Frank Strozier Quartet - March Of The Siamese Children

Frank Strozier Quartet March Of The Siamese Children (Jazzland 1962)

Frank Strozier’s March Of The Siamese Children makes abundantly clear that the overlooked alto saxophonist and flute player was an advanced hard bop force to reckon with.

Frank Strozier Quartet - March Of The Siamese Children

Personnel

Frank Strozier (alto sax A2-4, B1, B3, B4, flute A1, B2), Harold Mabern (piano), Bill Lee (bass), Al Dreares (drums)

Recorded

on March 28, 1962 at Plaza Sound Studios, NYC

Released

as JLP 70 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
March Of The Siamese Children
Extension 27
Something I Dreamed Last Night
Don’t Follow The Crowd
Side B:
Our Waltz
Will I Forget?
Lap
Hey, Lee!


Considering the wealth of great saxophonists in the sixties, evidently Frank Strozier found a way to stand out. Strozier, now 80 and inactive for decades, has worked towards a hard bop style with alluring, adventurous touches, delivered with an irresistible combination of fury and sweetness. Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1937, Strozier was teenage buddy with Phineas Newborn Jr., Booker Little, Harold Mabern and George Coleman. His career was off to a promising start. Relocated to the Chicago in the late fifties, Strozier struck up a fruitful cooperation with MJT, the group of drummer Walter Perkins, resulting in a number of albums on the VeeJay label, notably MJT + 3 in 1959. Strozier also played on The Young Lions, the 1960 VeeJay session of rising stars Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter. As if that wasn’t enough, Strozier’s first album as a leader that same year, The Fantastic Frank Strozier, also on VeeJay, included Booker Little and the rhythm section of Miles Davis’ epic Kind Of Blue, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.

His subsequent years in New York City in the early 60s and on the West Coast for the rest of the decade kept Strozier in high demand. He played briefly in the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963, between the tenures of Hank Mobley and George Coleman. In Los Angeles, Strozier had extensive stints in the bands of drummer Shelly Manne and trumpeter Don Ellis. Strozier recorded sporadically in the seventies, when an alledged disappointment with the music business caused Strozier to quit playing altogether. Other notable albums and features are Long Night (Jazzland, 1962), What’s Goin’ On (Steeplechase, 1977), Booker Ervin’s Exulation! (Prestige, 1963), Roy Haynes’ Cymbalism (New Jazz, 1963), McCoy Tyner’s Today And Tomorrow (Impulse, 1964), Chet Baker’s Baby Breeze (Limelight, 1965), Shelly Manne’s Boss Sounds (Atlantic, 1966), Oliver Nelson’s Live From L.A. (Impulse, 1967), Sonny Stitt’s Dumpy Mama and Woody Shaw’s Little Red Fantasy (Muse, 1976). A review of Strozier’s Cool And Cloudy and an insightful appraisal of his jazz personality can be found on Steven Cerra’s excellent Jazz Profiles blog here.

The urgent, lean alto of Strozier is featured on four tunes: the free-flowing Strozier composition Extension 27, Harold Mabern’s Hey, Lee!, Bill Lee’s Lap, a nifty blues melody consisting of the archetypical 12 bars, which are, to be sure, far from a straightjacket for Strozier, a storyteller revealing abundant quizzical, masterful sounds of surprise. Last but not least, Strozier takes to heart the title of the album’s ballad, Don’t Follow The Crowd, his alto ripping hypnotically through the classy take, much like the great Jackie McLean, with a tone that’s less acerbic, but still a bit edgy. Strozier likes to gamble and isn’t afraid of emotions, switches naturally from soft-hued, soothing phrases to dramatic, rousing sentences. Besides, he’s got the blues. A combination of assets that lifts the Fain, Magidson and Yellen ballad to a higher plain.

Strozier is excellent on flute as well. March Of The Siamese Children stands out, his flute weaving sprightly and authoritatively through the pretty melody and the appealing interplay of exotic and straightforward rhythm. The beautiful composition was written by the legendary team of music theatre writers Rodgers and Hammerstein II for the musical The King And I in 1951. It was revived for the movie version in 1956 starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. See here and compare it with Strozier’s version, the opening tune of the album. A great example of the jazz musician’s ability to re-envision material in accordance with his own feelings and ideas and the importance of the show tune writers as suppliers of intelligent blueprints for jazz improvisation.

Strozier’s March Of The Siamese Children is simultaneously mellow and probing. Intriguing, like Strozier himself, a distinct personality deserving much more attention than he has until now received.

