jazzrecords

Grant Green ‘Sunday Morning’

I love the way Grant Green’s 4th album floats atop the room. Mixing standard and originals, this aptly titled and FANTASTIC record tends to get lost amongst Green’s better-known albums. That’s a drag because Green’s quartet, which features the Bens (Tucker on bass and Dixon on drums) along with the underrated Kenny Drew on piano, knock this 1961 session out of the freakin’ park. Green and Drew are incredibly well-matched…just amazing playing across the board. Drew is the hero of the session with line after line of melodic, graceful, fleet-fingered magic that goes toe-to-toe with Green’s propensity for single-line playing. I must call attention to the presence of the bass in the mix here which cuts through in a way that’s prominent and pleasing—if you’re one of those folks who strains a bit to hear the detail in acoustic bass when it isn’t occupying enough of the soundstage, this record will blow your stack. Great day at the mixing console by the Notorious RVG. Put down your phone/tablet/laptop, go to your record store of choice and pick up this brand new reissue from Slow Down Sounds RIGHT NOW. A late contender for my top 10 vinyl reissues of 2019, this all-analog, Kevin Gray cut, gorgeous tip-on (and heavy) jacket replica is VERY reasonably priced and sounds incredible. This is up there with Music Matters and Tone Poet in terms of sonics and overall quality @slowdownsounds

Booker Ervin ‘The Freedom Book’

“A Lunar Tune,” which kicks off this record—the first of tenorist Booker Ervin’s terrific “Book” series—embodies the essence of Booker Ervin’s work as a leader: if you want predictability, you’ve come to the wrong place. This quartet hangs together marvelously, though when I listen closely, I also hear them as a double duo—bassist Richard Davis and drummer Alan Dawson are tightly locked in a rhythmic articulation that dares Ervin and pianist Jaki Byard to prove themselves. Challenge accepted: as both were Mingus veterans, they were no strangers to finding a pathway no matter how uppity the rhythm section was, or creating one if necessary. There are also times such as during “Al’s In” where you’re certain that everybody is in search of the “1”, but deep listening reveals the truth—these guys are messing with us and playing a shell game of “hide the 1”. They know EXACTLY where they are! Though the balance of the record tips towards the energetic and uptempo, versatility is on the menu too. Look no further than “A Day to Mourn” (dedicated to the late President JFK) to hear how deeply and heartfelt this quartet/double duo can execute a ballad. A giant of a record, and a must-own (along with “The Space Book” which believe it or not is even BETTER and more exploratory). This pressing is a 2016 Analogue Productions 200gram stereo reissue of a session originally recorded on this day in 1963. Marvelous

Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc.

Full-contact jazz that challenges every big band cliché. Way beyond one giant swing-a-long, you’ve got a core quartet of Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Stanley Cowell (piano) Cecil McBee (bass) and Jimmy Hopps (drums) going toe-to-toe with a thirteen-piece brass section. The core four handle the majority of the solos while the big band summon a tsunami of sound, sometimes supporting and sometimes challenging the quartet in a battle of groove. Props to bassist Cecil McBee, who to my ears is the hero of the session, laying down sinewy, elastic bass lines that are a masterclass in soulful inspiration. This record sounds modern, fresh and HUGE. Music Inc. was recently reissued by @purepleasurerecords. The original was the debut release on Strata East, Tolliver/Cowell’s artist-oriented label of the 1970s. Brilliant stuff. The big band: Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Bobby Brown, Wilbur Brown (saxes); Richard Williams, Virgil Jones, Larry Greenwich, Danny Moore (trumpets); Garnett Brown, Curtis Fuller, John Gordon, Dick Griffin (trombones); Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax

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

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

Andrew Hill ‘Black Fire’

When @bluenoterecords announced the “Tone Poet” series as part of their 80th Anniversary celebration, there were two titles I was most excited about. Sam Rivers ‘Countours’, and this album, Andrew Hill’s ‘Black Fire’. It was Hill’s debut as a leader on Blue Note and the start of an extraordinary run that would span 13 albums over the next six years. Hill’s partners for this session are bassist Richard Davis, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Roy Haynes. Collaborating with Richard Davis would be come a recurring theme for Hill, resulting in some of his most successful sessions. Roy Haynes struts with an agile confidence that gives Davis ample room to explore and find elusive grooves, while tenor sax monster Joe Henderson is…well, monstrous. Killer playing all around. The music is spellbinding—Hill has his own rule book about harmony and time, bending both to his will as needed to work within the constructs of his music, some of which is like looking at an MC Escher sketch. The geometry seems skewed until you allow yourself to see it from another perspective, then it blows your reality apart, and makes sense in a really compelling way. Hill composed every track on the record, and the quartet takes hold of each one like it’s an enormous, restless anaconda. Not a grouchy one—there’s not really much aggression here. It’s more like the music is relentlessly exploring its enclosure, testing to see if the boundaries are *REALLY* boundaries or if there’s somewhere else to go. Someplace further. The journey is the prize here. Five stars and two thumbs up to the Joe Harley and the entire Tone Poet team for a terrific job on this. Superb record and outstanding job on the reissue—best this record has EVER sounded. Well done team Tone Poet! 10 stars out of 5