Junior Mance - Junior's Blues

Junior Mance Junior’s Blues (Riverside 1962)

Things do not always happen as they should. To be sure, they rarely if ever do! However, pianist Junior Mance, one of the greatest blues pianists in jazz, was destined to record an album of blues tunes. That album was Junior’s Blues, released by Riverside in 1962.

Junior Mance - Junior's Blues

Personnel

Junior Mance (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)

Recorded

on February 14, 1962 in New York City

Released

as RLP 447 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Down The Line
Creole Love Call
Rainy Morning Blues
Yancey Special
Gravy Waltz
Side B:
Cracklin’
In The Evening
Blue Monk
The Jumpin’ Blues


As a blues man among modern jazz pianists, Mance is perhaps equaled only by Gene Harris and Ray Bryant. Les McCann is a favorite of personal assistants, runners and restroom ladies of Flophouse Corp. and, last but not least, yours truly, head honcho of the Flophouse Magazine headquarters, which some of you may consider plainly an attic, but for me is nothing short of the main boardroom, resplendent with everything the modern-day (or old-fashioned, depending upon your view) chief editor needs. Because it really is not plain. There’s a lovely wooden desk. A side table that carries glasses and a bottle of 12 year-old Red Breast pot still whiskey from Ireland. A weathered Chesterfield chair for comfortable listening purposes. And records of course, the weight of which threatens to destroy the town house’s construction, much to the dismay of two of its main occupants, my wife and kid daughter, undeniably the most kindred and faithful souls I have had the pleasure to encounter in this earthly existence. Three if you count the cat. Wife and child can’t help it and aren’t into jazz. Cat couldn’t care less. She’s a country girl. Mice and kibble is her main concern, notes and tones are phenomena from another dimension.

It goes without saying, we’re not running a blues competition. McCann’s earthy, driving style, Gene Harris’ subtle variations on a theme, Ray Bryant’s striking incorporation of the tradition are all contagious. I’m sure there are a number of pianists that you feel shouldn’t be left out. Oscar Peterson perhaps, or Mose Allison. And Junior Mance? Man, there’s just no end to the enjoyment of the long, clever and exciting lines that he spun!

Mance was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1928, learned to play stride and boogie-woogie from his father, spent his youth in Chicago. By the late forties, Mance had recorded with Gene Ammons on Alladin and Lester Young on Savoy. Cannonball Adderley, ever the keen organizer even at a young age, recruited Mance for his Army band in the early 50s. Mance was part of the house band of Chicago’s Beehive club and backed Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. Trusting the advice of Bird, Mance moved to New York City in the mid-50s. He accompanied Dinah Washington for two years. Mance subsequently hooked up again with Cannonball Adderley and cooperated fruitfully with the recently arrived alto saxophonist on the New York scene on many albums on EmArcy. Mance’s features on the Riverside albums of the Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis outfit in the early 60s are notable as well.

The debut of Junior Mance was on Verve in 1959. Mance was part of the Dizzy Gillespie group and producer Norman Granz granted Mance the opportunity to record a solo album: Junior. Mance subsequently recorded five albums for Riverside/Jazzland: The Soulful Piano Of Junior Mance, At The Village Vanguard, Big Chief, The Soul Of Hollywood, Junior’s Blues and Happy Time. Definitely the series that made his name and kick started his career, a very fruitful one at that. All of them contain a mixture of standards and lesser-known standards imbued with blues feeling as well as pure blues tunes. Great stuff. I decided to highlight Junior’s Blues. It is a set of relatively straightforward blues music. Because of its simple harmonic framework, there’s no place to hide for the performer thus takes some doing and daring.

Mance succeeds summa cum laude, no sweat. The set list contains Mance originals Down The Line, Rainy Morning Blues and Cracklin’, Duke Ellington’s Creole Love Call, Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk, Leroy Carr’s In The Evening, Jay McShann/Charlie Parker’s The Jumpin’ Blues, Steve Allen/Ray Brown’s Gravy Waltz and Maede Lux Lewis’ Yancey Special. Mance treats us to layered stories punctuated by his unfailing beat, flawless articulation and confident attack. It is surprising how much ideas the pianist produces chorus after chorus. His phrases are skilled but not studied and his bold lines stretch bars and are underlined by witty, decisive bass figures. His playing is simultaneously from the gut, the heart and the brain!

