Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Morgan spent the majority of 1962 and 1963 in Philadelphia in the clutches of a heroin habit he picked up while in the Jazz Messengers. After a brief (and not totally successful) stint in rehab, he returned to Van Gelder Studio on December 21, 1963 to record The Sidewinder. A surprise hit, it peaked at number 25 on the Pop LP charts in early 1965 and snuck into the R&B Top 10, becoming Blue Note’s greatest commercial success.

The rhythm section’s bouncy groove on “The Sidewinder” is so irresistible and the melody so catchy it’s possible to neglect what is one of Morgan’s most impressive recorded solos. It’s meticulously constructed with logic and clarity, and Morgan displays a modesty that he often lacked in his ostentatious youth. His phrasing is especially noteworthy; the spaces he leaves between his concise ideas serve as timely punctuations that enhance the efficacy of each statement, creating three bluesy choruses that breathe and build organically. It’s also Morgan at his coolest and funkiest, grooving like none other.

The unexpected success of “The Sidewinder” left Blue Note determined to produce another hit single. Dozens of mid-1960s LPs kicked off with bluesy R&B-tinged tracks in an effort to place the label back on the charts. Though most of these tracks were solid, none would ever duplicate the success of Morgan’s original.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: A Night In Tunisia (featuring Lee Morgan)

In his review of this track as part of his Essential Art Blakey Dozens, my fellow Jazz.com compatriot Eric Novod asks, “Is there a more intense, energetic single track anywhere out there?” Well, I’d confidently bet my entire CD collection that there isn’t. From Blakey’s thunderous opening crash through its explosive conclusion, this version of “A Night in Tunisia” is like a roller-coaster ride through a minefield. Hold on to your hat.

Morgan was featured nightly on “A Night in Tunisia” in Diz’s big band from 1956-1958 so he was no stranger to the tune, and pushed by Blakey’s propulsive beat and Timmons’ powerful comping his performance here reaches new heights. The rumbling Mt. Blakey erupts with the ferocity of ten volcanoes as the trumpeter enters; spitting some hot fire of his own, Morgan dodges the drummer’s bombs at first before rocketing through a monstrous, mind-blowing solo. His unaccompanied cadenza is one of the great moments in jazz trumpeting with forcefully driving lines, flurried trills, and stuttering blues licks pieced together with astounding precision. Blakey, famous for vocally encouraging his bandmates from his drum stool, goads on his brilliant young trumpeter at 8:42 (“Play yo’ instrument!”) and again after a particularly nasty lick at 9:06 (“Get mad!”).

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Blue Train (featuring Lee Morgan)

Lee Morgan’s career is chock-full of essential, “Dozens”-worthy improvisations; it took weeks of eating, breathing, and sleeping Lee Morgan before I could narrow it down to the final twelve. What’s truly astonishing, however, is the number of jaw-dropping solos he waxed before his twentieth birthday! As he aged, Morgan broadened stylistically, incorporating insightful and at times brooding lyricism, chic funkiness, and cathartic cries. But at age nineteen, Morgan’s playing was more elemental—a raw and fiery approach built on power, velocity, and excitement. Young Morgan was also fueled by his cockiness, which certainly came in handy on all-star sessions like John Coltrane’s Blue Train.

In 1957 the great tenorman was saying all one could possibly say while following chord changes. His classic solo on “Blue Train” is biting, intense, and concentrated but never stuffy. Morgan’s first two choruses build rather patiently, but one gets the feeling he has an itch that needs scratching. Philly Joe’s double-time-introducing hi-hat is his remedy and the eager trumpeter wastes no time, blasting into a 16th note extravaganza squarely on beat one of his third chorus. His dizzying lines are impeccably executed and popping with accents. Energetic nearly to a fault, Morgan tears through the double-time then seamlessly releases into his fifth and final chorus with one of the baddest licks of all-time (4:48), finishing off a prodigious solo with a final chorus steeped in the blues.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bobby Hutcherson: Idle While

Although Bobby Hutcherson's earlier date, The Kicker, has since been released on CD, Dialogue, at the time of original release in 1965, was Bobby Hutcherson’s first album as a leader. Recorded shortly after Eric Dolphy’s seminal Out to Lunch date, on which Hutcherson performed, Dialogue is a prime example of the mid ‘60s stylistic transformation from strictly swinging hard bop to free-leaning-yet-still-grooving post bop. While Hutcherson would reveal handfuls of fine compositions on future albums, it’s pianist Hill and drummer Chambers who contribute all of the compositions to this date.

