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Kenny Drew Undercurrent

Kenny Drew ‘Undercurrent’

One of the most underrated, underdiscussed and underappreciated record in the @bluenoterecords catalog. Love to hear arguments for/against this notion so fire away in the comments. Breaking this down a bit further:
1. This is easily pianist Kenny Drew’s best album as a leader, though he’s better known as a sideman (“Blue Train” for example). He’s nimble and fleet-fingered, capable of dropping jaws during a solo but he’s also got mad swing and a gorgeous approach to balladry: “Ballade”, the album’s sole downtempo track and the album’s closer, is also it’s highlight.
2. The one-two punch of Hank Mobley (tenor sax) and up & comer Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) who basically say “screw fire & ice, how about fire & more fire!” Here in this pure hard bop context, these two have mad rapport with both each other and Drew, making for a captivating frontline.
3. They rhythm section of Louis Hayes (drums) and Sam Jones (bass) are relentless and dynamic, driving the frontline with freight train intensity—they’re not going to let the frontline have all the fun.
I suppose the title could set expectations that won’t be met—“Undercurrent” might imply an atmosphere that’s laid back or tranquil but other than the closing ballad, this is an uptempo affair. Don’t sleep on this one! This is a Music Matters 33RPM pressing MMBST 84059, stereo

Curtis Amy Katanga

Curtis Amy & Dupree Bolton ‘Katanga’

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

Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons ‘Firebirds.

Roaring with the fury of a contrapuntal tornado through the metaphorical trailer park of your mind, ‘Firebirds’ will leave you in a heap of happy, smoldering rubble. This album blew me away. I’d already been pretty enamoured of Prince Lasha & Sonny Simmons debut LP ‘The Cry’ but fast forward a couple of years and add secret weapon Bobby Hutcherson and they’ve lept from terrific to dazzling. Fair warning: this is not a kick-back, easy listen. There’s often so much going on simultaneously it can take a few spins to sort it all out but trust me, it’s worth your effort. The free-bop/modal foundation takes a myriad of twists and turns, swooping and diving through avant-tinged, hard bop tunnels. It’s like riding a jazz themed roller coaster in total darkness—you just don’t know when the next sudden drop will occur, how deep it’ll go or where you’ll wind up. It’s a helluva thrill ride. As far as acquisition, this seems to be a “regional rarity”, findable in some places, absent in others. The CD seems pretty common, the vinyl less so, and digital platforms totally absent save for YouTube but you LP collectors should keep your eyes open…this one is spongeworthy (Seinfeld fans will get the reference). Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute/alto clarinet) Sonny Simmons (alto sax, English horn) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) Buster Williams (bass) Charles Moffett (drums). Recorded 27-29 Sept 1967 and released 1968 as Contemporary S7617, stereo. First pressings have a green label, subsequent pressings have yellow or orange labels🎷

Duke Pearson Phantom

Duke Pearson ‘The Phantom’

The psychedelic-tinged title track is one of Duke Pearson’s greatest works. I love the way it unfolds with an air of mystery. The rest of the LP doesn’t quite raise my drawbridge to the same level. This may be an issue of timing—the tropical vibes that permeate the other tracks are inconsistent with this cold, winter New York day. I’ll spin it again come summertime and perhaps it’ll hit me differently. For the most part, once you move past the depth of the title track (which may take several listens…it’s *THAT* good) the album veers from post-bop, late night grooves to tropical excursions underscored by Brazilian rhythms (and occasional nods to the avant-garde) as the multi-talented Pearson leads a small combo on this 1968 outing. The band: Duke Pearson (piano), Jerry Dodgion (flute/alto flute—side note, it’s his flute that graces the well-known theme from ’Shaft’), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Sam Brown & Alexander Gafa (guitars), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums), Carlos “Patato” Valdes & Victor Pantoja (congas/guiro). Pearson wore a lot of hats at Blue Note, arranging sessions for other artists, composing, performing and he was also an executive in an A&R capacity. His albums—particularly this one—demonstrate the breadth and scope of his abilities, particularly his preternatural understanding of which instruments in what combos played by which musicians would deliver the goods. Perhaps it’s too cold at the moment for me to appreciate the album as a whole, but I just spun the title track again and it blew my mind. This is first pressing BST 84293, stereo, VAN GELDER in the deadwax