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


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


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


as BLP 4109 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Watermelon Man
Three Bags Full
Empty Pockets
Side B:
The Maze
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.

Ruud Breuls - Robert Roozenbeek Photography

Ready For Rudy

Ruud Breuls, sideman par excellence and trumpeter in the renowned German WDR Big Band, lives and breathes straightforward modern jazz, with a particular passion for Freddie Hubbard. “Hard bop is the ideal canvas for my sound.”

Afoggy day in Amsterdam town. The Muziekgebouw Aan ’t IJ is empty, our voices richochet off the walls like the sounds of wild animals inside a hollow oak tree. Familiar terrain for Breuls, who among many other endeavors, starred as a soloist in Shades Of Brown, a tribute to Clifford Brown by the Metropole Orchestra. Breuls, a slender, tall man dressed in a classy woolen overcoat, the soft-hued southern Limburg accent still intact after years in central Holland, enthusiastically peers into the layers of mist that hover over the IJ River. He says, with the sense of wonder typical of his region of birth, where lady chapels are an equally common sight along the roads than traffic signs: “I’ve got my camera with me, you never know. A bit of sun might peek through the fog. That’s beautiful, almost mystical…”

Also very ‘Limburg’: the marching band. “Yes, I grew up with marching bands. They really meant business! It was my initiation into music, but hardly a defining moment. What is? You know, laying out a career path only explains the musician on a superficial level. A defining moment runs deeper. It’s about atmosphere, feeling. More than the fanfare, LP’s fundamentally brought about a change. My brothers came home with records, I loved hard rock, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. Then there was that Brecker Brothers album, Heavy Metal Be-Bop. Wow! Weird! That cover with the helmet and trumpet, fascinating. They were funky and improvising, which was still a mystery to me. However, the first real defining moment was a Count Basie compilation album. Including Thad Jones and Snooky Young. Oh, Jezus, what is this?! Well, it was swing, of course. A seed was sown.”

The seed, eventually, carried the young, humble Southerner around the country and the globe in a varied assembly of outfits. While specialising in the classic hard bop quintet formation, co-leading hard-swinging groups like Buddies In Soul with veteran pianist Cees Slinger and saxophonist Simon Rigter onwards from the early nineties, Breuls’ career as an orchestral player flourished. Breuls played in the Metropole Orchestra, Dutch Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw. Simultaneously, the trumpeter worked in popular music genres, performing and recording with national celebrities like Marco Borsato, Andre Hazes and Gordon, notably with The Stylus Horns, as well as international artists like Seal and Nathalie Cole. Revealing a healthy dose of self-mockery, Breuls assesses his current, declining amount of commercial jobs. “I’m too busy. But honestly, the wrinkles of middle age do not really fit the commercial profile as well anymore. However, they’re perfect for a jazz man!”

For Breuls, his other major defining moment was the discovery of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. “It was life-changing. To this day, Hubbard is the reference for my style. He’s my main man, Freddie’s in my heart, from the day I bought a Blue Note twofer LP in Rotterdam at age nineteen. It contained Here To Stay, Ready For Freddie, Goin’ Up and Hup Cap, I think. I was stunned! The way Hubbard sculpted his lines and coloured his phrases and bent his notes. The flow of ideas, the swing and that bright sound. That was it. Basically, the Hubbard style of the early sixties defines the way I play. The way I would like to play.”

“There were others, of course. I learned that Miles Davis was the chief god, the genius of the use of space. An unforgettable identity. There’s Lee Morgan, the funky master. I really admire his bravura. It’s delivery time: here’s Lee! The way Morgan forges himself through those changes on Coltrane’s Blue Train album, you know, in Lazy Bird, is a gas. You should write out those lines, frame and put them up on the wall, they’re so beautiful. There are musician’s musicians like Kenny Dorham, Woody Shaw. Outstanding. And there’s Clifford Brown, of course. Brilliant in all registers and what a sound. Although I’m versed in bebop as well, when I did that Clifford Brown performance, I was glad we concentrated mainly on ballads instead of the faster bop tunes!”

“Sound is the identity of the musician. Some trumpeters use a lot of air. That’s beautiful. But I just can’t. A straightahead, round and open tone comes natural to me. It’s allowed to shine and shimmer. I’m white, not black. In a sense, my style is tongue-in-cheek. The sound is clean, pure, would almost fit in a symphony orchestra. But what I play is unadulterated jazz, obviously.”

