Jimmy Smith: Just Friends

I once heard Brian Wilson explain that the single most important factor in recording a hit song was to make sure it was around three minutes in duration. People's attention span, it seems, can't handle anything much longer—well, at least not after a long day of catching waves down by the pier. Maybe nobody ever told Jimmy Smith. With track such as “Back at the Chicken Shack,” "The Duel" and “The Champ,” he routinely pushed beyond the eight-minute mark, and "The Sermon" is quite a homily, lasting for more than twenty minutes. On "Just Friends" he continues his crusade for the long jazz track, stretching out for a quarter of an hour of medium-tempo grooving. Yet, pace the Beach Boy, you are unlikely to find this music ennui-inducing. Smith's solo is fascinating, less funky than usual, relying rather on very raw singe-note lines. It almost sounds like a piano solo translated to the organ—something of an anomaly for this artist. But Coleman (on alto) and Morgan are also in top form. Also check out Smith's comping, which ranges from church organ celebrations to jagged thrusts into the middle of the horn player's hindquarters. Just friends? Maybe after the session.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ike Quebec: Blue and Sentimental

One aspect of Ike Quebec's playing that was conveyed so eloquently on his "comeback" Blue Note albums of the early '60's was his expressive "boudoir tenor" ballad treatments, an instrumental equivalent, if you will, of the style of singing that Billy Eckstine utilized in the '40's to keep the girls swooning in the aisles. Guitarist Tiny Grimes had ably assisted Quebec on his first round of Blue Note recordings in the '40's; now, in 1961, Quebec was matched with the up-and-coming Grant Green for his own Blue and Sentimental date and on Green's Born to Be Blue. If not for Quebec's untimely death from lung cancer in 1963 at the age of 44, surely Blue Note (for which Quebec also did influential A&R work) would have continued to pair his tenor with Green's guitar.

The title track, "Blue and Sentimental," is a definitive example of Quebec's sexy ballad creations. Quebec's velvety, fluttering evocation of the theme is tenderly apt. In his solo you can clearly discern Quebec's two self-admitted major influences, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, but to his credit they've been successfully assimilated into a personally assured approach all his own. Green's following solo is actually longer than the leader's, and is played with a noticeably lighter tone than would be heard from him in the years to come. His always melodic, blues-inflected, and concise phrases hold one's interest despite threatening to veer into repetition, as his subtle, surprising, and clever variations unfailingly prevent that from happening. Quebec reenters with the famous Count Basie vamp from Hershel Evans' original 1938 feature, before bearing down on the melody in mellifluous fashion once again, right down to a sensuously caressing coda.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Deluge

When Wayne Shorter combined forces with John Coltrane's rhythm section for his 1964 album JuJu, the results were nothing short of ear opening. It's interesting to note the influence that Coltrane had on Shorter. I'm not so sure I buy into the notion that 'Trane influenced Shorter that much as a composer but I think you can definitely hear it in his playing. I think underneath it all, Coltrane had a deep respect for Shorter's playing and that might be why he recommended him to Miles Davis when he left in 1960 (Davis went with Sonny Stitt instead).

The most striking element about this rhythm section is how McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones sound behind Shorter. It's unfortunate but bassist Reggie Workman's levels are extremely low in the mix. I think it's a safe bet that no matter what saxophonist this rhythm section backed up, it would highly improve the sound and quality of that particular player.

On "Deluge" Tyner and Shorter open the song with an introduction before Tyner is joined by the rest of the rhythm section on the chord hits. Shorter's solo evolves nicely here as well, full of nuance and personality. McCoy Tyner also provides his typical sounds, with fragmented harmonic movements underneath the melody and a lush but full usage of the piano during comping. Overall, a great album from probably one of the best post bop albums of the 1960s.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Go

"Go" is another song off of Wayne Shorter's Schizophrenia that contains multiple ensemble movements that help build the character of the piece as each section progresses. Opening with a disjointed sounding melody by the brass section, the song quickly moves into a section where Hancock plays a two measure chord vamp as Shorter states the melody. Although this song has been revisited and explored in great depth by the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo Perez, I still enjoy the original more because of the density of the brass section. Both versions are good, but the newest interpretation lacks the energy compared to the original.

