musicmattersjazz

Kenny Burrell ‘Freedom’

Kenny Burrell’s ‘Freedom’ is an under-discussed title in his discography. It combines two different sessions, one from March 1963 with Hank Jones-piano/organ, Seldon Powell-baritone sax/flute, Milt Hinton-bass, & Osie Johnson-drums; and one from Oct 1964 with Stanley Turrentine-tenor sax, Herbie Hancock-piano, Ben Tucker-bass, Bill English-drums, & Ray Barreto-congas. Allegedly, both sessions were difficult, with multiple takes required before achieving satisfactory results, and neither session producing enough material for a full album. So both sessions were shelved, and Burrell—who only did a couple of sessions as a sideman for Blue Note in between those recording dates, including the excellent ‘Hustlin’ LP with Turrentine—wouldn’t record for the label as a leader again until his return to Blue Note in the mid-80s for a couple of live records. ‘Freedom’ made its first appearance in Japan on LP in 1979, and in the US via Music Matters in 2011 (this pressing, 2 X LP @ 45RPM). So far as I know, there is no digital or CD version. Given the differences in session dates and players, the material covers quite a bit of ground, from funky soul-jazz to evening, hard-bop grooves that sound like they could have been outtakes from ‘Midnight Blue.’ A different take on “K Twist” does appear on ‘Midnight Blue,’ but I’ll leave it up to you as to which version you’d like to call the “outtake.” All of the material is strong, and both sessions were very well recorded by the Notorious RVG—I can see why Music Matters chose such relatively obscure sessions for release. The tracks may be individually scattered across compilations, box sets and playlists, though a quick scan of the digital services doesn’t look promising. Too bad…this is great stuff

Jackie McLean ‘One Step Beyond’

Mysterious. Innovative. Spellbinding. Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ is the first in a loose “trio” of albums that includes McLean’s ‘Destination…Out!’ and trombonist Grachan Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ as they all share quite a bit of musical DNA and personnel. I hesitate to call it them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a holistic listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had heard the clarion call of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s approach to coloring outside the lines. Yet it’s strongly rooted in hard-bop, and it swings like mad in many places, making it an inside/outside record that’s perhaps a bit more approachable. McLean built a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone, and alto) who create an atmosphere that’s otherworldly…it does feel rather “beyond,” yet somehow incredibly pleasing to the ear. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, foreboding tone (“Ghost Town” particularly) that veer into occasionally dissonant territory—the band isn’t totally out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit. McLean’s alto still retains its acidic bite, and while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it swings with claws unsheathed. Bobby Hutcherson is the undisputed master of the 37th Chamber of Vibraphone, wielding mallets with both astonishing fluidity and lethal consequences. Bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable. Still, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged by—and, more importantly, inspired by—17 year old drummer Tony Williams. Williams performance throughout is simply incredible. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. Recorded this day, 30 April, 1963

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

Elvin Jones ‘Puttin’ It Together’

Elvin goes to work leading a piano-less trio with longtime cohort Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Joe Farrell on tenor/soprano sax, flute, and piccolo. Everyone contributes a composition, which are matched with some well-chosen originals that showcase the versatility of this trio. For three guys, they sure make a lot of great noise, and I mean that with the utmost respect. In the world of rock, I’d say the same thing about Rush—they also sound WAY bigger than three guys. The sound is helped by a particularly sweet mix. It’s easy to see why Ron, Joe, and the rest of the Music Matters crew chose this one (and ‘Genesis’) for release. The music is generally high intensity, modal and advanced hard bop. Stylistically, it rarely strays into the mid-60s Coltrane sound one might expect. Yet there’s a power here that’s unmistakable. A presence that makes the session feel…charged. This is really excellent music that I highly recommend. ‘Putin’ It Together’ was Elvin’s debut for Blue Note as a leader, and set a high bar for his tenure at the label. He hit that bar and raised it on subsequent releases, particularly ‘Genesis’. I’ve not heard all of Elvin’s releases from the late 60s/early 70s, but every one that I have heard has been excellent and I look forward to discovering the rest. Recorded on this date, 4 April, 1968

The Magnificent Thad Jones

An LP deserving of its title—this album can make a jazz lover out of pretty much anybody. ‘The Magnificent Thad Jones’ is one of the Crown Jewels in Blue Note’s catalog, one of Rudy Van Gelder’s finest hours as a recording engineer, and a record that’s the perfect aural response when someone asks you to help them understand the meaning of “swing.” There’s not much brash, grandstanding, high-octane here. Instead, the mix of mid-tempo toe-tappers and gorgeous ballads are delivered with sizzling elegance by a small combo that gels perfectly. Leader Thad Jones (trumpet) recruited Billy Mitchell (tenor sax), Barry Harris (piano), Percy Heath (bass), & Max Roach (drums) to record this gem at the Notorious RVG’s studio in Hackensack, NJ in July 1956. While the whole record is one big highlight, I call your attention to the bookend tracks: the opening ballad “April in Paris” is one of the most beautiful readings of this standard, and the rich, buttery tone that Jones coaxes out of his trumpet will melt your heart. Then there’s the long closing Jones composition “Thedia.” This mid-tempo masterclass is sophisticated swing, telepathic storytelling, and instrumental mastery that unfolds over ten, perfect minutes. I’d be remiss in not calling out the album jacket—one of my favorite Blue Note covers of all time that’s like opening a time capsule to mid-1950s Time Square, NYC. This Music Matters 33 mono pressing is huge, detailed, and an incredibly satisfying listen on this rainy Saturday morning. Strong coffee and strong jazz are good medicine these days. Magnificent

