bluenoterecords

Lee Morgan ‘The Procrastinator’

Seductive. If it’s not in your library, it should be. Tied with ’Search For the New Land’ as my favorite Lee Morgan album, this session has star power galore: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). Carter, Hancock & Shorter were recording ’Nefertiti’ with @milesdavis when Morgan “borrowed” them for this session, so the freebop sensibility of the Second Great Quintet blends seamlessly with Morgan’s advanced hard bop proclivities. Add a generous dose of Hutcherson’s shimmering, percussive vibes and the result is an immersive atmosphere that draws you in from the opening notes of the title track to the final notes of “Soft Touch”. In between, you’ll find a variety of excellence, from the verbosity of “Start Stop” (that Morgan solo is 🔥🔥🔥) to the album highlight “Dear Sir”, a ballad that quests with the spirit of the Second Great Quintet. This album has a long, convoluted history which I’ve detailed in the comments, but for the time being digital ubiquity is at hand, so head over to your favorite streaming platform and immerse yourself in one of Lee Morgan’s finest records. This is a tremendous session @icalledhimmorgan @herbiehancock @wayne.shorter @roncarterbass @musicmattersjazz

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

Freddie Roach Good Move

Freddie Roach ‘Good Move’

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

Booker Ervin ‘The In Betwen’

There’s bop. There’s hard bop. Then there’s Booker Ervin’s ‘The In Between’ which is hard-as-nails-and-twice-as-tough-bop. There’s a near-recklessness powering this quintet’s approach that’s electrifying. Side one in particular is filled with the kind of edge-of-your-seat playing that only a group of well-rehearsed virtuosos can pull off without the whole affair collapsing on itself. This quintet relishes in shaking the pillars of hard bop until they become structurally unsound to see who chickens out and bails first. Certainly not bandleader/tenorist/composer Booker Ervin, whose Texas-toned swagger is big, bold and unwavering. Nor trumpeter Richard Williams, probably the best known member of the group after Ervin. The rest of the band isn’t exactly a who’s who—Bobby Few (piano) Cevera Jeffries (bass) Lenny McBrowne (drums)—but they take these six Ervin originals to the edge and occasionally a bit beyond. It’s a truly bold, brave acoustic jazz record given its era. Fearless in fact. I’m somehow reminded of a scene in ‘The Hunger Games’ where heroine Katniss Everdeen is showing her archery skills to the disinterested powers-that-be, and in a moment of defiance and frustration she lets loose a perfectly aimed arrow through their midst. Well, that’s this album: a sharp, urgent flight of hard bop aimed at the executive elites who were fixated on commercial potential while artistry was taking a back seat, as the rock explosion of the mid/late 60s began to push jazz downwards on the priority list. Well this one’s a burner that makes no compromises, has no sappy covers, syrupy strings or weak funk. It’s in full-on, kickass mode throughout, and engineer Rudy Van Gelder—the Notorious RVG—really harnesses the full might of the players so that the sound punches you square in the face. Fear not—you’ll shake it off and say “thank you sir, may I have another?” DON’T SLEEP ON THIS ONE

Dexter Gordon ‘Doin’ Allright’

Kickstarting a remarkable run for @bluenoterecords in 1961, ‘Doin’ Allright’ was a triumphant return to the jazz scene for Dexter Gordon, after struggling through a rough stretch of addiction, incarceration and a resulting downturn in his musical activities. This was my first Dexter album (thanks @tom.sladek) and it remains one of my favorites, especially for the two originals “Society Red” and “For Regulars Only” (which has a Freddie Hubbard trumpet solo for the ages). The three standards are also top shelf, with several shining moments in particular from pianist Horace Parlan, though it’s Dexter himself who steals the show. The vibe he creates on the ballad “You’ve Changed” gives me all the feels. This title is now back in print as part of @bluenoterecords 80th celebration, an all-analog 33 issue cut by Kevin Gray which sounds FANTASTIC. A terrific introduction to the music of @dextergordon.official or to jazz in general. And if you haven’t taken this out for a spin in awhile, today’s a great day to do so

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Montara’

