Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones

Thad Jones The Magnificent Thad Jones (Blue Note 1956)

Hackensack magic on The Magnificent Thad Jones, the trumpeter’s most celebrated early career outing.

Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones

Personnel

Thad Jones (trumpet), Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Max Roach (drums)

Recorded

on July 9 & 14, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1527 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
April In Paris
Billie-Doo
If I Love Again
Side B:
If Someone Had Told Me
Thedia


The year 1956, hard bop has been gathering substantial steam for a few years now. The Magnificent Thad Jones is on some level affected also by the fresh extensions of modern jazz that Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson and Art Blakey introduced. The album’s harmonic textures run along bop’s course, it includes bop-inflected phrasing, particularly by tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell and pianist Barry Harris. However, the stress is on bouncy mid-tempos typical for hard bop instead of fast, familiar bop tempos, the mood is relaxed but vivacious and Jones introduces clever writing with one of two original compositions, the blues-based Billy-Boo and, especially, Thedia. Two seldom played standards, Murray/Oakland’s If I Love Again and DeRose/Tobias’ If Someone Had Told Me, alternate with the well-known, beautiful melody, April In Paris.

It is often said that talented musicians that hailed from the same city and have come to try and conquer the jazz capital of the world, New York, often had a special rapport as a result of their mutual background. Perhaps it is still like that today. Assisted by Percy Heath from Philadelphia and Max Roach from New York, the three remaining Detroit-raised guys, Harris, Mitchell and the leader, Thad Jones, indeed gel particularly well. Harris, by then already a long-time devoted bop pianist with an encyclopedian knowledge of Monk, Powell and standard melodies, and a mentor to John Coltrane, Charles McPherson, among others, is the personification of glue, his resonant harmonies and concise tales provide refined support and sparkle. Max Roach, VIP bop veteran, incubator of the finest hard bop with Clifford Brown, balances fervent and delicate swing. His alert, melodic ear is virtually unparalleled. During the ensembles, the full, punchy sound of tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell blends well with the happy-blues-sounds of Jones, and Mitchell regularly chimes in with short, resonant, smoky statements.

To get you into this place where time stands still. Not a place that’s safe from the outside troubles, but perhaps instead a state wherein you chew on them, let them heat like hotcakes on a stove, live through them, to come out of them somehow cleansed. If that is the purpose of good jazz, April In Paris, the opening track of Thad Jones’ The Magnificent Thad Jones, is a winner. And winner takes all. There’s a loping gait to the standard of Vernon Duke and Edgar Harburg that’s exquisite, courtesy of the precise flow of bassist Percy Heath, the lush backing of pianist Barry Harris and the conversational coloring of Roach, who drives this band home with sensitive hi-hat and crystalline ride cymbal drumming.

And courtesy definitely of Thad Jones. If a diamond could blow, it would probably sound like Thad Jones on his second album for the Blue Note label. Moreover, the moving story of the trumpeter and future bandleader of the renowned Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra is a poignant amalgam of ideas strung together from series of keenly divided notes, the silence between them functioning as the apex of improvisational flow and coherence. It’s a story that runs over several choruses, and Jones keeps it simultaneously relaxed and intense, on a constant high level. His solo of Thedia, a beautiful, boppish, elongated line is longer still and an example of taste and sustained energy.

There’s something special about the trumpet sounds that Van Gelder recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey. Jones has become one of those angels blowing from the upper celestial plateau, the tone full and sensual like a female body on a Rubens painting, juicy like the flesh of the blissful orange, a perfect blend of sweet and sour. Yes, Charles Mingus said that Rudy van Gelder messed up everybody’s sound, depersonalized it through his innovative but all too strict methods. It’s a valid statement. But did Mingus mean it? This comes from a bandleader who told every sax player he worked with not to play like Charlie Parker. Yet Charles McPherson, a singular player yet more firmly steeped in the Parker tradition than most of his colleagues, played longer than anybody in the Mingus band except for drummer Danny Richmond. Regardless, the sound of ‘RVG horns’ and in this case, Thad Jones, is fantastic. The overall production is bliss. The execution, focus and mellow drive of the quintet are exceptional. The Magnificent Thad Jones is a perennial favorite for lovers of classic mainstream jazz and will undoubtedly attract newcomers for years to come.

Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks

Bill Leslie Diggin’ The Chicks (Argo 1962)

Bill Leslie is diggin’ the chicks and we’re diggin’ the relaxed and intriguing style of the tenor saxophonist from Pennsylvania.

Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks

Personnel

Bill Leslie (tenor saxophone, saxella B1), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Thornel Schwartz (guitar), Ben Tucker (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on October 19, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as Argo 710 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Goodnight Irene
Angel Eyes
Madge
Margie
Side B:
Lonely Woman
Got A Date With An Angel
Rosetta


Who is Bill Leslie? Well, he was born in Media, Pennsylvania in 1925 and passed away in 2003. For many years, Jennings played in the group of the popular and influential alto saxophonist and bandleader, Louis Jordan. In the early sixties, Jennings was featured on organist Larry Young’s Groove Street and guitarist Thornel Schwartz’ Soul Cookin’. Diggin’ The Chicks is Leslie’s only album as a leader. In the late sixties, Leslie led an organ combo. That’s about it as far as bio goes.

Yeah, ok. But who, really, is Bill Leslie? Here a straightforward answer won’t suffice. He’s a straightforward player, at ease in a conservative setting, yet picks notes that have one leapin’ sideways. He likes to play swing music with a breathy sound and bends notes like a country blues singer. At the same time, Leslie adds spare, effective bits of double-timing. Perhaps this kind of gelling isn’t that unusual for players who grew up in the 30s and 40s, when black popular music was still labeled as ‘race’ music and included traditional New Orleans jazz, gospel, jump blues, novelty and swing and, in the late 40s, while bebop was changing the face of jazz, black popular music with a driving back beat suddenly came to be labeled as rhythm&blues. Likely musicians (like, for instance, Gene Ammons or Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis) didn’t feel it was unusual to switch from race/jump/r&b to modern jazz. And almost as a rule, he or she’s got the blues and was raised in church. All of this is somehow reflected in his/hers style. Leslie also shows a liking for Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. Get it? Anyhow, a quirky, fascinating player which in some magical way that only seems possible in the fantasy world of jazz, holds one spellbound with highly enjoyable, original notes and tones.

On Diggin’ The Chicks, a novelty title that clouds his message, Leslie is supported by Tommy Flanagan on piano, his friend Thornel Schwartz on guitar, Ben Tucker on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Schwartz serves as accompanist, while Flanagan, a receptive supporter, adds a number of delicate, coherent solos. Leslie is addressing a lot of female creatures, presenting tunes like Madge, Margie, (Earl Hines’) Rosetta, and playing standards like Angel Eyes and Got A Date With An Angel. Making his presence known with a lot of flair too. Not a loudmouth. Instead Leslie charms his way in like a gentleman. He’s taking his time, the leisurely stroll is Leslie’s favorite walk. And he’s adept at setting a homey atmosphere, smoothly luring the listener into a cozy place, the woodblocks in the fireplace quietly whispering, the cup of hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows all set on a low mahogany wooden side table… Then again it’s unlikely that Leslie will doze off, there’s a bite to his tone and he’s got bright ideas, is shaved, ready, with tie knotted, eager for a night out into town.

How charming an album when it includes both Goodnight Irene and an Ornette Coleman tune! Leslie picked Coleman’s Lonely Woman. Leslie’s pace is slower than Coleman’s, and bassist Ben Tucker plays a key role employing an attractive descending figure. Leslie uses the saxella. The vocalized sound is highly expressive, the twists and turns haunting. But if I was to pick one highlight, it would be his version of Huddie Ledbetter’s Goodnight Irene. The waltz figure of Art Taylor gives it a gentle but probing chuck-chuck-chucking push, Leslie’s genial tone, relaxed delivery, out-of-tempo bits and surprising choice of notes stay in one’s head long after the needle has jumped and the laundry has been done. It’s an unbelievable fate that Leslie’s career as a leader was finished before it started, but that’s the way it works sometimes.

Listen to the full album of Diggin’ The Chicks here. But try to grab one if you like it, it’s a crisp and punchy Rudy van Gelder recording. If Diggin’ The Chicks was on Blue Note, considering its beautiful production and outstanding line up, it would go for 4 or 5 times the amount of $ you have to lay down for this affordable Argo release.

Hampton Hawes - This Is Hampton Hawes

Hampton Hawes This Is Hampton Hawes (Contemporary 1956)

This, indeed, is Hampton Hawes. The coolest smokin’ cover. Immaculate, intense bebop. The pianist in full flight, a few years before the life of the addicted Hawes would take a tragic turn.

