Recorded 21 Dec 1962, ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’ was the last of the “theme” records Green would explore that year. Having previously gone west and then south of the border in previous sessions, Green recruited pianist Herbie Hancock and the ace rhythm duo of bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins to take us all to church. The material is a collection of familiar spirituals like “Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, transmogrified into modern, soulful hard bop. The approach here ranges from reflective to celebratory, with the blues running deeply throughout. The interplay between Green and Hancock is marvelous, and while the tempos never really swing hard, the intensity is palpable. This is 1979 Japanese King pressing GXK 8117, stereo, a reissue of BST 84132. Preach
Imagine Thelonious Monk’s 60s quartet attempting a mellow, modal, ‘Kind of Blue’-esque album, occasionally infused with a quirky, British sense of humor. Now imagine something even better than that. Go right to the standout track “Starless and Bible Black,” which has been called one of the greatest British jazz tracks ever (for good reason). This is a truly unforgettable performance, seductive and evocative. It sets quite a a mood—the night is shrouded in mystery, and one can choose to embrace the darkness with all its uncertainties, or close the shutters to its risks and remain in the safe, warm light of home. Compositional credit goes to pianist and leader Stan Tracey, but the hero of this particular track is tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, whose solo could go toe-to-toe with any of the great tenorists from the US jazz scene in that stellar year of 1965. Spectacular. The rest of the album is of uniformly high quality, though it’s tough to compete with “Starless and Bible Black,” which is just one of those rare jazz tracks that transcend the top shelf. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention stellar bass performances by Jeff Clyne and excellent drumming by Jack Dougan. Overall, there’s a relaxed vibe to many of the tracks here, but don’t confuse that with laziness. This quartet is in it to win it, even if they choose not to drive in the fast lane often. There are several different vinyl pressings, ranging from “semi-affordable, and findable if you’re willing to put in the effort” to “if I find a M- copy, I’ll have to re-mortgage the house and sell the children for scientific experiments” *BUT* happy news! It is readily available digitally. You can listen RIGHT NOW! This copy is a 1969 pressing of the 1965 Landsdowne session Columbia/EMI SCX 3589, stereo. PS—This “Starless and Bible Black” has nothing to do with King Crimson AT ALL…sorry to disappoint you, my fellow prog rockers
High energy modal/spiritual grooves driven by the formidable bass playing of Henry Franklin and electric piano of Bill Henderson. I dig the frequent nods to early electric Miles and Return to Forever, though I wouldn’t classify this as a fusion record. I’m reminded in places of Eddie Henderson’s sides for Capricorn and Joe Farrell’s CTI records as there’s a similar vibe. The brass frontline—Oscar Brashear on trumpet/flugelhorn & Charles Owens on tenor/soprano sax—wails, swings, duels and soars as Franklin and Henderson scurry busily in, under and around them. There’s some heavy duty yet intricate three-headed beats from drummer Mike Carvin who’s flanked by percussionists Fred Lido and Tip Jones, while guitarist Kenny Climax rears his head only occasionally, but when he does he makes he presence known. “Beauty and the Electric Tub” lays down a groove so deep you wonder how they’re ever gonna find their way out. They do, but they take the scenic route. Tough to find on vinyl, available if you look on CD, but seemingly absent from the usual streaming services other than YouTube. Obscure but worth searching for, as are most of the albums on the Black Jazz label. Franklin recorded a follow-up, the equally scarce ‘The Skipper at Home’, a favorite, particularly after a couple of tracks were sampled by A Tribe Called Quest. Franklin has an extensive discography with more than a dozen sessions as a leader, and sideman credits on over 100 records ranging from Stevie Wonder to Ornette Coleman. He’s still out there playing and recording…more power to you Mr. Franklin
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?