A wildly enjoyable, feel-good, summertime jazz record. Bobby Hutcherson’s ‘Montara’ (originally released in 1975) manages to be energizing and relaxing at the same time—an impressive feat. This album was the “fusion” offering in the Blue Note 80th Anniversary box issued via @vinylmeplease, and a record I’d seen quite a bit in the used bins when I worked retail, but it wasn’t an album I was familiar with. I’ve had a good time getting to know it over the last few weeks. I’ll agree with the sub-genre “fusion” in that it’s an electric jazz offering, and there are Latin-jazz and jazz-rock structures cleverly woven within the framework, but this isn’t a Mahavishnu-esque chops-fest or a one-way ticket to shredsville. It’s busy where it needs to be, often due to the sheer size of the band. They say two’s company, three’s a crowd. This album is either 9 companies or 6 crowds depending on how you want to do the math. The tune “Montara” has come around a few times, with The Roots taking a remix run at it in 1996, Madlib taking another swing again in 2003, and samples show up on all sorts of hip hop albums. It’s definitely one of those grooves that gets into your head and won’t let go. Fans of the Rhodes electric piano will hail the heroic playing by Larry Nash who is a formidable presence throughout the record. A recommended sundown spin as it has a perfect evening vibe. Vinyl is a bit elusive though not impossible, but digital availability is ubiquitous. Happy Fusion Friday

Lonnie Smith ‘Think!’

Get yer groove on this Sunday morning with ’Think!’, the latest chapter in @bluenoterecords 80th anniversary celebration. Featuring Lonnie Smith (organ), Lee Morgan (trumpet), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor sax, flute), Melvin Sparks (guitar), Marion Booker, Jr. (drums), Henry (Pucho) Brown (timbales) and the double barrel conga propulsion of Willie Bivins and Noberto Apellaniz, this is an EXCELLENT soul jazz outing. Named for the cover of the Aretha Franklin hit, it’s a mix of Smith originals and a couple of cover tunes all beautifully executed by this fine band. Highlights include Smith’s original “The Call of the Wild” with its patient, slightly eerie, exploratory build to its wild, groovy finish and the opening track, a cover of Hugh Masekela’s “Son of Ice Bag” which—paired with a strong cuppa—will definitely get your blood pumping and head bobbing. Soul jazz isn’t often at the top of my preferred jazz sub-genres but this record is a keeper—great tunes, great playing, and GREAT job on this analog cut by Kevin Gray—this is a really, really terrific sounding record. At about $20 retail, a solid value. I don’t have an original to compare it with, but given many original pressings of Blue Note records from 1968 are either 1) “well-loved” (read: trashed) or 2) “well-cared for” (read: expensive), this newly issued version is recommended without hesitation. This was Smith’s second LP but his first for Blue Note…he’d go on to release quite a few more (including one as recently as last year) and he received the honor of NEA Jazz Master in 2017. More power to you Dr. Lonnie Smith @drlonniesmith @icalledhimmorgan

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

Jack Wilson ‘Easterly Winds’

Joining the chorus of folks acknowledging Lee Morgan’s birthday today, I thought I’d call out this under-discussed session featuring Morgan in a sideman role. ‘Easterly Winds’ from pianist Jack Wilson is one of those “under the radar” Blue Note gems deserving a spot on your playlist, if not a space on your shelf. Wilson is a melodic, energetic pianist who fronts a killer sextet that includes Lee Morgan (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Garnett Brown (trombone), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The record opens with the boogaloo dance floor romp “Do It”, a rug-cutter (though not of the cherubic hue @walteragross) to get the blood pumping and feet tapping. Good tune. An even more interesting Wilson original follows entitled “On Children” which has fine solos from Brown and Morgan, and then the “A” side closes with the Johnny Mandel standard “A Time for Love”. The “B” side features two more Wilson originals and then closes with Frank Strozier’s “Frank’s Tune” which features McLean’s best solo, Morgan’s most thoughtful solo, and is my favorite track on the LP. Good stuff. Recorded 22 Sept 1967, released March 1968 as BST 84270. Widely available digitally, and not too difficult to find on vinyl

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