On the Chambers-composed waltz, “Idle While,” it’s the musicians’ careful attention to mood and atmosphere that reveals this album’s ultimate significance. Hubbard delivers an improvisation that doesn’t necessarily compete with his best work – but it importantly balances the form of this boundary-pushing modern waltz with a bop classicism that ties together the progress of the present and the vocabulary of the past. Check out Hill and Hutcherson swapping opportunities to provoke Hubbard with unpredicted harmonic twists. Richard Davis delivers a brief yet excellent solo here, and more importantly, always seems to possess a creative solution to maintaining cohesion no matter how far out any player goes over any arrangement, making him an unsung hero in the development of free(er) bebop and hard-bop.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Hank Mobley: No Room For Squares

No Room for Squares is comprised of two ’63 sessions that both feature the definitive hard-bop styling of Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. The first date finds the two working with bassist Butch Warren, trumpeter Donald Byrd and pianist Herbie Hancock – sensible pairings due to Mobley’s appearance on Byrd’s A New Perspective and Hancock’s My Point of View around the same time as the earlier March date. Six months later, on October 2nd, John Ore, Lee Morgan, and Andrew Hill replaced Warren, Byrd, and Hancock, and while the whole album is a worthwhile listen, there’s a particular spark on the tracks from the second session, highlighted by this title track.

Mobley’s brief opening solo is filled with quick bursts rather than extended lines, yielding a roving, investigational statement. Lee Morgan’s high-risk, high-reward storytelling on “No Room for Squares” is trumpet solo construction of the very highest order – the highlight of the track if not the entire album. Andrew Hill intriguingly dials it back here and delivers simple, dark Tyner-with-a-twist harmonic clusters until he explodes into a super-motivic solo. Listening to Hill and Hancock back-to-back makes for a pretty fascinating study in two players who share similar harmonic proclivities but execute their ideas with quite different rhythmic outputs. Finalized by Jones’ thunderous bombs while trading fours with the rest of the band, this track presents hard-bop highlights at every angle.

June 16, 2009 · 1 comment

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Hank Mobley: Roll Call

Hank Mobley’s “Roll Call” is an attention-grabbing, fiercely-swinging hard bop classic featuring some of the greatest players in jazz. Art Blakey delivers a heavy-handed opening statement that leads the tune into its stop-time head. From here, Mobley steps into the spotlight, setting the bar high and playing one of his most impressive solos. His tone has a unique fullness that rarely sounds pushed or edgy, and his use of dynamics is tasteful. Up next is trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, whose impassioned playing forever changed the voice of jazz trumpet. Hubbard plays even his most challenging phrases with ease, proving his physical dexterity and great taste as he flies through the changes outlined by Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. Kelly follows Hubbard with three lively choruses before Art Blakey takes a solo that carries “Roll Call” back to its head.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Noon Tide

Featuring a nonet of odd yet brilliantly selected instrumentation, Passing Ships was one of many challenging Andrew Hill sessions that Blue Note shelved in the late 1960s but thankfully reissued in the early 2000s. On "Noon Tide" Joe Farrell’s haunting, wraith-like alto flute melody contrasts the urgent ensemble figures and propulsive, polyrhythmic Latin groove, creating a wonderful compositional juxtaposition of ethereality and earthiness. Hill’s constant riffing and crunchy dissonance builds the tension from one soloist to the next, though self-effacing trombonist Julien Priester encounters some distracting and sloppy backgrounds during his otherwise well-played chorus. Farrell barrels aggressively through his tenor solo and trumpeter Dizzy Reece benefits from the least obtrusive backgrounds and peaked energy, boldly riding above the group, stimulated by the Hill’s provocative exoticism. Hill sounds strangely Horace Silver-like in his percussive solo, yet with hints of his signature detachment. Though not a flawless recording, it is nonetheless essential for fans of Hill’s ambitious and exciting music.

May 04, 2009 · 2 comments

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Wayne Shorter: The Big Push

"The Big Push" was recorded after Wayne Shorter’s classic album Speak No Evil and then shoved into obscurity until the late 70’s. Such decisions are puzzling given the quality of the content, though, as the track clearly displays Shorter's penchant for combining both beautiful and brooding sounds into a singular form. He executes a brilliantly constructed solo, and as usual, Freddie Hubbard burns through his-even though the Tony Williams-led rhythm section seems unusually tame.

April 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool

After some captivating if uncharacteristic experimentation in 1963-64, Gordon returned to his classic sound with Gettin’ Around, a bebop/hard-bop masterwork which found the saxophonist in absolute top form. Throughout the entire disc, Gordon is still holding onto some of his new darker, moodier concepts while (re)focusing on his logical, straight-ahead solo construction. “Le Coiffer,” “Flick of a Trick,” “Manha de Carnival” and “Shiny Stockings” are all highlights that feature the charming frontline of Gordon’s tenor and Hutcherson’s vibes, supported by an all-star hard-bop rhythm section of Harris, Cranshaw and Higgins. The highlight of highlights from Gettin’ Around once again reveals itself in ballad form on “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” While much of the solo space here is reserved for an excellent statement from pianist Harris, Gordon's poignantly improvised statement of the melody is faultless, and comes as close as any track can to fully revealing the dichotomous elements of Gordon’s sound—powerful yet sensitive, insistent yet speculative, improvised yet utterly defined.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Kong Neptune

Recorded in Paris in 1964 and featuring two of Gordon’s most familiar European sidemen (pianist Kenny Drew and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen), One Flight Up reveals one of the more intriguing relationships in the history of jazz influence—Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane. Dexter Gordon’s line construction and big, open sound was a major early influence on Coltrane. And while Trane initially took a little while to develop his craft, we all know that once he did, he altered the course of how just about everyone—Gordon included—approached their instrument. At the height of Coltrane’s creative powers in 1964, Gordon, in turn, released One Flight Up, and while it’s certainly not free or avant-garde, it features a kicked-in-the-rear Gordon eager to stretch out more than ever before.

