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
‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ captures a compelling snapshot in time in the perpetual motion machine that was the artistry of Miles Davis. By early 1963, several of Miles’ frequent musical collaborators had moved on, and he was in search of a new team to bring his next set of innovations to life. First, Miles headed west, with two days of sessions in Hollywood leading a quartet backed by Victor Feldman-piano, Ron Carter-bass, and Frank Butler-drums. These ballads (1,3, and 5 on the LP) feature heart-wrenching solos by Miles, and Ron Carter’s bass playing on the album opener “Basin Street Blues” should be enshrined in a bass Hall of Fame somewhere. Miles returned to New York the following month, and those tracks—2, 4, and 6 on the LP, recorded on this day 14 May 1963—are more uptempo. The NYC band is a nascent Second Great Quintet: George Coleman-tenor sax, Ron Carter-bass, Herbie Hancock-piano, and Tony Williams-drums. Williams—only 17 at the time—had just been poached from Jackie McLean’s group, where he’d made quite the impression on McLean’s inside/outside ‘One Step Beyond.’ Williams’ playing was charged, pushing everyone to go the extra mile. Clearly, the chemical reaction between Williams, Carter, and Hancock was what Miles was looking for, and so began a year or so of live dates where this quintet would take the standards in the classic Miles live book to tempos and variations that pushed the boundaries further and further, culminating in Coleman’s departure and Wayne Shorter’s arrival in 1964. While it’s tempting to slot SSTH as a “middle child” between the great quintets, it stands proudly on its own merits. Three superb ballads, a killer title track, and the Victor Feldman original “Joshua” (which Davis would keep in his live book for almost a decade, though interestingly Feldman does not play on the track here) are more than enough to make this a classic
I don’t know Mr. Carter personally, but from what I know *OF* him, he’d probably cringe if I used the expression “living legend,” so I’m not going to do that, even though he deserves it. I will wish him a happy 83rd birthday and many happy returns of the day. I could have shown any number of his records in celebration– after all, he’s the most recorded bassist in jazz history, having played on over 2,200 sessions. He’s also a multiple Grammy winner, a multi-decade professor with a strong dedication to music education at various universities, an actor, composer, and author. I spun this LP earlier and enjoyed the title track in particular. Carter’s approach is so confident, and you can’t help but feel that he knows EXACTLY what he’s doing and that even if the situation changes, he’ll roll with Plan B, turning on a dime in an equally confident, relaxed, steady manner. This “Tao of Ron Carter” actually seems like a pretty good approach to life in general!
It’s hard to pick a favorite Ron Carter moment amongst so much great music, though I often turn to this ‘All Blues’ record (CTI 1973), his work on Andrew Hill’s ‘Passing Ships,’ the track “Basin Street Blues” from ‘Seven Steps to Heaven,’ and of course his famous bass line on “Footprints” from ‘Miles Smiles’. “Footprints” in particular gets me every time, as he and drummer Tony Williams toss 12/8 and 4/4 time back and forth with both muscle and magic. I never tire of listening to it, and though I’m not a bass player, I understand why bassists have been studying it—and arguing over exactly what he’s actually playing/doing—for over five decades. It’s amazing.
