‘A Slice of the Top’ showcases Hank Mobley at the peak of his powers. It was the session that Mobley has said he was most proud of, and he pulled no punches in expressing his frustration that it sat unreleased—along with a half dozen of his other sessions—in Blue Note’s vaults for over a decade. With clever arrangements by the amazing Duke Pearson, the octet of Hank Mobley-tenor sax, Lee Morgan-trumpet, McCoy Tyner-Piano, James Spaulding-flute/alto sax, Kiane Zawadi-euphonium, Howard Johnson-tuba, Bob Cranshaw-bass & Billy Higgins-drums created one of Mobley’s GREATEST albums. It’s got a bigger sound due to the expanded lineup, the material is on the more adventurous side for Mobley, though he never strays from his trademark melodic excellence. Originally recorded 18 March 1966, it first saw the light of day as part of Blue Note’s LT Classics series in 1979 (cheap and plentiful in second-hand shops, with covers that look either like cheap packages of magnolia seeds, or the work of a first-day intern at Windham Hill), and then Blue Note’s Connoisseur series (this copy) in the mid-90s with a bit more sonic heft, mastered by Wally Trautgott. This session is collected along with the rest of Mobley’s 60s output (including all of his shelved sessions) as part of Mosaic’s ‘Complete Hank Mobley Blue Note Sessions 1963-70’ CD box, which from a sound quality perspective beats all the vinyl issues I’ve heard from these later 60s sessions. ‘A Slice of the Top’ is an often overlooked title in Mobley’s largely stellar catalog, which is a shame as it’s a superb record that I’d categorize as “must hear” material. Fortunately, it is available across the digital spectrum, and second-hand copies of the vinyl are fairly easy to come by h/t @gs_va12 for the suggestion!
Overlooked by me for a long time and infrequently discussed in the company of Mobley’s classic records, this record has more than meets the eye. When I first ran across it as a record store clerk, several things were true:
A) I was a prog rock snob
B) I had a solid academic knowledge of jazz players, albums and labels, but ZERO context in regards to relative quality
C) Working in a second-hand record shop back then was a little like having Spotify 35 years before everybody else—more music to sample then time to listen. It went long unheard…
Well, better late than never! Following the Sidewinder Manifesto (Lee Morgan on trumpet almost deserves equal billing across the whole record), it kicks off with a solid boogaloo track, then moves into the album highlight “The Morning After”, an almost Coltrane-ish affair. If you’re listening digitally, hit this track first. Not that the opening title track is bad, but “The Morning After” is WAY more interesting. Curtis Fuller’s trombone is splendid! Hot on its heels is Wayne Shorter’s “Venus Di Mildew”, a thinking-person’s waltz that swings a little to hard to be analytical, yet at the same time it’s brainy enough to make you forget your feet. Side two veers back to the kind of hard bop that a frontline like Mobley/Morgan/Fuller do so well, with Tyner providing quite a bit of extra chutzpah. Bob Cranshaw is ever solid on bass and Billy Higgins CRUSHES it left and right, with his cymbal work cutting through particularly well on the recording. I had unfairly lumped this record in with some of Mobley’s “less essential”. Bad Syd. Good record. Recorded this day 1965
Stylings of the classic quartet and Second Great Quintet blend beautifully, creating a post-bop tour de force that’s both celebratory and reflective. There’s a lot to enjoy here. “Passion Dance” opens the record and grooves with unadulterated joy. Pair it with a strong cup of coffee, and your day is off to a GREAT start! “Contemplation” and “Search For Peace” are introspective ballads, thoughtful and deep but not somber. “Four By Five” is a labyrinth of intertwining lines and shifting time signatures, an engaging game of musicianship where everybody’s a winner. Then there’s “Blues On The Corner,” which certainly has blues in its DNA, but it’s more distantly related, like a second cousin, twice removed. One thing I always find striking about this session is the uniqueness of Joe Henderson’s voice. It’s easy and almost reactive to envision him as a understudy given the context, but that’s simply not the case. To my ears, Henderson is almost defiant in his insistence on being himself. His attack is sharp, and his lines are aggressive yet melodic. He prowls each measure like a restless panther, attacking with counterpoints to Tyner’s block chords with lithe athleticism. He doesn’t do so with the cold, ruthless efficiency of a predatory cat, but rather with a passion and soulfulness that brings the most out of every tune. All the while, Ron Carter brings the @milesdavis SGQ structural and time freedoms to bear, NONE of which throw Elvin Jones off, even for a moment. Years of partnership with Tyner under the mentorship of Coltrane have created a personal, sympathetic communication between them that ensures they’re working in lockstep. I don’t know that this is the best @mccoytyner album, but it’s certainly one of the two I reach for most often. Essential. Music Matters Jazz 2XLP 45RPM pressing…best I’ve ever heard it
Trane’s classic quartet creates a 5-star album, weaving DNA from ‘Ole!’, ‘My Favorite Things,’ and the nascent ideas that would build ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Crescent.’ @johncoltrane fans had a lot to unpack in the early 60s. The success of his Atlantic recordings like ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘My Favorite Things’ catalyzed a flood of reissues from his late 50s hard bop Prestige sessions. Simultaneously Trane was pissing-off critics with what they described as an “anti-jazz,” avant-garde-tinged residency with Eric Dolphy at the Village Vanguard. He made his first (and last) big band record. So when this record appeared in the shops who knew WHAT to expect? Greatness. Expect greatness. While it’s impossible to know an artist’s mind, perhaps the criticism of Trane’s edgier music stung. So while the same drive and energy of the Vanguard gigs are present here, the sharp edges are absent. The opening 14-minute, aptly-titled of “Out of This World” is a profound modal excursion, as strong as anything the quartet recorded for the label. You get a moment to catch your breath with the lovely balladry of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” before getting thrown back into intensity with an almost unrecognizable take on “The Inch Worm” (the first track to be recorded for this LP). The heat continues with the Trane original “Tunji,” named for percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Here, Trane & Co leverage their collective skills as a team, with a deceptively simple piano/bass chord structure upon which Trane weaves a powerful, complex solo; and suddenly, somehow by the time McCoy Tyner is building a helluva solo of his own, it’s a blues number. Also, Elvin Jones deserves a Nobel Prize for his drumming on this track—superb. The album closes with Trane’s “Miles’ Mode,” an all-out, full-contact throwdown where everyone comes to play and play HARD. Restraint? That’s the other guy’s problem. So all-in-all, this mysteriously under-valued title in John Coltrane’s impressive catalog is a MUST HEAR, and in my opinion, MUST OWN title. Spin it now. You’ll be glad you did
The exceptional compositions and phenomenal musicianship on ‘Juju’ takes every song supernova. Charged with energy, passion, and adventure, it’s often described as Shorter’s most “Coltrane-esque” album, and given the presence of McCoy Tyner-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Elvin Jones-drums, no wonder. However, while Trane’s spirit is a clear (and welcome) presence, vive la différence: Shorter’s travels were with an occasional glance in the rearview mirror, returning to variations of his beautifully written melodies; whereas Trane took the scenic route, and would worry about finding his way back later on. Not that Shorter’s playing here is conservative—his torrents of ideas and emotions were equally relentless, but they were Wayne Shorter’s; even if he was playing with a big, bold sound that may feel like an homage to his mentor. Coltrane-isms aside, the overall vibe of the record is uplifting which I find inspiring as the day’s first spin, but it’s equally at home in the small hours of the night—you can easily lose yourself in Tyner’s spiraling piano lines and Shorter’s odes to joy. Everyone plays superbly, though the true hero is bassist Reggie Workman, the gravitational force providing the center around which everyone orbits. His bass is precise and muscular when necessary, driving to coalesce the team around an idea. Other times, his sinewy counter-leads duck and weave like an Olympic-caliber fencer, light on his feet and challenging the others to find an opening. Then there’s Elvin Jones whose power and dexterity on this record puts the full range of his skills on display—it’s one of my favorite performances from him, EVER. 1964 was some kind of year for Shorter, recording three classic LPs for Blue Note—this one, ‘Speak No Evil’ and ‘Night Dreamer’—as well as joining Second Great Quintet. Fifty-five years later, he’s still recording and touring…more power to you Wayne! This is a Music Matters 2XLP 45RPM pressing, which sounds AMAZING. Hard to pick a favorite among these 1964 albums but today, it’s this one
55 years ago today, @johncoltrane tossed a metaphorical stone into the ocean. The ripples continue to spread, some lapping at distant shores as little more than flecks of foam, others hitting closer to home with the power of a tsunami. For an album that’s been endlessly analyzed and thoroughly discussed, it remains a delightful enigma. It’s perpetually engaging, satisfying, uplifting and thought provoking. Coltrane’s combination of urgency and serenity as he seeks to tap into whatever higher power one believes is in the universe and/or within us all is profound. Others far more eloquent and educated can better speak to the history and mystery of ‘A Love Supreme’. That said, I certainly wish that whatever benevolent inspiration visited the studio that day, I hope it visits everyone often
The creative vortex that Wayne Shorter created in the mid-60s was more powerful than gravity. Already a legend on tenor sax, he was also the compositional linchpin in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. In that role, he was co-piloting Miles’ unique brand of “freebop” that was a nod to less structured playing around a specified time signature or tonal center, without the anti-melodic dissonance that drove Miles batshit. Yet so deep was Shorter’s wellspring of creativity that he continued moonlighting as sideman and leader, delivering tons of compositions across eight albums for @bluenoterecords as a leader while working with Miles, *PLUS* sessions with Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, @mccoytyner and Tony Williams. This album ’The Soothsayer’ has an interesting history as it was—like the equally excellent ‘Etcetera’—shelved shortly after recording and didn’t see the light of day until 1979. That’s not reflective of quality—this is right up there with @wayne.shorter mid-60s, post-bop best. Recorded only a few weeks after the classic Second Great Quintet’s maiden voyage ‘E.S.P.’, this was Shorter’s first sextet date since his Jazz Messengers years but sounding NOTHING like those older hard bop dates. With his Miles cohorts Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) on board and brimming with enthusiasm and ideas, they inspire James Spaulding (alto sax), McCoy Tyner (piano) & Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) to step out of the hard bop box, toying with time, tempo and harmony—sometimes all at once. It’s not noisy, or difficult to follow though there’s often a LOT going on here. To my amazement, there’s an elegance to how marvelously this swings despite the apparent complexity of the underlying structure (or lack of it when they cut loose). This record is THE CRUSH. This is the now scarce/rare @musicmattersjazz 2XLP 45RPM pressing. I’m also appealing to the powers that be— @donwas @jazzsaraswati @musicmattersjazz—please do a proper vinyl release. SRX, Tone Poet or Kevin Grey cut BN. The CD and digital versions are kinda meh sounding and this absolutely FANTASTIC music deserves better. Please?