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.

Idris Muhammad - Black Rhythm Revolution!

Idris Muhammad Black Rhythm Revolution! (Prestige 1971)

Laying down a propulsive groove was Idris Muhammad’s specialty. Funk jazz galore on the drummer’s debut as a leader, Black Rhythm Revolution!.

Idris Muhammad - Black Rhythm Revolution!

Personnel

Idris Muhammad (drums), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Clarence Thomas (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Harold Mabern (electric piano), Melvin Sparks(guitar), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Buddy Caldwell (congas)

Recorded

on November 2, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 10005 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Express Yourself
Soulful Drums
Superbad
Side B:
Wander
By The Red Sea


Idris Muhammad, formerly known as Leo Morris, wasn’t your average jazz drummer. To understand what Muhammad was about, it is best to describe him as a New Orleans drummer. It might not exactly explain why Muhammad became the penultimate jazz funkateer whose probing beat was a deciding factor in the artistic and commercial succes of the soul and funk jazz albums that rolled off the assembly line of Blue Note and Prestige in the late sixties and early seventies, which in my book comprise the lasting legacy of the drummer. But this way of looking at Muhammad does account for his versatility and eclectic career path.

Born in a family of brothers and a sister who all played drums, the young Leo Morris was fascinated by the Mardi Gras parades at an early age and would come to play professionally in marching bands at age nine. The Morris family was friends with the Neville family, that hardcore tribe of New Orleans Funk, and Leo was part of the Hawkettes, Art and Cyril Neville’s early incarnation of the legendary The Meters. Muhammad is the drummer on Fats Domino’s world-wide smash hit Blueberry Hill. At age sixteen! The promising drummer also gained experience performing and recording with Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Eddie Bo, Earl King, Lloyd Price, Larry Williams, King Curtis and Curtis Mayfield. Later in his career, Muhammad worked with Roberta Flack, George Benson and John Scofield. Nice resume, aye? Might not get you through math, but opens doors standing in front of St. Peter Of Soul.

It gets better. Jazz was a part of Muhammad’s upbringing early on, yet fully came to the fore during his stay in New York in the early sixties, when he gigged with Roland Kirk, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. His meeting with Lou Donaldson was a game changer. Lou Donaldson’s recording of Alligator Boogaloo in 1967, with Idris Muhammad on drums, set a trend of funky jazz with a hip, solid beat to it. The rest, as they say, is funk jazz history. Muhammad – who had converted to the muslim faith in the mid-sixties, appeared on subsequent Lou Donaldson albums as Midnight Creeper and Everything I Play Is Funky, Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation, Grant Green’s Carryin’ On, Charles Earland’s Black Talk!, Lonnie Smith’s Turning Point and many more commercially and artistically viable funk jazz albums.

1974’s more slick Power Of Soul on Kudu turned Muhammad into a hit maker (the hit, Loran’s Dance, eventually was sampled by the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique, in fact, Muhammad’s beats are all over the place in hiphop territory) and, to Muhammad’s astonishment, a disco king in the late seventies/early eighties. Simultaneously, Muhammad recorded prolifically and performed for years with adventurous contemporaries as Pharaoh Sanders (The B-side of Sanders’ 1968 album Jewels Of Thought, called Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah gives you an idea of their mutual interests and passions…) and, later in life, the virtuosic and innovating pianist Ahmad Jamal. Muhammad passed away on July 29, 2014 at the age of seventy-four.

If not exactly a revolution – let’s just reserve that term for the drum innovations of Kenny Clarke that shifted the jazz landscape from swing to bop in the late forties – Muhammad’s drum style was an important force in the late sixties return of jazz to a danceable vibe. The momentum that Muhammad develops during the course of a tune is crazy. Also very striking are Muhammad’s resourceful and greasy rolls, pushing and pulling his bandmates into ambiences they were heretofore unacquainted with. The guys on Black Rhythm Revolution! are infected by the joyful motion of Muhammad, with no antidote in sight. It might lack a soloist with the flair and experience of Lou Donaldson, but trumpeter Virgil Jones, in particular, shines through as a lively, hot player. A tight-knit outfit, Muhammad, bassist Jimmy Lewis and pianist Harold Mabern – heard on electric piano here – turn in a luscious slow drag like Express Yourself, the basic blues line Soulful Drums, a vehicle for Muhammad’s gritty improvisations, and the roaring, uptempo mover Wander. James Brown’s Superbad is as baaaaadass as it can get. Black Rhythm Revolution! is a badass album and delicious proof of Idris Muhammad’s unique style of drumming.