Hampton Hawes - This Is Hampton Hawes

Personnel

Hampton Hawes (piano), Red Mitchell (bass), Chuck Thompson (drums)

Recorded

on December 3, 1955 and January 25, 1956 at Contemporary Studio, Los Angeles and June 28, 1955 at Los Angeles Police Academy, Chavez Ravine

Released

as C3515 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
You And The Night And The Music
Stella By Starlight
Blues For Jacque
Yesterdays
Side B:
Steeplechase
Round About Midnight
Just Squeeze Me
Autumn In New York


Now here’s a pianist that warrants more copy than is usually dedicated to him. On par with likeminded players from the generation that followed Bud Powell, Hampton’s jail sentence from 1959 to 1963 was an obstacle to the road to recognition. The vintage years of hard bop went by him, by and large. To name a few, Sonny Clark burnt bright, didn’t fade away, becoming one of the legends of jazz music after he tragically overdosed. Horace Silver set the vintage years in motion, delivering one catchy, clever tune after another. Red Garland’s claim to fame involved his stint with the First Great Miles Davis Quintet.

That is not to say that the playing of Hawes hasn’t find its way to jazz fans around the globe and to many contemporary musicians somehow. Neo-boppers, as expected. On the other side of the spectrum, there are fans like Matthew Shipp. And Ethan Iverson. Here’s what the eclectic pianist with the unwavering curiosity in and broad knowledge of the tradition and anything musically challenging has to say about Hawes: ‘Even though Hampton Hawes had a strong and urgent touch, there was always air around his lines. He seemed to breathe his bluesy bebop into the piano. Along with many others, Hawes took Bud Powell and Charlie Parker and blended it with the pastel colors found in California, although Hawes’ unpretentious virtuosity and perfect jazz beat stood out among his West Coast brethren.’

It is also not to say that Hawes isn’t, on some level, ‘famous’. Or, was. On the contrary. Hawes was born in Los Angeles in 1920 to a father that was a minister and a mother that was a church pianist of the Presbyterian Church. Like so many beboppers, he was seriously addicted to heroin. In 1958, undercover Feds arrested Hawes, white supremacy everywhere, the jazz musician a ‘degenerate evil to society’, who refused to snitch on fellow users and dealers. Hawes got an unbelievable 10-year sentence. In between his trial and sentence, the pianist recorded The Sermon, a telling reflection of the man’s fear, desperation, and what seemed idle hope of better days. Regardless, during his third year in jail, seeing the new President in office, the good looking, emphatic John F. Kennedy, Hawes decided to request for a pardon. Lo and behold, as one of very few, a mere 43 that year, he was released by JFK in 1963.

Mr. Hawes subsequently reaped what he sowed, playing to admiring crowds in Europe and Asia, deepening his modern jazz conception on, for instance, superb Enja albums, and delving into electronic (Fender Rhodes) playing in the process. His biography Raise Up Off Me, published in 1974, is classic jazz literature, perhaps best likened to Art Pepper’s Straight Life. Hawes passed away untimely in 1977.

Hawes’ series of Contemporary albums in the mid-and late fifties are among the period’s finest bop and hard bop releases, not least the All Night Session Volume 1-3 live LP’s. Hawes began the series in 1955 with his debut The Trio Volume 1. His second album This Is Hampton Hawes, recorded in December 1955 and January 1956, is subtitled The Trio Volume 2. Same trio – Hawes, bassist Red Mitchell, drummer Chuck Thompson – same procedures: a remarkably fresh, original take on standards, ballads, blues and a few self-penned compositions. The latter’s list consists of You And The Night And The Music, Stella By Starlight, Yesterdays, Autumn In New York, Monk’s Round About Midnight, Parker’s Steeplechase, Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me and the Hawes composition, Blues For Jacque.

Like the masters of bop, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, often Hawes is pure energy, dashing off streams of notes that dart this way, that way, seldom ending up in a rot, instead tied together in bundles that reveal the quickest harmonic mind. Long, spirited sentences. Immaculate pace. The gospel, so prevalent in his youth, is definitely under the surface of a style that is carried out with a decisive touch, the touch of a carpenter with a passion for the craft. Bits of bebop’s mid-and post-war angst, the cultish, dedicated stress on beauty and sophistication as the antidote to the black man’s struggle still shining through. But never, like the less talented players, panicky. As Iverson says: air. In a sense, Hawes might be called one of few players who played the Bud Powell stuff that, because of his mental problems, Bud Powell himself wasn’t able to anymore in the post bop era.