Coltrane’s studio work in the final week of Oct 1960 produced the acclaimed and hugely popular ‘My Favorite Things’, the lesser-known but essential ‘Coltrane Plays the Blues’, and the middle child whose strengths and qualities have only become more apparent over the years, ‘Coltrane’s Sound’. I could pontificate about the track “Equinox” for hours—far and away my favorite @johncoltrane original, and one of my favorite jazz songs, EVER. The emotional wallop this tune packs knocks me flat every time. The power, gravitas and solemnity that pours forth from the speakers when this song plays is felt as much as heard. If it doesn’t give you the feels, see a doctor immediately. The other three originals and two standards are also amazingly played, and I underscore the word “amazing” because this is only the THIRD TIME pianist McCoy Tyner and the SECOND TIME drummer Elvin Jones had recorded with ‘Trane. It’s certainly fun to over-analyze the three albums that these sessions produced, comparing, contrasting and discussing them to rank them within the pantheon of Coltrane’s @atlanticrecords era. When I’m in that frame of mind, I tend to reach for this album more often than the other two. But ultimately it’s more satisfying to consider them as one body of work and play them all! This pressing is a Japanese reissue, mono, part of the Jazz Analog Premium Collection produced by Kouki Hanawa WPJR-10053/Atlantic – 1419 @mccoytyner
Tight! Marvelous post bop/hard bop set from leader Bobby Hutcherson who leads a razor sharp ensemble across five originals and a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita”. Stylistically this one takes a more straightforward approach than say ‘Components’ or ‘Dialogue’. The band: Bobby Hutcherson-vibes, Joe Henderson-tenor sax, McCoy Tyner-piano, Herbie Lewis-bass, Billy Higgins-drums. The MVP: Billy Higgins, who leans into the groove with gusto, putting more emphasis on swing rather than intricacy. On tracks like “8/4” his deft touch doesn’t require heavy-handedness to keep the groove locked, and that light touch makes it effortless for him to drop into tricky, interlocking unison lines with the rest of the band and before banking right back to swingtown. Masterful. That highwire act is followed by the languid “Summer Nights” which floats with a serenity that’s atmospheric and almost fragile—I find myself holding my breath for fear of disturbing the mood. Don’t let a sense of complacency set in however as “Black Circle” dives into some adventurous spaces without ever going fully “out” or bringing a sense of abrasiveness to the sonic palette. You’d never know from listening to this gem that this was Hutch and Tyner’s first studio session together—they’re as simpatico as peanut butter & jam. Jam being the operative word here, as Tyner’s long-running partnership with Henderson allows for buttery smooth handoffs between them and Hutch. This is a terrific session, originally recorded 14 July 1966 and released in April 1968
Standing in the long, tall, wide, deep shadow of its predecessor ‘A Love Supreme’, this record deserves your undivided attention. Recorded in Feb & May 1965 with @johncoltrane doubling on tenor and soprano saxophones, he and his classic quartet proceed to make quite the exploratory epic out of Disney’s “Chim Chim Cheree” which—depending on how firmly it’s stuck in your head—is either the most interesting or most annoying tune from ‘Mary Poppins’. In a sense, the approach is similar to the modal masterpiece of ‘My Favorite Things’—a moment or two on the core melody and then toss the rulebook out the window. That’s where the similarity ends though. Whereas MFT was built on an undercurrent of joy, CCC is more restless. Unsettled. Busy. In search of. Occasionally chaotic. None of these observations are criticisms. If anything they underscore the depth and breadth of Trane’s artistry, and his ability to approach another popular waltz without necessarily repeating himself. This familiar-yet-different mindset holds true for ‘Brazilia’ as well—he’d debuted this song a few years earlier on ‘At the Village Vanguard’ but the studio version here is even more visceral, edgy and powerful. This track alone makes me reach for this album over and over again. The other two tracks on the LP veer closer to the spiritual questing vibe of ‘A Love Supreme’, with bassist Art Davis joining Jimmy Garrison on “Nature Boy” to add another layer of low end gravitas. Enjoy this record on its own merits, not in comparison with what came before. This is the 2011 Analogue Productions reissue, 2XLP 45RPM and sounding wonderful