More power to you, Ron
Other than the title track, this terrific hard-bop session was recorded this day, 28 April, 1967. Morgan is backed by frequent collaborators Cedar Walton-piano, Ron Carter-bass, and Billy Higgins-drums; as well as new-to-this-crew David “Fathead” Newman on tenor sax. Shelved Session Syndrome vaulted this material until release in 1979 on the LT series with its trademark Windham-Hill-by-angsty-teen artwork. The CD issue adds a discs-worth of bonus tracks that were originally paired with the 1978 Twofer Classics issue of ’The Procrastinator’. (Note: those bonus tracks were also issued as a standalone LP in Japan-only as ‘Lee Morgan and His All-Star Sextet’, but what fun would collecting be without confusion and additional expense, right?) All the tunes are solid, up/mid tempo Morgan originals, save the ballad “I’ll Never Be The Same”. ’Sonic Boom’ tends to get a bit lost in Morgan’s late 60s discography, all of which is worth exploring as he never really made a dud of a record. Seems like until recently you could find original pressings of ‘Sonic Boom’ pretty easily/inexpensively but like all Blue Notes, the prices seem to be creeping up they are getting scarcer. I’d certainly say that it’s worth acquiring if you run across a copy. There is a Scorpio pressing from 2009 sourced from CD that’s cheap if you don’t mind a RINO or want a filler/shelf copy until you can locate a better one. I’d rank it maybe a notch below ’The Procrastinator’ but as I have a particular love for that record, my personal bias is in play. But absolutely get ’The Procrastinator’ first…that record RULES
Stylings of the classic quartet and Second Great Quintet blend beautifully, creating a post-bop tour de force that’s both celebratory and reflective. There’s a lot to enjoy here. “Passion Dance” opens the record and grooves with unadulterated joy. Pair it with a strong cup of coffee, and your day is off to a GREAT start! “Contemplation” and “Search For Peace” are introspective ballads, thoughtful and deep but not somber. “Four By Five” is a labyrinth of intertwining lines and shifting time signatures, an engaging game of musicianship where everybody’s a winner. Then there’s “Blues On The Corner,” which certainly has blues in its DNA, but it’s more distantly related, like a second cousin, twice removed. One thing I always find striking about this session is the uniqueness of Joe Henderson’s voice. It’s easy and almost reactive to envision him as a understudy given the context, but that’s simply not the case. To my ears, Henderson is almost defiant in his insistence on being himself. His attack is sharp, and his lines are aggressive yet melodic. He prowls each measure like a restless panther, attacking with counterpoints to Tyner’s block chords with lithe athleticism. He doesn’t do so with the cold, ruthless efficiency of a predatory cat, but rather with a passion and soulfulness that brings the most out of every tune. All the while, Ron Carter brings the @milesdavis SGQ structural and time freedoms to bear, NONE of which throw Elvin Jones off, even for a moment. Years of partnership with Tyner under the mentorship of Coltrane have created a personal, sympathetic communication between them that ensures they’re working in lockstep. I don’t know that this is the best @mccoytyner album, but it’s certainly one of the two I reach for most often. Essential. Music Matters Jazz 2XLP 45RPM pressing…best I’ve ever heard it
The entirety of Wayne Shorter’s legendary @bluenoterecords run is some of the greatest jazz ever recorded. ‘Speak No Evil’ has a special magic: 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 memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuances 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. On this Christmas Eve 1964 session, Wayne brought along two of his @milesdavis Second Great Quintet bandmates: Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass). By this point, they had enough stage and studio experiences with @wayne.shorter 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. The secret sauce here is bassist Ron Carter, whose creativity and unwavering sense of groove liberates both Hancock and Jones to make the most of Shorter’s compositions. Carter’s center-of-gravity was clear to engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who places Carter prominently in the mix. As a result, his playing really stands out, especially on this Music Matters 33 pressing. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. Happy New Year everyone
Recording for this gem occurred during this week in 1970. Inevitable comparisons to @milesdavis ‘Bitches Brew’ continue, but they ring slightly hollow to my ears. BBrew was the Big Bang of jazz/rock fusion. ‘Blackstone Legacy’ is 100% jazz through and through. The record is amped with a healthy dose of electricity via George Cables on electric piano, and the presence of some bass clarinet courtesy of the amazing Bennie Maupin, which might trick you into thinking about BBrew, but this record doesn’t have any rock music DNA at all. Instead, immerse yourself in electrified post-bop, inside/outside modal journeys that are all fairly long, with enough free elements to be surprising, challenging and engaging. Shaw and Bartz are clearly having a lot of fun playing together, and Maupin picks up both tenor sax and flute to join in as well. Standup bass duties fall to the legendary Ron Carter, while electric bass is wielded by Clint Houston who would collaborate frequently with Shaw for years to come. Houston wrote the track “Sunshowers” on Shaw’s breakout ‘Rosewood’ LP (my fave jazz record EVER) which is one its most endearing tracks. Finally, future Return to Forever drummer Lenny White just kills it on skins, hitting them with a fast, firm punch without ever overplaying. All compositions are by either Shaw or Cables. This is a first pressing on Contemporary S7627/8, stereo. Wild stuff
