Joe Henderson - The Kicker

Joe Henderson The Kicker (Milestone 1967)

After a series of vanguard jazz releases and collaborations on Blue Note in the mid-sixties, Joe Henderson switched to Orrin Keepnews’ Milestone label and delivered the more straightforward, hard-swinging album The Kicker. Relatively more straightforward. Henderson’s characteristic, adventurous playing style has remained intact. An absolutely sizzling album.

Joe Henderson - The Kicker

Personnel

Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Mike Lawrence (trumpet), Grachan Monchur (trombone), Kenny Barron (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Recorded

on August 10 & September 27, 1967 at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City

Released

as Milestone 9008 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Mamacita
The Kicker
Chelsea Bridge
If
Side B:
Nardis
Without A Song
O Amor Em Paz
Mo’ Joe


Henderson must be about the most perfect saxophonist in modern jazz. Exceptional chops, a powerful tone and supurb execution. He’s a tenor sax innovator that has explored the outermost regions of the instrument as well as a great storyteller who keeps constant focus on one of mainstream jazz’ most important axioma, meaningful simplicity. A flexible tenorist that moved just as easily ‘in’ and ‘out’. Henderson might not instill cathartic listening experiences like John Coltrane. Nevertheless, a sensitive and fiery personality rings through Henderson’s strong, probing, eccentric lines, lines that suck one into a thrilling tale, including the added bonus of refreshing wit. One cannot possibly subdue feelings of awe for Henderson’s crafty, passionate game. Keeping blues phrasing to a minimum, Henderson’s lines instead slyly suggest the blues.

Henderson was in the thick of mid-sixties hard bop as well as vanguard jazz, recording acclaimed albums as Mode For Joe, In & Out and Inner Urge. Henderson recorded with Kenny Dorham, Grant Green and Horace Silver and appeared on avant-leaning Blue Note albums, among them Andrew Hill’s Point Of Departure, Pete LaRoca’s Basra and Larry Young’s Unity. One wonders why Henderson, during such a prolific period, traded Blue Note for Milestone. Perhaps Henderson regretted the fact that label boss Alfred Lion retired in 1967. (Lion moved to Mexico, his partner Francis Wolff took over production duties, assisted by pianist Duke Pearson, until his death in 1971) In the guise of Orrin Keepnews, Henderson certainly met a like-minded, equally perceptive label boss.

The septet of The Kicker, including young lions Mike Lawrence and Kenny Barron, cuts loose on three classic Henderson compositions. The Latin tune Mamacita swings hard and Henderson embellishes it with confident legato and dead-pan asides. Henderson initially recorded Mamacita with Kenny Dorham, on the trumpeter’s swan song as a leader in 1964, Trompeta Toccata (read review here). The Kicker and Mo’ Joe, both of which were recorded by Horace Silver while Henderson was part of the hard bop pioneer’s quintet in 1964, are explosive, stunning versions of Henderson’s intricate hard bop anthems.

The apparent ease with which Henderson personalizes standards that were carved in stone for posterity by legendary forebearers, is impressive. Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge, which showcased Duke Ellington’s prime tenorist Ben Webster in the forties, gets a vital treatment, tender, endearing yet driving. Saxophonist Benny Green typified Chelsea Bridge as the most ethereal composition in jazz history (in his liner notes for Tommy Flanagan’s 1975’s album Tokyo Recital.) Henderson’s breathy excursion certainly does justice to that eternal charm. Henderson fastens the pace of Without A Song, which was performed beautifully, for instance, by Sonny Rollins on the tenorist’s eponymous The Bridge in 1961. Louis Hayes’ and Ron Carter’s free-flowing accompaniment is a big part of the take’s artistic succes. Speaking about Hayes, Louis Hayes’ swift, furious drumming lifts the whole proceedings to an entirely different level. He’s outrageous!

Henderson also wrote the idiosyncratic blues If, taking it at a fast pace, starting with staccato notes, then exploring the low and high register, sprinkling his ‘out’ phrases with a myriad of slurs, while remaining continuous flow and swing. Riveting stuff.

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens

Eddie Harris Mean Greens (Atlantic 1966)

Eddie Harris, free bird. Doesn’t let anyone tell him what to play, tears his shirt off his tenor body and delivers Mean Greens. A bubbling mix of innovative Latin rhythm, inherently groovy, soft-hued modern jazz and spirited chitlin’ circuit r&b.