The passion for straightforward jazz is shared with a coterie of musicians, notably drummers. “It really is hard to explain, borders on telepathy. Like the drummers of the classic hard bop era, guys like Eric Ineke, John Engels, Cees Kranenburg, and including free bird Han Bennink, are, for all their supurb skills, propulsive groove-masters first and foremost. The American drummer Adam Nussbaum as well. And they’re unique in listening to the soloist, stimulating him instead of dominating the proceedings. They have an in-built sense of the phraseology and rhythm of the classic horn players and recognize all the quotes, more so than myself! Eric Ineke especially, he’s liable to lay you down on the barbecue! A shout here and there. That’s a party! It’s a primitive, jungle feeling, jazz in its purest form. From the contemporary trumpeters and jazz musicians, I really regard Roy Hargrove as a hero. A perfect synthesis of hardbop and bebop. Most of all, he’s such an honest musician.”

Pure jazz has a hard time. “We’re a minority in The Netherlands. It’s not hip, supposedly not innovative enough. Which is weird and really irritating. My beloved hard bop, and the tradition and bebop as well of course, make up the fountainhead of jazz. It really is a good development that many young guys are into odd meters and have non-jazz influences. But ideally, those influences would be the icing on their real jazz cake. But all too often the real jazz is left out in the cold. But when played well, hard bop is fresh as a spring leaf. As busy as I am, I try to do at least two or three quintet gigs a month now, with my old pal Simon Rigter for instance. The quintet format is essential for my well-being! I would really like to do more of this stuff again, to be honest. I did a little tour with saxophonist Benjamin Herman and John Engels a couple of years ago. That was great. Benjamin and me are on the same wavelength. I would love to get together again.”

As tall and marked by more than a half decade of life experience on this globe we sometimes call the Big Bad Apple the 54-year old Breuls may be, occasionally seasoning his anecdotes with a fervent four-letter word, there’s a spark of a young boy inside. A sensitive kid who has a hard time fitting in with the hardliners on the schoolyard. One to cherish, soothe. Something in the personality of Breuls is tender, fragile. The carefully crafted style and crystalline sound of Breuls symbolize part of that innocence, suggest a longing for the angels to speak up. His sensitivity, Breuls contemplates, is the reason behind the trumpeter’s life as a sideman. “Those are deep waters. Essentially, it has to do with my family history. Basically, my confidence level is low. The trumpet is a challenge to deal with that. My role as a sideman, as opposed to a leader, is a logical extension of my personality. Besides,”, Breuls chuckles, “I was asked for everything I’ve done, you know.”

“I did a lot of gigs with Michiel Borstlap. He was very stimulating, really pushed me to the front. Figuratively, but also quite literally! Michiel is a very compassionate human being. We share a love for Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock as well. I liked to play fusion, occasionally. So, I was quite upfront there with Michiel, in spite of myself. As ‘Miles’ with the Metropole (Breuls was the leading soloist during integral performances of Porgy & Bess and Miles Ahead, among others, FM) and Clifford Brown, I was in the limelight as well, of course. It was a real good feeling to get under the skin of those giants. As an effect, I really pushed my envelope, playing better day after day. At any rate, the seat in the WDR chair really suits me to a T. The alternation of playing the parts and solo spots is wonderful.”

The volume of Breuls’ voice is turned up a notch or two. “Aaah… The WDR Big Band is really something. One hell of a big band! An interesting international cast. The gutsy delivery of the WDR Big Band floors me completely. And the variety of guest stars is striking. Since I’m in the band, we’ve had Jimmy Heath, Ron Carter, Billy Hart, Al Foster, Dick Oatts, Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ambrose Akinmusire… I really dig my role in the sound spectrum and relish the solo spots. I’m like that little devil jumping out of the box. Everybody is on their toes and we’re really stimulated to be greasy, to scrape off the layer of varnish. The WDR has a hard-boiled attitude: give us the fucking juice, man! Come on! You wanna be a jazz player?! You know what I mean?”

One wouldn’t be surprised if that band will account for defining moment number 3 in the life and career of Ruud Breuls. “Who knows? Time will tell. Those things really have to be left to fate.”