The lithe groove of Down The Line and The Jumpin’ Blues and the roar of Yancey Special are standout moments of pleasure. I’m particularly enamored by the eloquent Gravy Waltz. Mance’s soft-hued lyricism equates to the growth of roses and dahlias from your chest. The crisp, unfettered backing by Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker solidifies Mance’s flamboyant and tasteful art of the blues. Not a note or accent is wasted.

Junior Mance suffered from a stroke in 2012, which led to Alzheimer’s Disease and gradual mental decline. There has been a documentary in the making about Mance and his wife Gloria for quite a while now, Sunset And The Mockingbird, produced by Jyllian Gunther and Adam Kahan. The project needs more funding for its completion. You can donate on Kickstarter here.

Eddy Louiss - Eddy Louiss Trio

Eddy Louiss Eddy Louiss Trio (Cy 1968/73)

Get ready for a post bop bomb by the powerhouse trio of organist Eddy Louiss, guitarist René Thomas and drummer Kenny Clarke.

Eddy Louiss - Eddy Louiss Trio

Personnel

Eddy Louiss (organ), René Thomas (guitar), Kenny Clarke (drums)

Recorded

in 1968 at Studio Davout, Paris

Released

as Cy 3004 in 1973

Track listing

Side A:
No Smoking
You’ve Changed
Don’t Want Nothin’
Side B:
Nardis
Blue Tempo
Groovin’ High


Eddy Louiss came up in the early sixties as a pianist in Paris, France, soaking up the music of American expatriate legends like Bud Powell, apprenticing in modern jazz like like-minded, passionate European jazz freaks as Daniel Humair, Rein de Graaff, Pierre Courbois, Gunther Hampel. Louiss mainly focused on playing the Hammond organ in the mid-sixties. His thorough grasp of the bebop language is evident. That, in itself, is notable. The great ones in the USA – pioneer Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes, Eddie Baccus, Lonnie Smith, Melvin Rhyne – mastered essential bop melodies. The average soul jazz organist would perhaps include a bit of bop in his song book, but would prefer to play a blues lick like Now’s The Time instead of Scrapple From The Apple. Nothing wrong with that, long live the groove. Just not bebop scales and the integration of upper intervals in the harmonic groundwork of standards.

Louiss was no stranger to the golden feathers of Bird. However, there’s more to Eddy Louiss, who was born in Paris in 1944 to a French mother and a father from the colony of Martinique. His father was a trumpet player and enrolled young Eddy in his band, who was exposed to all kinds of exotic rhythm that underlined the repertoire of his dad’s popular music outfit like the rumba, cha cha cha and paso doble. In Paris, melting pot of cultures, skin colors, scents, fashions… Louiss accompanied French chanteurs and chanteuses. In later life, Louiss played duets with such diverse personalities as pianist Michel Petrucciani and accordionist Richard Galliano. Undoubtedly, this colorful background contributed immensily to the multi-faceted, original playing style of Eddy Louiss.

The association of Louiss with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in the early 70s put the French organist squarely in the limelight. Getz formed one of his finest but underrated groups of his career, also including drummer Bernard Lubat and the Belgian guitarist René Thomas. The group recorded the outstanding live album Dynasty in 1971. By then, Louiss had been cooperating with René Thomas for a number of years, a very fruitful bond, especially in combination with Kenny Clarke, expatriate drummer in Paris, France since the 50s, legendary inventor of bebop rhythm, major inspiration for European musicians to push their boundaries.

In 1968, Louiss, Thomas and Clarke recorded Eddy Louiss Trio at Studio Davout, Paris. It would enjoy a belated release in 1973. It’s a set of extraordinary, hard-driving organ jazz. No Smoking is a catchy bop line thriving on the stop-time device, Blue Tempo a modal burner that brings to mind John Coltrane’s Impressions. Both are compositions by Eddy Louiss. The trio performs Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin’ High, Miles Davis’s Nardis, Kenny Clarke’s sleazy, mid-tempo blues line Don’t Want Nothin’ and the wonderful ballad by Bill Carey and Carl Fischer, You’ve Changed.