The few remaining leaves are now falling with the first snow of the year. The tranquility of their shared journey downwards is captured perfectly by “Fall,” one of my Top Ten jazz tracks of all time. There’s a certain sadness to it, and while I can’t speak to the minds of the Second Great Quintet, it seems to me that it’s not just about a season. This Wayne Shorter composition was recorded two days after the death of @johncoltrane, and there’s an underlying melancholy that permeates not only the tone but the execution. “Fall” is generally beautiful and serene, the perfect soundtrack to the outside vibe. That said, beneath the surface, there’s an underlying sense of disquiet. It’s not enough to pierce the veil of calm, and if anything, the counterpoint provides a marvelous tension to the piece. By far my favorite moment comes at 2:18 when @herbiehancock begins a captivating piano solo when suddenly at 2:43—in classic Second Great Quintet form—he and Tony Williams break the space-time continuum with a mind-meld that just knocks me flat every time…it’s one of my favorite moments in jazz, an answer to the question “what’s so great about @milesdavis Second Great Quintet?” Well, there are many answers to that question, but right here, right now, it’s “Fall
Some of my fave jazz records are those that never quite stray specifically into free or “out” playing, but hover right on the edge…sessions where the players experiment with the boundaries of melody, harmony and time while never losing sight of the groove. Enter ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’, a record that oozes hard bop and blues, but morphs them into mutant versions of themselves—recognizable, but different. This was tenor sax/flautist Sam Rivers’ debut for Blue Note, having just come from a brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. Miles didn’t find what he was looking for in Rivers and replaced him with Wayne Shorter, but Rivers borrowed a couple of his bandmates from his brief stint with Miles for this session. Joining Rivers is Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) from the SGQ as well as Jaki Byard (piano) to complete his quartet. There’s a lot going on here—the dialogues between the players can move pretty rapidly and it may take a couple of spins for everything (or anything) to sink in. Moments that start out as a toe-tapping, blues-based theme can turn on a dime, the structure blurring as one player deviates from the path and others follow. Tony Williams in particular is fond of implying the beat and then toying with it…his sense of playfulness adds a LOT to the overall vibe as it keeps everyone on their toes. Jaki Byard has a knack for dropping the perfect block chord at just the right time to accentuate a point or change the tone of the conversation, and Williams is right there with him…it’s really impressive. Through all the intricacies, looser moments and flirtations with throwing the rule book out the window, the album still swings pretty hard. Both this and Rivers’ follow-up LP ‘Contours’ are essential records IMO, and great places to start for those looking to dip their toes into edgier jazz waters. This is a 2 X LP 45RPM pressing that sounds FANTASTIC
The creative vortex that Wayne Shorter created in the mid-60s was more powerful than gravity. Already a legend on tenor sax, he was also the compositional linchpin in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. In that role, he was co-piloting Miles’ unique brand of “freebop” that was a nod to less structured playing around a specified time signature or tonal center, without the anti-melodic dissonance that drove Miles batshit. Yet so deep was Shorter’s wellspring of creativity that he continued moonlighting as sideman and leader, delivering tons of compositions across eight albums for @bluenoterecords as a leader while working with Miles, *PLUS* sessions with Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, @mccoytyner and Tony Williams. This album ’The Soothsayer’ has an interesting history as it was—like the equally excellent ‘Etcetera’—shelved shortly after recording and didn’t see the light of day until 1979. That’s not reflective of quality—this is right up there with @wayne.shorter mid-60s, post-bop best. Recorded only a few weeks after the classic Second Great Quintet’s maiden voyage ‘E.S.P.’, this was Shorter’s first sextet date since his Jazz Messengers years but sounding NOTHING like those older hard bop dates. With his Miles cohorts Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) on board and brimming with enthusiasm and ideas, they inspire James Spaulding (alto sax), McCoy Tyner (piano) & Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) to step out of the hard bop box, toying with time, tempo and harmony—sometimes all at once. It’s not noisy, or difficult to follow though there’s often a LOT going on here. To my amazement, there’s an elegance to how marvelously this swings despite the apparent complexity of the underlying structure (or lack of it when they cut loose). This record is THE CRUSH. This is the now scarce/rare @musicmattersjazz 2XLP 45RPM pressing. I’m also appealing to the powers that be— @donwas @jazzsaraswati @musicmattersjazz—please do a proper vinyl release. SRX, Tone Poet or Kevin Grey cut BN. The CD and digital versions are kinda meh sounding and this absolutely FANTASTIC music deserves better. Please?