Elvin Jones / McCoy Tyner ‘Illumination’

There was a series of old television advertisements for Reese’s Peanut Butter cups where the meeting of a chocolate bearing individual and a peanut butter toting individual resulted in an initial moment of outrage:
Chocolate person: “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”
Peanut Butter Person: “Well, *you* got chocolate in my peanut butter!”
All was well moments later as the calming narrator’s voice assured us that “two great tastes that taste great together” was the outcome. That’s also what you’ve got with ‘Illumination!’ On this 1963 date for Impulse! John Coltrane’s famous rhythm section of Elvin Jones-drums, Jimmy Garrison-bass, and McCoy Tuner-piano, met up in the studio with the edgy frontline of Prince Lasha-clarinet/flute, Sonny Simmons-alto sax/English horn, & Charles Davis-baritone sax. While the frontline wasn’t nearly as well-known as Trane’s gang and came from a freer stylistic place, they are wonderfully simpatico with the rhythm section. They also brought their “A” game, playing adventurously but with tremendous swing. There aren’t blasts of atonality, deliberate attempts to drive melody from the room, or abrasive avant-garde games of “where’s the 1?”. Instead, the six tracks which play out over 30 minutes are chock full of killer solos that take flight over deep bluesy grooves. There are also drum/alto conversations that make any talk you had today seem comparatively boring, and some inside/outside playing that makes you want to explore the music of every player on this record even more deeply. Davis takes a more straightforward approach than Lasha/Simmons, but his playing is exemplary—I need to hear more of his work. Lasha/Simmons had already recorded the excellently edgy ’The Cry’ for Contemporary in ’62. While that record is pretty great, the MUST-HEAR record they made is the difficult-to-find-but-worth-searching-for ‘Firebirds,’ also recorded for Contemporary in ’67. Great stuff

John Coltrane ‘Giant Steps’

Day 2 of recording wrapped up on this day, 5 May, 1959. Other than the track “Naima”, Trane’s work on ‘Giant Steps’ was done. The title track is a marvel. 26 chord changes across the 16-bar theme have wreaked havoc in band practice rooms for decades, but for those of us who don’t have to solo over the changes, the swing, intensity, surprise, delight, hook, groove, and velocity are INFECTIOUS. It’s a standard for good reason. As is “Naima”, the only time NOT recorded over those two days in May, but in Dec of that year with Miles’ rhythm section. “Naima” was Trane’s favorite composition, and one that ran a gamut of emotions in his live book for years.
This record is a lot. I don’t know that I’d recommend it as an intro/starter John Coltrane record, but you’ll want it eventually, and no jazz collection is complete without it. Others have written in more depth about this record about which more should be said–an Instagram review doesn’t do it proper justice. A milestone in jazz.

Ron Carter ‘All Blues’

I don’t know Mr. Carter personally, but from what I know *OF* him, he’d probably cringe if I used the expression “living legend,” so I’m not going to do that, even though he deserves it. I will wish him a happy 83rd birthday and many happy returns of the day. I could have shown any number of his records in celebration– after all, he’s the most recorded bassist in jazz history, having played on over 2,200 sessions. He’s also a multiple Grammy winner, a multi-decade professor with a strong dedication to music education at various universities, an actor, composer, and author. I spun this LP earlier and enjoyed the title track in particular. Carter’s approach is so confident, and you can’t help but feel that he knows EXACTLY what he’s doing and that even if the situation changes, he’ll roll with Plan B, turning on a dime in an equally confident, relaxed, steady manner. This “Tao of Ron Carter” actually seems like a pretty good approach to life in general!
It’s hard to pick a favorite Ron Carter moment amongst so much great music, though I often turn to this ‘All Blues’ record (CTI 1973), his work on Andrew Hill’s ‘Passing Ships,’ the track “Basin Street Blues” from ‘Seven Steps to Heaven,’ and of course his famous bass line on “Footprints” from ‘Miles Smiles’. “Footprints” in particular gets me every time, as he and drummer Tony Williams toss 12/8 and 4/4 time back and forth with both muscle and magic. I never tire of listening to it, and though I’m not a bass player, I understand why bassists have been studying it—and arguing over exactly what he’s actually playing/doing—for over five decades. It’s amazing.
More power to you, Ron

Thelonious Monk ‘Criss-Cross’