Ruud Breuls

Ruud Breuls (Urmond, 1962) is featured on more than 300 albums, both jazz and popular music. Since the early nineties, Breuls has been part of big bands such as the Dutch Jazz Orchestra, Metropole Orchestra, Cubop City Big Band and the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw. He currently is a member of the WDR Big Band. Breuls has also been active in long-term, small ensembles such as Buddies In Soul and Major League. The trumpeter performed and recorded with, among others, Kenny Barron, The Beets Brothers, Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Cobham, Michiel Borstlap, Ronnie Cuber, John Engels, Billy Hart, Jimmy Heath, Benjamin Herman, Bill Holman, Eric Ineke, Joe Lovano, Vince Mendoza, Michel Portal and Mike Stern. Breuls teaches at the Conservatory Of Amsterdam. In 2013, Breuls won the Laren Jazz Award. In the Spring of 2017, a Louis Armstrong project of Breuls and Simon Rigter will be released by Sound Liaison on CD and made available as high-resolution downloads.

Photograph of Ruud Breuls above by Mattis Cederberg; on the homepage by Robert Roozenbeek Photography.

Freddie Hubbard - Open Sesame

Freddie Hubbard Open Sesame (Blue Note 1960)

Freddie Hubbard’s celebrated debut as a leader on Blue Note, Open Sesame, is as much a Tina Brooks album than a Hubbard album.

Freddie Hubbard - Open Sesame


Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone), McCoy Tyner (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Clifford Jarvis (drums)


on June 19, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BLP 4040 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Open Sesame
But Beautiful
Gypsy Blue
Side B:
All Or Nothing At All
One Mint Julep
Hub’s Nub

Aweek later, Hubbard played on True Blue (read review here), the only album by Tina Brooks released during the undervalued tenorist’s lifetime. At the start of Hubbard’s career, Brooks proved to be a suitable springboard for the young trumpet player from Indianapolis. In later life, Hubbard lovingly commented on his mentor to Michael Cuscuna. “I loved Tina. He would write shit out on the spot and it would be beautiful. He wrote Gypsy Blue for me on the first record, and I loved it. I just loved it. Tina made my first record date wonderful. He wrote and played beautifully. What a soulful, inspiring cat.” (From: the liner notes of The Complete Blue Note Recordings Of Tina Brooks, Mosaic) Yet, Hubbard never used Brooks again for other sessions.

Gypsy Blue is a readily recognisable melody with a real gypsy jazz feeling and a cookin’ 4/4 section. Brooks wrote Open Sesame as well, a purebred hard bop tune. Great vehicles for Hubbard’s vital trumpet playing. At 22, Hubbard is buoyant and confident. On his debut, as modern jazz-minded Hubbard may be in the tradition of Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro, the newly arrived trumpet star, perhaps surprisingly, also brings to mind Louis Armstrong: the unabashed joy that speaks from his frivolous, virtuoso phrases, the exceptional range, the powerful notes that carry from one village to another, calling the children home. Imposing, and the audience hadn’t as yet seen a fully grown Hubbard. 1961’s Hub Cap, Ready For Freddie and Hub-Tones showcase a progressively mature Hubbard with adventurous choices of notes and more dark-hued phrasing. Surely, Hubbard’s pairing to many of Blue Note’s top-rate artists as well as Art Blakey in the fall of 1961 (Hubbard played with Blakey from 1961-64, appearing on, among others, Mosaic and Ugetsu) certainly have helped him find his own voice. So rapid was Hubbard’s evolution, that by late ’60 and early ’61 both Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were happy to be assisted by the trumpeter on, respectively, Free Jazz and Ole Coltrane.

The fact that the immaculate Tina Brooks never reached the recognition that others off his day received, amazes to this day. Brooks certainly was tough competition for Hank Mobley, Junior Cook and Jimmy Heath. In any case, he’s an essential hard bop player. As the title track Open Sesame shows especially, Brooks threads unexpected paths where ordinary tenorists would opt for safe coda’s, either holding a long, gutsy note in suspension, or jumping to an off-centre triplet, meanwhile dropping meaningful pauzes in between. Brooks has a sinewy tone, a little rough around the edges for extra flavour and slighty drags behind the beat. His smokin’ stories brim with fresh ideas and slowly but surely pick up steam, sometimes by means of a churning out of notes deep from the inner parts of his fragile body, notes that traveled a long way and are just dying to jump out into the woods.

