Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Elmo Hope Homecoming! (Riverside 1961)

Coming home to a group of hi-level colleagues as featured on Elmo Hope’s first Riverside album Homecoming must’ve been a thrill. It certainly is an exciting session of the unique, tragically underrated pianist.

Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Personnel

Elmo Hope (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet A1, A3, B2), Jimmy Heath (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on June 22 & 29, 1961 at Bell Sound Studio, NYC

Released

as RLP 381 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Moe Jr.
La Berthe
Eyes So Beautiful As Yours
Homecoming
Side B:
One Mo’ Blues
A Kiss For My Love
Imagination


You are Elmo Hope. Born in New York City in 1927. Childhood pal of Bud Powell, spinning records of Johann Sebastian Bach all day long with the future giant of bebop, when soon after Thelonious Monk joins to complete the illustrious, mutually responsive threesome. As a young man, you catch a bullit from a white police officer, (sounds familiar?) in a hideous, disgraceful turn of events being trialed but ultimately released. You marry, have a son, who dies tragically young. Highly talented, working towards identical musical conclusions as Powell, Monk, Parker, yet in your own peculiar way, you miss out on the burgeoning bebop scene when Uncle Sam calls: ooh ooh ooh, you’re in the army now, from 1943 to ‘46. The following Korean War is settled half-heartedly in 1953 when you’re featured on Lou Donaldson/Clifford Brown’s New Faces New Sounds 10inch LP on Blue Note, which benefits from your excellent writing. (you’ll prove to leave a legacy of brillant compositions) You become a leader in your own right, recording the unforgettable albums Informal Jazz (Prestige 1956, with John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd) and Trio And Quintet (Blue Note 1957, recordings from ’54 to ‘57) but public recognition keeps eluding you.

Then there’s the needle. Has been there all the while. Having lost your cabaret card in New York City, without which a musician is practically unemployed, you move to the West Coast. Its scene doesn’t exactly seems to meet your standards but you nonetheless record the first-class Elmo Hope Trio (HiFi 1959) and partake in a classic session with fellow expat Harold Land and trumpet enigma Dupree Bolton, the unbeatable, stunning The Fox, filled with world-class Hope tunes. It’s back to NYC in 1961, the Homecoming album is not to be sneezed at. Following albums on Riverside bear puzzling titles as High Hope (you mean, like a lot of hope or Hope’s always high or what?) and Hope-Full, a duo album with Hope’s wife Berthe. Perhaps Riverside Riverside hoped (no pun intented) that it would outsell Ella & Louis? There’s Sounds From Rikers Island on Audio Fidelity, an intriguing album including John Gilmore and Philly Joe Jones, ironically, recorded at the jail Hope did time in. You are performing regularly in NYC with, among others, John Ore and Billy Higgins. But it doesn’t seem to happen. Monk (Man, did he have to struggle against the odds) will make the cover of Time Magazine in 1964. You’ve been interviewed by Downbeat Magazine just once during the course of your career. This, somehow, inexplicably, sometimes happens…

The story of Elmo Hope, extraordinary, unique pianist, ended tellingly in 1967, age 43, in a hospital that specialised in addicts. Supposedly very unprofessionally, according to Berthe, as something went wrong and Hope died of pneumonia. Slowly but surely, the wheels of appreciation have been turning in Hope’s favor, slightly lacking behind the other ‘unknown’ piano giant, Herbie Nichols. Much too late, but slowly and surely. It is said Hope’s unpredictable style, focusing on the architecture of the composition instead of virtuosity, prevented broad public recognition. Might be. (the above-mentioned concise life story offers some possible clues) However, Monk was a puzzling personality, yet finally made the grade.

All things considered: a brilliant pianist. In Hope’s playing, an underlying sense of foreboding is almost always there. He’s a nervous type of guy but also light-footed, a bittersweet personality. His touch ruthless or tender, his timing floating like a bottle on the ocean waves, Hope’s unusually structured compositions move with a surprisingly natural flow. Homecoming finds Hope re-united with like-minded firebrands, drummer Philly Joe Jones being the ultimate burner. At the core of the session is the conversation between Philly Joe and the fellows – Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Blue Mitchell, Percy Heath – and Hope in particular, with four tunes consisting of the trio format. The pushing of Jones of Moe Jr.’s hi-speed changes is a treat, the way he tickles the senses of Hope with a playful torrent of rimshots – a melodic answer to Hope’s preceding questions – is the cherry on the top. Hope is close to buddy Bud here, yet as a contrast lets notes hang suspended in the air, alternating the silence with tumbling tremelos.