Farewell London! It was a VERY memorable 36 hours. Feels appropriate to leave with another memorable UK session—a rare “in the box” session from Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute) who was living in Kensington in 1966 mixing it up with a British jazz cast including Stan Tracey & Mike Carr (piano); Rick Laird, Jeff Clyne, Bruce Cale & Dave Willis (bass); John Mumford (trombone), Joe Oliver (drums) and Chris Bateson (trumpet). However the SECRET SAUCE of the session is Dave Snell on harp which elevates this collection of standards and two Lasha originals into something truly special. It’s wild how the harp sounds so unexpected yet it fits perfectly. This is an amazing record, and for those who’ve struggled a bit with Lasha’s more challenging, edgy work (like the masterful follow-up ‘Firebirds’ with Sonny Simmons) this is something you could easily play without clearing the room. Much to my surprise, this session was for a big player—CBS Records UK (CBS-BPG 62409, stereo, issued 1966) though it never saw US release. The vinyl is elusive, the 2009 Dusty Groove CD reissue is around and a reasonable alternative. The two Lasha originals are the standout tracks but everything is really well played. Recommended
Worth the wait! West meets Far East as @bbemusic @the_jazz_dad and @bacoso unleash the latest in their BBE Masterclass Series. This is an album *SO* rare most jazz fans (myself included) weren’t aware of its existence. As we all know, sometimes rare, buried treasures are notable simply due to rarity, and the substance is underwhelming. None of that here—the curators of this series have added another title to the top shelf of J-Jazz reissues. ’Topology’ was recorded in a single session on 11 June 1984 and released on the Aketa’s Disk label in Japan. The history of the session and the players is beautifully detailed by Tony Higgins in the liner notes which grace the gatefold of this double LP, which has issued at 45RPM for optimal sound quality (and I must say the sonics on this record are STELLAR). The opening track “Dragon Dance” (which also opens BBE’s fantastic J-Jazz Vol 2 compilation) is a modal monster. Beginning with a gorgeous solo piano workout from Makoto Terashita that becomes a full band exploration of ideas, themes and modes unfolding with perfection over twelve glorious minutes, this track is EXTRAORDINARY. It sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the record. Great news—while not everything hits the lofty heights of “Dragon Dance”, most of the tracks come damn close. All were written by Terashita save one which is contributed by Harold Land, whose tenor sax work throughout retains the strength of prior decades—tone, speed and versatility are on point.
Bassist Yasushi Yoneki, percussionist Takayuki Koizumi and drummer Mike Reznikoff complete the quintet and are all great players, but this is very much the Land/Terashita show. So again, kudos to the J-Jazz team for spelunking this one out from the depths of obscurity to the world of reasonably-priced-reissues, and going the extra mile in sound quality, packaging (the obi is a nice touch) and liner notes that provide the additional context. Combined, it creates a completely great listening experience. Oh, it’s also available across digital platforms! One of the best jazz releases of 2019 thanks to all involved…don’t miss it
Killer!! Another hard-to-find European jazz obscurity miraculously sees the light of day, and I’m starting to run out of superlatives for these reissues! Falling into the category of “notable because it’s rare *AND* because it’s excellent” the Kvintett on this LP is a hard swinging, post-bop group led by trombonist/percussionist Bertil Strandberg, who also wrote the title track. His brother Göran (piano) composed the rest of the tracks on the album. Both are top notch players, though bonus points are awarded to Göran for his inventive solos, creative improv, and terrific technique. Whether stepping up to lay down some fleet-fingered but thoughtful lines up front, or propelling the proceedings with powerful block chords, Göran’s presence has a “rightness” in his timing and the mix…he steals the show more than a couple of times. Not to be overlooked are the rhythmic anchor of Ove Gustafsson (bass/guitar) and Bjarne Boman (drums) as well as US ex-pat Ed Epstein (tenor sax). This Swedish jazz rarity was recorded in ‘73—against all odds in the wake of a massive snowstorm—and against all logistical and licensing odds (much worse than a blizzard) @frederiksbergrecords (in a real labor of love) has spent the last couple of years creating