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

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