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
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
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
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
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
Get. This. Record.
The tenor sax/bass/drum combo might understandably trigger comparisons to Sonny Rollins legendary Vanguard recordings but this is an entirely different bag of bananas. This recently issued Tone Poet vinyl is jaw-droopingly awesome, and a significant upgrade from the CD. Most notably in the tone and presence of Ron Carter’s bass in the mix. In fact, the depth and resonance of every nuance is so clear he deserves co-billing as a leader. Carter and Henderson (supported with crisp, tight drumming from Al Foster) spin lines that flow, intertwine, support, challenge, merge and then melt into new, uncharted vistas—producers Stanley Couch & Michael Cuscuna deliberately encouraged the trio to engage with less-familiar repertoire to lure everyone’s improvisational best to the fore. Mission accomplished. It’s wild and exploratory, yet melodic and fun at the same time. For those looking for a piece of vinyl to demonstrate why they bother with the time and expense over the easier digital options, look no further. Five stars, two thumbs up, and a record I’ll be spinning again and again. Looking forward to the release of Vol. 1 next year