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.

The Stroker

MICKEY ROKER – In honor to Mickey Roker, who passed away on May 22 at the age of eighty-four in his hometown of Philadelphia, I picked a few tunes that showcase the drummer’s exceptional style. During a long-standing career, Roker performed and recorded with Gigi Gryce, Duke Pearson, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie, The Modern Jazz Quartet and many others. In his own words, Roker, also known as The Stroker because he knew his way not only with sticks but also around the pool table, was ‘just a swinger, from the old school you know, just a time-keeper.’ He was that, but more. Propulsive most of all, and versatile, comfortable with both Stanley Turrentine and McCoy Tyner. Roker was also blessed with a unique feeling for exotic rhythm.

Gil Fuller and Chano Pozo’s Afro-Cuban classic Tin Tin Deo with Junior Mance (Happy Time, Jazzland 1961):

With Sonny Rollins, the indelible Three Little Words (On Impulse 1965):

Three Little Words.

As vintage hard bop as it can get with Duke Pearson, Sudel (Sweet Honey Bee, Blue Note 1966):

Sudel.

Avant-leaning cooperation with Herbie Hancock, First Child (Speak Like A Child, Blue Note 1968):

First Child.

Roker is an irreplaceable part of Frank Foster’s Manhattan Fever supplying the groove and finesse that makes it such a fine late-period hard bop album: Little Miss No Nose (Manhattan Fever, Blue Note 1968):

Little Miss No Nose.

And swinging hard in old-fashioned bop mode with Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Jackson at Montreux, Cherokee (The Dizzy Gillespie Big 7, Pablo 1975):

Cherokee.

For the most informative of obits, read Nate Chinen’s piece in WBGO.

Pianist Ethan Iverson did one of his great marathon interviews with Mickey Roker in 2011 for his blog Do The Math.

Frank Foster - Manhattan Fever

Frank Foster Manhattan Fever (Blue Note 1968)

Manhattan Fever is Frank Foster’s best known solo album, arguably because it’s on Blue Note. It’s one of his best as well. Some hard bop statements may come a few years after the fact, it’s an exhilarating affair of top-notch writing and Foster solo’s.

Frank Foster - Manhattan Fever

Personnel

Frank Foster (tenor saxophone, alto clarinet), Marvin Stamm (trumpet), Burt Collins (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Garnett Brown (trombone), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Kenny Rogers (baritone saxophone), Ed Pazant (alto saxophone, flute, oboe), Richard Wynands (piano), George Cables (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Buster Williams (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)

Recorded

on March 21, 1968 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84278 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Little Miss No Nose
Manhattan Fever
Loneliness
Side B:
Stammpede
You Gotta Be Kiddin’
Seventh Avenue Bill


Well versed in both, as well as in bebop, Foster was without a doubt an all-round musician with a taste for adventure. His particular style of tenor playing led to a string of high profile dates in the fifties and sixties with, among others, Monk, Milt Jackson and Elvin Jones, and a series of solo recordings on a diversity of labels, of which Prestige’s Fearless Frank Foster is particularly good. His swing date No Count and freak out free jazz fest The Loud Minority are less interesting. But for sure, Foster’s solid work on other artist’s recordings make up for an occasional minor mishap. I’d say Foster’s 1954 debut on Blue Note, Here Comes Frank Foster counts as a suave and smoky alternative to the work of contemporaries Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz.

In 1968 Frank Foster was back on Blue Note, a move instigated by colleague and Blue Note artist and A&R manager Duke Pearson. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Both were in possession of a dose of writing and arranging skills well above average. Those talents are exactly what makes a big part of this album of excellent quality. Stamppede, for instance, does more or less what the parafrased title suggests; an uproar started by the heavy drums of Mickey Roker, it’s a rollicking rush, yet neither evolving into panic, nor in frenzy, but instead being controlled by a solid three horn arrangement. It makes the song sound like one of a big band. It’s a method Foster employs on all tracks. On You Gotta Be Kiddin’, another catchy, heavy swinger, it also works particularly well; it’s a craft Foster honed during his decade-long cooperation with Count Basie.

It’s apparent that Foster’s writing and arranging bring out the best in his sidemen on the ‘modernised’ swing-type songs. When the material is less interesting, as is the case with the title tune, the solo’s become a bit longwinded. Manhattan Fever is impressive at first hearing, but the blowing, except for Foster’s, lacks guts. No Sidewinder fire here.

Finally, Seventh Avenue Bill is an outstanding, complex coda to an eclectic album that very articulately speaks to both body and intellect.