On the original there's a feeling that you feel when you listen to the album in its entirety. There's a mood that was captured on that March 10th night in 1967. Overall, "Go" is another good example of the shining, compositional brilliance of Wayne Shorter. A man, when the final history books are written, will probably go down alongside Duke Ellington and others as one of the most prolific, accessible and underrated composers in the history of this thing we call jazz music.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Kryptonite

I'm generally amazed at the amount of work Wayne Shorter has released in his fifty year career. His album output during the 1960s, though not the most of any jazz musician, arguably had more impact than most other musician's material. In 1967, Shorter assembled an all-star cast of musicians for his Blue Note recording Schizophrenia . Unlike previous efforts, this one didn't feature a trumpet player, instead Shorter brought on alto saxophonist James Spaulding and trombonist Curtis Fuller. The result? An album that featured not only unison melodies between the brass sections but also intricate counterpoints between them and Hancock.

This is the only song off of Schizophrenia that Mr. Shorter didn't compose but this piece by James Spaulding lives up to its title. Spaulding plays flute on this modal piece in Eb and he also has the first solo. His solo is solid, with Hancock comping sparingly if not all during most of his solo. I think James Spaulding was an extremely underrated soloist. His tone on both alto and on flute are rich and full. As always, Shorter plays a cool solo, complete with note bends, slurs and intricate phrasing. Shorter's solo is nice but I think Spaulding and Hancock are the winners on this track. Hancock dazzles over the drum and bass work of Chambers and Carter, with blistering fast melodic lines and dark interval choices.

Schizophrenia , is a key album in the discography of Wayne Shorter and although it's not held as in high regard as Speak No Evil or JuJu, it ranks up there with them just as equally in my opinion.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: The Cape Verdean Blues

The music of Horace Silver always referenced and sounded different than most other jazz. His music has a tinge to it that most other music doesn't have. He mixes swing and Latin better than most and had a gift for composition that few musicians possess. Silver wrote this title track for his father, who was born in Cape Verde, a small chain of islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Africa. Silver was joined by trombone master J.J. Johnson and a stellar horn section that also included Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw.

This song has a great dance feel to it, as Humphries accents the hi hat on the off beat on the quarter note. The melody is also really playful and the sound is further enhanced as Silver doubles up the melody with the horns. He opens up his solo with strong block chords in his left hand and plays some blues licks with his right hand. This is an album, which sounds completely different than most jazz that was coming out in 1965. I like the fact that Silver was always looking for the groove and he sure found it with this track.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Serenade to a Soul Sister

I have to be honest, there's not a single Horace Silver song that I don't like. So now that my biases are out front, Silver returned in 1968 with this hard bop masterpiece, Serenade to a Soul Sister. Joined by tenor giant Stanley Turrentine, the band might not be the most recognizable names in the history of jazz but that's the way I like it. This group of musicians flies under the radar, digging deep for those blues. Judging from the way Turrentine and Tolliver solo, I would've liked to known this soul sister. Silver's comping on this song is typical, very relaxed and to the point with a heavy use of chords in the middle register. What I enjoy most about Silver is his consistency as a soloist. He's not going to play note after note like a Tyner or Hancock would, he has a nasty pocket and plays accordingly. His solo is marked by some nice upper register, singular melodic ideas that are simple but groove perfectly with the song. Hats off to one of the best!

