Charles Mingus ‘Mingus Ah Um’

Smart. Sensitive. Funny. Poignant. Complex. Charming. Engaging. The range of ‘Mingus Ah Um’ is staggering. Stylistically, it covers a lot of ground, with gospel, blues, hard-bop, and nods to Mingus’s classical roots woven throughout. And whether you’re most taken with the moving balladry of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” or the perpetual motion machine of “Bitter Git It In Your Soul,” the compositions, arrangements, and playing are all top-shelf. I’m endlessly fascinated by this record. Mingus deployed an approach that took each musicians’ style into account, creating a situation where collective improvisation and spontaneous composition played to everyone’s strengths. The result is everything sounds both carefully planned and spur-of-the-moment at the same time. It’s genius, and a joy to hear. Charles Mingus-bass; Booker Ervin-tenor sax; John Handy-alto/tenor sax, clarinet; Shafi Hadi, alto/tenor sax; Jimmy Knepper & Willie Dennis-trombones; Horace Parlan-piano; and Dannie Richmond-drums. Recording ‘Mingus Ah Um’ took place beginning 7 May 1959 and wrapped on this date, 12 May

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?

Stop Over

The latest release in the BBE J Jazz Masterclass series has dropped on vinyl, CD, and across the digital spectrum, and it’s a stone-cold, hard-bop killer. As only 100 copies of ‘Stop Over’ were pressed back in 1976, the rarity/reputation of this Japanese quintet’s performance had traveled to many more ears than the music itself. So this is a very welcome reissue, done to the usual high standards of this series overseen by Tony Higgins and Mike Peden. The two LPs are cut at 45RPM for optimal sound, and my ears say “mission accomplished.” Here and there, it seems the original recording does emphasize the drums, though not in an off-putting way, and I’d say if anything the occasional ride cymbal at the fore only ramps up the intensity. The terrific liner notes by @the_jazz_dad will tell you all you ever wanted to know about how this record was made, and there’s also a new essay from pianist Toshiyuki Sekine which provides a firsthand narrative that provides additional context, presenting a complete picture of that moment in time. It makes for great reading, and the immersion of a good essay in a gatefold cover is a particular joy that…well, you either know it or you don’t. The songs include Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem,” Danny Zeitlin’s “Carole’s Garden,” Todd Dameron’s “Soultrane,” and Cedar Walton’s “Turquoise Twice”; along with the Sasaki original ‘Stop Over’ (which made its first appearance on last years J-Jazz Vol 2 collection, also from). The quintet is Noriyasu Watanabe-alto sax, Hideto Sasaki-trumpet, Toshiyuki Sekine-piano, Kei Narita-bass, and Takaski Kurosaki-drums. If you dig the sound of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers when they’re firing on all cylinders, this’ll blow you away. All of the BBE J-Jazz compilations and the Masterclass Series have been eye/ear-opening, and wildly satisfying—recommended to all, jazz newbies and experts will find lots to love here. Here’s hoping the series will continue

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

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

Rudolph Johnson ‘The Second Coming’

Modal/Spiritual grooves galore from this killer quartet. Issued in 1973 on the Black Jazz label, session leader/tenorist Rudolph Johnson (who plays no flute here despite cover photo) pens four originals and pianist Kirk Lightsey contributes one. Bassist Kent Brinkley is a marvel: tone, chops and overall control of his instrument are masterful. Drummer Doug Sides has a deft yet assertive touch. Pianist Kirk Lightsey is a terrific melodic sparring partner for Johnson, anchoring block chords to emphasize and weaving lead lines to tantalize in equal measure. I love the sound on this LP—really upfront with barely a hint of reverb to be found and each instrument balanced perfectly. Mr. Johnson made a couple of records for the Black Jazz label as a leader and played on several as a sideman, though he’s better known for his three decade tenure as a member of Ray Charles orchestra, and his work with Jimmy McGriff. Great stuff here

Ryo Fukui ‘Scenery’