The piano as a horn. Hawes blows, his refreshing breeze and gusty winds are still fresh after all these years.

The Junior Cook Quintet - Junior's Cookin'

The Junior Cook Quintet Junior’s Cookin’ (Jazzland 1962)

Junior’s Cookin’ is the only album as a leader in the sixties from tenor saxophonist Junior Cook. Superb hard bop date.

The Junior Cook Quintet - Junior's Cookin'

Personnel

Junior Cook (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Dolo Coker (piano), Gene Taylor (bass), Roy Brooks (drums)

Recorded

on April 10 & December 4, 1961 at Gold Star Studios, Long Beach, California and New York City

Released

as JLP 58 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Myzar
Turbo Village
Easy Living
Side B:
Blue Farouq
Sweet Cakes
Field Day
Pleasure Bent


How many references to cookin’ can you handle? Following his debut as a leader, Junior’s Cookin’ from 1962, the 70s and 80s saw the release of Pressure Cooker, Good Cookin’ and Something’s Cookin’. Of course, there’s a close relationship between jazz and food, depending on how far you want to take it. If you don’t mind me traveling a couple miles from home base, I won’t hesitate to state that more often than not, you can just smell jambalaya, kidney stew or ribs in the juicy notes of Louis Armstrong, Brother Jack McDuff, Lee Morgan, to name a few… I’m pretty sure this can’t be applied to classical music, which as a principle is non-spontaneous. (Though it once was common practice, as brilliant composers and pianists like Franz Liszt reportedly did, to partly improvise) But perhaps you disagree and feel very strongly the taste of Sachertorte in the waltzes of Johann “Fledermaus” Strauss.

What’s cookin’? Well, the group of Junior Cook, sous chef of the Horace Silver Gourmet Restaurant. (Just one last cheesy culinary reference to end all matters) Junior Cook, born in Pensacola, Florida in 1934, deceased in NYC in 1992, came into prominence with the hard bop pioneer’s group, blending particularly well in the ensembles with Blue Mitchell, who’s his superb and lively mate on this album as well. As a matter of fact, also present on Junior’s Cookin’ are bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Roy Brooks, who were part of the Silver line-up including Cook and Mitchell as well, a group that existed from 1958 to 1964 and is by many regarded as the essential Silver band. After his stint with Silver, Cook was in Mitchell’s band from 1964 to 1969. He also played in trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s group from 1971 to 1974. Notable albums on which Cook is featured are Horace Silver classics as Finger Poppin’, The Tokyo Blues and Doin’ The Thing, Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Volume 1 & 2, Barry Harris’ Luminiscence and Cedar Walton’s Cedar.

With this line-up involved, effortless swing and crisp group interplay are guaranteed. Myzar, one of four Cook original compositions, is a splendid example of Cook and his group’s hi-quality hard bop. An Eastern-tinged brass and reed melody underscored by a repetitive Senor Blues-type piano figure, which moves smoothly forth and back to the crisp, straightforward swing section. Cook’s cookin’, yes. Not to be mistaken with cookin’ in the sense of riffin’, stringing together exciting but loose-jointed blues phrases. Far from it. Albeit graced with an abundance of blues feeling, Cook’s playing is remarkably balanced. Taste written all over it. A heir to Hank Mobley, in this respect. Also a Silver alumnus, from the pioneering line-up of The Messengers of late ’54 and early ’55 to late ‘56, to be precise. His mates in the frontline were Kenny Dorham and Donald Byrd. Mr. Silver had an ear for exquisite and smokin’ tenorists and trumpeters.

It’s interesting to take a listen to Cook’s late career period. It could be argued that it is evidence of the man’s patient, dedicated, disciplined intensification of his hard bop tenor art. Take a listen to the Cook/Louis Hayes LP Ichi Ban, Louis Smith’s Prancin’, Bill Hardman’s What’s Up or Clifford Jordan’s Two Tenor Winner. To be sure, I do not intend to assume that Cook’s work with Silver was immature. On the contrary! However, would it be a farfetched line of thinking that Cook was balancing his act with Silver, not really a driving force of that group but instead precisely tying the knots of Silver’s intricate, blues and gospel-infested compositions? Later in life, evidently, Cook’s work gained depth and, though still very composed, is characterized by more edgy twists and turns and a delivery that hints at a heart that has been burning from all sorts of sweet or sour experiences.