Open Sesame also features McCoy Tyner. The promising pianist had appeared on many recordings as a sideman, his debut as a leader on Impulse, Inception, followed in 1962. In 1961, Tyner completed John Coltrane’s eponymous group including Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. Tyner’s comping brings a sense of urgency, his lines are lyrical and move rapidly in the upper register. Completing the line up are drummer Clifford Jarvis and bassist Sam Jones. Jarvis was 19 years old. Imagine how it must’ve felt to participate in one of those countless sessions at Rudy van Gelder’s magical Englewood Cliffs studio! Wet behind the ears, Jarvis nevertheless is unperturbed, swinging propulsively and providing resonant, well-placed accents. The 36-year old Sam Jones, one of the most sought-after bassists in possession of great walkin’ bass abilities and a definite down home bounce, was part of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet, with the landmark live album The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In San Francisco and his debut as a leader on Riverside, The Soul Society, under his belt. Freddie Hubbard couldn’t have asked for a better outfit to assist him in his rise to prominence as a new star on the trumpet.

Slide Hampton Octet - Sister Salvation

The Slide Hampton Octet Sister Salvation (Atlantic 1960)

Sister Salvation is trombonist and arranger Slide Hampton’s breakthrough album as a leader. It’s another one of those typically soulful, warm-sounding, big ensemble productions of the Atlantic catalogue of the early sixties – like the albums of Hank Crawford, David Newman and Milt Jackson. Too good to miss.

Slide Hampton Octet - Sister Salvation


Slide Hampton (trombone, arranger), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ernie Royal (trumpet A2, B1-3), Richard Williams (trumpet A1, A3), Bob Zottola (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone, arranger), Jay Cameron (baritone saxophone), Kiane Zawadi (euphonium), Bill Barber (tuba), Nabil Totah (bass), Pete LaRoca (drums), Billy Frazier (arranger)


on February 11 & 15, 1960 at Bell Sound Studio, NYC


as Atlantic 1339 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Sister Salvation
Just Squeeze Me
Side B:
Conversation Piece
A Little Night Music

Nowadays it’s hard to fathom the kind of incredible jazz life Slide Hampton led. Already playing trombone by the age of three, Hampton toured the US with the (XL) family band of his father, providing music at carnivals, circuses and fairs. As a young man, Hampton’s stature grew by playing with Lionel Hampton (no family relation), Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson, displaying both his fluent trombone playing and superb arrangements. By 1960, a recording as a leader by the cutting-edge Atlantic label was more than appropriate. (The release of Slide Hampton And His Horn Of Plenty a year earlier on the obscure Strand label had gone relatively unnoticed) In 1960 Hampton also played on Charles Mingus’ Mingus Revisited and Randy Weston’s Uhuru Afrika.

Asservation is a succesful blend of small combo flexibility and big band muscle. One constantly imagines a singing voice prying for attention and I think that kind of vibe is one of the tune’s and album’s greatest qualities. Sister Salvation assuredly has that ‘singing voice’ quality, you’d expect the voice of “Brother” Ray Charles to chime in any minute now. It’s churchy, r&b-type jazz at its best.

A Little Night Music, a more lithe, bouncy tune with a pronounced descending bass line, is contagious as well. Hampton also picked interesting tunes of other composers like Randy Weston’s Hi-Fli and Gigi Gryce’s Conversation Piece, that include concise, top-notch solo’s by Freddie Hubbard and George Coleman. In short, the album is a happy marriage between tunes, arranging and soloing.

The jazz life of Slide Hampton would continue, bringing many more recordings in the sixties, a job as arranger at pop soul-kingdom Motown and fruitful years as a jazz expatriate in Europe in the seventies and beyond. Hampton has been especially prolific as a recording artist in the new millenium. Twin Records released Hampton’s latest album, Inclusion, in 2014.

Tina Brooks - True Blue

Tina Brooks True Blue (Blue Note 1960)

In spite of being the Einstein and Heisenberg of the modern jazz recording business, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff occasionally seemed to suffer from a black out. Why else did they release only one album – True Blue – out of four excellent sessions of tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks?

Tina Brooks - True Blue


Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Duke Jordan (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on June 25, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Inglewood Cliffs, NJ


as BLP 4041 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Good Old Soul
Up Tight’s Creek
Theme For Doris
Side B:
True Blue
Miss Hazel
Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You

Fifty-five years after the fact, one can only speculate. Jack Chambers, in a May 2005 Coda issue, suggested that Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff effectively killed the career of Brooks. (Who Killed Tina Brooks? – read here) A lot of conjecture. I’m sure that The Lion & The Wolff couldn’t be bothered with the fact that Brooks, a reserved, shabby-dressed, corner bar jazz cat, didn’t look as good on a record cover than Hank Mobley. They used Brooks on only a handful of sessions, but Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon, Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Vol 1 & 2 and Freddie Hubbards’s Open Sesame were notable albums, not cautious try-outs destined to be shelved. Whatever the reasons, it definitely is a pity that a career as a leader for Blue Note didn’t work out for Brooks in his heyday of 1958-61.