Louiss, whose bass figures are fat-bottomed and hi-level at any pace, fast or slow, and the group play a heavy Nardis. It definitely spells 1968 and one imagines Brian Auger scratching his chin, relieved he’s playing at another festival. Nardis features typical long, boppish Louiss lines, swirling in directions to the Near-East and Carribean Islands. Kenny Clarke, effortlessly and with abundant detail underpinning the driving force of the Louiss organ, is hors category. The way his concise solo segues back into the Spanish-tinged outro of Blue Tempo is so good it makes you laugh.

You’ve Changed features extraordinary playing by René Thomas, a guitarist of note who, let’s be honest, would be counted among the greats would he have been of American descent. His story of You’ve Changed is intense. No doubt in my mind that the guitarist from Liège, Belgium knew the lyrics by heart… You’ve changed.. that sparkle in your eyes is gone… your smile is just a careless yawn… you’re breaking my heart… you’ve changed… you’ve forgotten the words, I love you… each memory that we’ve shared, you ignore… every star above you, I can’t realize you’ve ever cared… you’ve changed… you’re not the angel that I once knew… no need to tell me that we’re through… it’s all over now, you’ve changed… Thomas reflects the lover’s resignation, but his double time, staccato and poetic phrases add a layer, they’re hitting the spot, bidding farewell but adding the afterthought that the lady is worse off without Monsieur Thomas.

Eddy Louiss is more level-headed. His explosive solo says: ok, so it’s over. Soit! Gotta move on! Period. Their stories comprise one of the nicest contrasts of this imposing set of organ jazz.

Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell This Is Billy Mitchell (Smash 1962)

It is, indeed, tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell, delivering a mellow mainstream album with more than a few surprises.

Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell

Personnel

Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Dave Burns (trumpet A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Billy Wallace (piano A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson (organ A3, B1, B2, B4), Herman Wright (bass), Otis “Candy” Finch (drums)

Recorded

on October 29 & 30, 1962 at Universal Studios, Chicago, Illinois

Released

as MGS 27027 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
J&B
Sophisticated Lady
You Turned The Tables On Me
Passionova
Side B:
Tamra
Automation
Just Waiting
Siam


The tenor saxophone is a special cat. Essential jazz instrument since the introduction of its potential by Coleman Hawkins, extension of the body of popular honking men like Big Jay McNeely, fulfilling the attractive role that would later only be surpassed by the guitar in rock & roll. Very saxy… The tenor sax is the woman with guts, Lauren Bacall firing one-liners, high ball leaning in her lean fingers, it’s the woman with curves, Raquel Welch bursting from the screen, half-naked and whip in hand… It’s the boy in the hood, dunking day and night on the square, and it’s Killer Joe, stepping from the board of his Cadillac, right in front of Birdland… The burning of rubber on a dirt road. Biceps and beer belch all in one. And smoke, don’t forget the smoke…

The tenor saxophone gels particularly well with the toms and ride cymbal of the drums, the middle register of the piano. Its sound burst out of the big bands and plays a pivotal role in the small ensemble setting of the 50s and beyond. It was the chosen instrument for many of the burgeoning reed men that followed the bright light of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. In the slipstream of the giants – Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane – a slew of great stylists emerged. A sample of last year’s review pages of Flophouse Magazine reveals the names of tenor saxophonists Cannonball Adderley, Jerome Richardson, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Chamblee, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Forrest, King Curtis, Clarence Wheeler, Buddy Terry, Harold Land, Wayne Shorter and Hank Bagby. Suits all mainstream jazz tastes!

And now Billy Mitchell: dark horse coming in from the stretch, a thoroughbred bound for a solid run on the racetrack of Flophouse, place your bets, keep your eye on the tote board, 9 to 2 shot, there he comes, there he comes… run! goddamit! run!… bingo. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, across the border line from Charlie Parker – who saw the light in Kansas City, Kansas – raised in Detroit, city of countless outstanding jazz artists, Mitchell apprenticed at the Blue Bird Inn, sharing the stage with incoming modernists like Miles Davis. He was a long-time member of the Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie big bands. Mitchell maintained a special relationship with trombonist Al Grey, with whom the bop-oriented tenorist released a number of albums in the early 60s.

