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!

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens

Eddie Harris Mean Greens (Atlantic 1966)

Eddie Harris, free bird. Doesn’t let anyone tell him what to play, tears his shirt off his tenor body and delivers Mean Greens. A bubbling mix of innovative Latin rhythm, inherently groovy, soft-hued modern jazz and spirited chitlin’ circuit r&b.

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens

Personnel

Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone A1-4, B2, electric piano B1-3), Ray Codrington (trumpet, tambourine A1), Cedar Walton (piano A1-4), Sonny Philips (organ B1-3), Ron Carter (bass A1-4), Billy Higgins (drums A1-4), Melvin Jackson (bass B1-3), Bucky Taylor (drums B1-3), Ray Codrington, Ray Barretto & Bucky Taylor (percussion A1)

Recorded

on March 8 & 9 and June 7, 1966 in NYC

Released

as Atlantic 1453 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Mean Greens
It Was A Very Good Year
Without You
Yeah Yeah Yeah
Side B:
Listen Here
Blues In The Basement
Goin’ Home


It’s easily one of Harris’ best efforts. During his career, the tenor saxophonist’s albums met with a lot of suspicion that almost ran equal with their popularity. Albeit unfair, it was only human that ‘serious’ jazz buffs raised their eyebrows when the instant star Eddie Harris followed up his best-selling 1961 single Exodus To Jazz with a series of like-minded, smooth jazz albums on the VeeJay label. Who could blame Eddie? After playing for years in relative obscurity in his hometown Chicago, Harris finally made his (money) mark. Besides, even if the VeeJay (and subsequent Columbia-) albums leaned heavily on standards and popular concepts such as bossa nova and movie soundtracks, they were high caliber affairs and the style and tone of Harris was unmistakably individual. ‘Sell’ was appropriate, ‘out’ wasn’t.

That Eddie Harris was an upright musician who relished incorporating all sorts of influences into his modern jazz bag, became evident in his Atlantic years. Atlantic, where Harris recorded from 1965 till 1976, proved to be a well-suited canvas for the multi-instrumentalist’s bold strokes. Besides popular music, the label had been in the thick of avant-garde jazz since the late fifties and put a lot of weight into progressive rock in the late sixties, so it isn’t surprising that the label was happy to try for a successful mix of high and low brow. Yes, Harris’ strokes may have been too bold at times. Experimenting with the electric (Varitone) saxophone is a reasonable idea, toying with the ‘guitorgan’, the ‘saxobone’ and electric bongos indicates a lack of direction; his tongue-in-cheek r&b albums of the mid-seventies also were liable to scare off more than a few listeners. On the other hand, Harris’ wildly exciting r&b-drenched live cooperation with Les McCann in 1969, Swiss Movement and the follow-up, 1972’s Second Movement, proved to be two of the saxophonist’s most successful efforts.

Arguably, the Harris synthesis comes full circle on his late sixties output. Interestingly enough, Harris’ debut on Atlantic, the sizzling hard bop album The In Crowd (boasting the classic Freedom Jazz Dance, which was recorded just half a year later by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles), is Harris’ best album. His group of the time, including Billy Higgins and Ron Carter is out of sight. Less coherent, Mean Greens takes the silver medal. But wasn’t that the point? Taking a little risk, seeing where it leads to. At least that’s what the cover, portraying a saxy Jekyll and organistic Mr. Hyde, suggests.

Higgins and Carter are present on Mean Greens as well, on side A. The versatility of these modern jazz monsters (At the time, Carter was part of the legendary Miles Davis quintet, Higgins recorded with about everybody, both ‘in’ and ‘out’, including Ornette Coleman) is amazing. They adapt beautifully to the basically groovy Eddie Harris norms. Not only that, Higgins created the unusual beat of the title track Mean Greens. It does the trick, just like the rhythm he invented for Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man was the major push for the artistic succes and commercial appeal of those classic tunes.

