Lee Morgan - Live At The Lighthouse

Lee Morgan Live At The Lighthouse (Blue Note 1970)

The titles of Lee Morgan’s Live At The Lighthouse, such as Nommo and Neophilia, perfectly match the woolly times. Sounds like books by Madame Blavatsky read by a wicker man under the sole tree in Greenwich Village, while runaway girls in gingham dresses rattle their gypsy earrings and recite luney banjo tunes with feverish enthusiasm… Indeed, Morgan’s notes sometimes are close to hitting a falling star but underneath his ‘pretty far out’ project shimmers the trumpeter’s trademark hard bop blowing.

Lee Morgan - Live At The Lighthouse

Personnel

Lee Morgan (trumpet), Bennie Maupin (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Harold Mabern (piano), Jimmy Merritt (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)

Recorded

on July 10-12, 1970 at The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, California

Released

as BST-89906 in 1971

Track listing

Side 1:
Absolutions
Side 2:
The Beehive
Side 3:
Neophilia
Side 4:
Nommo


The prince of hard bop’s more adventurous side occasionally came out of hiding, less than Lee Morgan wished, I guess. Sure, as early as 1963, Morgan was featured on Grachan Monchur III’s avantgarde outing Evolution and the trumpeter’s follow-up of hit album The Sidewinder, 1964’s Search For The New Land never lost anything of its frontline charm. He appeared on Wayne Shorter’s Night Dreamer, Joe Henderson’s Mode For Joe and Andrew Hill’s Grass Roots and Lift Every Voice. But as far as leadership dates were concerned, Morgan’s label, Blue Note, still favored straightforward jazz releases in the late sixties over envelope-pushing affairs, some of which were released posthumously, such as The Sixth Sense and The Rajah. Then there was Live At The Lighthouse, subconscious-Lee in the limelight at last. By that time, of course, Alfred Lion was taking pictures in Mexico and Blue Note, though Francis Wolff and Duke Pearson shared production responsibilities, was swallowed by United Artists.

Scene of the spectacle: the legendary Lighthouse, hurled into prominence in 1952 by Howard Rumsey but, as Dutch journalist Jeroen de Valk revealed in his 1989 mythbusting biography of Chet Baker, in reality put on the map initially by Baker just before Rumsey came into the picture. A rather unspectacular club that hosted legends like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley and many others. Situated close by the beach, where Lee Morgan sat beneath the poles of the pier some time between July 10 and 12, 1970, a time sequence in which the wind blew a hodgepodge of moody and explosive trumpet and sax sounds outwards from the bowels of The Lighthouse over the sweaty, salty Hermosa shore. Lots of seagulls, their obnoxious squawks momentarily stunned.

The stress is on vamp, modality, mood. Music that challenges you to surrender to its spiritual cry and moan. It’s tenorist, bass clarinetist and flutist Bennie Maupin that ‘moans’ most convincingly. No doubt, Lee Morgan blows spirited trumpet and builds crafty stories, but while Morgan focuses on recurring figures and effects like the halve valve trick, Maupin sends us unpredictable weather from his throne above the clouds, alternating deadpan turns, bluesy phrasing and torrents of edgy Coltrane’s sheets of sound preceding the release of dark-hued calm-after-the-storm notes. His feature on bass clarinet on Neophilia, a lullaby-ish, concise and plainly beautiful, slow-moving melody, goes from sweetness to drama, climaxing with violin-like cries. Maupin, nowadays going strong at the age of 76, came into prominence with Horace Silver in ‘68/’69, Lee Morgan in ‘68/’70, Woody Shaw in ’70/’72, played on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and was a long-time part of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band in the late sixties and early seventies. His 1974 album on ECM, The Jewel In The Lotus, is a treasured album for avant-leaning jazz fans. Cutting edge cat.