Whether listening to the 18+ minute “Tanya,” the 11+ minute “Coppin’ the Haven,” or the 11+ minute “Kong Neptune,” one gets a glimpse of a Gordon who is relying a bit more on energy, texture, and mood than on careful construction of bop lines. While “Tanya” may be the most adventurous and Trane-like (although it proves that not even Art Taylor could pull off a legit Elvin Jones imitation), “Kong Neptune” comes closest to achieving a fully cohesive atmosphere. Note how Gordon utilizes the full range of his horn for certain lines and then alternately focuses on repetitive, single-note lines to provide a more-tension-than-release feel. A rigorous, self-aware performance featuring Gordon at his most creative.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: A Night In Tunisia

Discouraged by the palpable lack of appreciation throughout the first twenty years of his career, Dexter Gordon relocated to Europe from 1962-1976. Even though he was still under contract with Blue Note and returned to the States for sessions and occasional gigs, Gordon appeared both fulfilled and re-energized by the European scene in the 1960s and recorded some of his finest live music at the Montmartre Club in Copenhagen—handfuls of which have been released on disc.

Dexter was certainly not the only American in Europe during these years, and it’s the reunion of Dexter Gordon with fellow expat Bud Powell (from their classic bop session seventeen years earlier) and famed American swing-to-bop drummer Kenny Clarke that combine to form one of Gordon’s finest studio efforts during his decade-and-a-half in Europe. A super relaxed solo-break begins Gordon’s improvisation over this bebop staple, but this serene atmosphere doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, Dexter has committed to one of his more heated improvisations—complete with repetitive Coltrane-esque yelps that make us wonder if what we’re hearing is stemming from a place of joy or ferocity, or perhaps a bit of both. Challenging and entirely musically rewarding, Our Man in Paris comprises an album’s worth of fascinating listening.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Jackrabbit

This track is taken from Inventions and Dimensions, one of Herbie’s earliest recordings as a leader for Blue Note in August, 1963. There’s an introductory four-bar pedal tone, established by Paul Chambers, then sixteen bars of time, with Chambers walking. At the end of the sixteen bars, Chambers picks another pedal tone, then there’s another sixteen bars of time. It’s a very interesting strategy for a tune, because there's neither a written melody nor chord changes. Paul Chambers can choose whatever note he wants to play for the pedal tone, which then dictates the harmony over the next sixteen bars. Herbie plays beautiful, swinging, darting lines throughout this completely improvised yet thoroughly coherent piece, with Willie Bobo on drums and Osvaldo “Chihuahua” Martinez on congas and bongos.

April 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Erato

“Erato” is a masterpiece, one of many by Andrew Hill that I could have chosen for this list. It’s named for the Greek goddess of love poetry, and more than lives up to its name. When Ben Allison, Ron Horton and I were playing the sessions that were the genesis of what became the Jazz Composers Collective, we discovered that we had each transcribed this tune. Comparing our transcriptions, we realized that even though the notes were the same, each of them was different in terms of how time signatures and chord changes were notated. This speaks to the inherent mystery of Andrew’s music. It’s hard to put your finger on it sometimes, but his tunes have an inner logic and architecture that is very strong. On this track from a 1965 quintet date (with Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson), Andrew plays in a trio format with Richard Davis and Joe Chambers.

April 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Whisper Not

Volume 2: Sextet features the first studio recording of Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," which is considered by many to be the highlight of Lee Morgan's second Blue Note release. At the age of 18, Morgan delivers a strong performance. While it's clear his roots in bebop are well developed, Morgan also shows great taste with his mature sense of time and the ability to implement catchy hooks in his playing, including a quote of "Pop Goes the Weasel." Morgan's solo is followed by the even younger Kenny Rodgers on alto, and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, who will collaborate with Morgan frequently throughout his career. After a solo from Jazz Messengers pianist Horace Silver, this memorable hard-bop recording ends with a shout chorus that leads the sextet back into the final statement of Golson's now-famous melody.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: One Finger Snap

This was one of the first of Herbie’s tunes that I ended up transcribing; I love the way his lines are moving through the chords. It’s unique and innovative, bringing bebop to the next level of harmonic innovation. The composition is so open-ended harmonically, and the rhythm section sparkles as they follow Freddie Hubbard's solo and play over the changes. The chords are not the expected II-V-I type of changes that you find either in standards or in older bebop tunes. Every chord change is its own mode, its own area, and the way that Herbie defines and identifies each of these areas is so creative. He uses the harmonic areas as a springboard for these lines, but it doesn’t sound schematic at all—it’s fresh and inspired. A lot of it also has to do with Herbie's touch, and the rhythmic freedom of the solo, the fluidity of his lines.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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