I don’t think Cook is alone in this. Plenty of saxophonists that shone brightly in the classic age of hard bop but matured further into their careers. Like Clifford Jordan, Charles McPherson, Jimmy Heath, Harold Land… Wisdom comes with age. Wrinkles too, although, and perhaps you know that feeling, they’re the least of my troubles.

The Eddie Fisher Quintet - The Third Cup

The Eddie Fisher Quintet The Third Cup (Cadet 1969)

Eddie Fisher’s guitar sound is quite irresistible. Small wonder, then, that his jazzy and soulful 1969 debut on Cadet, The Third Cup, was a good seller.

The Eddie Fisher Quintet - The Third Cup

Personnel

Eddie Fisher (guitar), Phil Westmoreland (rhythm guitar), Bobby Selby (organ), Paul Jackson (bass), Kenny Rice (drums)

Recorded

in February 1969 at Saico Studio, St. Louis

Released

as Cadet 828 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
Scorched Earth
A Dude Called Zeke
Shut Up
The Third Cup
Side B:
Two By Two
Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Be-Do-Da-Day
The Shadow Of Your Smile


Eddie Fisher was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1943. The teenage guitarist caught the traveling bug in the late fifties, touring first with Solomon Burke and subsequently stopping by Memphis, Tennessee. There Fisher mingled with Memphis stalwarts Isaac Hayes, Willie Mitchell, Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper, receiving ample education. Settling in St. Louis in the mid-sixties, Fisher further delved into popular black urban music as guitarist and bandleader with blues master Albert King. Simultaneously, Fisher had honed his skills as a jazz player. In an interview with the Riverfront Times in 2002, Fisher says: ‘I really wanted to play jazz. (…) Albert let me do jazz instrumentals before he came onstage – tunes like Milestones and So What – so I was happy.’

In St. Louis, Fisher got associated with Leo Gooden, the 400-pound club owner, singer and politician and/or hustler who’d been a supporter of guitarist Grant Green a couple of years earlier. (According to Lou Donaldson, Leo Gooden assisted Donaldson and Green to Blue Note headquarter in New York in 1960, to recommend St. Louis resident Grant Green to Alfred Lion; the rest, as they say, is history) Fisher played in Leo’s Five, a group fronted by Gooden in his Blue Note club just out of East St. Louis in Alorton, Missouri. Also in that band were, at different times, saxophonists Fred Jackson and Hammiet Bluiett. Prominent visitors like Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis and Yusef Lateef sat in.

Fisher recorded the 45rpm single The Third Cup on Oliver Sain’s Vanessa label. The considerable airplay of Fisher’s debut on wax as a leader – it sold more than 5000 copies – prompted Cadet, the subsidiary label of Chess Records in Chicago, to release an entire album, also produced by Sain. The Third Cup was a good seller and Fisher’s follow up, The Next One Hundred Years, a big success. Fisher made another album for All Platinum in 1973, Hot Lunch, but then settled down in Centerfield, focusing primarily on social welfare projects with his wife.

On the surface, one may notice the influences of Fisher’s apprenticeship. The horn-like lines, integrated, repetitive blues riffs and blend of relaxation and bite point to fellow St. Louis cat Grant Green. There’s a bit of Kenny Burrell as well, the ease of the warm-blooded blues groove A Dude Called Zeke definitely brings to mind the work of the revered mainstream jazz guitarist. Big city blues, moreover, is in his veins. But, much like blues/jazz guitarists as Freddie Robinson, (although a bit more relaxed) it’s twisted to accommodate a definite, personal style. Fisher’s a fusion cook of note, combining lurid r&b swingers like the uptempo Shut Up and Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Do-Da-Day, the cookin’ boogaloo tune Two By Two (written, by the way, by fellow St. Louis resident, the future avant-gardist Oliver Lake) with the sick, rock jazz vamp of Scorched Earth.

