mccoytyner

Elvin Jones / McCoy Tyner ‘Illumination’

There was a series of old television advertisements for Reese’s Peanut Butter cups where the meeting of a chocolate bearing individual and a peanut butter toting individual resulted in an initial moment of outrage:
Chocolate person: “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”
Peanut Butter Person: “Well, *you* got chocolate in my peanut butter!”
All was well moments later as the calming narrator’s voice assured us that “two great tastes that taste great together” was the outcome. That’s also what you’ve got with ‘Illumination!’ On this 1963 date for Impulse! John Coltrane’s famous rhythm section of Elvin Jones-drums, Jimmy Garrison-bass, and McCoy Tuner-piano, met up in the studio with the edgy frontline of Prince Lasha-clarinet/flute, Sonny Simmons-alto sax/English horn, & Charles Davis-baritone sax. While the frontline wasn’t nearly as well-known as Trane’s gang and came from a freer stylistic place, they are wonderfully simpatico with the rhythm section. They also brought their “A” game, playing adventurously but with tremendous swing. There aren’t blasts of atonality, deliberate attempts to drive melody from the room, or abrasive avant-garde games of “where’s the 1?”. Instead, the six tracks which play out over 30 minutes are chock full of killer solos that take flight over deep bluesy grooves. There are also drum/alto conversations that make any talk you had today seem comparatively boring, and some inside/outside playing that makes you want to explore the music of every player on this record even more deeply. Davis takes a more straightforward approach than Lasha/Simmons, but his playing is exemplary—I need to hear more of his work. Lasha/Simmons had already recorded the excellently edgy ’The Cry’ for Contemporary in ’62. While that record is pretty great, the MUST-HEAR record they made is the difficult-to-find-but-worth-searching-for ‘Firebirds,’ also recorded for Contemporary in ’67. Great stuff

Wayne Shorter ‘Night Dreamer’

Night—with all of its mysterious energy and unsettled calm—is beautifully realized by Wayne Shorter on his Blue Note debut, ’Night Dreamer.’ It all comes together—the overall vibe of the music, the compositions (all by Shorter), the artwork, and the stellar playing of the quintet which featured Lee Morgan (trumpet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) & Elvin Jones (drums). Even the album title ’Night Dreamer’ was evocative and perfect. This album was one of several remarkable beginnings for Shorter that year—he’d soon be a key part of next Big Bang, the formation of the @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. And it was a busy year for Shorter he also recorded ‘Indestructible’ and ‘Free For All’ with Art Blakey and ’Search For the New Land’ with Lee Morgan. I like taking the entire album in as I think it’s particularly well-sequenced and works best as a whole. If I had to choose highlights, ‘Virgo,’ the ballad that closes Side A is GORGEOUS. Wayne Shorter’s solo is wonderful, and the rhythm section is remarkable. Another highlight is “Armageddon.” While the title might suggest a mood of anger, chaos, or explosive energy, the vibe is more contemplative. There’s a quiet urgency and an unsettling undercurrent that keeps the atmosphere slightly charged—it’s extraordinary. This session was recorded on this day, 29 April, 1964. Shorter would only level up from here. This Music Matters 33 pressing is a joy

Doug Carn ‘Infant Eyes’

Modal, spiritual, and soul-jazz blend beautifully on a record that packs a lot of power. I’m fussy about jazz vocal records, and I don’t reach for them often, but this one is FANTASTIC. Jean Carn’s vocals convey a sense of purpose. Of clarity. Of hope. Things that seem to be in short supply in so many places at the moment. The lyrics (which all have a spiritual/inspirational vibe) were written by her husband, leader, and keyboardist Doug Carn. He then worked them into new arrangements of compelling compositions by Wayne Shorter (“Infant Eyes”), John Coltrane (“Acknowledgement”), Horace Silver (“Peace”), and Bobby Hutcherson (“Little B’s Poem”). All are knockout performances. You’ll also hear impressive instrumentals, including a killer take on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance,” and the Doug Carn original “Moon Child.” The band is top-notch: in addition to Jean’s vocals and sizzling organ/piano playing by Doug, you’ve got George Harper (tenor sax, flute), Bob Frazier (trumpet, flugelhorn), Henry “The Skipper” Franklin (bass), Al Hall, Jr. (trombone), and Michael Carvin (drums). ‘Infant Eyes’ was originally released on Gene Russell’s legendary Black Jazz Records in 1971. The label released a total of 20 albums in its short four-year existence, all of which share two properties: excellence and rarity. This one seems to have been reissued (and bootlegged) more than some of the others, though, so it’s findable, and you can also stream/download it on most digital platforms. If you’re looking to take a deep breath and lower your shoulders a couple of inches, while at the same time be inspired by a soaring, uplifting, deep, well-played jazz album, Doug Carn’s ‘Infant Eyes’ may be the record for you. It’s a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning here in the NYC area, and this record is making for fine listening. Make it a great day

John Coltrane ‘Crescent’

Coltrane and his classic quartet establish a meditative vibe of energy and sanctity for 90 seconds before dropping into one of my favorite ’Trane grooves. “Crescent” swings with a combo of questing and certainty—they’d go supernova on the next official release with ‘A Love Supreme,’ but here they’re floating effortlessly above terra firma rather than actively seeking to transcend it. It’s the best nine-minute journey you’ll take all day. The interplay between Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones in the beautiful ballad “Wise One” is a masterclass in the use of understatement to speak volumes. This is doing more with less, choosing the right note at the right time with a great deal of sensitivity, rather than his “construction through destruction” or “sheets of sound” style of playing, and he nails it. The short, almost interlude piece “Bessie’s Blues” is a toe-tapper, with an upbeat bounce that demonstrates that as heavy as this quartet could be, they were also extraordinarily light on their feet when they wanted to be. Side B of the record is an interesting counterpoint to the A-Side—Trane doesn’t solo at all. That said, he’s still the guiding light, setting a somber mood with the (now) standard “Lonnie’s Lament.” The tune has one of my favorite piano solos—it is perfectly realized in every way. “Lonnie’s Lament” also has a Garrison bass solo that’s inventive, tuneful, and might hold the attention of those who’d usually use the bass solo as an excuse to go get a beer. The closing track “The Drum Thing” is a showcase for Jones (and a likely precursor to John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” workout from the mighty II) who is front and center. Like Garrison’s solo in the previous track, Jones plays a series of shifting patterns, tones, and styles that’s engaging, interesting, and incredibly impressive. ‘Crescent’ was recorded this day, 27 April, back in 1964. It stands in the mighty shadow of its follow-up ‘A Love Supreme’ for a good reason—most records stand in the shadow of ‘A Love Supreme’—but that doesn’t diminish the power, grace, and creativity that emanates from every groove. Essential

Hank Mobley ‘A Slice of the Top’

‘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!

Hank Mobley ‘A Caddy for Daddy’

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

McCoy Tyner ‘The Real McCoy’

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

Coltrane

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

Wayne Shorter ‘Juju’

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

John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme’

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