Much has been written about Monk’s 40s/50s Blue Note/Prestige/Riverside recordings vs his 60s Columbia recordings. Generally, opinions look more favorably upon his earlier work. This is understandable, as Monk’s groundbreaking compositions of that era made him one of the most-recorded jazz composers, ever. But many of those 50s records could also be enigmatic if not downright baffling to get one’s head around, particularly if new to the music of Monk. So while Monk’s LPs for Columbia don’t have as quite much to offer in terms of new compositions, you can’t beat them for the excellence of the performances, and the togetherness of his band (both ‘Criss-Cross’ and ‘Monk’s Dream’ feature one of Monk’s most stable, long-term quartets that include Charlie Rouse-tenor sax, John Ore-bass, and Frankie Dunlop-drums). If anything, the tight playing of this particular small combo underscores the brilliance of the compositions. The quirkiness of Monk’s approach to songwriting, and his often idiosyncratic delivery don’t make for good background music regardless of label or era, but *IF* there is such a thing as a “feel good” Monk record, this is probably it. I’m still not sure I’d call it happy music, but ‘Criss-Cross’ is overall rather upbeat in tone, largely due to how confident both Monk and the rest of the quartet sound throughout. The program is split between several classic Monk tunes, and a couple of standards. A fine record—a recommended “starter” Monk record for newbies, but there’s plenty to sink your teeth into here even if you’re a self-proclaimed Monk Blue Note/Prestige/Riverside snob! Personally, I love this record and consider ‘Criss-Cross’ an essential @theloniousmonk album

Kohsuke Mine Quintet ‘Daguri’

A high-energy, modal/spiritual, face-melter of a jazz record that packs a mighty wallop. Fans of McCoy Tyner’s early 70s Milestone records will go bonkers over this. Kohsuke Mine handles both tenor and soprano sax and is the composer of all five mid-to-long tracks on ‘Daguri’. He’s joined by Hideo Miyata (tenor sax), Fumio Itabashi (piano), Hideaki Mochizuki (bass) and Hiroshi Murakami (drums). The opening track is molten intensity, as the saxes and piano intertwine and build the tension, somehow digging the groove deeper while soaring higher. They dare one another to keep up and the challenge is accepted as each peak is reached and transcended. The drum and piano work throughout moves from intricate to manic to hyperactive—the first track alone will leave you breathless and reaching for another coffee. But the instrumental verbosity never steps on the tunefulness…groove, swing, and virtuosity co-exist in ideal proportions on every track. There’s only one tune, “Self Contradiction” that’s on the downtempo side. Otherwise, you should set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul! The title track appeared on the compilation J-Jazz Vol 2 which came out last year, but the full LP is very much worth seeking out. A bit of a tough pull on vinyl, but it is available across the digital spectrum and also received a CD reissue recently so it’s around. Lethal, but who ever said great jazz was safe?

Charles Tolliver/Music Inc. ‘Live at Slugs’

Today marks the 50th anniversary of this remarkable live set of exploratory modal/post-bop that Mr. Charles Tolliver himself has called out as a personal favorite. The audience at Slugs that night must have been pinned to their seats by the intensity of this Music Inc. quartet which also includes Stanley Cowell (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Jimmy Hopps (drums). All give stellar performances. Fans of Woody Shaw’s work or ‘Live at the Lighthouse’-era Lee Morgan will *LOVE* this album, which never quite drifts into avant territory though it does peek through the fence to take a glance once in a while. Tracking down Strata East vinyl isn’t easy—original pressings are scarce, bootlegs sound pretty crummy, and unfortunately both volumes have yet to see a modern vinyl reissue, but hopefully an enterprising boutique label might step in? (Looking at you @purepleasurerecords !) However you *CAN* pick them up in (to be honest) much better sound quality as part of the Charles Tolliver ‘Mosaic Select 20’ triple CD, which combines both volumes of the Slugs LPs, the equally terrific (and difficult to find) ‘Live in Tokyo 73’ LP, and a third CD which combines additional tracks from BOTH Slugs and Tokyo which were left off the original LPs due to time constraints. Sound quality on that third CD is a bit thinner than the originally released material but not so much so to impair any listening enjoyment, and the unreleased material is KILLER. Hat tip to Tolliver’s vision in forming Strata East which took a lot of guts—Strata East aspired to establish a greater degree of artist independence in an industry rife with exploitation, institutionalized racism, and the prioritization of commercial potential over artistry. As stated on the back of Vol 1 “MUSIC INC was created out of the desire to assemble men able to see the necessity for the survival of a heritage and an Art in the hopes that the sacrifices and high level of communication between them will eventually reach every soul

Jackie McLean ‘One Step Beyond’

Mysterious. Innovative. Spellbinding. Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ is the first in a loose “trio” of albums that includes McLean’s ‘Destination…Out!’ and trombonist Grachan Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ as they all share quite a bit of musical DNA and personnel. I hesitate to call it them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a holistic listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had heard the clarion call of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s approach to coloring outside the lines. Yet it’s strongly rooted in hard-bop, and it swings like mad in many places, making it an inside/outside record that’s perhaps a bit more approachable. McLean built a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone, and alto) who create an atmosphere that’s otherworldly…it does feel rather “beyond,” yet somehow incredibly pleasing to the ear. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, foreboding tone (“Ghost Town” particularly) that veer into occasionally dissonant territory—the band isn’t totally out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit. McLean’s alto still retains its acidic bite, and while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it swings with claws unsheathed. Bobby Hutcherson is the undisputed master of the 37th Chamber of Vibraphone, wielding mallets with both astonishing fluidity and lethal consequences. Bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable. Still, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged by—and, more importantly, inspired by—17 year old drummer Tony Williams. Williams performance throughout is simply incredible. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. Recorded this day, 30 April, 1963