Bonafide leadership dates were scarce. Snap Your Fingers on Argo was the first in 1962, This Is Billy Mitchell followed soon after that year and A Little Juicy was the final solo album by Mitchell featuring Thad Jones in the sixties – 1964. Both albums were released on Smash, subsidiary of Mercury Records. His next record came out in 1977. For reasons unknown, Mitchell dropped out of the scene in the 80s, coming out of hiding only occasionally, for instance with singer Deborah Brown and Rein de Graaff Trio during Vervolg Cursus Bebop in The Netherlands in 1991, the legendary series of lectures and performances with American legends and unsung heroes that was organized by pianist Rein de Graaff. The face of death finally appeared in Mitchell’s rear view mirror in 2001.

And now This Is Billy Mitchell: epic sleeve, smoke, pockmarked face of ruminative jazz man, graceful lettering that says… Mitchell is the most exciting tenor sax in jazz… Well, hyperbole reared its ugly head… Nonetheless, Mitchell is a real good’n, offering mellow mainstream jazz, a warm, full-bodied tone and smooth phrasing that keeps us fairly hypnotized in our easy chair. Mitchell fluently embeds the weathered artistry of the great swing tenor men in his background of bebop. He carries his original composition J&B, a smooth, smoky song that bounces merrily behind Mitchell’s relaxed but imposing, big-sounding phrases, Buddy Tate-ish, Jimmy Forrest-ish, you name it. Simply wonderful.

A similar swing era-smoothness instills the mid-tempo You Turned The Tables On Me and the ballad Sophisticated Lady, once a showcase for Harry Carney’s pioneering, booming baritone sax and a demonstration of skilled artistry by Mitchell here, whose proficiency provides wholehearted support for understated drama and imaginative, fully articulated ideas: the mark of a great jazz man. Boppish swing infuses a surprising set of rarely performed compositions: Gene Kee’s Siam, Melba Liston’s Just Waiting, John Hines’s Passionova. Automation is an original composition by trumpeter Dave Burns, the album’s most furious affair.

Obviously, the unusual sound palette of This Is Billy Mitchell is a big part of the attraction. Piano by Billy Wallace, the Wild Bill Davis-type organ injections and unobtrusive background of Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson, the ringing, balanced notes and tones of early-career Bobby Hutcherson all together now for 1/3 part of the album. The sprightly and pesky trumpet of Dave Burns and husky tenor of Billy Mitchell tiptoeing on the easygoing bounce of bassist Herman Wright and drummer Otis “Candy” Finch. The variety of piano/vibraphone, vibraphone/piano. It somehow works, a meshing that serves as the backdrop to very enjoyable tenor playing by Billy Mitchell.

Howard McGhee - The Return Of Howard McGhee

Howard McGhee The Return Of Howard McGhee (Bethlehem 1956)

Howard McGhee returned to Bethlehem. A glorious entrance.

Howard McGhee - The Return Of Howard McGhee

Personnel

Howard McGhee (trumpet), Sahib Shihab (baritone saxophone, alto saxophone), Duke Jordan (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on October 22, 1956 in New York City

Released

as BCP 42 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Get Happy
Tahitian Lullaby
Lover Man
Lullaby Of The Leaves
You’re Teasing Me
Transpicious
Side B:
Rifftide
Oo-Wee But I Do
Don’t Blame Me
Tweedles
I’ll Remember April


By 1956, trumpeter Howard McGhee already was a veteran of bebop and one of the earliest collaborators of Charlie Parker, The One, The Kick Start of modern jazz. More than a colleague, he was a friend. Howard McGhee was born in 1918 and two years the senior of Charlie Parker. Now and then, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-born trumpet player helped out Parker, saxophoniste maudit, who continuously ran into trouble.

Sign of the (ominous) times: In 1946, Charlie Parker had completed his first recordings for Ross Russell’s Dial label in Los Angeles. McGhee lived in Los Angeles with his wife Dorothy. They were a mixed couple that was continually harassed by the L.A. police force. At one time, the vice squad planted drugs in their apartment and promptly arrested McGhee. Parker was in bad shape, living in a garage on McKinley Avenue, his daily diet solely consisting of port wine. The McGhee’s took him to their apartment. Howard and Dorothy, against the grain, opened a little jazz club on the premises of the defunct Finale club and booked Charlie Parker.