A great band with writers Morgan could benefit from. Harold Mabern’s The Beehive’s a short, quirky theme, like a fragment from a Charlie Parker solo, alternating between the fragment and Mickey Roker’s ferocious drums breaks. Jimmy Merritt’s strangely beguiling Nommo switches between a soulful line and elegiac intermezzo, building on a twisted boogaloo vibe and Roker and Merrit’s hefty cross-rhythm. The a capella sections of Morgan and Maupin before returning to the theme are thoroughly enjoyable. Another Jimmy Merritt tune, Absolutions, showcases the group’s dynamic prowess, squeezing every bit out of the modal vamp, pushing and pulling at time’s rear end until it, like time seems to have been doing eternally, bends. Morgan is terrific, translating the military-rolls of a snare drum to the trumpet, and charmingly experimenting with the various shades of softness and loudness.

Strictly vinyl on Flophouse’s smoky Monte Christo #2 premisses. But just this once, an exception, since the Compact Dick not only offers more avant-leaning, uptempo jazz that for the most part would easily have stood the test of LP release, but also brings a version of The Sidewinder, the hit that Morgan almost hated more than Trump fans hate reason. Table three was requesting a tune, perhaps. The group’s turning in a solid take.

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.

The 3 Sounds - Feelin' Good

The Three Sounds Feelin’ Good (Blue Note 1960)

Basic and bluesy mainstream jazz was the recipe of piano trio The Three Sounds, led by Gene Harris. Delicate group interplay was its forte.

The 3 Sounds - Feelin' Good

Personnel

Gene Harris (piano), Andrew Simpkins (bass), Bill Dowdy (drums)

Recorded

on June 28, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4072 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
When I Fall In Love
Parker’s Pad
Blues After Dark
I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
Side B:
Straight No Chaser
I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
It Could Happen To You
Two Bass Hit


The original line up of The Three Sounds of Gene Harris, bassist Andrew Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy recorded prolifically and very succesfully for Blue Note (and Limelight) between 1958 and 1965, until Dowdy dropped out to concentrate on teaching. The Three Sounds lasted till 1971 in various combinations, up to the Blue Note album The Three Sounds, which was essentially a Gene Harris album, as none of the original members were present. Highlights include the outfit’s debut Introducing The Three Sounds, their involvement with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, LD + 3, Black Orchid and Live At The Lighthouse. Their cooperation with Stanley Turrentine, Blue Hour, is a crowd favorite. Probably on account of Turrentine’s bluesjazz brilliance. The accompaniment is rather unremarkable.

Once pianists like Gene Harris had a song or album that did well on the charts, it was a logical step for both the label and artist to stay in that bag and see if a follow-up would sell equally well as well. Generally, soul jazz was music for Average Jimmy & Josie from the bowels of the black neighbourhood. Before having ribs at Hot Barbecue, the couple might go to the local record shop (or even barbershop or gas station) and fetch a record of their favorite artist, afterwards they might visit a bar and put a nickle in the jukebox. Jimmy & Josie musn’t be confused with the 21st century average couple, which listens to whatever Warner Bros puts on their plate. At that time, before the corporate world began to reign supreme and the inner cities desintegrated due to the introduction of crack and the subsequent criminality, couples like Jimmy & Josie not only dug r&b but also chose jukebox tunes from Gene Ammons, Willis Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley and pianists like Les McCann, Ray Bryant and Ramsey Lewis. Besides tapping their feet, they might even discuss the differences in styles. True, no jive.

Harris is not in the league of McCann, Bryant and Lewis. While they score goals, Harris warms the bench. Soul jazz at its best is brought with distinctive traits. Where, for instance, McCann brings the roar of a sermon, Bryant a brilliant left hand full of jazz tradition, Harris perseveres his blues clichés without adding anything suprising or peculiar. To be sure, Harris contributed suavely to trumpeter Nat Adderley’s Branching Out, tenorist and flutist James Clay’s Double Dose Of Soul and organist Melvin Rhyne’s Organ-Izing. In the eighties, Harris’ longest run was with the tasteful genius of the upright bass, Ray Brown, from 1984 to 1991. Once out of the soul jazz context, Harris fulfilled his potential as an excellent modern jazz pianist.