The trio sends the title track to the stratosphere and Philly Joe Jones drives Hope to the rail. Come on, St. Elmo, be quick, be swift, hurry home, time may await but… Hope responds, so effortlessly stretching lines over the bars, a roaring run in the upper register here, a James P. Johnson-figure with the left hand there. Yes, Philly Joe, I’m almost there… But not quite and (consciously, like Mingus, embracing shift of tempo into the bag of new means of expression?) Hope, Jones and Heath fasten the pace considerably and subsequently end with a luscious sigh. Hope takes care of the coda on his own. Peace, quietude, the road always leads…

Elmo Hope plays lines you were unlikely to come across in 1961. They pry La Berthe’s fascinating melody, which would become messy in the hands of lesser talents, running smoothly somehow via Hope’s singular route from mind to fingers. The tune asks a lot from the horn men and keeps Foster, Heath and Mitchell on their toes. A restrained use of notes by Hope benefits the melancholic Eyes So Beautiful As Yours, definitely Hope’s Crepuscule With Nellie. A somber dedication to his wife, obviously the best thing happening in Hope’s troubled life besides jazz music.

Horace Silver - Finger Poppin'

Horace Silver Finger Poppin’ (Blue Note 1959)

Horace Silver’s first album with his most celebrated line-up, Finger Poppin’, still stands tall after all these years as a penultimate example of hipness and swing.

Horace Silver - Finger Poppin'

Personnel

Horace Silver (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor saxophone), Gene Taylor (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Recorded

on January 31, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4008 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Finger Poppin’
Juicy Lucy
Swingin’ The Samba
Sweet Stuff
Side B:
Cookin’ At The Continental
Come On Home
You Happened My Way
Mellow D.


What else? Everybody obviously knows that feeling. I’m not talking about George Clooney’s cup of espresso but of the series of Blue Note albums that Horace Silver made in the late fifties and early sixties. Desert island stuff of such a unique blend of blues and sophistication that effortlessly produces the feeling that all other music besides Silver’s might be redundant. It’s damn perfect. Meaning, not near-perfect. Hard bop heaven. Finger Poppin’ is classic Silver. For the first time, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook and bassist Gene Taylor are aboard. The quite unique ensemble playing of Mitchell and Cook, who took with them a lot of experience in r&b groups, gave the already impressive compositions of Silver a buzz, especially noticable in the uptempo cooker Cookin’ In The Continental. Silver was quick to capitalise on their talents, injecting nifty shout-choruses in the tune, that effectively catapult the soloists into action.

Lots of other crafty devices set Silver’s music in full bloom, elaborate compositions which nevertheless flow naturally like mountain streams. Silver penned eight major league tunes, ranging from catchy swingers like Finger Poppin’ to the lyrical ballad Sweet Stuff. Juicy Lucy is one of the most irresistable songs around. Bluesy as hell, it features the amazing sense of taste and clarity that runs through the whole set, clarity of both song structure and solo’s. Not only the master himself tells a well-balanced tale with slightly behind-the-beat, swinging lines, dense, probing chords, a delicate use of space, Cook and Mitchell, relatively unknown musicians at that time, strike the listener as remarkable storytellers.

All this soulful comping and blowing is underscored by drummer Louis Hayes, who is one of the great masters of the hard bop era, certainly as far as reinforcing a band is concerned. Practically on his own, Hayes sets fire to Silver’s trademark Latin tune for this set, Swingin’ The Samba. The propulsive time of his ride cymbal and crisp, spot-on snare rolls hit the cookin’ tunes right out of the ballpark. Hayes had been aboard the Silver train from 1956, a remarkable stretch for the drummer, who would go on to write hard bop drum history with Cannonball Adderley and on Blue Note albums as Kenny Drew’s Undercurrent. Among many other endeavors. After 1959’s Blowin’ The Blues Away, Hayes would be followed up by Roy Brooks.

The best line-up? Every group has its assets. Cast your mind back to the original Mobley/Dorham frontline and Art Blakey groove. Or the daring, lively Henderson/Shaw contributions to Cape Verdean Blues. At any rate, as far as coherent group sound and effortless, blues-drenched swing is concerned, Silver’s group with Cook/Mitchell is unparalleled. Enough to drive you out of your mind. And if you’re not careful, your body.

Mel Rhyne

Mel Rhyne Organ-izing (Jazzland 1960)

Like a jubilant child eager to play with its long-awaited Santa Claus presents, I gave my recent purchase, Melvin Rhyne’s sought-after solo album from 1960, Organ-Izing, an immediate spin. The organist, best known for his work with guitar legend Wes Montgomery, delivers a tasteful, laid-back blowing session.

