The Junior Cook Quintet - Junior's Cookin'

The Junior Cook Quintet Junior’s Cookin’ (Jazzland 1962)

Junior’s Cookin’ is the only album as a leader in the sixties from tenor saxophonist Junior Cook. Superb hard bop date.

The Junior Cook Quintet - Junior's Cookin'

Personnel

Junior Cook (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Dolo Coker (piano), Gene Taylor (bass), Roy Brooks (drums)

Recorded

on April 10 & December 4, 1961 at Gold Star Studios, Long Beach, California and New York City

Released

as JLP 58 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Myzar
Turbo Village
Easy Living
Side B:
Blue Farouq
Sweet Cakes
Field Day
Pleasure Bent


How many references to cookin’ can you handle? Following his debut as a leader, Junior’s Cookin’ from 1962, the 70s and 80s saw the release of Pressure Cooker, Good Cookin’ and Something’s Cookin’. Of course, there’s a close relationship between jazz and food, depending on how far you want to take it. If you don’t mind me traveling a couple miles from home base, I won’t hesitate to state that more often than not, you can just smell jambalaya, kidney stew or ribs in the juicy notes of Louis Armstrong, Brother Jack McDuff, Lee Morgan, to name a few… I’m pretty sure this can’t be applied to classical music, which as a principle is non-spontaneous. (Though it once was common practice, as brilliant composers and pianists like Franz Liszt reportedly did, to partly improvise) But perhaps you disagree and feel very strongly the taste of Sachertorte in the waltzes of Johann “Fledermaus” Strauss.

What’s cookin’? Well, the group of Junior Cook, sous chef of the Horace Silver Gourmet Restaurant. (Just one last cheesy culinary reference to end all matters) Junior Cook, born in Pensacola, Florida in 1934, deceased in NYC in 1992, came into prominence with the hard bop pioneer’s group, blending particularly well in the ensembles with Blue Mitchell, who’s his superb and lively mate on this album as well. As a matter of fact, also present on Junior’s Cookin’ are bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Roy Brooks, who were part of the Silver line-up including Cook and Mitchell as well, a group that existed from 1958 to 1964 and is by many regarded as the essential Silver band. After his stint with Silver, Cook was in Mitchell’s band from 1964 to 1969. He also played in trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s group from 1971 to 1974. Notable albums on which Cook is featured are Horace Silver classics as Finger Poppin’, The Tokyo Blues and Doin’ The Thing, Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Volume 1 & 2, Barry Harris’ Luminiscence and Cedar Walton’s Cedar.

With this line-up involved, effortless swing and crisp group interplay are guaranteed. Myzar, one of four Cook original compositions, is a splendid example of Cook and his group’s hi-quality hard bop. An Eastern-tinged brass and reed melody underscored by a repetitive Senor Blues-type piano figure, which moves smoothly forth and back to the crisp, straightforward swing section. Cook’s cookin’, yes. Not to be mistaken with cookin’ in the sense of riffin’, stringing together exciting but loose-jointed blues phrases. Far from it. Albeit graced with an abundance of blues feeling, Cook’s playing is remarkably balanced. Taste written all over it. A heir to Hank Mobley, in this respect. Also a Silver alumnus, from the pioneering line-up of The Messengers of late ’54 and early ’55 to late ‘56, to be precise. His mates in the frontline were Kenny Dorham and Donald Byrd. Mr. Silver had an ear for exquisite and smokin’ tenorists and trumpeters.

It’s interesting to take a listen to Cook’s late career period. It could be argued that it is evidence of the man’s patient, dedicated, disciplined intensification of his hard bop tenor art. Take a listen to the Cook/Louis Hayes LP Ichi Ban, Louis Smith’s Prancin’, Bill Hardman’s What’s Up or Clifford Jordan’s Two Tenor Winner. To be sure, I do not intend to assume that Cook’s work with Silver was immature. On the contrary! However, would it be a farfetched line of thinking that Cook was balancing his act with Silver, not really a driving force of that group but instead precisely tying the knots of Silver’s intricate, blues and gospel-infested compositions? Later in life, evidently, Cook’s work gained depth and, though still very composed, is characterized by more edgy twists and turns and a delivery that hints at a heart that has been burning from all sorts of sweet or sour experiences.

I don’t think Cook is alone in this. Plenty of saxophonists that shone brightly in the classic age of hard bop but matured further into their careers. Like Clifford Jordan, Charles McPherson, Jimmy Heath, Harold Land… Wisdom comes with age. Wrinkles too, although, and perhaps you know that feeling, they’re the least of my troubles.