The first thing one notices is that The Return includes Lover Man and Don’t Blame Me, two standard ballads identified by influential renditions by Charlie Parker. Lover Man, Dial 1946, was a sinuous exercise – notwithstanding the fact that Parker was sick and close to a nervous breakdown, awoken just in time by the sounds of his colleagues to pick up on the melody, which perhaps was one of the reasons Parker abhorred this version. McGhee, himself a trumpeter who inspired many of the up-and-coming players of the hard bop era, was the trumpeter on that recording and continued to perform Lover Man for the rest of his life.

Furthermore, McGhee’s group includes pianist Duke Jordan. Jordan was part of one of Parker’s most steady groups of 1947-48, which also included Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. The bop-oriented The Return Of Howard McGhee – McGhee had been off the scene a while as a consequence of his use of narcotics – also featured alto and baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Both Shihab and Jones had occasionally played with Parker.

The chemistry – no pun intented – is striking. The group performs as a bunch of buoyant teenage pals at play in the lake, two diving from the bridge, one showing his prowess as a crawler in clear sight of nearby feminine onlookers, another shouting crazy things to fly-over goose. Not a wild bunch of hooligans, but charged and charming. So Get Happy makes perfect sense. And the old warhorse is exemplary of a great album that is too easily overlooked. There’s the rare sparkle and bite of Philly Joe Jones. The smooth blend of McGhee’s exuberant, sinuous trumpet and Shihab’s pretty spectacular baritone sax. The spry and gracefully fashioned solo’s of Duke Jordan.

The group performs eleven tunes, including the soft-hued, hypnotic Lullaby Of The Leaves, the catchy, Latin-ish and uptempo I’ll Remember April and the sizzling flagwaver Rifftide. Lover Man is excellent, the coupling of McGhee’s sly variations on the melody and delicate bittersweet comments with the bright and full-bodied tone that’s reminiscent of Louis Armstrong is very attractive. The long life already lived, from his stints with Count Basie and Charlie Barnet, to the laboratory of Minton’s Playhouse and ‘carvin’ with the bird’ signifying a weathered and stellar jazz artist.

A set of eleven tunes that rarely stretch beyond four minutes – unfortunately – suggests that Bethlehem was aiming at radio airplay, perhaps inspired by the success of the Mulligan/Baker group of Pacific Jazz. Bethlehem wasn’t strictly a jazz label. Nonetheless, its jazz discography has slowly but surely turned into a special place for jazz freaks, like that little superb Juarez burrito joint for Texan lovers of hot Latin cuisine. The great engineering can compete with Rudy van Gelder as well as Roy DuNann from Contemporary, the label on which McGhee recorded two more successful albums in 1960. To boot: you ever seen such a beautiful sleeve? In the words of Babs Gonzales: exboopident!

The Cedar Walton Trio - A Night At Boomers Vol. 1

The Cedar Walton Trio featuring Clifford Jordan A Night At Boomers Vol. 1 & 2 (Muse 1973)

Mainstream jazz at its most fluent, refreshing and adventurous. That is A Night At Boomers Vol. 1 & 2 by The Cedar Walton Trio featuring Clifford Jordan.

The Cedar Walton Trio - A Night At Boomers Vol. 1

The Cedar Walton Trio - A Night At Boomers Vol. 2

Personnel

Cedar Walton (piano), Clifford Jordan (tenor saxophone Vol. 1 A1, A3, B1-4; Vol. 2 A2, B1-3), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Recorded

on January 4, 1973 at Boomers, New York City

Released

as Muse 5010/5022 in 1974

Track listing

Volume 1
Side A:
Holy Land
This Guy’s In Love With You
Cheryl
Side B:
The Highest Mountain
Down In Brazil
St. Thomas
Bleecker Street Theme
Volume 2
Side A:
Naima
Stella By Starlight
All The Way
Side B:
I’ll Remember April
Blue Monk
Bleecker Street Theme


Gary Giddins: “Where is jazz going?”
Cedar Walton: “It’ll go wherever we take it. We’re the masters of it. And wherever my colleagues and I feel like going tomorrow.”