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

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

Sam Rivers ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’

Some of my fave jazz records are those that never quite stray specifically into free or “out” playing, but hover right on the edge…sessions where the players experiment with the boundaries of melody, harmony and time while never losing sight of the groove. Enter ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’, a record that oozes hard bop and blues, but morphs them into mutant versions of themselves—recognizable, but different. This was tenor sax/flautist Sam Rivers’ debut for Blue Note, having just come from a brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. Miles didn’t find what he was looking for in Rivers and replaced him with Wayne Shorter, but Rivers borrowed a couple of his bandmates from his brief stint with Miles for this session. Joining Rivers is Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) from the SGQ as well as Jaki Byard (piano) to complete his quartet. There’s a lot going on here—the dialogues between the players can move pretty rapidly and it may take a couple of spins for everything (or anything) to sink in. Moments that start out as a toe-tapping, blues-based theme can turn on a dime, the structure blurring as one player deviates from the path and others follow. Tony Williams in particular is fond of implying the beat and then toying with it…his sense of playfulness adds a LOT to the overall vibe as it keeps everyone on their toes. Jaki Byard has a knack for dropping the perfect block chord at just the right time to accentuate a point or change the tone of the conversation, and Williams is right there with him…it’s really impressive. Through all the intricacies, looser moments and flirtations with throwing the rule book out the window, the album still swings pretty hard. Both this and Rivers’ follow-up LP ‘Contours’ are essential records IMO, and great places to start for those looking to dip their toes into edgier jazz waters. This is a 2 X LP 45RPM pressing that sounds FANTASTIC

Jackie McLean One Step Beyond

Jackie McLean ‘One Step Beyond’

Mysterious. Innovative. Gripping. Endlessly fascinating. Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ is the first in a loose “trio” of albums that includes McLean’s ‘Destination…Out!’ and trombonist Grachan Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ as they all share quite a bit of musical DNA and personnel. I hesitate to call them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a “whole” listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had clearly heard the war cries of Ornette Coleman and @johncoltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s desire to put his own stamp on their approach by keeping hard bop in the mix and forming a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone and alto) who create that mysterious atmosphere that does feel “beyond”. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, somewhat dark approach and an occasional unsettling undercurrent (“Ghost Town” is well-titled) that veer into somewhat disonnant territory—the band isn’t exactly out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit—his alto still retains its acerbic bite and the while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it’s swing with sharp elbows. Bobby Hutcherson wields two instruments of power: vibraphone and space. The effortlessness with which he wields both is often mind-blowing. While bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged, underscored by, and inspired by 17 year old drummer Tony Williams. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. This is one helluva band, and they made one helluva record. For awhile, I was obsessed with ‘Destination…Out!’ and thought it was the best of the three. Then I got sucked into the vortex of Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ and that LP rose to the top of the heap. Guess which record is in heavy rotation now?

Duke Pearson ‘Wahoo!’

Brilliant. It takes a special gift to select a group of simpatico players with the chops to turn musical ideas into an album that moves effortlessly between unadulterated joy, thoughtful introspection, great improv, and relentless swing. Welcome to the world of Duke Pearson, one of the most well-rounded talents to ever walk both the corporate hallways and studios of @bluenoterecords. Pearson’s talents as a pianist are obvious right off, and on this album he also serves as primary composer (other than the closing track by trumpeter Donald Byrd), arranger and bandleader. Pearson also had a “day job”—he was head of A&R for Blue Note so he knew the business from both sides of the desk. This album has an interesting history—it slipped into a bit of relative obscurity as the master tape was inadvertently filed in the wrong box so it was “missing” for nearly three decades, reappearing a few years ago during a vault crawl and—having not been used/handled/transported for so long—was in excellent shape and brought to new life in the marketplace by the Music Matters crew. It’s a stunner—easily my favorite Pearson record. Helluva band too: Joe Henderson (tenor sax), James Spauding (flute/alto sax), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mikey Roker (drums) and the aforementioned Pearson (piano) and Byrd (trumpet). The music from this 21 Nov 1964 session is often described as “advanced hard bop” which I suppose is close enough though it’s more than that. I can’t quite find the words to do it justice but there’s a real magic afoot here that must be heard to be understood. I suggest you do so at once