The Real Thing

ERIC ALEXANDER – Cutting your teeth with the elders is the best thing an aspiring jazz musician can do. Conservatory alone doesn’t get you anywhere. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander (48) is a prime example of a musician with levity, who as a youngster soaked up the tradition of bop and hard bop while developing and maintaining his own individual voice. Obviously, Alexander is part of the last generation (Chris Potter, Terenche Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Ethan Iverson, Vincent Herring etc.) that has been able to gain experience on a regular basis with the legends of the 50s and 60s. Alexander has been cooperating with one of those greats, pianist Harold Mabern, for more than 20 years now. The immaculate and highly acclaimed New York-based saxophonist recorded over thirty albums as a leader and appeared on dozens of albums as a sideman.

Last year, Alexander was interviewed by Brian Pace for the Pace Report, which has been offering insightful glimpses into the careers and views of legends and contemporary cats for some years now. View here. Alexander ruminates on his origins, ‘perfect’ Pat Martino, ‘growing up’ as a musician in the lively scene of the Chicago South Side and on the road with organist Charles Earland, on getting kicked in the ass by Brother Jack McDuff… Harold Mabern himself draws up to the Pace table and compliments his younger associate and former student on his musical integrity, intellect and sound. “Eric Alexander has the sound and listened to all the right people.”

Find the link to Eric Alexander’s website here.

Johnny Griffin - The Big Soul-Band

Johnny Griffin Orchestra The Big Soul-Band (Riverside 1960)

A look at Johnny Griffin’s side dates around the time of The Big Soul-Band’s release in 1960 shows he was a very sought-after player. No wonder, because the ‘Little Giant’ decidedly had his chops together, playing masterfully executed fast runs, all the while retaining a heartfelt sense of the blues. Cooperation with Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Clark Terry and John Coltrane, and solo endeavors on the Blue Note and Riverside label resulted in very positive critical acclaim. Thus, by the time the idea of putting out a record of grass roots jazz took fruition, Griffin was ready for it.

Johnny Griffin - The Big Soul-Band

Personnel

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), Bobby Timmons (piano), Clark Terry (trumpet), Bobby Bryant (trumpet), Charles Davis (baritone saxophone), Edwin Williams (tenor saxophone), Julian Priester (trombone), Matthew Gee (trombone), Pat Patrick (alto saxophone), Frank Strozier (alto saxophone), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Victor Sproles (bass), Charlie Persip (drums), Norman Simmons (arranger)

Recorded

on May 24 & 31 and June 3, 1960 in NYC

Released

as RLP 331 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Side A:
Wade In The Water
Panic Room Blues
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
Meditation
Side B:
Holla
So Tired
Deep River
Jubilation


And forget the concept. There was one, but its execution is wholly unforced. The album kicks off with a sweeping version of Wade In The Water. The pace of the album is set: a solid rythym section of drummer Charlie Persip and either bassist Vic Sproles or Bob Cranshaw, who spend much of their time in the A and E strings, therefore adding a definite down-home feeling, supports a brass and reed section that would please both Oliver Nelson and Count Basie. Griffin’s tenor beautifully weaves in and out of that big sound with sudden bebop stabs and lenghty gospel shouts.

Meditation listens like a suspence story should read, it builds up tension making use of Norman Simmons’ subtle score and a switch from delicate brush work to exciting press rolls by Charlie Persip, to a release that has Griffin telling a story you could meditate on for hours.

If you think side A is good, try side B. Holla puts you right where you want to be if your left ear digs Brother Ray saying ‘What I’d say’ and your right ear enjoys the halleluja of the Twenty or Thirty Blind Boys of Alabama. Mentioning the inclusion of Bobby Timmons’ So Tired (Timmons, incidentally, has guest spots on Meditation and Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen) and Deep River should give you an idea of what this album is about. While So tired is executed properly, it doesn’t reach the heights of either Timmons’ or Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet’s performances. Deep River is a jubilant affair. Initially, brass and reeds are left out, leaving space for intimate interplay between Griffin and the rhytym section, only to return in the good sense of bombast. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t know where I currently resided but Rampart Street seemed pretty close!

Jazz can do you like that. Here’s a record that has been gathering dust in my cabinet for about fifteen years and up pops a different favorite tune everytime I listen to it now. Rest assured that The Big Soul Band ages as well as any Ardbeg scotch is famous for doing.