Mean Greens, the exotic blues. Cedar Walton hits percussive, staccato piano chords. Harris and trumpeter Ray Codrington blow a playful minor theme over the solid bottom of Higgins and Carter. Obviously, Harris was eagerly awaiting for an entrance, as he’s immediately going into a furious free bag with the Eddie Harris touch: whether Harris is playing advanced or soft-hued, like in It Was A Very Good Year (one part of the proof that Exodus To Jazz wasn’t a tune from a one-trick-pony), the upper register sounds that Harris gets from his tenor, if not for everybody’s ears, are remarkable. When Exodus To Jazz was released, people thought Harris played the soprano. Utter control, phenomenal range.

Then side B, which has been the cause of an occasional spontaneous (combustive) party. Thank you Eddie Harris, for a friggin’ wonderful Saturday night! Listen Here’s irresistible charme lies within the Latin/New Orleans, loose-jointed, slow-draggin’ rhythm and the effective counterpoint of bass and organ. Meanwhile the lines of Eddie Harris’ electric piano slither like snakes, weaving in and out of the percussion-heavy, basic song structure. It’s rough-hewn, speaks to the loins, the body, speaks of Eros. It’s the first version Harris recorded of Listen Here. The second – slightly cleaner – rendition, released on The Electrifying Eddie Harris the following year in 1967, reached nr.11 on the Billboard r&b charts.

Via Blues In The Basement, a big-sounding 12-bar blues in which Harris mixes powerful Arnett Cobb-like barks with quicksilver bop runs and witty, second line guffaws, Harris takes the album out the way he would in a club, with the wild and woolly shuffle of Goin’ Home. Not your usual basic blues theme. A nifty, tricky stop-time theme catapults the B3 of Sonny Philips and the electric piano of Harris into action. There you are, transported to the sawdust-covered floors of a juke joint, or the Chicago South Side, or the chitlin’ circuit’s burgeoning bar life of lore… Goin’ Home fades out with a drum thunderstorm.

What went on in the mind of Eddie Harris? Let’s just do it, let’s just put together the Hammond organ and the electric piano. Let’s just burn the place down with some fat-bottomed blues, why not, yes we can! They can, they do, tear the grooves out of the mono vinyl. However, for all Harris’ swagger, it would be preposterous to define Harris’ electric organ/B3 feast as primitive music. Eddie Harris has advanced, killer chops and years of severe studying reveal the influence of Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, yet reveal above all a fresh, individual take on jazz which is 100% Harris: the tireless enthusiast.

I don’t think there was very much thought behind the dual concept of Mean Greens. It seems it was just a matter of putting to wax different facets of Eddie Harris. Whatever the processes behind the release may be, Harris was definitely bringing it back home.

Jackie McLean - A Fickle Sonance

Jackie McLean A Fickle Sonance (Blue Note 1961)

If Jackie McLean’s career would’ve ended right after recording A Fickle Sonance, people would certainly have pointed out the alto saxophonist’s development from one of Charlie Parker’s most proficient disciples to an alto saxophonist that made his mark with a series of excellent Blue Note recordings from 1959 to 1961, employing his highly emotional, piercing sound: already a great legacy. However, McLean raised the bars considerably the following years, breaking and entering hard bop’s living quarters with a series of vanguard recordings in cooperation with avantgardists like Ornette Coleman.

Jackie McLean - A Fickle Sonance

Personnel

Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Sonny Clark (piano), Butch Warren (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on October 26, 1961 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Released

as BLP 4089 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Five Will Get You Ten
Subdued
Sundu
Side B:
A Fickle Sonance
Enitnerrut
Lost


Fickle means ‘liable to sudden unpredictable change’. Sonance is an archaic synonym of ‘sound’. By calling his album and title track thus, McLean reveals to be a conscious commentator of the dual nature of both his own sound and style and jazz in general, which is all about surprise.

All Music states that ‘the playing’ on A Fickle Sonance ‘remained in a swinging, blues-oriented style, showing no hints of the direction his music was about to take’. Not entirely accurate. The title track certainly foreshadows McLean’s modal jazz. McLean’s solo in A Fickle Sonance borders on the abstract.

The angular quality of McLean’s lines and his probing, biting tone set McLean apart from his contemporaries. He’s a passionate player with a dark-hued sound, involving macabre, if occasionally frivolous overtones. A fickle sonance for sure. The way McLean lends substance to ballads was striking as well. McLean’s powerful statements on his original composition Subdued suggest a passionate singing voice.