Feelin’ Good must be added to the list of top-rank Three Sounds albums. At its best, the trio responds to each other’s archetypical blues and r&b accents like trapeze artists that have practised their tricks longer than Nurejev did his ballet moves. Extremely tight-knit. This groove is most apparent in the mid-and uptempo tunes like Two Bass Hit, Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser and Parker’s Pad, a Harris original that brings to mind Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. These tunes slowly but surely pick up steam and climax not so much with abandon but a confident bounce that suggests a longing to gently nudge the audience into the hands of the angels rather than the lap of God with fire and brimstone. Excellent trio interaction. At its worst, Harris placidly mumbles his way through a ballad, leaving one cold with series of forgettable, formulaic phrases. A bummer sandwiched between the songs that make up a set of flawlessly executed, unambitious, groovy soul jazz.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Walter Davis Jr. Davis Cup (Blue Note 1959)

A wide-ranging stunner, pianist Walter Davis Jr.’s debut as a leader in 1959, Davis Cup, deserves its rightful place among the classic hard bop albums on Blue Note at that time.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Personnel

Walter Davis Jr. (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on August 2, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4018 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
’S Make It
Loodle-Lot
Sweetness
Side B:
Rhumba Nhumba
Minor Mind
Millie’s Delight


From the immaculate six Davis-penned compositions, the hi-powered energy, the stellar line-up, the singular style of Walter Davis Jr. and, last but not least, the wicked title, Davis Cup is an allround, pure-bred hard bop package easily taken for granted in the era of classic jazz albums. In 1959, the following albums, among others, were released on Blue Note along Davis Cup: Horace Silver’s Finger Poppin’ and Blowin’ The Blues Away, Sonny Clark’s My Conception, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messenger’s At The Jazz Corner Of The World and Africaine, Donald Byrd’s Byrd In Hand, Kenny Burrell’s On View At The Five Spot and Jackie McLean’s New Soil and Swing Swang Swingin’. Pleasant company.

Not just an innocent bystander either, Mr. Davis. The Richmond, Virginia-born pianist was featured on New Soil, (and, later on, McLean’s avant-leaning Let Freedom Ring) Byrd In Hand and Africaine. Obviously, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were convinced of the abilities of Davis, who went as far back as playing alongside and recording with Charlie Parker at the turn of the previous decade and was known as a major interpreter of Bud Powell. By 1959, Walter Davis Jr. had cemented a position as a delicate juggler of traditional and adventurous styles, underlined by his composer’s sense of continuity, off-kilter twists and turns that pleasantly throw you off balance, a strong percussive touch and chubby, dense, driving clusters of chords. In the slipstream of Horace Silver in the late fifties, Davis is concerned not only with gritty yet elaborate compositions, but also with providing extra motives beside the melody line, creating simultaneously complex and easy-flowing tunes in the process.

Great tunes. Most of them are mid-tempo compositions, like ’S Make It (not to be confused with Lee Morgan’s ’S Make It, which was recorded by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in 1964) Loodle-Lot and Minor Mood, alternated with the ballad Sweetness and the uplifting exotica of Rhumba Nhumba. Medium tempo, minor moods, blues inflections, the lone ballad and an Afro-Cuban exercise: a typical hard bop bag. However, Davis passes his exam cum laude, not in the least as a consequence of Art Taylor and Sam Jones’ responsive, propulsive support, the swift, lyrical lines of Donald Byrd and acerbic, suspenceful contributions of Jackie McLean.

In the sixties, Davis dropped out for a while and worked as a (assumedly very skilled!) tailor before returning to the scene with a guest role on Sonny Rollins 1973 album Horn Culture. His second album as a leader was released as late as 1979, the first of a series until his passing in 1990 at the age of 57.

Louis Hayes Serenade For Horace (Blue Note 2017)

Coming full circle on Blue Note, Louis Hayes pays tribute to pianist and composer Horace Silver, whose legendary quintet the drummer was part of a long, long time ago.

