Johnny Lytle - Blue Vibes

Johnny Lytle Blue Vibes (Jazzland 1960)

Blue Vibes propelled the career of the superb vibraphonist Johnny Lytle.

Johnny Lytle - Blue Vibes

Personnel

Johnny Lytle (vibraphone), Milton Harris (organ), Albert Heath (drums)

Recorded

on June 16, 1960 in New York City

Released

JLP 22 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blue Vibes
Over The Rainbow
For Heaven’s Sake
Movin’ Nicely
Side B:
Autumn Leaves
Mister Trundel
Canadian Sunset


Mount Rushmore of vibraphonists? That would be Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Dave Pike and Bobby Hutcherson. Agree? No, I hear you say, better start grinding an extra stone for Gary Burton. There were/are a lot of great vibe players. Red Norvo (who started out on xylophone), Teddy Charles, Terry Gibbs, Buddy Montgomery, Mike Mainieri, Steve Nelson and, in The Netherlands, Frits Landesbergen. The name of Johnny Lytle now and then still crops up, deservedly so. The Springfield, Ohio-born vibraphonist, (1925-1995) like Hampton and Landesbergen also an acclaimed drummer, was a reasonably popular artist on the rosters of the Riverside, Tuba and Solid State labels in the sixties, scoring especially well with The Village Caller (1963) and The Loop (1965).

He was a professional boxer as well, battling well into the late fifties when Lytle was active as a drummer for Ray Charles, Jimmy Witherspoon and Gene Ammons. Nicknamed “Fast Hands” for his showmanship and remarkable agility, Lytle started recording steadily in 1960. It adds up. Good pugilists have a delicate sense of rhythm. And their fight is a dance, needs to swing and groove. The drums and the vibraphone share the percussive aspect, while melodic swing is paramount. Miles Davis was attracted to boxing for a number of reasons. No fights in the ring for Miles though, contrary to Jack Johnson, Red Garland, Johnny Lytle. One of Lytle’s tunes on his 1966 New And Groovy album is titled Selim. Miles spelled backwards, obviously. Lytle liked boxing and Miles Davis. Makes sense. I’m more into snooker and Miles Davis, which may seem nerdy, but that’s just what the Good Lord cued up for yours truly the Flophouse Floor Manager.

His debut album Blue Vibes, which includes Milton Harris on organ and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums, finds Lytle in straight-ahead jazz territory, less ‘soul jazzy’ than his mid-sixties efforts, and it’s a winner. Lytle offers a couple of proper ballad interpretations, Over The Rainbow and For Heaven’s Sake. The array of sounds that Lytle coaxes from the vibraphone, from dry, staccato notes, sustained bell-like sirens to eerie pre-sixties-soundtrack-ish phrases is surprising. How Lytle does it I don’t know! But the variation is effective and striking, like the unpredictable steps of Muhammad Ali. Standards like Autumn Leaves and Canadian Sunset are infested with healthy doses of groove and blues. In fact, the blues-based repertory of the Lytle compositions Blue Vibes and Mister Trundel and Milt Jackson’s Movin’ Nicely is what makes one eager to purchase this Jazzland vinyl. Or, if a quick buy is out of the question, run to the Spotify link below. The former‘s the best option. The latter, connected with Bluetooth to the speakers, might give one unsound bytes and blue vibes.

No doubt there’s something about the combination of vibes, organ and drums. Harris knows when to scream, add slices of melodrama or back off into a corner. “Tootie” Heath adds a number of crazy rolls. The trio grooves thoroughly. It’s the balance between the fire of r&b and jazz sophistication that makes Blue Vibes such an enjoyable date.

Teddy Edwards - Teddy's Ready!

Teddy Edwards Teddy’s Ready! (Contemporary 1960)

And we’re ready for Teddy. By 1960, tenor saxophonist and bebop pioneer Teddy Edwards had settled firmly into his role as prime straightforward player and delivered the excellent Teddy’s Ready for the Contemporary label on the West Coast.

Teddy Edwards - Teddy's Ready!