Another mystery though: why didn’t Brooks, seeing that Blue Note apparently had other priorities, tried to find a place in the roster of related companies like Prestige?

If it weren’t for ace producer Michael Cuscuna, whose influential re-issue company Mosaic released The Complete Recordings Of The Tina Brooks Quintets in 1985, (which in turn led to seperate re-issues of his albums by Blue Note in the nineties) we wouldn’t have known that not only True Blue showed potential, but that other sessions displayed a mature instrumentalist with a sinewy yet edgy tone and ability to string together cliché-free line after line. Brooks was also a prolific writer.

And stood his ground amidst a bunch of top-notch figures of the day, like Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Lee Morgan and Paul Chambers. 1958’s Minor Move, 1960’s Back To The Track and 1961’s The Waiting Game were mastered, numbered and designed but, ultimately, shelved.

It’s hard to pick a winner. I would say the quintessential Tina Brooks-statements were ignited by Philly Joe Jones’ blistering sparks on The Waiting Game.

True Blue was recorded a week after Freddie Hubbard’s Open Sesame, the debut album of the promising trumpeter, which depended significantly on the input of Tina Brooks as composer and sideman. Brooks had functioned as Hubbard’s mentor for some time.

Fitting the company’s hard bop aesthetic like a velvet glove, the album boasts such almost inexplicably charming, blues-based, minor key tunes as Good Old Soul (including a great off-centre solo by Brooks) and True Blue. (the tune is upbeat, catchy and the employment of tension without release is nifty) There’s the langourous, beautific melody of Miss Hazel, wherein Brooks and Hubbard are right on the money and Art Taylor puts in stunning rolls, and the moody but sprightly Theme For Doris.

Brooks may not have been a pioneer like Dexter Gordon or an innovator like Joe Henderson. But his all-round package of chops, authority, melodic panache and gift for writing should’ve led to more than just one album as a leader. Addicted to heroin and suffering from liver damage, Brooks passed away at the age of 42 in 1974.

Kenny Drew - Undercurrent

Kenny Drew Undercurrent (Blue Note 1961)

Kenny Drew’s Undercurrent isn’t called Undercurrent for nothing. The opener and title track is the pièce de résistance of the album in which every member of the band is on fire. Following it up with a set of excellent hard bop is quite an achievement.

Kenny Drew - Undercurrent


Kenny Drew (piano), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)


on December 11, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BLP 4059 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Lion’s Den
Side B:
The Pot’s On
Groovin’ The Blues

That hard bop was a development from bebop to more expressive playing of the down-home kind is true, but there was more to it. Near the end of the fifties, there were many different tastes. Pianist Kenny Drew, who played with Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Howard McGhee, among others, possessed his share of ‘funk’, but his touch was light as a feather, as opposed to the more common percussionist approach. Drew spun precise, logical but animated lines and was a fine accompanist, who worked extensively for Dinah Washington.

Drew’s blues tunes – Funk-Cosity and Groovin’ The Blues – are medium tempo groovers, distinctive for articulate, swinging Drew solo’s. The Pot’s On is a Horace Silver-type tune with an attractive old timey feeling. Lion’s Den (Obviously, Blue Note boss Alfred Lion’s pad) is a happy swinger that makes use of trademark hard bop interludes of suspended rhythm that boost the soloists considerably.

Ballade is a-typical for the period, eschewing double time or louder four/four-sections, instead opting for balanced, sweet and sour balladry. It’s charming.

Not only Kenny Drew, who wrote all six tunes, is in top form, Hank Mobley and Freddie Hubbard are spot-on as well. At the time, Hank Mobley, a young veteran of classic Art Blakey groups, had completed future classic albums Soul Station, Roll Call (including Hubbard) and Workout. Freddie Hubbard was a young, versatile lion who’d made a big impression on colleagues, recording his first two Blue Note albums in 1960 (Goin’ Up including Mobley) and appearing on dates of Tina Brooks and Eric Dolphy. He would appear on Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz ten days later on December 21 and join Art Blakey in 1961 for a stunning stretch of Blue Note and Riverside albums.

