hardbop

Sam Rivers ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’

Some of my fave jazz records are those that never quite stray specifically into free or “out” playing, but hover right on the edge…sessions where the players experiment with the boundaries of melody, harmony and time while never losing sight of the groove. Enter ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’, a record that oozes hard bop and blues, but morphs them into mutant versions of themselves—recognizable, but different. This was tenor sax/flautist Sam Rivers’ debut for Blue Note, having just come from a brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. Miles didn’t find what he was looking for in Rivers and replaced him with Wayne Shorter, but Rivers borrowed a couple of his bandmates from his brief stint with Miles for this session. Joining Rivers is Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) from the SGQ as well as Jaki Byard (piano) to complete his quartet. There’s a lot going on here—the dialogues between the players can move pretty rapidly and it may take a couple of spins for everything (or anything) to sink in. Moments that start out as a toe-tapping, blues-based theme can turn on a dime, the structure blurring as one player deviates from the path and others follow. Tony Williams in particular is fond of implying the beat and then toying with it…his sense of playfulness adds a LOT to the overall vibe as it keeps everyone on their toes. Jaki Byard has a knack for dropping the perfect block chord at just the right time to accentuate a point or change the tone of the conversation, and Williams is right there with him…it’s really impressive. Through all the intricacies, looser moments and flirtations with throwing the rule book out the window, the album still swings pretty hard. Both this and Rivers’ follow-up LP ‘Contours’ are essential records IMO, and great places to start for those looking to dip their toes into edgier jazz waters. This is a 2 X LP 45RPM pressing that sounds FANTASTIC

Grant Green ‘Born to Be Blue’

Another must-own title from the Tone Poet series. More specifically: Here we have Green paired with one of his best melodic foils, pianist Sonny Clark. If you’ve not heard their quartet work together (four LPs, all of which are essential) stop what you’re doing right now and right that wrong. The Green/Clark symmetry is superb, bordering on magical. Add tenor sax ace Ike Quebec (whom Green had also done several sessions with), power the affair with the Sam Jones (bass)/Louis Hayes (drums) engine, and you’ve got a ticket to hard bop heaven with tight, turn-on-a-dime, conversational interplay. Take the title track for instance: a smokey, dimly-lit scene is setup by Quebec and Clark. Quebec’s playing is pensive. Measured. Heartfelt. As he seeks a silver lining in his world-weariness, Green begins to quietly make his presence known, gently arpeggiating a couple of chords before commenting on Quebec’s parting thoughts with clean, single-line precision. Then Quebec claps back with a forceful, anguished wail before adding a few final musings. He and Clark gently bring this soul-searching ballad to a close before Quebec’s final words, and Clark sends everyone back into a misty night…no happier, no wiser, but perhaps a bit more resolute. An achingly beautiful ballad that’s superbly delivered by this quintet. There’s an interesting alternate take on the digital version that doesn’t carry nearly the same emotional impact for those who care to compare. Great job by Joe & the Tone Poet team—great sound, lovely packaging and the price is right. I’m pleased to see this continued focus on sessions that were shelved when originally recorded like Wayne Shorter’s ‘Etcetera’ and Donald Byrd’s ‘Chant’. Often their initial appearance in the 1980s wasn’t exactly with much fanfare, and the cover art used in that series was—compared to the inspiring photos and art of @bluenoterecords heyday—crap. That wrong has now been righted. This one was recorded in March 1962 but put on ice until 1985. Highest recommendation

Curtis Counce Group ‘Landslide’

Bassist Curtis Counce formed his working quartet in 1956, and over 15 months they cut roughly four LPs of material for producer Lester Koenig’s Contemporary label. ‘Landslide’ was the first to be released in 1957 (also issued in mono as The Curtis Counce Group C-3526). All of the Curtis Counce quintet’s albums are worth hearing, but I’m particularly drawn to this one and the follow-up ‘You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce!’ ‘Landslide’ has several notable performances. The title track by Harold Land is a burner with an extra gold star going to Jack Sheldon—his trumpet work across the album is uniformly terrific but on this track in particular it’s STELLAR. (Side note—Sheldon is the voice of School House Rock’s “Bill on Capitol Hill” and “Conjunction Junction” for those with fond memories of 1970s morning television). The other album highlight is the quintet’s take on Kenny Clarke/Gerald Wiggins’ “Sonar” which to my ears is the album highlight. The quintet blends “west coast” cool jazz and hard bop brilliantly, and while each player brings their “A” game, please direct your ears towards Frank Butler’s superb drum work. Butler is *SO* dialed in to every moment, leading or supporting with a nearly telepathic ease. He’s not an especially flashy player, so when he steps up with a fill or roll to accentuate a moment, or when he puts a bit of extra muscle into his bass pedal work, it changes the vibe of the entire group dynamic and the feel of song. Remarkable. Finally, high marks for how well engineer Roy DuNann captured this session—every instrument is clear and perfectly balanced. Great listen! Curtis Counce (bass), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Harold Land (tenor sax), Carl Perkins (piano), & Frank Butler (drums

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