The group’s take on Harvey Mandel’s The Shadow Of Your Smile is a stiff affair, since subtle swing isn’t the rhythm section’s strong point. The title track is better. The Third Cup travels along the borderland route of soul jazz and CTI-type smooth stuff. It’s also one of the examples of the quintet’s intricate, hi-quality interplay, the contrasting rhythm of drums and bass providing the clever and meaty bottom for Fisher and the excellent organist Bobby Selby to work with. Up front the group’s lively and tasteful accompaniment is Fisher’s unmistakable, plucky, ringing tone. Very alluring.

Eddie Fisher died of prostate cancer in 2007. The Third Cup was finally re-issued properly on vinyl in 2017.

McCoy Tyner - Today And Tomorrow

McCoy Tyner Today And Tomorrow (Impulse 1964)

McCoy Tyner picked Brother Elvin and a bunch of interesting, first-class colleagues for his fourth album as a leader, Today And Tomorrow, arguably his most varied Impulse recording.

McCoy Tyner - Today And Tomorrow

Personnel

McCoy Tyner (piano), Thad Jones (trumpet A1, A3, B2), John Gilmore (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Frank Strozier (alto saxophone A1, A3, B2), Butch Warren (bass A1, A3, B2), Jimmy Garrison (A2, B1, B3), Elvin Jones (drums A1, A3, B2), Albert Heath (drums A2, B1, B3)

Recorded

on June 3, 1963 (A2, B1, B3) and Februari 4, 1964 (A1, A3, B2) at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as Impulse A-63 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Contemporary Focus
Night In Tunesia
T ‘N’ A Blues
Side B:
Autumn Leaves
Three Flowers
When Sunny Gets Blue


Perhaps The Real McCoy is pianist McCoy Tyner’s greatest achievement as a leader. The Blue Note album, released in 1967, certainly is a perennial favorite for many fans and musicians alike. On a series of inventive and ‘meaningfully simple’ modal pieces, Tyner’s whirlwind style was totally synced with the interaction between Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. The album’s emotional directness goes straight to the gut. It’s got that something. However, the discography of Tyner is filled with hi-level gems. For all their boisterous dips into scales and dynamic voicings, most of them in fact have a conservative touch, as if the pianist took a breather from the intense wrestling match with Coltrane, whose famous quartet Tyner was part of from 1960 to 1965. Titles like Plays Ellington and Nights Of Ballads And Blues offer evident clues. Obviously, Today And Tomorrow, Tyner’s fourth album on Impulse, also finds Tyner realizing his indebtedness to the tradition. At the same time, the pianist revels in his ongoing search for new lands.

The album is divided between tunes with a trio and sextet line-up. The trio includes drummer Albert Heath, the sextet Elvin Jones, his friend from the Coltrane group. Tyner and Jones lock tight, the interaction of Tyner’s hefty voicings and the pushing-and-pulling rhythm of Jones on the modal blast Contemporay Focus is unbelievable. Contemporary Focus comes close to the energy of, say, Coltrane’s Crescent or Art Blakey’s Free For All. How’s that for spirit? The sidemen on Contemporary Focus, T ‘N’ A Blues and Three Flowers, the latter a beautiful melody that dances like a surfer on the waves of Butch Warren’s waltz figure and the contrasting polyrhythm of Elvin Jones, are Thad Jones, John Gilmore and Frank Strozier. Differing textures mingle, each one, Thad Jones’ snappy, balanced trumpet playing, John Gilmore’s soothing and refreshing mix of blues and space oddities, and Frank Strozier’s fervent twists and turns on the alto, equally distinct.

Whether in small or larger ensembles, McCoy is McCoy, all colorful strokes like Van Gogh high on absinthe. Underlined by a dense chordal labyrinth, his rather otherworldly technique creates patterns resembling the running of water, his right hand lines high on the keyboard flowing like cool water that splashes and gurgles its way through the narrow channels of a rocky river, and develops into cascading waterfalls before you can say ‘awesome’. Too much? Can’t breathe? Not taking away anything from Tyner’s unmatched gift, I can imagine. It may just be me. Regardless, there’s a balance of flamboyance and romance in McCoy Tyner’s playing that will intrigue listeners till kingdom come.

Of the trio recordings, Night In Tunesia stands out. Albert Heath’s brush playing is meaty, swift, rivaling the unforgettable mastery that Elvin Jones regularly displayed, notably on Tommy Flanagan’s Overseas. You can see Tootie sitting behind the kit, body erect, arms slightly moving along with the swift wrist that is doing the job so expertly. Today And Tomorrow is a masterclass in musical excellence, intense stuff. A rather indistinct title but a major league McCoy Tyner album.

