Simmons (alto sax, English horn) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) Buster Williams (bass) Charles Moffett (drums). Recorded 27-29 Sept 1967 and released 1968 as Contemporary S7617, stereo. First pressings have a green label, subsequent pressings have yellow or orange labels🎷

Dexter Gordon ‘Clubhouse’

Take the rhythm section from ‘The Sidewinder’: Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums); add peak-period trumpet fireworks from Freddie Hubbard; put them under the guidance of Long Tall Dexter Gordon and what do you do with the resulting music? Stick it in the vault for 15 years! 🤦🏻‍♂️ I suppose given Dexter’s run of @bluenoterecords greatness during that era there may have been some concern about flooding the market. And as I said in a previous post about these vaulted Blue Note sessions, this album—now that it’s widely available—may never get it’s fair day in court given that Dex’s other classic BN albums have had decades of head start in terms of discussion & admiration, so ‘Clubhouse’ may always be considered an also-ran. Hogwash I say—this is not AT ALL a second-tier album. The quintet’s reading of Frank Sinatra’s “I’m A Fool To Want You” is achingly beautiful, and to my ears the highlight of the session. Bassist Ben Tucker contributes a tune called “Devilette” which is a minor modal masterpiece with both Dex and Hubbard shining brightly. While ‘Clubhouse’ did finally see the light of day in 1979, it’s finally getting the royal treatment it always deserved. Available this week as part of Blue Note’s ‘Tone Poet’ series overseen by Joe Harley and Kevin Gray, it’s another job excellently done with dead quiet vinyl, outstanding sonics and under-known/under-appreciated music made more widely available. Let’s call it audiophile-grade vinyl/packaging at a non-audiophile price. Terrific attention to detail: music, packaging, and sound are all top shelf. Fantastic

Don Rendell/Ian Carr-Shades of Blue

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet ‘Shades of Blue’

A British take on the modal grooves of the classic Miles/Trane quintet. Get to your streaming service of choice and play the elegant cut “Blue Mosque” and the introspective title track “Shades of Blue” which should give you a good feel for going deeper. This session from Oct 1964 was the first of the “Landsdowne Recordings” from the Rendell/Carr Quintet who were amongst the best-known and highly regarded British jazz combos of the sixties—the first to play all original material which in the world of jazz at the time was a BIG DEAL. Like other original jazz combos in the mid 60s, the RCQ couldn’t have had worse timing as the Fab Four, Rolling Stones and The Who were driving jazz to the outskirts of popular music culture. As a result, although this was initially an EMI/Columbia affair this record was pressed in TINY quantities (~500), becoming perhaps the rarest/most expensive British jazz album EVER: last sold on eBay for a wallet-busting 2000 pounds sterling. So this reissue is MOST welcome…way more people have heard OF it than HEARD it. Kudos to @jazzmanrecords for what was apparently nearly 20 YEARS worth of work to track down the masters and negotiate the licensing for five Landsdowne RCQ titles, of which chronologically this is the first. I love how “Big City Strut” closes the LP—tight, uptempo, hard bop swing that you’d expect to come in for a predictable landing but noooo…just as the song winds down there’s a slight left turn into disparate melody lines which intertwine with faint dischord as the improv fades to the deadwax. That feels somewhat prophetic—as great as this session is, they seem to know they have more to say. A LOT more over the course of the next several records. Side note: trumpeter Ian Carr would later go on to form the influential jazz/rock outfit Nucleus, and write a widely acclaimed biography of @milesdavis Band: Dave Green, bass; Trevor Tomkins, drums; Colin Purbrook, piano; Don Rendell, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Ian Carr, trumpet, flugelhorn; recorded London, October 1 – 2, 1964