Blue Note 75 for 75: Louis Smith’s Smithville (1958)

Our fourteenth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Louis Smith’s gem of a record, Smithville: an album so underrated as to be almost unknown. Dig the magnificent, easy-swingin’ title track:

I reviewed this album years ago and this is what I had to say about it:

What a gem! I’d never even heard of Louis Smith and — wham! — this album knocks me out. There are so many great little jazz albums like this: obscure and outstanding. It certainly helps to have the backing Smith does: Charlie Rouse, Sonny Clark, Paul Chambers, Art Taylor– that’s a great band! There was just so much talent around at this time that a small pick-up session like this ends up being a minor masterpiece. Louis Smith, clearly inspired by the company he keeps, shines his way to the top of each track with a clear, strong tone and inventive soloing. Makes one wonder why we didn’t hear more of him. Everyone else is their usual self (ie. excellent) with Rouse turning in one barn-burning solo after another, even the ballads can’t escape his fiery tones and unusual phrasing. And when their horns lock together, Rouse and Smith sound like a match made in heaven, especially on the slow blues title track. This album, recently re-released, is passionate and proud– bebop at its finest.

Stay tuned for more from Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Andrew Hill’s Dance With Death (1968)

Our thirteenth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is very Halloween appropriate: Andrew Hill’s Dance With Death:

Dig that nice dark piano vibe, the odd head-nodding shuffle step of the rhythm section, and those intense but accessible solos — this is a band simmering a nice heady brew of creeping funk that’s avant-garde without being impenetrable. There’s a skeleton of bop structure around which the band hangs ideas from the spectrum of contemporary styles such as post-bop, modal, and free. “Fish ‘N Rice” exemplifies the approach taken:

The line-up here is full of new breed players who were making in-roads with the label by the late-’60’s, players like trumpeter Charles Tolliver and multi-saxophonist Joe Farrell. Along with Hill, they were part of the “new thing” at Blue Note to a point where a drummer like Billy Higgins who helped pioneer free jazz with Ornette Coleman seems more of the old-school.

The record isn’t all dark. There’s tunes with titles like “Yellow Violet” and “Love Nocturne” but I dig that more ominous tone myself. There could be no more apropos title than “Black Sabbath”:

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Dizzy Reece’s Comin’ On (1960)

Our twelfth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Dizzy Reece’s Comin’ On, a record that marked the recording debut of tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, who muscles his way right out the gate with a terrific solo on “Ye Olde Blues”:

I can think of only a small handful of Blue Note tunes that start straight off with a solo, and a remarkable one to boot. Clearly Blue Note were in awe of Stan’s talent to let him debut in such a manner. Unfortunately, as a coming out party, it was a bit belated. Though his first recording for Blue Note, it wasn’t his first release as this album languished for a long time before finally coming out in the ’90’s. Still, impressions were made and Stanley was quickly recording for Blue Note as a sideman and leader.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of leaders, Dizzy Reece was clearly an enigmatic one. A trumpeter of supreme talent and unique tone who could never quite get his career together. He is both justifiably and unjustifiably obscure and Blue Note sitting on this record is part of the reason. Talent alone isn’t enough, you need discipline as well. Reece, from the UK, just never seemed to make it work in NYC and as his previous records had only middling sales, this one was unfortunately shelved.

You can’t deny the man’s talent though, or the fact that all four of his Blue Note releases are of a very high artistic standard. Lyrically, Reece was on par with the true greats as evidenced by his beautiful solo on “Tenderly”:

On these tracks, we’ve heard the line-up of Dizzy Reece (tp); Stanley Turrentine (ts); Bobby Timmons (p); Jymie Merritt (b); Art Blakey (d) but there was a second session for this record with a different line-up of Dizzy Reece (tp); Stanley Turrentine (ts); Musa Kaleem (ts, fl); Duke Jordan (p); Sam Jones (b); Al Harewood (d) and it is nice to note the contrast. The second grouping is less hard swinging and more soulful. This can clearly be heard on the title track:

I wrote about this album previously too, which you can read here:

http://bopandbeyond.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/dizzy-reece-the-case-of-the-frightened-love-blue-note-1960/

I’ll definitely be diggin’ into more of Reece’s work, especially his incredible debut album, which I’m sure will feature shortly on Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Dexter Gordon’s Our Man In Paris (1963)

Our eleventh feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Dexter Gordon’s fantastic Our Man In Paris, featuring Dex fronting the Three Bosses trio of Bud Powell, Pierre Michelot, and Kenny Clarke. This was during Dexter’s big comeback with Blue Note and finds him operating at the peak of his rejuvenated powers. Check out his mammoth soloing prowess on Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple”:

