‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ captures a compelling snapshot in time in the perpetual motion machine that was the artistry of Miles Davis. By early 1963, several of Miles’ frequent musical collaborators had moved on, and he was in search of a new team to bring his next set of innovations to life. First, Miles headed west, with two days of sessions in Hollywood leading a quartet backed by Victor Feldman-piano, Ron Carter-bass, and Frank Butler-drums. These ballads (1,3, and 5 on the LP) feature heart-wrenching solos by Miles, and Ron Carter’s bass playing on the album opener “Basin Street Blues” should be enshrined in a bass Hall of Fame somewhere. Miles returned to New York the following month, and those tracks—2, 4, and 6 on the LP, recorded on this day 14 May 1963—are more uptempo. The NYC band is a nascent Second Great Quintet: George Coleman-tenor sax, Ron Carter-bass, Herbie Hancock-piano, and Tony Williams-drums. Williams—only 17 at the time—had just been poached from Jackie McLean’s group, where he’d made quite the impression on McLean’s inside/outside ‘One Step Beyond.’ Williams’ playing was charged, pushing everyone to go the extra mile. Clearly, the chemical reaction between Williams, Carter, and Hancock was what Miles was looking for, and so began a year or so of live dates where this quintet would take the standards in the classic Miles live book to tempos and variations that pushed the boundaries further and further, culminating in Coleman’s departure and Wayne Shorter’s arrival in 1964. While it’s tempting to slot SSTH as a “middle child” between the great quintets, it stands proudly on its own merits. Three superb ballads, a killer title track, and the Victor Feldman original “Joshua” (which Davis would keep in his live book for almost a decade, though interestingly Feldman does not play on the track here) are more than enough to make this a classic
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
The few remaining leaves are now falling with the first snow of the year. The tranquility of their shared journey downwards is captured perfectly by “Fall,” one of my Top Ten jazz tracks of all time. There’s a certain sadness to it, and while I can’t speak to the minds of the Second Great Quintet, it seems to me that it’s not just about a season. This Wayne Shorter composition was recorded two days after the death of @johncoltrane, and there’s an underlying melancholy that permeates not only the tone but the execution. “Fall” is generally beautiful and serene, the perfect soundtrack to the outside vibe. That said, beneath the surface, there’s an underlying sense of disquiet. It’s not enough to pierce the veil of calm, and if anything, the counterpoint provides a marvelous tension to the piece. By far my favorite moment comes at 2:18 when @herbiehancock begins a captivating piano solo when suddenly at 2:43—in classic Second Great Quintet form—he and Tony Williams break the space-time continuum with a mind-meld that just knocks me flat every time…it’s one of my favorite moments in jazz, an answer to the question “what’s so great about @milesdavis Second Great Quintet?” Well, there are many answers to that question, but right here, right now, it’s “Fall
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
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?
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?
Released 50 years ago today, this album is ahead of its time, even now. Miles established the ground rules of framework and freedom. Producer Teo Macero leveraged technology in music-making that has since become nearly ubiquitous. The band—Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (electric piano), Joe Zawinul (organ, elec piano), John McLaughlin (guitar), Dave Holland (bass), and Tony Willams (drums)—all trusted in the creative process. The result: a dreamy, meditative voyage as @milesdavis ushered in a new era in jazz, once again re-writing the rulebook as he saw fit and trailblazing a new trajectory for the genre and for himself. This album’s impact, influence and significance in music, culture and technology continues to resonate. Anything with that much power is deserving of repeat spins, discussion and respect. Happy 50th ‘In a Silent Way’—I don’t think you’ll ever act your age