The time is January 4, 1973, the place is Boomers in Greenwich Village, NYC, the club that, by all accounts, overflows with knowledgeable jazz fans. The paranoiac and grumpy Republican, Richard Nixon, is in the Oval Office. The burglaries at the headquarters of the Democratic Party take place in May 1972. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein sink their teeth into the case. It’s a pressure cooker. The termination of the Vietnam War is long overdue. The number of casualties has been highest among blacks. The army is still segregated. Blacks here, whites there. And here means low in the hierarchy – straight from the assembly line of the Ford factory to the battlefields. Few if any black men wear stripes and play cards in the mess. It’s still, well, a mess.

James Brown is now singing that crack is ruining the hood. The seeds of gangsta rap are sown. White rock is fed to the general public, the corporate smile grows broader and broader by the minute. In jazz, fusion is the big thing, Miles Davis and Weather Report the big names. Living jazz giants are doing fine: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz. Dave Brubeck is a star. In general, straight-ahead jazz is having a hard time. Regardless of the passionate promotional and educational efforts of Cannonball Adderley, John Lewis, critics, and the occasional write-up in Time Magazine, Average Joe has by and large been (kept?) ignorant of jazz, the beautiful musical art form that, though not exclusively of black origin, can’t be separated from the tormented past and lively culture of the black race and would have been void without it. Amidst the general turmoil, a group of outstanding innovators and stylists, either in the USA or as expatriates in jazz-minded Europe, keep the flame of classic jazz burning: Kenny Clarke, Dexter Gordon, Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Griffin, Zoot Sims, Art Pepper, Benny Bailey, Phil Woods, Slide Hampton, Jim Hall, Joe Pass, Art Farmer.

And pianists like Tommy Flanagan, Ray Bryant, Kenny Barron. Cedar Walton. Walton, born in Dallas, Texas, was supposed to play on his friend John Coltrane’s landmark album Giant Steps. But while he was out of town, Tommy Flanagan got the call. Walton came into prominence as the pianist of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. A gifted writer, Walton penned future standards as Mosaic, Ugetsu, Bolivia, Mode For Joe and Holy Land. Now it’s 1973. Walton, already a very accomplished player in the 60s, matured into a commanding maestro – it has slowly but surely dawned on me that the work of the Flanagans, Bryants, Barrons and Waltons gained considerable depth in the second phase of their careers. Much to our delight.

Crew of Boomers: Walton, craftsman with amazing skills, skills subservient to flexible, rich lines, unceasing drive and phrases crusted with the grit of the honky-tonk floor. Bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes. Extraordinary rhythm engine since The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Hayes the former drummer of Horace Silver’s group, who elevated ‘small ensemble’ hard bop drumming to its ultimate level. Tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, who matured from Rollins-styled player to volatile Mingus associate and individual personality that delivered the remarkable Glass Bead Games eight months after the Boomers gig.

Glass Bead Games – extension of John Coltrane’s music – tapped into mankind’s subconscious longing for beauty and unity. It’s uniquely organic. A Night At Boomers, regardless of progressive tinges, is more concerned with redefining mainstream jazz. It does, however, possess a wholesome vibe, perhaps because everybody felt it, musicians and audience alike. If this was an exemplary performance of the Cedar Walton Trio featuring Clifford Jordan, and there is not much room for doubt, I envy those who were able to experience it night after night. The Baby Boomers comprised a lucky crowd.

Boomers bristles with invigorating interpretations of standards, All The Way, Down In Brazil and Charlie Parker’s Cheryl among them. Stella By Starlight and I’ll Remember April are souped-up Kreidlers suddenly taking swift turns like the slickest of Kawasakis. The first four minutes of April are reserved for Sam Jones’s meaty and lyrical bass story, the second part for Clifford Jordan’s fiery tenor playing. Clifford Jordan’s balanced but potent blues playing is the topping of Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk’s leisurely pace. The archetypical juxtaposition of the Carribean rhythm and uptempo 4/4 sections of Sonny Rollins’s St. Thomas are handled just that extra specially, the Latin part boisterous, the 4/4 part lightning fast and crisp as crackers on Sunday morning. Walton reacts accordingly, switching smoothly from percussive variations to a quicksilver update of Bud Powell.