Lee Morgan ‘Sonic Boom’

Other than the title track, this terrific hard-bop session was recorded this day, 28 April, 1967. Morgan is backed by frequent collaborators Cedar Walton-piano, Ron Carter-bass, and Billy Higgins-drums; as well as new-to-this-crew David “Fathead” Newman on tenor sax. Shelved Session Syndrome vaulted this material until release in 1979 on the LT series with its trademark Windham-Hill-by-angsty-teen artwork. The CD issue adds a discs-worth of bonus tracks that were originally paired with the 1978 Twofer Classics issue of ’The Procrastinator’. (Note: those bonus tracks were also issued as a standalone LP in Japan-only as ‘Lee Morgan and His All-Star Sextet’, but what fun would collecting be without confusion and additional expense, right?) All the tunes are solid, up/mid tempo Morgan originals, save the ballad “I’ll Never Be The Same”. ’Sonic Boom’ tends to get a bit lost in Morgan’s late 60s discography, all of which is worth exploring as he never really made a dud of a record. Seems like until recently you could find original pressings of ‘Sonic Boom’ pretty easily/inexpensively but like all Blue Notes, the prices seem to be creeping up they are getting scarcer. I’d certainly say that it’s worth acquiring if you run across a copy. There is a Scorpio pressing from 2009 sourced from CD that’s cheap if you don’t mind a RINO or want a filler/shelf copy until you can locate a better one. I’d rank it maybe a notch below ’The Procrastinator’ but as I have a particular love for that record, my personal bias is in play. But absolutely get ’The Procrastinator’ first…that record RULES

Wayne Shorter ‘Night Dreamer’

Night—with all of its mysterious energy and unsettled calm—is beautifully realized by Wayne Shorter on his Blue Note debut, ’Night Dreamer.’ It all comes together—the overall vibe of the music, the compositions (all by Shorter), the artwork, and the stellar playing of the quintet which featured Lee Morgan (trumpet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) & Elvin Jones (drums). Even the album title ’Night Dreamer’ was evocative and perfect. This album was one of several remarkable beginnings for Shorter that year—he’d soon be a key part of next Big Bang, the formation of the @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. And it was a busy year for Shorter he also recorded ‘Indestructible’ and ‘Free For All’ with Art Blakey and ’Search For the New Land’ with Lee Morgan. I like taking the entire album in as I think it’s particularly well-sequenced and works best as a whole. If I had to choose highlights, ‘Virgo,’ the ballad that closes Side A is GORGEOUS. Wayne Shorter’s solo is wonderful, and the rhythm section is remarkable. Another highlight is “Armageddon.” While the title might suggest a mood of anger, chaos, or explosive energy, the vibe is more contemplative. There’s a quiet urgency and an unsettling undercurrent that keeps the atmosphere slightly charged—it’s extraordinary. This session was recorded on this day, 29 April, 1964. Shorter would only level up from here. This Music Matters 33 pressing is a joy

Doug Carn ‘Infant Eyes’

Modal, spiritual, and soul-jazz blend beautifully on a record that packs a lot of power. I’m fussy about jazz vocal records, and I don’t reach for them often, but this one is FANTASTIC. Jean Carn’s vocals convey a sense of purpose. Of clarity. Of hope. Things that seem to be in short supply in so many places at the moment. The lyrics (which all have a spiritual/inspirational vibe) were written by her husband, leader, and keyboardist Doug Carn. He then worked them into new arrangements of compelling compositions by Wayne Shorter (“Infant Eyes”), John Coltrane (“Acknowledgement”), Horace Silver (“Peace”), and Bobby Hutcherson (“Little B’s Poem”). All are knockout performances. You’ll also hear impressive instrumentals, including a killer take on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance,” and the Doug Carn original “Moon Child.” The band is top-notch: in addition to Jean’s vocals and sizzling organ/piano playing by Doug, you’ve got George Harper (tenor sax, flute), Bob Frazier (trumpet, flugelhorn), Henry “The Skipper” Franklin (bass), Al Hall, Jr. (trombone), and Michael Carvin (drums). ‘Infant Eyes’ was originally released on Gene Russell’s legendary Black Jazz Records in 1971. The label released a total of 20 albums in its short four-year existence, all of which share two properties: excellence and rarity. This one seems to have been reissued (and bootlegged) more than some of the others, though, so it’s findable, and you can also stream/download it on most digital platforms. If you’re looking to take a deep breath and lower your shoulders a couple of inches, while at the same time be inspired by a soaring, uplifting, deep, well-played jazz album, Doug Carn’s ‘Infant Eyes’ may be the record for you. It’s a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning here in the NYC area, and this record is making for fine listening. Make it a great day