To complete the Blakey pedigree in this respect, Kenny Drew also played with the famed drummer and band leader, albeit for the shorter time of two months in 1957. However, Drew’s most renowned effort in that year is his work on John Coltrane’s imposing Blue Train album. Drew was part of many other sessions of the period, among them those of Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Kenny Dorham. Drew struck up a long association with Dexter Gordon onwards from the early fifties (Daddy Plays The Horn, Dexter Callin’, One Flight Up) and, like Gordon, became a longtime, widely acknowledged expatriate in Paris and, especially, Copenhagen. In a weird twist of fate Drew and Gordon even appeared in a Swedish, hippy-ish soft porn movie called Pornografi!

By then, about a decade had passed since Drew recorded the title track of this album. The partly modal theme includes the swirling arpeggios that aptly explain the sea-image title, which give an otherwise noteworthy composition even greater distinction. Best of all, the band is inspired almost beyond belief, with the essential inclusion of drummer Louis Hayes and bassist Sam Jones. Their experience as a rhythm tandem of many sessions of the day and Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet in particular stands them in good stead. They’re red hot, with a controlled intensity that would keep many a devil at bay. Louis Hayes’s temperature especially surpasses that of Lucifer with more than a few degrees!

The title tune is not only crisp and driving, it’s also full of immaculate solo work. Kenny Drew’s ideas keep flowing, his lines stretching over bars extensively. Mobley and Hubbard, triggered by Drew, Hayes and Jones, work up a sweat, and there are no parttime choruses. Mobley’s smoky sound and Hubbard’s buoyant style contrast pleasantly.

Undercurrent was Drew’s last album in the United States before he went to Paris in 1961 and settled in Copenhagen in 1963. Not a bad way to say goodbye to the American jazz life.

Stanley Turrentine - Sugar

Stanley Turrentine Sugar (CTI 1971)

Sugar, Stanley Turrentine’s first release on CTI, catapulted the tenorist into jazz stardom. It sold extremely well, in spite of its lenghty trio of tunes. A big part of the album’s mass appeal must be attributed to producer Creed Taylor. Taylor, also responsible for the big break of Jimmy Smith on Verve in the mid-sixties and George Benson on CTI in the early seventies, embedded Turrentine’s down-home hard bop style in streamlined jazz funk terrain. The result is a mixed bag.

Stanley Turrentine - Sugar


Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), George Benson (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Lonnie Liston Smith (electric piano A1)), Butch Cornell (organ A2, B1), Billy Kaye (drums)


on November 20, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as CTI 6005 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Sunshine Alley
Side B:

Almost inevitably Taylor’s marketing strategies have as a consequence that something is lost. In this case, Turrentine’s smoky, blues-drenched sound and style; vintage Turrentine that is to be found on his many releases from the sixties, solo and with his wife, organist Shirley Scott on Blue Note and Prestige, and as a sideman with, among others, Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell and Max Roach.

On the whole, the all-star cast as well as newcomers Butch Cornell and Lonnie Liston Smith turn in top-notch performances and the mood is joyful and relaxed. The title track is a mellow groove. And even if Turrentine’s sound, in comparison to his ‘breathy’ sound of the sixties, is the musical equivalent of a silken scarf, his flowing, imaginative statements are proof of what a class act Turrentine is.

Latin tune Sunshine Alley, written by organist Butch Cornell, has an equally relaxed vibe. George Benson adds fiery, r&b-tinged licks to the flashy and pyrotechnical pallette of phrases that the guitarist demonstrated up until then. It’s a welcome change of mood. Hubbard’s solo starts with a climactic bunch of phrases, which obstructs a reasonable build-up. Turrentine seems contaminated and sounds a bit over-excited too.

The take on John Coltrane’s Impressions includes inventive solo’s by Hubbard and Benson and Turrentine’s lines are carefully crafted. Nonetheless, there is a decisive lack of swing that makes it hard to sit out. A couple of concise tunes on side B instead of the cumbersome version of Impressions would certainly have added to the attraction of Sugar, artistically and arguably also on a commercial level. Wouldn’t it have sold even better with a spicy side B?

Sugar is slick but excellent, not heartless but not really endearing either. It’s a commercial succes but in an artistic sense it’s nowhere near the best Blue Note albums by Stanley Turrentine.