A joy. The best, however, is yet to come. At least, the tracks that I usually have been immediately drawn to are Holy Land, The Highest Mountain, This Guy’s In Love With You and Naima. The composition of Holy Land is a stroke of genius. The simple and lovely melody – you can hear a child humming it in the playground – is introduced and ended by Walton’s glamorous Bach-like outlay of the chords, which flows smoothly in and out of the tune’s mid-tempo bounce. Whatever the holy land means from Walton’s perspective – Israel for the chosen ones that fled from Egypt, the promised land of Dr. Martin Luther King – Walton obviously had good hopes of discovering it one day.

Perhaps he also longed to reach The Highest Mountain, an equally beautiful, modal-tinged composition. He’s assisted on his travels by Clifford Jordan (Led by Joshua, the tribes of Israel crossed the river Jordan…), who tells one of his all-time great stories. Jordan gives pleasures in measured doses. His tone doesn’t push you against the wall, it’s relatively thin, light as a day in early Spring. His phrasing is agile like the movements of the antelope and his smooth but forceful message is interspersed with sudden, emotionally charged grunts and growls. One hears him searching, investigating, wondering, smiling, pondering and, finally, finding something he deems worthy for a new search. A great artist.

Cedar Walton reaches new levels of trio playing. There’s an endless stream of long lines and ideas during This Guy’s In Love With You, which is started in a funky vein, developed into a crisp groove. Walton is exuberant and his superlative skills are balanced by commanding blues figures. John Coltrane’s Naima never fails to touch my heart, Walton’s voicing and lines a rare, heartbreaking thing of beauty. I have to go with Gary Giddins, who says in the liner notes that Walton is ‘meshing softness with command. It has the cumulative effect of a rose unfolding its pedals.’

This group with near-telepathic synergy effortlessly moulds contemporary jazz to its feelings and highly developed aesthetic.

The Hank Bagby Soultet - Opus One

The Hank Bagby Soultet Opus One (Protone 1964)

Lots of great Hanks out there. One of the lesser-know Hanks, tenor saxophonist Hank Bagby, delivered a first-rate hard bop album in 1964, Opus One.

The Hank Bagby Soultet - Opus One

Personnel

Hank Bagby (tenor saxophone), Chuck Foster (trumpet), Dave MacKay (piano), Al Hines (bass), Chiz Harris (drums)

Recorded

in 1964

Released

as Protone 133 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Dee Dee
The Great Wall
Soul Sonnet
Side B:
Kiss Me Quigley
Iborian
Algerian Suite


Thanks Matt Block from Chicago, major league hard and post-bop collector, for putting Flophouse on to The Hank Bagby Soultet’s Opus One through the grapevine of the evil but occasionally very pleasant world wide web. There’s always more hardbop out there than expected. Live and learn. Die and reincarnate as the insect from Kafka’s Die Verwandlung, crawl on the pavement of Sunset Boulevard and get squashed on the star tile of Hugh Hefner before, to cite Kinky Friedman, you were able to bug out for the dugout. Come back again as Mahatma Gandhi, slip into suit and tie and invest in big data. Be ashamed of yourself. Nothing to be ashamed of if you’re Hank Bagby. Hank Bagby is ok. But is Opus One an album we should be ashamed of having ignored for so long? No not exactly. It’s not a milestone of mainstream jazz. But then again it’s about time it gets the attention it very well deserves.

The pulse of the album is pretty contagious, Jazz Messengers-like in spots. Moreover, both Dee Dee and The Great Wall wouldn’t have been out of place on Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers albums. Perhaps most striking, the typical hard bop format of quintet line-up featuring sax and trumpet, blues-based repertoire and medium tempos is strengthened by a number of exotic flavors, the melodies of Soul Sonnet and Iborian (Nairobi spelled backwards) in particular.