Louis Hayes - Serenade For Horace

Personnel

Louis Hayes (drums), Abraham Burton (tenor saxophone), Josh Evans (trumpet), Steve Nelson (vibraphone), David Bryant (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass)

Recorded

in 2017 at Aum Studio Productions, Bakersfield and Systems Two Recording Studio, NYC

Released

as BN 06XXGSC14 on May 26, 2017

Track listing

Ecaroh
Senor Blues
Song For My Father
Hastings Street
Strollin’
Juicy Lucy
Silver’s Serenade
Lonely Woman
Summer In Central Park
St. Vitus Dance
Room 608


Once you’ve heard Louis Hayes furiously kickstart Kenny Drew into action on the pianist’s eponymous Blue Note album Undercurrent from 1960, you are under his spell. One of the hardest swinging drummers of the generation that came after pioneers Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, Louis Hayes, himself particularly influenced by Philly Joe Jones and now eighty years old, looks back on a miraculous career in the drummer’s seat behind Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Grant Green, Woody Shaw and many others. Fifty-seven years after his debut as a leader on VeeJay, Louis Hayes, Hayes dedicated his eighteenth album, Serenade To Horace, to his erstwhile bandleader Horace Silver, whom he joined in 1956 at the age on nineteen. Hayes performed on the classic albums Six Pieces Of Silver, Stylings Of Silver, Further Explorations, Finger Poppin’ and Blowin’ The Blues Away.

Silver’s unbeatable, intricate and eternally swinging tunes get a loving treatment by the sextet. No egomania on the part of Louis Hayes, propulsive support only. The Rudy van Gelder days may definitely be over, certainly as regards to the production of drums. Yet, for all the kit’s unspectacular sound, Hayes’ sparkling, delicate use of the ride cymbal effortlessly carries the group over the hill. Mid-tempo tunes like Ecaroh, Juicy Lucy, St. Vitus Dance, the uplifting top-notch Hayes original Hastings Street, slower ones like Strollin’, (the deliciously slow-dragging) Senor Blues, as well as uptempo, bop-inflected mover Room 608 are thoroughly injected with tasteful blues messages and exuberant strokes by tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton and trumpeter Josh Evans, while vibraphonist Steve Nelson’s airy sound and crisp phrases add depth to the repertoire. Pianist David Bryant’s sparse, carefully crafted lines act in accord with Lonely Woman’s wry sentiment.

The album spawned a single, a take on the iconic Song For My Father. It’s a cameo from singer Gregory Porter, whose sonorous, roasted marshmellow voice and suave phrasing perfectly match the endearing emotions of melody lines like ‘if there was ever a man who was generous, gracious and good, that was my dad, the man…’. A tasty intermezzo between the fine hard bop dishes of old master Hayes.

Read more about Serenade For Horace on the website of Blue Note.

Art Of Allen

TONY ALLEN – On May 19, Blue Note will release A Tribute To Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers by drummer Tony Allen, a digital EP consisting of four Messengers classics including Moanin’. (see here) It’s a teaser for Allen’s forthcoming album dedicated to the indomitable Art Blakey or as he also came to be known, Buhaina. The legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who together with Fela Kuti is widely acknowledged as the pioneer of Afrobeat, was strongly influenced by American drummers such as Max Roach and Art Blakey. Which comes as no surprise, since Blakey is often seen as the most African of the modern jazz drummers. Although Blakey, who resided in West Africa in the late forties, always insisted that jazz was a purely American music, the similarities of Blakey’s style and African drums are striking. Seen in this light, percussion-heavy Blakey albums as Drum Suite, Orgy In Rhythm and Holiday For Skins might best be viewed as American interpretations of African rhythm. Allen, who has been living in Paris for twenty years, will be performing the music of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at Jazz Middelheim in Antwerp, Belgium on August 5, (see here).

Blue Note, 2017
Herbie Hancock - Takin' Off

Herbie Hancock Takin’ Off (Blue Note 1962)

With the authority of a seasoned jazz personality, Herbie Hancock delivered his Blue Note debut as a leader in 1962, Takin’ Off.

