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Sam Rivers ‘Contours’

Post-bop bliss! The beautifully demented solo Herbie Hancock plays in “Dance of the Tripedal” alone makes this record worth owning. It’s fearless, captivating, moving, and each bar feels like a new tale of the unexpected. There are many thrilling moments just like it throughout Sam Rivers ‘Contours’, recorded in May 1965. Rivers (sax/flute) composed all four long tracks and led a stellar quintet. Joining Rivers and Hancock are Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). With song titles like “Mellifluous Cacophony,” it would be understandable that less adventurous ears might whistle past the graveyard on ’Contours.’ But you’d be missing out on one of the great mid-60s sessions…one that was increasingly difficult to come by on LP until reissued as part of the series last year. Now, to be honest, it’s still a challenging listen, and there there are a few moments with sharp edges. But those moments don’t show up often, and much of this music is truly MESMERIZING. It’s also a record with a very high replayability factor—the interplay can be so subtle and understated (or on the other end of the spectrum, so fast and furious) that it doesn’t register on the first spin. Or tenth. I dig this one more with each spin. Highest recommendation bop

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

Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

Wayne Shorter’s entire @bluenoterecords run is great, but if pressed I’d have to say this one is my favorite. Every time I play it I enjoy it a bit more—I don’t know that there’s a bigger or better endorsement of an album. It’s everything one could ask for: thrilling compositions that are hummable, memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuance of the session. If this were the first jazz record you ever heard, you’d have picked a fantastic entry point. Veteran jazz listeners return to it again and again for good reason. The year was 1964 and Wayne brought along 2 of his Miles Davis second great quintet band mates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) who by this point had both stage & studio experience enough with Wayne’s music to knock it out of the park. Add firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drum powerhouse Elvin Jones and it’s no wonder that ‘Speak No Evil’ rises above great. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. This is Music Matters MMBST-84194, reissued in 2015 and sounding SPECTACULAR