Mel Rhyne

Personnel

Melvin Rhyne (organ), Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Gene Harris (piano), Andrew Simpkins (bass), Albert Heath (drums)

Recorded

on March 31, 1960 in NYC

Released

as as JLP 16 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Things Ain’t What They Used To Be
Blue Farouq
Side B:
Barefoot Sunday Blues
Shoo Shoo Baby


Rhyne was a native of Indianapolis, like Montgomery, who asked him to join his trio in 1959. The organist backed the groundbreaking guitarist on four splendid Riverside albums: Wes Montgomery Trio (1959), Boss Guitar (1963), Portrait Of Wes (1963) and Guitar On The Go (1959/1963). His articulate backing – Rhyne started out as a pianist – matched perfectly with Montgomery’s tasteful style, a coherent mix of melodic single lines, octaves and block chords. Rhyne’s sound on his solo album comes closest to that of the Wes Montgomery Trio album. It has that, as Dutch organist and Rhyne admirer, Arno Krijger, said to me in this interview, unique ‘plucky, percussive sound’. It’s a vibrato-less sound that enabled Rhyne to craft cleanly spun, logical, laid-back lines.

Organ-izing was released on Jazzland, a subsidiary of Riverside. The assembled crew includes two top-rate Riverside artists of the time, Johnny Griffin and Blue Mitchell: guys you can count on for a session of this kind. Griffin is his usual fast-fingered self, grounded in bebop and blues, and peppers his playing with humorous asides. Blue Mitchell stretches out ebulliently on, among others, his own attractive blues line, Blue Farouq.

The album consists of four tunes of the same medium tempo and four beat rhythm, which becomes a bit monotonous after a while. Then again, Rhyne is a mid-tempo maestro. He showed it with Montgomery, deepening considerably, for instance, the groove of Missile Blues on the Portrait Of Wes-album. Medium tempo suits his carefully crafted stories. Rhyne eschews uproaring climaxes and instead creates free-flowing endings, shying away from easy effects. He’s like a minimalist writer. But not just somebody. Rhyne’s the Raymond Carver of the Hammond B3. While reading (listening), one keeps contemplating on the enormously clever usage of deceptively simple language for maximum effect: words and sentences (notes, phrases) carved in stone for the ages.

The unusual combination of piano and organ is uncluttered, largely due to Rhyne’s understated style. Pianist Gene Harris of The Three Sounds trades choruses with Rhyne on all tunes except Shoo Shoo Baby, a feat which underscores the relaxed atmosphere of the proceedings. During such a spontaneous event, one (Harris) cutting short the evolving story of the other (Rhyne) in the mid-slow-draggin’ take on the classic riff Things Ain’t What They Used To Be is part of the charm. Unfazed, Rhyne supports a swinging Harris bit and continues with a solo that’s a lesson in soul and dynamics.

At the end of the decade, Rhyne quit the music business and moved to Wisconsin. He started recording again in the nineties and 00’s, mainly for Criss Cross. Rhyne passed away on March 5, 2013.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Lou Donaldson Midnight Creeper (Blue Note 1968)

Of the popular jazz funk dates alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson did in the late sixties, Midnight Creeper is one of the best. It’s a driving date involving a mellow-blowing leader among a bunch of talented sidemen that were becoming successful leaders in their own right.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Personnel

Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), George Benson (guitar), Lonnie Smith (organ), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on March 15, 1968 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84280 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Midnight Creeper
Love Power
Elizabeth
Side B:
Bag Of Jewels
Dapper Dan


Veteran Donaldson, who was influenced, as many or most were, by Charlie Parker and whose cooperations with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith date back to the late forties and early/mid-fifties, had a good hand in picking new breed cats in his mid-sixties soul jazz and late-sixties/early seventies jazz funk heyday. To name but a few: Grant Green, Big John Patton, Ben Dixon, Charles Earland, Melvin Sparks. The group of Midnight Creeper is of similar high standard.

One only has to take a listen to Bag Of Jewels to appreciate the rapport of George Benson & Co. The artistic merit of a simple vamp like this one, written by organist Lonnie Smith, lies in the protagonists’ groove-ability. The drive of the rhythm section of drummer Idris Muhammad (formerly Leo Morris) and Lonnie Smith is tremendous. The twangy chords of George Benson add body to the bottom. Lonnie Smith is a wholesale dealer in juicy funk and enigmatic surprises. Smith, on this album, shows that he had become one of the most original organists of his time.