Herbie Hancock - Takin' Off

Personnel

Herbie Hancock (piano), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Dexter Gordon (tenor saxophone), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on May 28, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4109 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Watermelon Man
Three Bags Full
Empty Pockets
Side B:
The Maze
Driftin’
Alone And I


Astunning hard bop debut that hinted at post bop things to come. Around 1962, front-line hard boppers, particularly at Blue Note headquarters, were steadfastly developing an ear-catching dialect to the language of jazz. In hindsight, it is beautiful proof of the all-inclusive nature of jazz that these developments, plus gospel-drenched hard bop, plus the major happenings of the day (the envelop-pushing of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans), ran a simultaneous course. The stakes were raised and young Hancock wasn’t about to perform below par. His confident playing and composing amidst a bunch of top-rate, contemporary players, including ‘comeback’ legend Dexter Gordon, is striking.

A year later, Miles Davis, another major jazz force, would ask Hancock to join his group, the stellar one which included Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Jazz at a peak, not least because of Hancock’s innovative harmony, voicing and rhythm. During his period with Miles Davis, as is well documented, Hancock himself would deliver albums on Blue Note that defined the post bop style and remain influential to this day, notably Empyrian Isles in 1964 and Maiden Voyage in 1965. A succesful career path was laid out that would include the fusion of his Mwandishi group, the jazz funk of Headhunters and much, much, celebrated more up until the 21-st century’s schizoid present.

Clearly, an experimental spirit had fared into the bespectacled Hancock who peered at your open zipper on the cover of Takin’ Off. It depicts a gentleman whose attire oozed the impression of a kid that fills his evenings with chemistry tests in his granny’s attic. At the dawn of the sixties, the prodigy was taken under his wings by trumpeter Donald Byrd. Prior to Takin’ Off, Hancock debuted as a recording artist on Byrd’s Royal Flush, followed by the Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Quintet’s Out Of This World and Byrd’s Free Form.

Takin’ Off’s opening cut, the gospel-tinged groover Watermelon Man (turned into a hit by Mongo Santamaria soon after Hancock’s release), sounds as fresh today as in 1962. Many highlights: for one, the infectious rhythm of Billy Higgins is unforgettable. A gritty vibe without the use of the backbeat. Could it be that the island blood in Higgins’ veins accounts for his inventive rhythm? (Other drummers had Carribean ancestors, among them Denzil Best and Mickey “Granville” Roker) Billy Hart (coincidentally, the drummer of Hancocks Mwandishi group) offers a welcome view in an interview with Ethan Iverson on his Do The Math blog. Hart remembers asking Billy Higgins repeatedly about the ‘Higgins island flavor’. Higgins always answered matter-of-factly: “I studied with Ed Blackwell, you know.”

Dexter Gordon’s carefully crafted, behind-the-beat blues story is also a big treat. It blends well with Hancock’s ready and able piano comping, while Hancock includes in his poised solo a number of gorgeous, rollicking cadenzas suggesting both Earl Hines and Maede Lux Lewis. The sound of the piano is round, transparent and upfront, as if Hancock’s playing beside you at the bar. Splendid acoustics at the high-roofed joint in Englewood Cliffs, courtesy of the recently deceased master of modern jazz engineering, Rudy van Gelder.

The inclusion of Dexter Gordon on Takin’ Off has been an obvious delight to many, yours truly included. Gordon, fresh in the act of an iconic comeback on Blue Note in the early sixties after a troubling, preceding decade that was largely wasted on stints in prison (with early May dates Doin’ Alright and Dexter Calling in the pocket) hits a homerun in The Maze, a tacky tune that swings while incorporating McCoy Tyner’s orchestral voicings. This period saw the influence of John Coltrane on Gordon, whose early sides, strikingly, had captivated Coltrane. Insidiously, Gordon’s resonant, fluent solo in The Maze reaches boiling point. Majestic. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard is his usual sizzling self, raising the stakes with spirited, virtuoso playing. In the ensembles, the forward motion of Hubbard and the nonchalant beat of Gordon create a pleasant, edgy tension that blends well with Hancock’s old-timey yet sophisticated delivery.

Strong points of a flawless, immaculate debut. The chemistry kid had arrived.