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens

Personnel

Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone A1-4, B2, electric piano B1-3), Ray Codrington (trumpet, tambourine A1), Cedar Walton (piano A1-4), Sonny Philips (organ B1-3), Ron Carter (bass A1-4), Billy Higgins (drums A1-4), Melvin Jackson (bass B1-3), Bucky Taylor (drums B1-3), Ray Codrington, Ray Barretto & Bucky Taylor (percussion A1)

Recorded

on March 8 & 9 and June 7, 1966 in NYC

Released

as Atlantic 1453 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Mean Greens
It Was A Very Good Year
Without You
Yeah Yeah Yeah
Side B:
Listen Here
Blues In The Basement
Goin’ Home


It’s easily one of Harris’ best efforts. During his career, the tenor saxophonist’s albums met with a lot of suspicion that almost ran equal with their popularity. Albeit unfair, it was only human that ‘serious’ jazz buffs raised their eyebrows when the instant star Eddie Harris followed up his best-selling 1961 single Exodus To Jazz with a series of like-minded, smooth jazz albums on the VeeJay label. Who could blame Eddie? After playing for years in relative obscurity in his hometown Chicago, Harris finally made his (money) mark. Besides, even if the VeeJay (and subsequent Columbia-) albums leaned heavily on standards and popular concepts such as bossa nova and movie soundtracks, they were high caliber affairs and the style and tone of Harris was unmistakably individual. ‘Sell’ was appropriate, ‘out’ wasn’t.

That Eddie Harris was an upright musician who relished incorporating all sorts of influences into his modern jazz bag, became evident in his Atlantic years. Atlantic, where Harris recorded from 1965 till 1976, proved to be a well-suited canvas for the multi-instrumentalist’s bold strokes. Besides popular music, the label had been in the thick of avant-garde jazz since the late fifties and put a lot of weight into progressive rock in the late sixties, so it isn’t surprising that the label was happy to try for a successful mix of high and low brow. Yes, Harris’ strokes may have been too bold at times. Experimenting with the electric (Varitone) saxophone is a reasonable idea, toying with the ‘guitorgan’, the ‘saxobone’ and electric bongos indicates a lack of direction; his tongue-in-cheek r&b albums of the mid-seventies also were liable to scare off more than a few listeners. On the other hand, Harris’ wildly exciting r&b-drenched live cooperation with Les McCann in 1969, Swiss Movement and the follow-up, 1972’s Second Movement, proved to be two of the saxophonist’s most successful efforts.

Arguably, the Harris synthesis comes full circle on his late sixties output. Interestingly enough, Harris’ debut on Atlantic, the sizzling hard bop album The In Crowd (boasting the classic Freedom Jazz Dance, which was recorded just half a year later by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles), is Harris’ best album. His group of the time, including Billy Higgins and Ron Carter is out of sight. Less coherent, Mean Greens takes the silver medal. But wasn’t that the point? Taking a little risk, seeing where it leads to. At least that’s what the cover, portraying a saxy Jekyll and organistic Mr. Hyde, suggests.

Higgins and Carter are present on Mean Greens as well, on side A. The versatility of these modern jazz monsters (At the time, Carter was part of the legendary Miles Davis quintet, Higgins recorded with about everybody, both ‘in’ and ‘out’, including Ornette Coleman) is amazing. They adapt beautifully to the basically groovy Eddie Harris norms. Not only that, Higgins created the unusual beat of the title track Mean Greens. It does the trick, just like the rhythm he invented for Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man was the major push for the artistic succes and commercial appeal of those classic tunes.

Mean Greens, the exotic blues. Cedar Walton hits percussive, staccato piano chords. Harris and trumpeter Ray Codrington blow a playful minor theme over the solid bottom of Higgins and Carter. Obviously, Harris was eagerly awaiting for an entrance, as he’s immediately going into a furious free bag with the Eddie Harris touch: whether Harris is playing advanced or soft-hued, like in It Was A Very Good Year (one part of the proof that Exodus To Jazz wasn’t a tune from a one-trick-pony), the upper register sounds that Harris gets from his tenor, if not for everybody’s ears, are remarkable. When Exodus To Jazz was released, people thought Harris played the soprano. Utter control, phenomenal range.

Then side B, which has been the cause of an occasional spontaneous (combustive) party. Thank you Eddie Harris, for a friggin’ wonderful Saturday night! Listen Here’s irresistible charme lies within the Latin/New Orleans, loose-jointed, slow-draggin’ rhythm and the effective counterpoint of bass and organ. Meanwhile the lines of Eddie Harris’ electric piano slither like snakes, weaving in and out of the percussion-heavy, basic song structure. It’s rough-hewn, speaks to the loins, the body, speaks of Eros. It’s the first version Harris recorded of Listen Here. The second – slightly cleaner – rendition, released on The Electrifying Eddie Harris the following year in 1967, reached nr.11 on the Billboard r&b charts.