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 1

Kenny Burrell Blue Lights Volume 1 & 2 (Blue Note 1958)

Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Vol. 1 & 2 consist of a bunch of tasteful, blues-infested tunes. A lively, relaxed jam session.

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 1

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 2

Personnel

Kenny Burrell (guitar), Louis Smith (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor saxophone A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 1, A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 2), Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone A2, A3 on Vol. 1, A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 2), Duke Jordan (piano, Vol.1), Bobby Timmons (piano, Vol. 2), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Recorded

on May 14, 1958 at Manhattan Towers, NYC

Released

as BLP 1596 and BLP 1597 in 1958

Track listing

Blue Lights Vol. 1
Side A:
Phinupi
Yes Baby
Side B:
Scotch Blues
The Man I Love
Blue Lights Vol. 2
Side A:
Caravan
Chuckin’
Side B:
Rock Salt
Autumn In New York


Kenny Burrell, 86 years old, is one of the great mainstream jazz guitarists, who has been consistently successful ever since he made his debut with Dizzy Gillespie in the early fifties and hit his stride on the Blue Note label in 1956. On the Blue Lights albums, recorded in 1958, Burrell is coupled with other major league players. Drummer Art Blakey, bassist Sam Jones, pianists Duke Jordan/Bobby Timmons, trumpeter Louis Smith and tenor saxophonists Junior Cook and Tina Brooks provide plenty of sparks and a meaty hard bop bottom for Burrell to work with. Fleet, snappy lines, a lot of fresh ideas, articulation best likened to the pop of a champagne bottle, are all in evidence in a set that is comprised of blues-based affairs like Burrell’s r&b groove Rock Salt, the uptempo cooker Phinupi, slow blues Yes Baby, Duke Jordan’s lively riff Scotch Blues, Sam Jones’ choo-choo-boogie-type Chucklin’ and the standards The Man I Love, Caravan and Autumn In New York.

Burrell’s capacity to set the atmosphere, which feels as if he’s wrapping you in velvet drapes, and sustain it consistently, is one of his greatest gifts. His playing is relaxed, but rooted in the blues and not without a topping of sizzle. Vintage Burrell. Perhaps inevitably considering his extremely long discography, I feel Burrell also delivered less inspired affairs that showed a tendency to run through the repertory with safe cliché patterns of phrases. However, especially in the company of hi-level colleagues, like John Coltrane, Sonny Clark or Kenny Dorham, Burrell is at his best. His playing, in those cases, has that extra bit of flair and bite.

Burrell was no stranger to Art Blakey, who drives everybody to the edge of the cliff. Blakey’s ride, it goes without saying, is roaring, a hard drive, a lurid mélange of bombs, cymbal crashes and tom rolls either meant to stimulate the soloist or introduce the subsequent storyteller. Besides Blakey’s boss accompaniment, the drummer’s plush tom variations on the theme of Caravan are striking. The fat texture of brass and reed combines well with Blakey’s forceful style. Smith, Brooks and Cook have ample room to stretch out, and Smith’s gait is sprightly, and he sprinkles his happy blues juices with drops of vinegar.

Perhaps more tenor contrast would make Blue Lights more exciting. Both Brooks and Cook are intent on swinging clean, flowing, tasteful, much like master Mobley, Brooks with a tidbit of wear on his notes, Cook somewhat more soft-hued. But who’s to complain? Brooks, who faded into obscurity after a concise stretch of Blue Note appearances, demonstrates the cliché-free, resonant, swinging storytelling that has made him a legend among hard bop aficionados around the world. Junior Cook, who would join Horace Silver late in 1958, provides the tenor sax highlight of the set during Phinupi, the steamy tale and unhurried flow a real treat.

Care to purchase original first pressings of these twin beauties? Good luck. They’re not only at the tail end of the famed and collectable 1500 series of Blue Note, but the covers were illustrated by Andy Warhol, who not only created postmodern mayhem by churning out his screen printings of Campbell Tomato Soup and Marilyn Monroe on the assembly line, but also did his fair yet modest share of record sleeve design. Without a doubt, the Warhol/Blue Lights LP’s are unattainable artifacts for the average collector. Unless, of course, that average collector decides to skip his family trip to Rome and put up a figure of about 1750. A piece. Don’t get any ideas, now.