Advanced hard bop, post-bop, and modal grooves come to life on ‘Virgo Vibes,’ recorded for Atlantic in early 1967 by an INCREDIBLE band led by vibes ace Roy Ayers. Side A finds Ayers leading Charles Tolliver-trumpet, Joe Henderson-tenor sax, Herbie Hancock-piano, Reggie Workman-bass, and Bruno Carr-drums, and is highlighted by Tolliver’s opening original “The Ringer.” Side B retains Tolliver on trumpet, joined by Harold Land-tenor sax, Jack Wilson-piano, Buster Williams-bass, and Donald Bailey-drums. The two tracks here—both Ayers originals—occasionally dip into post-bop waters, but the blues undercurrents ground them deeply enough to prevent anything from sounding too abstract or free. Ayers would find greater commercial success in the 70s in the jazz-funk area, laying the groundwork for the birth of acid jazz and neo-soul, but if you’re looking for those sounds, you won’t find them here—this is a classic jazz record through and through. Notes: Herbie Hancock is credited on this record as Ronnie Clark (likely for contractual reasons). Also, the CD reissue contains two bonus tracks, which I’ve not heard, performed by the Side B lineup
Worth the wait! West meets Far East as @bbemusic @the_jazz_dad and @bacoso unleash the latest in their BBE Masterclass Series. This is an album *SO* rare most jazz fans (myself included) weren’t aware of its existence. As we all know, sometimes rare, buried treasures are notable simply due to rarity, and the substance is underwhelming. None of that here—the curators of this series have added another title to the top shelf of J-Jazz reissues. ’Topology’ was recorded in a single session on 11 June 1984 and released on the Aketa’s Disk label in Japan. The history of the session and the players is beautifully detailed by Tony Higgins in the liner notes which grace the gatefold of this double LP, which has issued at 45RPM for optimal sound quality (and I must say the sonics on this record are STELLAR). The opening track “Dragon Dance” (which also opens BBE’s fantastic J-Jazz Vol 2 compilation) is a modal monster. Beginning with a gorgeous solo piano workout from Makoto Terashita that becomes a full band exploration of ideas, themes and modes unfolding with perfection over twelve glorious minutes, this track is EXTRAORDINARY. It sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the record. Great news—while not everything hits the lofty heights of “Dragon Dance”, most of the tracks come damn close. All were written by Terashita save one which is contributed by Harold Land, whose tenor sax work throughout retains the strength of prior decades—tone, speed and versatility are on point.
Bassist Yasushi Yoneki, percussionist Takayuki Koizumi and drummer Mike Reznikoff complete the quintet and are all great players, but this is very much the Land/Terashita show. So again, kudos to the J-Jazz team for spelunking this one out from the depths of obscurity to the world of reasonably-priced-reissues, and going the extra mile in sound quality, packaging (the obi is a nice touch) and liner notes that provide the additional context. Combined, it creates a completely great listening experience. Oh, it’s also available across digital platforms! One of the best jazz releases of 2019 thanks to all involved…don’t miss it
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
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