jamesspaulding

Freddie Hubbard ‘Hub-Tones’

Dateline: 10 Oct 1962. 24-year-old Freddie Hubbard had already put a jaw-dropping number of points on the board. He’d joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the wake of Lee Morgan’s departure, working the frontline on the bandstand alongside Wayne Shorter. Hubbard had already recorded with John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Oliver Nelson, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, and Duke Pearson. He’d led over a half dozen sessions himself, absorbing influences from his peers and mentors into both his writing and his playing. So he was well-primed to knock it out of the park at this session, and he did so with style. Leading a quintet that featured Herbie Hancock-piano, James Spaulding-alto sax/flute, Reggie Workman-bass, and Clifford Jarvis-drums, Hubbard navigates the hard-bop highway with finesse on the uptempo numbers and sensitivity on the ballads. ‘Hub-Tones’ contains a couple of Hubbard’s most excellent originals, including the title track, as well as the beautiful “Lament for Booker” (written for his close friend Booker Little). It’s hard to go wrong with any of Hubbard’s run of albums on Blue Note—they’re all high quality, but I’m partial to this one for three reasons:
1. ”Lament for Booker”—this tune just kills me.
2. I love the way this album sounds—the Notorious RVG was having a great day in the studio, and the sonic assassins at Music Matters must have sprinkled some extra sonic fairy dust on this one to make it leap from the speakers so strikingly.
3. The striking artwork never ceases to amaze. ‘Hub-Tones’ has one of my favorite—and most iconic—Reid Miles Blue Note LP jackets ever.
There’s a lot to love about this record—think I’ll spin it again

Hank Mobley ‘A Slice of the Top’

‘A Slice of the Top’ showcases Hank Mobley at the peak of his powers. It was the session that Mobley has said he was most proud of, and he pulled no punches in expressing his frustration that it sat unreleased—along with a half dozen of his other sessions—in Blue Note’s vaults for over a decade. With clever arrangements by the amazing Duke Pearson, the octet of Hank Mobley-tenor sax, Lee Morgan-trumpet, McCoy Tyner-Piano, James Spaulding-flute/alto sax, Kiane Zawadi-euphonium, Howard Johnson-tuba, Bob Cranshaw-bass & Billy Higgins-drums created one of Mobley’s GREATEST albums. It’s got a bigger sound due to the expanded lineup, the material is on the more adventurous side for Mobley, though he never strays from his trademark melodic excellence. Originally recorded 18 March 1966, it first saw the light of day as part of Blue Note’s LT Classics series in 1979 (cheap and plentiful in second-hand shops, with covers that look either like cheap packages of magnolia seeds, or the work of a first-day intern at Windham Hill), and then Blue Note’s Connoisseur series (this copy) in the mid-90s with a bit more sonic heft, mastered by Wally Trautgott. This session is collected along with the rest of Mobley’s 60s output (including all of his shelved sessions) as part of Mosaic’s ‘Complete Hank Mobley Blue Note Sessions 1963-70’ CD box, which from a sound quality perspective beats all the vinyl issues I’ve heard from these later 60s sessions. ‘A Slice of the Top’ is an often overlooked title in Mobley’s largely stellar catalog, which is a shame as it’s a superb record that I’d categorize as “must hear” material. Fortunately, it is available across the digital spectrum, and second-hand copies of the vinyl are fairly easy to come by h/t @gs_va12 for the suggestion!

Tyrone Washington ‘Natural Essence’

‘Natural Essence’ is tenor sax enigma Tyrone Washington’s “one and done” as a leader for Blue Note. Recorded 29 Dec 1967 with a formidable lineup of Woody Shaw-trumpet, James Spaulding-alto sax/flute, Kenny Barron-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Joe Chambers-drums, this is one of those inside/outside records that grabs you on the first listen and then reveals itself even further with repeat spins. Washington’s approach nods to several contemporaries including Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, though he’s clearly got some Eric Dolphy in him as well. The compositions are all really interesting, requiring a band of this caliber to pull them off so well. Even during the quieter moments, there’s a perpetual restlessness afoot that makes you feel that this band is eager to explore all the potential tangents within the compositional framework. A disappointing fade out and what sound to my ears like one or two unnecessarily shortened solos make me wonder exactly how far out they could have taken some of these tunes! While there are sharp elbows from time to time, this isn’t an avant or “out” record at all. I’d classify it as modal/advanced hard bop, with the occasional left turn into skronkville but those moments don’t occur very often. The last track “Song of Peace” is probably the freest. It’s an environment that Joe Chambers thrives in, and those who’ve enjoyed his work on some of the in/out LPs by Bobby Hutcherson or Grachan Moncur will enjoy his work here a great deal. Washington only made a couple of records as a leader, though he also did notable sideman work on Horace Silver’s ‘The Jody Grind’. He recorded last in 1974 before dropping out of music and finding religion, never to record again. This LP is a bit of a rarity on vinyl but turns up more often than you’d expect, and it is widely available across the digital spectrum. Don’t miss it! While not a household name, it’s a terrific, unconventional title that deserves wider recognition

Wayne Shorter ‘The All Seeing Eye’

Without question the boldest album Shorter had made in the 18 months since leading his first album for Blue Note in April 1964. His tenure @bluenoterecords had started years before, participating in legendary sessions with Donald Byrd (‘Free Form’), Lee Morgan (’Search For The New Land’), Freddie Hubbard (‘Ready For Freddie’) and several Jazz Messenger sets with Art Blakey. His skills and reputation as both player and composer grew rapidly during that time, kicking into overdrive as he grew into his leadership role which occurred only months before assuming the role of tenor sax man and compositional linchpin in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. So by Fall 1965 having led a number of now-classic albums like ’Speak No Evil’, ‘Juju’, ’Night Dreamer’ and ‘Et Cetera’, his aspirations for ‘The All Seeing Eye’ were bigger, his compositions bolder and his approach grander. This was a “concept album” about life, the universe and everything; brimming with edgy hard bop, chaotic modal grooves, and explorations that often tap into the dark side of The Force. The true stars of the session are Shorter’s compositions: their framework provides ample freedom for exploration yet enough structure to keep things from collapsing into into freeform cacophony. Shorter’s well-chosen band makes the most of this: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Alan Shorter (flugelhorn) Grachan Moncur III (trombone) James Spaulding (alto sax) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Joe Chambers (drums)…the largest line-up he’d led so far. These players sound truly liberated and inspired. The results aren’t for everyone (the three star review at Amazon has probably scared away more than a few folks unfortunately), but if you’ve got the patience and open-mindedness to take joy in the abstract enigmas of tracks like “Chaos” and the title track, this record may become a favorite sooner than you’d think. I find this a riveting listen @wayne.shorter @herbiehancock

Duke Pearson ‘The Right Touch’

One of pianist Duke Pearson’s best sessions that leverages his full range of talents—great songwriting, excellent playing, clever arrangements and leading a top shelf octet: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto sax), Jerry Dodgion (alto sax/flute), Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax), Garnett Brown (trombone), Gene Taylor (bass) & Grady Tate (drums). There is a LOT of star power on the frontline and Pearson develops its potential—you get the kickass solos you’d expect from names like Hubbard or Turrentine but the arrangements keep things tight and focused. No meandering, no grandstanding. This original pressing (BST 84267, VAN GELDER in the dead wax) was clearly well-loved by its previous owner. Worn but still sounds pretty good. Happy birthday Duke Pearson

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