Via Blues In The Basement, a big-sounding 12-bar blues in which Harris mixes powerful Arnett Cobb-like barks with quicksilver bop runs and witty, second line guffaws, Harris takes the album out the way he would in a club, with the wild and woolly shuffle of Goin’ Home. Not your usual basic blues theme. A nifty, tricky stop-time theme catapults the B3 of Sonny Philips and the electric piano of Harris into action. There you are, transported to the sawdust-covered floors of a juke joint, or the Chicago South Side, or the chitlin’ circuit’s burgeoning bar life of lore… Goin’ Home fades out with a drum thunderstorm.

What went on in the mind of Eddie Harris? Let’s just do it, let’s just put together the Hammond organ and the electric piano. Let’s just burn the place down with some fat-bottomed blues, why not, yes we can! They can, they do, tear the grooves out of the mono vinyl. However, for all Harris’ swagger, it would be preposterous to define Harris’ electric organ/B3 feast as primitive music. Eddie Harris has advanced, killer chops and years of severe studying reveal the influence of Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, yet reveal above all a fresh, individual take on jazz which is 100% Harris: the tireless enthusiast.

I don’t think there was very much thought behind the dual concept of Mean Greens. It seems it was just a matter of putting to wax different facets of Eddie Harris. Whatever the processes behind the release may be, Harris was definitely bringing it back home.

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

Personnel

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)

Recorded

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

Released

as CTI 6005 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Sugar
Sunshine Alley
Side B:
Impressions


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.

Kenny Burrell - God Bless The Child

Kenny Burrell God Bless The Child (CTI 1971)

Naming a record God Bless The Child inevitably brings forth a lot of expectations. Could one live up to them after re-imagining the touching version of the song’s composer Billie Holiday – she and co-writer Herzog Jr. wrote about a subject matter close to her vest – and the haunting, deconstructive solo rendition of Eric Dolphy? It’s not easy, and it seems that for Kenny Burrell, it was just another lovely tune and he’s not really into it – and for producer Creed Taylor just another song allowed to be buried in schmaltzy cello sections.

Kenny Burrell - God Bless The Child

Personnel

Kenny Burrell (guitar), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Hubert Laws (flute), Richard Wynands (piano, electric piano), Hugh Lawson (electric piano), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Cobham (drums), Ray Baretto (percussion), Airto Moreira (percussion), Seymour Barab, Charles McCracken, George Ricci, Lucien Smit, Alan Schmit (cello section), Don Sebesky (arranger, conductor)

Recorded

on April 28 and May 11 & 25, 1971 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as CTI 6011 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Be Yourself
Love Is The Answer
Do What You Gotta Do
Side B:
A Child Is Born
God Bless The Child


It’s not a total failure. After all, it’s Kenny Burrell. Having been much admired by critics and public alike a decade before turning over this album, Burrell felt comfortable in many surroundings and delivered countless memorable contributions to the straight, bluesy, bossa and comparatively adventurous sides of jazz. God Bless The Child has its moments and they invariably have to do – as opposed to a multitude of strings, keyboards and percussion – with Kenny Burrell’s many fine licks.

One can do without the generic world music jam of Love Is All The Way, but Burrell’s solo runs sound like exotic alleyways that always seems to lead to an opening in the labyrinth. The crisp and clear Do What You Gotta Do wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Burrell’s career peaks, 1963’s Midnight Blue, if it wasn’t for five cello’s moving in straight from a Mel Torme delivery truck.

Burrell’s best soloing is heard in Be Yourself; it’s inventive and typically Burrell – he doesn’t throw it at you in bold strikes but instead tells a story in a laid-back yet exciting way. Unfortunately, Be Yourself gets the same string treatment as the rest of the album. By this time, the album’s production has dulled the senses considerably.

God Bless The Child is almost as much a Creed Taylor record as it is a Kenny Burrell record. Taylor, imperative in moving jazz forward with his production and A&R work for Impulse and Verve, was very succesful in transforming the paths of sixties luminaries into lucrative endeavors by means of his own company Creed Taylor Inc. Musicians (although sidemen sometimes have a different story to tell) were glad of it – $! – and rightfully so, they had to make a living. The downside of CTI was that Taylor was a man who liked to be in control. More often than not, the net result of such an abundance of money and control in music biz, particularly onwards from the early seventies, has been indulgence; suddenly there are myriad possibilities production and personel-wise (multitrack consoles, strings and brass-sections, two or more percussionists, keyboard-landscapes) and they more often than not tend to lead, in my view, to a creative void and sterile recordings. The finest recordings, on the other hand, are often born out of necessity – relative lack studio time and personel, more primitive equipment – which pipes up expressiveness.

One outcome of Creed Taylor’s overpowering presence in the dollar department and control room was on my turntable. It’s bland, slick. It was a career boost for Kenny Burrell, but not an album to fondly remember and be fondly remembered for.