Personnel

Teddy Edwards (tenor saxophone), Joe Castro (piano), Leroy Vinegar (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on August 17, 1960 at Contemporary Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as Contemporary 3583 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blues In G
Scrapple From The Apple
What’s New
You Name It
Side B:
Take The “A” Train
The Sermon
Higgins’ Hideaway


The West Coast, Los Angeles to be precise, is where the Jackson, Mississippi-born Edwards had settled in the mid-40s. Edwards made his mark with the 1947 The Duel recordings with Dexter Gordon. Like Gordon, who also lived west at that time, and Hampton Hawes, Howard McGhee, Elmo Hope, Edwards stood out as the edgy, hard-driving player among the cool Californian musicians. Around 1960, Edwards was on a hot streak. Preceding Teddy’s Ready, which was recorded on August 17, 1960, Edwards released It’s About Time, a killer session with the greasy Les McCann trio, and Sunset Eyes, a fine date that boasts the title track, the Edwards composition that became somewhat of an instant standard. Both albums were released on Pacific Jazz. Subsequent recordings were Together Again, a reunion with bop mate, trumpeter Howard McGhee and Good Gravy, released in 1961, which also comes highly recommended.

Teddy’s Ready (Together Again and Good Gravy as well) was released on Contemporary. So in comes engineer Roy DuNann, lesser-known than Rudy van Gelder but equally revered by diehard classic jazz fans, with a crisp and clear sound canvas, punchy overall group sound, and precisely audible details. A kind of lightweight vibe that totally brings out the group’s swing, the way a master stylist makes prettier a pretty girl, not with theatrics but with subtle shadings of the beaut’s personality. This group is swinging subtly but driving. It consists of: Billy Higgins, equally at home in hard bop and – he was part of Ornette Coleman’s group – free jazz surroundings, Leroy Vinegar, in-demand all-rounder with an uncanny ability to walk and Joe Castro, relatively unknown, talented West Coast-based pianist who also made the sought-after Groove Funk Soul album on Atlantic with this Teddy Edwards group.

Who needs another horn? Not me. Not Teddy. It is, in fact, a blessing that Edwards carries Teddy’s Ready (and Good Gravy) on his own. No distractors, just Teddy Edwards, flying on the wings of the trio’s nightingale, focusing on the smoky story to tell. The voluptuous, slightly husky sound of Edwards is the tenor sax tone equivalent of the Montechristo #2 cigar, contraband from Cuba, fired up with a rusty Zip lighter. There is a minimum of strain between his lips, facial muscles, breathing, and the sound that emanates from his horn. Like every serious jazz musician, Edwards must’ve worked hard, I mean, hard, at ending up with a personal tone yet, like every great jazz musician, the completely natural flow suggests it was a cinch. Why do we rarely hear tones like these, these days? Perhaps because jazz has changed along the lines that the world has changed? It’s flophouse vs zero tolerance, Bull Durham vs e-cigs. Obviously, more to the point, the classic saxophonists acquired certain techniques that enabled them to override the buzz of the crowd in the dingy jazz club, which carried no amplification.

Edwards, the bop innovator, who has faultless timing, contagious pace and a relaxed fury that is apple pie for the ear, is a bluesman at heart. The blues oozes out of him during excellent renditions of his catchy, stop-time composition You Name It and the sumptuous, mid-tempo blues line of Hampton Hawes, The Sermon. That song conjures up the imagery of gin mills and moonshine passed on at Saturday night fish fries, miles and miles of cotton fields, the suffering and cathartic wailing of the black chain gang, and what surely was a reality to Edwards still in 1960, degrading redneck remarks that fill the heart with anger one does not really want to unleash except through blowing clean and hard.

His melancholic reading of What’s New suggests that Edwards knew by heart the lyrics to that song about a meeting of former lovers. Another Bull Durham vs e-cigs situation and a lesson for contemporary players: know your lyrics. And in the first place, get down those ‘standards’ anyway before exploring new vistas. Solid ground. So much for Prof. Durham’s class. Now get outta here and blow!

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.