this first-ever digital/vinyl reissue. It’s a fantastic package—40 minutes of spectacular, moody, modal jazz that’s expertly played, the reissue sound is stellar, the packaging/liner notes are excellent and the @bandcamp price of $24(US) is a steal. I also want to point out the one outlier track which I may like best of all. The closing track “Elegi” is really unique with gorgeous, intricate finger-picking acoustic guitar weaving between a contrapuntal bass/piano piece that sets up a trombone solo for the ages—powerful, emotional and memorable. Don’t sleep on this one—prior vinyl reissues on this label like For Friends and Relatives” by the Christian Schwindt Quintet and “To You” by the Carsten Meinert Kvartet (both excellent) have gotten elusive
Toto, we’re not in Landsdowne anymore. Well, OK we are, but this record shows that we’ve come quite a distance from where we started with ‘Shades of Blue’. ‘Change Is…’ would be the fifth and final album from the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet. At this point, they’d developed a bit of seven-year itch (after only five years!) and had decided to “see other people”…we all know how that usually ends. Rendell would soon form his own outfit and Carr would spin up his groundbreaking proto-fusion combo Nucleus. Yet they clearly had enough fuel in the tank for another go as the RCQ, augmented by a few guests: Mike Pyne (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass), Stan Robinson (sax) and Guy Warren (percussion); joining the core quintet of Carr (trumpet/flugelhorn), Rendell (tenor/soprano sax, flute), Michael Garrick (piano), Dave Green (bass) & Trevor Tompkins (drums). The music here builds upon their British take on modal/hard bop developed over the past four records, retaining an audible measure of swing but adding even more colors to the sonic palette (world music anyone?) while taking more liberties with rhythm and structure. One only has to hear the sinewy, contrapuntal bass dance between Dave Green and Jeff Clyne (another example of a “are those cobras fighting or fucking?” moments) to know that if this was their swan song, they were going out on a high. And hey…after five great-to-brilliant records and a LOT of guts in being the first British jazz act to cut all-original material in an increasingly jazz-unfriendly landscape, they went out on top. Well played gents. So high marks for playing, compositions AND this Jazzman reissue, now widely available after some initial stock shortages earlier this year. It’s a near-exact replica of an original, and at around $25US for an excellent transfer from the masters, it’s a great buy vs the $800 the last one in mint condition sold for on eBay. Also available digitally. Highly recommended, though those new to the Rendell/Carr Quintet or British jazz in general are advised to start with ‘Shades of Blue’ first, then ‘Dusk Fire @jazzmanrecords
Two sessions make up this fantastic Blue Note rarity: a trio session with Freddie Roach (organ), Eddie Wright (guitar) & Clarence Johnston (drums) from 29 Nov 1963, expanded to a quintet with the addition of Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Hank Mobley (tenor sax) for a second session on 9 Dec. Freddie Roach’s ‘Good Move’ is a cooker, though you’ll rarely hear Roach launch a blitzkrieg attack on the Hammond B-3. He prefers to build a groove that prioritizes blues over bravado, and gospel over grandstanding. Not that Roach doesn’t toss in the occasional flourish to remind you that he’s got the chops, he just doles them out on an as-needed basis. He’s also masterful at leveraging vibrato to underscore a mood. The opening track—an eerie, almost unsettling take on “It Ain’t Necessarily So”—is a great example. While there’s a bit of a dark undercurrent, and a slower, more deliberate tempo than versions I’ve been spinning lately (lookin’ at you Grant Green/Sonny Clark), it still swings pretty hard. As I listen to this trio play it, I keep expecting them to bust into The Animals take on “House of the Rising Sun” at any moment…I’m sure a musicologist among you has an answer for that, particularly in that The Animals didn’t release that until 1964! Moving on…this isn’t all a downtempo affair. The original “Wine, Wine, Wine” is a cooker, with Mobley having himself quite a blast during his time in the spotlight. “When Malindy Sings” is a terrific mid-tempo groover with a really well-executed solo by Blue Mitchell…great vibe. This copy is a 1963 original stereo pressing (BST 84158) with RVG and Plastylite “ear” in the dead wax
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