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Donald Byrd: Slow Drag

Here we have yet another Bossa nova song disguised by a heavy piano bass and some bluesy changes. The opening to this song definitely sounds like it was meant for the opening sequence of a bad P.I. movie. Donald Byrd sounds good on this song as well as the rest of the album and I enjoy the changes to this tune better than the others. Byrd's playing is aided by the loose nature of the song and it grooves a little harder, especially on the turnaround, which sounds like they ripped it straight from a Hancock Blue Note recording. Byrd's trumpet style is very interesting to my ears, I can't figure out sometimes what he's going for and then all of a sudden he brings me back to table with some nice note choices. I recommend this song and the entire album for anyone that wants to get their teeth wet to some of the R&B/Bossa music of Blue Note from the late 1960s. You also don't want to miss the cool Billy Higgins vocal adlib towards the end of the song. Classic!

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Larry Young (with Lee Morgan): Trip Merchant

Though Lee Morgan didn’t incorporate elements of the avant-garde in his own groups until late in his career, his resourceful and multi-faceted playing earned him sideman slots on such adventurous records as Grachan Moncur III’s Evolution (1963), Andrew Hill’s Grass Roots (1968), and Mother Ship, by the iconoclastic organist Larry Young. With loose rhythm and minimal blues inflections, Morgan’s solo on Young’s “Trip Merchant” strays far from the “in-the-pocket” playing that defined his improvisations throughout his career. This just might be as “out” as he would ever get.

After a spacey, explorative solo by the leader, Morgan begins contemplatively, ruminating on the pentatonic scale over Young’s pedal bass footwork. He is swept higher and higher on the organist’s tornado-like chords, intensifying and extending his half-step motive into a cathartic, shrieking trill. A chromatic descent preludes Morgan’s examination of the open nature of Young’s sustained chords, utilizing an uncharacteristic amount of dissonance before returning to pentatonics to close out his exhausting solo. Young’s playing is stimulating and drummer Eddie Gladden’s cymbal texturing and communicable energy is notable throughout. An exciting and important solo in his vast discography, “Trip Merchant” shows Morgan developing a new dimension in his playing that would unfortunately never become fully realized.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson (with Lee Morgan): Caribbean Fire Dance

Joe Henderson added his hard-nosed tenor stylings to The Sidewinder (1963) and The Rumproller (1965) so Morgan graciously returned the favor in 1966 by joining the tenorman on his fantastic Mode for Joe. Surrounded by a who’s who of Blue Note superstars, Morgan stands out with a performance that characterizes his mid-1960s playing: daring and bold but imperfect, yet unrelenting in energy and determination.

Composer Cedar Walton’s Latin-tinged ostinato pattern and Hutcherson’s sporadic chime-like octaves give “Caribbean Fire Dance” an anxious, unresolved feeling which the soloists exploit in unique ways, creating a haunting and increasingly tense listening experience. Though Morgan sounds fatigued from the tune’s downbeat, he summons up his chops and courageously puts it all on the line in his solo. He immediately shoots into his upper register, his crackling, spreading tone sounds on the brink of bursting into flames. Exposed, audacious, and brutally raw, the first 16-bars of his improvisation are some of the most thrilling and suspenseful Morgan ever waxed. He returns from the stratosphere on the bridge, moving self-consciously up and down a whole-tone scale. Morgan toys with rhythmic ideas that recall the staccato seesawing nature of the melody during his second chorus, before a more convincing use of the whole-tone scale on his second bridge. Morgan combines all of the distinct elements of his style in this solo—his daredevil power and range, complex rhythmic and harmonic eccentricities, built on top of a bedrock of blues.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Trapped

When paired together in a frontline, Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan never disappointed. Shorter’s compositions consistently lured the best out of Morgan and the cookin’ 16-bar “Trapped” is no exception. Supported by the insistent but always tasteful prodding of his favorite drummer, Billy Higgins, Morgan’s solo is one of his boldest from the mid-1960s. At this point in his career he rarely exploited his high-range so heavily and the results here are staggering—an incredible exhibition of technical virtuosity, stamina, intensity and searing power.

Countless numbers of Morgan’s tracks conclude with the trumpeter trading with one or more of his bandmates, and honestly, it never ever gets old. Morgan and Shorter, at the time partnered in the Jazz Messengers, return after Mabern’s piano solo to display a communicative interplay so complementary and seamless their lines sound like they must have originated in a shared brain. It’s freakish.