The story behind this record is pretty complex actually. Originally intended as a session with Kenny Drew on piano and one of Blue Note’s regular rhythm sections, the initial session was scuttled in favor of Dexter recording in Paris with fellow expats Bud Powell on piano and Kenny Clarke on drums. Paris native Pierre Michelot joined on bass. These three jammed regularly around Paris as the Three Bosses trio and had a good working chemistry playing standards. Producer Francis Wolff wisely decided not to tinker with their chemistry (and Powell’s volatile personality) and allow Dex to record a set of standards with them. This was not Blue Note’s usual m.o. but served this date just fine. Listen to the band take up a thoughtful, melancholy reading of “Willow Weep For Me”:

Many people thought Powell was over-the-hill at this point, his mental health issues having taken too strong a toll, but I find his playing on this session to be uniformly excellent. He has great empathy with his usual trio and comps quite well for Dexter. All involved turn in a strong performance. This is my favorite of the many Dexter Gordon Blue Note’s. Many reviewers and fans agree, taking particular note of this reading of “A Night In Tunisia,” which is often held as one of Dexter’s best performances:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

 

Blue Note 75 for 75: Jimmy Smith’s Cool Blues (1958)

Our tenth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is a quintessential Blue Note live jam. Originally recorded in 1958 at Small’s Paradise in Harlem, it had to wait twenty years until first release, belatedly issued by Blue Note in 1978. The record in question is Jimmy Smith’s killer Cool Blues. Check out this swingin’ take on a traditional Romani song, “Dark Eyes:”

Not sure if that ever got the jazz treatment before but I totally dig it. Small’s was an intimate venue with all the musicians crammed up on a tiny stage, shouting encouragement to each other and just really diggin’ in:

That’s Lou Donaldson on alto and Eddie McFadden on guitar. They were joined on this date by Tina Brooks on tenor and either Art Blakey or Donald Bailey on drums. The leader, Jimmy Smith, was rockin’ the organ, of course and giving it his usual all. Check out his solo on the title track:

This record was positively huge for me personally as I had never really been open-minded about jazz organ before and I spun this album a lot on my radio show in Montreal. In turn, it opened me up to the underrated talent of Tina Brooks and subtle guitar work of Eddie McFadden. Blue Note released a few other great Jimmy Smith live jams but this one remains my sentimental favorite.

Here’s the alternate cover issue from Japan:

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Pete La Roca’s Basra (1965)

Our ninth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Pete La Roca’s Basra, a stunning masterpiece of modal jazz that has flown under the radar for decades.  A drummer of exceptional taste and restraint, La Roca only recorded three albums as a leader and is as well-remembered for leaving jazz to become a lawyer as he is for his delightful drum work. A top-five drummer for me, I’ll listen to anything he’s played on. Basra is an incredible record, mostly in the modal style, that features some unique and memorable tunes:

I could spin that track forever… And it helps to have a strong line-up to vibe your ideas off. Joe Henderson was just coming into his own as a tenor saxophonist while Steve Kuhn and Steve Swallow each formed strong voices on their respective instruments and were rarely used by Blue Note so their presence here is a treat.

As you can tell, I have a real soft spot for this record. Here is the stunning title track:

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Ornette Coleman’s The Empty Foxhole (1966)

Our eighth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is a bit of an anomaly. I wanted to highlight a Blue Note album featuring  Charlie Haden since he just passed away and stumbled across this Ornette album that I’d heard of but never actually listened to.

The Empty Foxhole was controversial at the time of release for featuring Coleman’s ten-year old son on drums. And listening to it now, it is easy to see why. Denardo Coleman is game to his Dad’s vision and helped steadily along (rhythmically speaking) by Haden’s very engaged bass playing. But overall, his contribution feels like a novelty and in terms of the music, one wishes Ed Blackwell or Charles Moffatt had been engaged instead.

On the plus side, Ornette’s playing is quite strong on alto and his development on trumpet and violin was progressing rapidly. If you focus on Ornette exclusively, his playing is quite rewarding. Charlie Haden is a bit handcuffed by Denardo but also gets lots of moments to shine. There is a vigorous energy to the music that suggests the trio were definitely having a good time vibing off each other.

denardo

The Empty Foxhole, unlike Ornette’s other Blue Notes, has only sporadically been available. I can only recommend it to the most hardcore Ornette connoisseur as it is a formidable listen but not an altogether essential one.