Tunes like Sonny Clark’s Sundu, Tommy Turrentine’s Enitnerrut (Turrentine spelt backwards) and Butch Warren’s Lost fit into the ‘codified’ Blue Note message: deceptively effortless hard bop tracks from a rhythm section that would work together two weeks later on Sonny Clark’s splendid swan song as a leader, Leapin’ And Lopin’ on November 13, 1961.

Sonny Clark’s Five Will Get You Ten is more unusual. It’s a rip-off from one of Thelonious Monk’s unreleased cuts, Two Timer, that Clark presumably overheard Monk play and plagiarized in order to raise quick cash for his increasingly alarmous drug habits. (Monk never found out, but undoubtly would’ve forgiven the younger Clark, who was taken under his wings by Monk for quite a while at the famous jazz mecenas Nica “Pannonica” de Koenigwarter’s residence) Clark’s title arguably alludes to the drug scene; ‘five’ would be cash, ‘ten’ would be a certain amount of dope.

Who wouldn’t kill for an unreleased Monk track? It’s an alluring tune with a bridge that resembles Bemsha Swing and McLean jumps at the opportunity, alternating note-bending wails that stretch the boundaries of the melody line with rapid glissandos. Monk’s tune is fitting, since in A Fickle Sonance’s set of tunes, air and spaceousness are dominant features. To create a relaxed atmosphere while operating on a strikingly emotional as well as a highly proficient level is no small feat of Jackie McLean’s outstanding quintet.

Sonny Clark - Leapin' And Lopin'

Sonny Clark Leapin’ And Lopin’ (Blue Note 1961)

Find me a bummer moment in Sonny Clark’s discography and I’ll buy you a drink. But I won’t because it’s a fruitless search. One of the essential hard bop pianists, Clark had taste written all over him. His swan song as a leader, Leapin’ And Lopin’, includes some of his most enduring tunes and classiest performances.

Sonny Clark - Leapin' And Lopin'

Personnel

Sonny Clark (piano), Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone), Ike Quebec (tenor saxophone A2), Butch Warren (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on November 13, 1961 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4091 in 1962

Track listing

Side A
Something Special
Deep In A Dream
Melody In C
Side B
Eric Walks
Voodoo
Midnight Mambo


Does it top 1958’s Cool Struttin’, Clark’s best known (and best-selling) album? A foolish question, perhaps. Brilliant Clark moments weren’t reserved for his leadership dates only but occured just as frequently when he appeared as a sideman for the myriad of fellow legends of the day, particularly for Blue Note, where Clark was a more than welcome pianist in his heyday of 1958-62.

Take his tremendously swinging and inspiring accompaniment and soloing on Dexter Gordon’s masterpieces Go and A Swingin’ Affair. Or that fabulous solo on Airegin from the sessions that would be released posthumously (for both of them) as Grant Green albums Nigeria (Airegin spelled backwards) and Oleo, wherein both musicians really get down with it. It’s a typical Clark mix of elegance and raw power.

I guess it’s this mix, steeped in the blues, that has kept luring musicians and incrowd into the Sonny Clark realm both during his lifetime and for decades thereafter. Clark, one of the most infamous jazz casualties, died from an overdose in New York City on January 13, 1963. To name but a few admirers, note that Bill Evans composed a touching tribute to Clark in 1963, the anagram NYC’S No Lark, and that John Zorn recorded Clark or ‘Clarkian’ tunes for years. 1985’s Voodoo is a well-known album of Zorn’s The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet.

Also very attractive are Clark’s long, fluent lines that often stretch over bars extensively. Like those your hear in Leapin’ And Lopin’s third cut, Melody For C, a shuffle that swings both smoothly and intensely, all the while showing enough eccentricity to make you laugh and leap sideways.

In the uptempo Something Special, a very attractive melody that, not unlike a Horace Silver tune, benefits from effective use of stop time, Clark leaves plenty of space as an accompanist for Charlie Rouse and Tommy Turrentine to freely swing their way through the changes. The manner in which Rouse starts his solo, building on the melody, suggests the influence of Thelonious Monk, whose outfit Rouse had been part of since 1959. Voodoo is jazzified blues at its very best: intricate enhancements on the blues form coupled with heartfelt blowing. It’s the one track that would fit right in on Cool Struttin’.