Following Smith, the rest of the soloists – Blue Mitchell, George Benson and Lou Donaldson – bring a lot of jazz finesse to the otherwise basic vamp. Worth mentioning are Blue Mitchell’s skilled work and buoyant style, Benson’s clever yet spicy build-up from low to high register, Muhammad’s stimulating way of announcing soloists with crackling press rolls and, finally, Donaldson’s deceptively casual, logically evolving tale.

The signature tune, Midnight Creeper, is an easy-going groove, a mellow boogaloo. The title and bounce suggest the nocturnal journey of a greasy cat, but for me that lazy gait ignites visions of old geezers in the park, scuffling around a chess board and glancing from under their Panama hats to attractive women passing by. That, of course, is one of the beauties of music, that it creates a variety of feelings.

Donaldson shines brightly on ballads, and Elisabeth is no exception. Not only does Donaldson have chops in abundance, his tone is warm and penetrating and the way Donaldson wraps his arms around the melody is breathtaking.

The funky beat of Love Power is irresistable. It has a kind of Bo Diddley twist as well. Lou Donaldson’s comments bring about a playful, calypso feeling. George Benson delivers a skilled r&b section, including bent strings and slurs. In short, the cover of Teddy Vann’s tune – recorded by The Sandpebbles in 1967 – is a spicy stew.

The album Midnight Creeper is an appetizing melting pot as well. Lou Donaldson’s commercial jazz funk albums, even if not all of them are up to par with Midnight Creeper, include classic groove tunes that, I’ve always felt, have the vital function of keeping jazz accessible for newcomers into the jazz realm. At least it worked like that for me as well as a number of teenage buddies in the mid-nineties. Donaldson reminded us of the blues and soul music we were passionately involved with. Midnight Creeper and Lou Donaldson’s other boogaloo gems spelled: wow, this is jazz as well! We’re enjoying the ‘far out’ Coltrane and Monk, but let’s get low, down & dirty for a change! Yeah, let’s just.

MRL 315 front

Blue Mitchell Blue Mitchell (Mainstream 1971)

In 1970 Blue Mitchell was a trumpeter in the Ray Charles Orchestra. Nothwithstanding the fact that playing with the man who was respected among musicians in the sixties for reminding them of the roots of jazz was a valuable experience, it was a decision primarily driven by financial needs. Who could blame him? Jazz life was (is) a scuffle. In the early to mid-seventies Mitchell would continue commercial endeavors, working with the father of British blues, John Mayall, while simultaneously record for the Mainstream label. Blue Mitchell (in popular language also known as Soul Village but not catalogued as such) is his debut on Mainstream. It’s one of the better releases in Mainstream’s book, as Mitchell keeps up the energy of his career-high Riverside and Blue Note recordings of the early and mid-sixties, while adapting adequately to early seventies production methods.

MRL 315 front

Personnel

Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Jimmy Forrest (tenor sax), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano, electric piano), Larry Gales (bass), Doug Sides (drums)

Recorded

March 1971 in NYC

Released

as MRL 315 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Soul Village
Blues For Thelma
Queen Bee
Side B:
Are You Real
Mi Hermano


The danceable quality of Blue Mitchell is immediately apparent. Three-fifth of the repertoire is reserved for tunes that are influenced by Carribean and West-Indian rhythm. Mi Hermano, Queen Bee and Benny Golson’s Are You Real are contagious songs with big-sounding two-horn themes, in which Mitchell displays his abundant style and round tone, employing a wide spectrum of notes. By concentrating on exotic styles, Mitchell emphasizes and stays true to the lineage of Carribean influence on jazz that took off through the innovations of the bebop clique of the fourties. Mitchell feels at home in these surroundings and had recorded these types of compositions before. Fungii Mama (from The Thing To Do) is a swinging and succesful case in point.

The order of soloing is the same on all five tunes: Mitchell first, then Forrest and Walter Bishop Jr. The styles of Mitchell and Forrest blend well with one another; they’re both very lively, yet Forrest’s style is rougher and drenched in swing, as Mitchell’s style is a fair mix of bop and blues. The entrance of veteran Jimmy Forrest in Mi Hermano, who, curiously, had to be pulled out of retirement for the job in Mitchell’s group, is a real kick in the gut. Soul Village and Blues For Thelma are dynamic hard bop compositions; tension-building figures in the former’s theme and a groovy, walking bass figure in the latter’s theme give these tunes an edge. They stimulate the soloists to express themselves eloquently.

Essentially, Blue Mitchell is a hard bop recording dressed up for a new age. The sound of drums, electric bass and, occasionally, electric piano, is early seventies, but thematically Blue Mitchell belongs to the era in which the trumpeter shone brightly on many a fine session. One must admit that the alternative title of Soul Village isn’t such a bad choice after all.