Could Morgan’s overtly inspired playing on the dubiously titled “Trapped” hint at a frustration with Blue Note’s commercial aspirations in the post-“Sidewinder” era? Did the pressure to churn out another jukebox hit hold him back? These are questions for another forum. Regardless, the trumpeter’s playing here is ferocious and some of his finest on record.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Angola

Coming from one of Shorter's numerous releases for Blue Note Records during the 1960s, the song "Angola" is one of those tunes that many people have heard but probably don't know the name of when they hear it. The Soothsayer is a great album in terms of the melodies. They are rich in substance and are also extremely catchy. "Angola" is no exception. The song opens up with McCoy Tyner playing an augmented chord. It actually sounds quite similar to "Ju-Ju" but overall "Angola" is much more swinging given the mild nature of the chord changes. I have always been a huge fan of the Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner connection on Shorter's albums. They added a strong pocket to his songs and make for a very good listen.

Score another one for Wayne on "Angola," as he manages to create yet another wonderful sonic masterpiece for the best jazz musicians in history to play over. A++

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Armageddon

Sometimes I really don't know where to start with Wayne Shorter. His music has touched me for so long now that it's amazing I don't get tired listening to some of the same discs over and over again but I can listen to them forever. That is unless "Armageddon" comes. But this "Armageddon" is much more swinging and happier than the battle that's supposed to signify the official end to our collective existence. This song opens up with one of Shorter's catchiest introductions. The melody is clearly stated but it is also nice and sustained with wonderful unison from Lee Morgan and Wayne. I really like this band and I think they should have recorded more. One thing that separates the Shorter recordings with some of Coletrane's band is the composition. Coltrane would've sounded stronger to me if he had been recording Wayne's tunes, but hey, that's a whole other subject.

For anyone that likes Wayne and wants to inject a little Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner into their jazz diet, this is the track. Coming from his first recording for Blue Note after recording for the Vee-Jay label, Night Dreamer satisfies on every level possible.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: El Gaucho

On one of his many hard bop classics from the 1960s, Wayne Shorter teams up with frequent collaborator Herbie Hancock along with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Joe Chambers. This is a nice little Latin number with some fun changes. Melodically, Shorter sticks with the pentatonic approach that is found in many of his compositions from this time and this tune is yet another pentatonic example. The rhythm section meshes well on this song, but as usual Herbie's performance is the most commanding, with impeccable piano comping and a great solo.

It's the opinion of this writer that Shorter is the one true genius of his generation, forging ahead of the pack during the 1960s. His solo albums, work with Miles Davis and future work with Weather Report all solidify this position.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Search For The New Land

Recorded not even two months later yet far from the carefree groove of his hit single “The Sidewinder,” Morgan travels to the outer reaches of hard-bop and flirts with a darker, modal terrain on the aptly titled “Search for the New Land.” Like two seasoned explorers at sea, Morgan and Shorter reflect nostalgically on previous journeys while their vessel rolls over swelling waves of trills and cymbals in the rubato opening section. Workman spies land on the distant horizon and valiantly sets course, introducing an ominous waltz groove. As the rhythm section picks up steam, Morgan and Shorter sing their same song with newfound exuberance over the steady bounce of their rhythm mates. Shorter cautiously ventures out first, soon finding firm footing and skittering through all registers of his tenor and Morgan follows with pensive and introspective ponderings, though still deeply rooted in the blues. Hancock’s comping is intriguing; note his “broken record” repetitiveness contrasting Morgan’s pulling back on the time (6:00-6:10) and his pulsating connection with Higgins which allows the trumpeter to experiment with polyrhythms (6:20-6:30). Green takes a swinging solo before Hancock’s dense block-chording leads the group back out to sea and on towards their next endeavor. Morgan was entering the pinnacle of his career with Search for the New Land, broadening both the scope of his compositions and the depth of his improvisations.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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