The abovementioned tracks are accompanied by Deep Dream, a ballad that combines wry wit with pathos (including Ike Quebec’s breathy tenor), bassist Butch Warren’s quirky, intricate Eric Walks and Midnight Mambo, a buoyant Tommy Turrentine composition. They round off the most diverse album in the brilliant pianist’s book.

Charles McPherson - The Quintet/Live!

Charles McPherson The Quintet/Live! (Prestige 1967)

Altoist Gene Quill once walked off the stage, when a malignant member of the audience quipped: “All you do is play like Parker!” Whereupon Quill pushed his horn forward and replied: “You try to play like Charlie Parker!”* Discussions on Charles McPherson usually ran along the same lines. In the sixties, McPherson was often set aside by critics as a mere imitator of Bird. Too bad. Quills’ perky remark suggested it was far from easy to play Parker’s complex and spirited music. Yet, cats like McPherson carried on the flag of the Parker legacy eloquently and with great pride. For that, it would’ve been more than reasonable to be thankful.

Charles McPherson - The Quintet/Live!

Personnel

Charles McPherson (alto saxophone), Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet), Barry Harris (piano), Ray McKinney (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on October 13, 1966 at the Five Spot, NYC

Released

as PR 7480 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
The Viper
I Can’t Get Started
Shaw ‘Nuff
Side B:
Here’s That Rainy Day
Never Let Me Go
Suddenly


Undeniably, the influence from Bird on McPherson is evident throughout his career. Certainly on his live album The Quintet/Live!. But for all McPherson’s (articulate and furious) bebop sparks, as heard on the album’s highlight, Bird’s Shaw ‘Nuff, McPherson had grown into an alto saxophonist with a singular, vibrant style. A style appreciated by giant of jazz Charles Mingus, in whose group McPherson intermittingly played from 1960 to 1974, notably on Live At Town Hall and Music Written For Monterey 1965.

Beside being a first-class player in the bop and hard bop vein, McPherson proofs to be an outstanding balladeer as well. The attraction of Never Let Me Go lies in the combination of the altoist’s darkly lyrical mood, husky delivery and long lines alternating with swift phrasing. He also tells a sweet and sour story on Gershwin’s I Can’t Get Started, on which his interaction with pianist Barry Harris is particularly responsive. Harris nudges fellow Detroit-native McPherson into interesting directions and turns in an exquisite solo. Foremost bop interpreter Harris had mentored McPherson in the late fifties. Harris obviously pulls a lot of strings on this date, displaying sympathetic accompaniment, confident command of harmony and melodic finesse.

Drummer Billy Higgins, tasteful and propulsive, is a strong force as well. Crowd-mover The Viper has a similar vibe as Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, a hit that thanked its success for a big part to Higgins’ indomitable, fresh beat. (Barry Harris played on The Sidewinder as well) Greasy statements by McPherson and trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer (another Detroit friend and a colleague from the groups of Mingus and Barry Harris) are followed up by a percussive Barry Harris solo, who makes use of Monk-like delayed time.

The ‘Latinised’ Here’s That Rainy Day includes intriguing variations on the melody by McPherson. On the driving hard bop waltz Suddenly Lonnie Hillyer is in a Don Cherry mood. Both are fine performances. Shaw ‘Nuff, however, is of another order. McPerson cum suis set up an appropriate breakneck speed for Charlie Parker’s madly beautiful tune. It’s a lightning bolt. So fast Hillyer has trouble keeping up, both melody and solo-wise. McPherson’s solo is full of fire. Barry Harris seemingly effortlessly displays his vast knowledge of Bud Powell, brilliantly and suavely running through the complex changes. Both soloists thrive on the fierce, articulate backing of Billy Higgins and bassist Ray McKinney.

The Quintet/Live! contains varying repertoire, dynamic group interplay, a warm live atmosphere and immaculate improvisation by both leader and ‘consiglieri’ Barry Harris. An essential McPherson album.

*The little piece of jazz lore involving Gene Quill is chronicled in bassist and jazz writer Bill Crow’s wonderful and insightful book Jazz Anecdotes.

YouTube: Here’s That Rainy Day