Obviously, Bagby was a good writer. As a tenor saxophone player, his big hard tenor sound is exciting but his lines have a tendency to somehow pass by unnoticed. Trumpeter Chuck Foster is more impressive. His bright tone and sparkling lines lift up the fresh set of tunes. Even better is pianist Dave MacKay, who provides pulsating backing with a combination of strong-willed chords and pesky lines. As a soloist, without exactly imitating them, he’s somewhere between McCoy Tyner and Horace Silver. Not a bad place to hang around.

Bagby started as a singer in Denver in the 40s, then worked as a saxophonist on the West Coast in the 50s with Kenny Drew, Leo Wright, Joe Maini, Elmo Hope, Dexter Gordon and Harold Land. Opus One is his only album as a leader. Currently going for 400$ on Discogs. Mind if I pass? Luckily, there’s also a CD that was released by Jazzhus in 2012. And the full album is on YouTube. Listen here.

Clarence Henry Bagby passed away in 1993.

Jimmy McGriff - Honey

Jimmy McGriff Honey (Solid State 1968)

You can pick your favorite soul tune from Jimmy McGriff’s 1968 Honey album and dance, dance, dance.

Jimmy McGriff - Honey

Personnel

Jimmy McGriff (organ), Uncredited ‘Organ & Big Blues Band’

Recorded

in 1968 in New York City

Released

as SS-18036 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone
Respect
Chain Of Fools
We’re A Winner
Up, Up And Away
Side B:
Tell Mama
Honey
I Thank You
I Got The Feelin’
Baby, I Love You
(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay


It’s a blatantly commercial album by McGriff, who was quite popular ever since the organist from Philadelphia scored a hit on Sue Records in 1962 with Ray Charles’ I Got A Woman. Switching to Solid State in 1966, McGriff’s version of Cherry did very well on the charts. Producer Sonny Lester must’ve dreamt of making McGriff just as famous as his mentor and friend, Jimmy Smith, who was the most popular soul jazz artist of the era, more so after he switched from Blue Note to Verve, under the guidance of Creed Taylor. Sonny Lester used McGriff in a variety of settings, from blues, pop to big band, some more successful than others. Essentially, Honey presents a rather arbitrary choice of popular soul tunes. Just put ‘m all on one album, see which one picks up any airplay.

But. Big but. Although it would’ve been nice if McGriff had recorded more often in a modern jazz setting in the sixties, (McGriff’s albums on Milestone in the 80s and 90s are more jazz-oriented) McGriff’s clever voicing and modern approach have not altogether vanished from his chart-running songbook. Besides, McGriff is a blues master that rarely disappoints in the kind of setting Honey represents. He is, after all, a groove monster without peer!

The album is a mix of uptempo classics like Respect, Chain Of Fools, I Thank You, medium-tempo tunes as (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, James Brown’s funky I Got The Feelin’ and the odd pop tune, Jimmy Webb’s Up, Up And Away. Throughout, McGriff’s charming mix of screamin’ blues riffs and dazzling little bop lines keeps the listener on his toes. His timing is hip, floating around the beat. The band is seriously rocking, backing McGriff as if Otis, King Solomon or the Wicked Pickett is holding the mic. The sax player has no inkling to play ‘safe’ soul licks but instead – a pleasant surprise – injects cookers like Honey with tantalizing modern-jazzy phrases on what sounds like the electric Varitone saxophone. The group is uncredited. It might be saxophonist Fats Theus, who played on McGriff’s The Worm in 1968 as well.

Honey paid the bills. In later life, McGriff kept gigging steadily, making a living on the road. A while ago, the late flutist, saxophone player and educator Peter Guidi recounted his stint as a sideman with McGriff to Flophouse, describing the traveling organist’s classy van as a bonafide ‘mobile bordello, laced with red velvet’. It also carried the Hammond B3 and indispensable Leslie speaker. Guidi remembered the day McGriff offered him a gig, but Guidi, who almost once got killed carrying a B3 down the stairs of a club, said: “I love your work and I want the job. As long as I don’t have to carry the damn thing!” McGriff laughed. Guidi got the gig anyway.

It is a blessing that, in spite of the machine’s awkward shape and elephantine weight, there have been so many fine organists. Jimmy McGriff definitely was one of the leaders of the pack.

The full album is on YouTube. Listen here.