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 1

Kenny Burrell Blue Lights Volume 1 & 2 (Blue Note 1958)

Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Vol. 1 & 2 consist of a bunch of tasteful, blues-infested tunes. A lively, relaxed jam session.

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 1

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 2

Personnel

Kenny Burrell (guitar), Louis Smith (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor saxophone A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 1, A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 2), Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone A2, A3 on Vol. 1, A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 2), Duke Jordan (piano, Vol.1), Bobby Timmons (piano, Vol. 2), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Recorded

on May 14, 1958 at Manhattan Towers, NYC

Released

as BLP 1596 and BLP 1597 in 1958

Track listing

Blue Lights Vol. 1
Side A:
Phinupi
Yes Baby
Side B:
Scotch Blues
The Man I Love
Blue Lights Vol. 2
Side A:
Caravan
Chuckin’
Side B:
Rock Salt
Autumn In New York


Kenny Burrell, 86 years old, is one of the great mainstream jazz guitarists, who has been consistently successful ever since he made his debut with Dizzy Gillespie in the early fifties and hit his stride on the Blue Note label in 1956. On the Blue Lights albums, recorded in 1958, Burrell is coupled with other major league players. Drummer Art Blakey, bassist Sam Jones, pianists Duke Jordan/Bobby Timmons, trumpeter Louis Smith and tenor saxophonists Junior Cook and Tina Brooks provide plenty of sparks and a meaty hard bop bottom for Burrell to work with. Fleet, snappy lines, a lot of fresh ideas, articulation best likened to the pop of a champagne bottle, are all in evidence in a set that is comprised of blues-based affairs like Burrell’s r&b groove Rock Salt, the uptempo cooker Phinupi, slow blues Yes Baby, Duke Jordan’s lively riff Scotch Blues, Sam Jones’ choo-choo-boogie-type Chucklin’ and the standards The Man I Love, Caravan and Autumn In New York.

Burrell’s capacity to set the atmosphere, which feels as if he’s wrapping you in velvet drapes, and sustain it consistently, is one of his greatest gifts. His playing is relaxed, but rooted in the blues and not without a topping of sizzle. Vintage Burrell. Perhaps inevitably considering his extremely long discography, I feel Burrell also delivered less inspired affairs that showed a tendency to run through the repertory with safe cliché patterns of phrases. However, especially in the company of hi-level colleagues, like John Coltrane, Sonny Clark or Kenny Dorham, Burrell is at his best. His playing, in those cases, has that extra bit of flair and bite.

Burrell was no stranger to Art Blakey, who drives everybody to the edge of the cliff. Blakey’s ride, it goes without saying, is roaring, a hard drive, a lurid mélange of bombs, cymbal crashes and tom rolls either meant to stimulate the soloist or introduce the subsequent storyteller. Besides Blakey’s boss accompaniment, the drummer’s plush tom variations on the theme of Caravan are striking. The fat texture of brass and reed combines well with Blakey’s forceful style. Smith, Brooks and Cook have ample room to stretch out, and Smith’s gait is sprightly, and he sprinkles his happy blues juices with drops of vinegar.

Perhaps more tenor contrast would make Blue Lights more exciting. Both Brooks and Cook are intent on swinging clean, flowing, tasteful, much like master Mobley, Brooks with a tidbit of wear on his notes, Cook somewhat more soft-hued. But who’s to complain? Brooks, who faded into obscurity after a concise stretch of Blue Note appearances, demonstrates the cliché-free, resonant, swinging storytelling that has made him a legend among hard bop aficionados around the world. Junior Cook, who would join Horace Silver late in 1958, provides the tenor sax highlight of the set during Phinupi, the steamy tale and unhurried flow a real treat.

Care to purchase original first pressings of these twin beauties? Good luck. They’re not only at the tail end of the famed and collectable 1500 series of Blue Note, but the covers were illustrated by Andy Warhol, who not only created postmodern mayhem by churning out his screen printings of Campbell Tomato Soup and Marilyn Monroe on the assembly line, but also did his fair yet modest share of record sleeve design. Without a doubt, the Warhol/Blue Lights LP’s are unattainable artifacts for the average collector. Unless, of course, that average collector decides to skip his family trip to Rome and put up a figure of about 1750. A piece. Don’t get any ideas, now.

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.