Lots of chatter about this record. There’s a running debate in various online jazz forums between two camps with firmly entrenched opinions. One faction believes it’s derivative, rife with questionable technique, lacking depth, and notable only because it was—until recently—a mega-rarity from the Japanese jazz scene. They also note with implied scoff that “it wouldn’t have an audience at all if it weren’t for a YouTube algorithm”. Then there’s another faction that finds it brimming with style, fluidity, emotion, power and awesomeness; one of the best jazz records of the 1970s, worthy of every accolade heaped upon it, and grateful that the mysterious algorithm of YouTube has brought it from the darkness of obscurity to the light of jazz infamy. I’m in this faction!
I’m super curious about the YouTube algorithm that seems to have put this record on the radar of so many, so randomly. Investigation to follow. FWIW, I’m super impressed with self-taught pianist Ryo Fukui (piano), and I think he swings marvelously with Satoshi Denpo (bass) and Yoshinori Fukui (drums) on this once-obscure/now-acknowledged-by-some classic of the J-Jazz scene a mere six years after dedicating himself to learning the instrument. You’ll absolutely hear echoes of Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner (and if you like their piano trio work, you’ll **LOVE** this) but it’s not a copycat exercise—it has stylistic charms of its own–and this does not AT ALL sound like a jazz album that hit the streets in 1976. Hear it yourself and form your own opinions. This is a 2018 reissue on We Release Jazz WRJ001 on 180g vinyl and a jacket that feels nearly bulletproof…rock solid quality all around. Well done @wrwtfww

Pete Yellin ‘It’s the Right Thing’

Obscurity can be a badge of honor in the world of jazz, but let’s take a moment to explore why it’s kinda weird that that Yellin isn’t better known. Abandoning basketball at the University of Denver to study saxophone at Juilliard after finding inspiration in the music of Art Pepper, Yellin found work and camaraderie with a variety of jazz luminaries, from Joe Henderson to Chick Corea. He worked extensively during the 60s & 70s in a variety of small and large combos (including Tito Puente, as well as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band) until releasing the first of two recordings as a leader on Bob Shad’s Mainstream label in 1973, ‘It’s the Right Thing’. Yellin steps out fiercely on both alto sax and flute, leading a mid-sized combo that includes Hal Galper (Electric Piano), Jack Wilkins & Roland Prince (Guitar), Mario Rivera (Flute, Tenor/Soprano/Baritone Sax), Barry Rogers (Trombone), Clint Houston (Bass), Darryl Washington & David Lee Jr. (Drums), Lawrence Killian & Angel Allende (Percussion/Congas). Yellin contributes a couple of originals, and there’s a fine rendition of “Softly As A Morning Sunrise” and an unexpectedly groovy take on Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”. Jazz snobs who turn their noses up at electricity and a willingness to take on “commercial” tunes like the aforementioned Stevie Wonder cover are missing out on a fine jazz record—there’s some tremendous playing here. Yellin SHREDS. Good stuff

Sonny Rollins ‘G-Man’

It’s all about the title track “G-Man”: an urgent, passionate, dramatic outburst of all that is Sonny Rollins. It takes up an entire album side, yet feels over far too soon at 15 minutes. This song is the aural definition of “intensity”: just when you think Rollins can’t push himself or his band to a higher peak, he finds a way. Unreal

Grant Green ‘Grant’s First Stand’

When the clocks on Saturday night get late enough to feel like Sunday morning, enter the gospel-infused, blues-drenched stylings of Grant Green. ‘Grant’s First Stand’ is his debut as a leader, recently issued as an all-analog cut as part of @bluenoterecords 80th anniversary celebration. This trio outing featuring Roosevelt “Baby Face” Willette on organ and Ben Dixon on drums was the start of Green’s prolific career as the “in house” guitarist at Blue Note, appearing on nearly 70 albums over the few years. He’d lead 30 of those himself, ranging from hard bop to modal to soul jazz to funk, all of which featured his distinctive sound—a biting, clean tone and tendency to favor single-note lines over chords. Criminally underrated during his all-too-short lifetime (he died of a heart attack in 1979 after years of substance abuse issues), his star rose considerably as the acid jazz movement and hip hop sampling revealed the depth of his creativity and contributions. Legendary records like ‘Idle Moments’, ‘Feelin the Spirit’ and ‘Street of Dreams’ may already be a part of your jazz library, but this is where it all began, and very much worth exploring. A perfect Sunday morning spin