Blue Note 75 for 75: Paul Chambers’ Bass On Top (1957)

Our sixty-sixth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Paul Chambers’ wonderful statement of intent: Bass On Top. With this record, Chambers set about consolidating his reputation as once of jazz’s preeminent bassists, demonstrating that what was generally considered a support instrument could easily and comfortably take the lead.

At the time of Bass On Top, Chambers was already deep into his association with Miles Davis and was an in-demand performer, recording tons of sessions on the side of his Davis work. Chambers, skilled at both arco and pizzicato, saw the bass as more than a rhythm instrument. Bass On Top finds Chambers leading a quartet wherein the bass performs all melodies and eats the bulk of the solo time. While that may sound self-indulgent, the result is actually quite lovely. Skillfully supported by the elegant pianist Hank Jones, the thoughtful guitarist Kenny Burrell, and the tasteful drums of Art Taylor, the group swings with a stately grace. Evidence abounds on “Dear Old Stockholm”:

The lack of horns on this album coupled with the clean elegance of the given instrumentation gives Bass On Top a quiet sort of sophistication (bordering on chamber or third stream style jazz) different from other Blue Notes. Chambers gets his bass to practically sing on vocal standards like “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”:

Hank Jones and Kenny Burrell are utterly tasteful in support and take fine solos of their own. Alternating comping between themselves and Chambers lends a rhythmic flexability to Art Taylor’s swing — this is one tight session and a deep head-nodder from start-to-finish.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (only nine more to go!)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Bobby Hutcherson’s Total Eclipse (1968)

Our sixty-fifth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is an investigation into the collaborative nature of two unique and exciting jazz artists: the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and the tenor sax playing Harold Land. Hutch’s Total Eclipse marked the first time these two men recorded together and they went on to have a long and fruitful association, one that seemed odd on paper but fabulous on wax.

Hutcherson had an extremely long tenure at Blue Note, almost fifteen years total, and in that time he delivered quality albums in a variety of styles from hard bop to avant-garde. Starting with Total Eclipse, Hutch began to consolidate styles into a fresh and inventive framework that is at once challenging and accessible. To do this, he recruited two vital performers: Land and drummer Joe Chambers. Land, a west coast hard bop stalwart open to the innovations of Coltrane, is the anchor holding up against Chambers, a multi-faceted drummer known for oblique compositions — the tension created in both performance and composition is fascinating, stretching all the performers out of their comfort zones.

Take “Herzog,” a dynamic hard bop number with a variety of tempo breaks and rhythmic flexibility over which the soloists (Hutch, Land, pianist Chick Corea) weave an invigorating web of dynamic soloing. Land in particular is on fire here, demonstrating a significant upgrade in his musical thinking (I’ve always been a Land fan and love his 50’s work but here he’s channeling a modern post-Trane vibe back through his own initial West Coast conception). Compare and contrast the studio version with the live one that follows:

The line-up for the live cut is the same as the studio with one substitution: Stanley Cowell replaces Chick Corea on piano. It was recorded in Antibes, 1969.

Back  to the album, “Same Shame” is an ill cut with bassist Reggie Johnson and Chamber uniting in a subtle latin-tinge flavor that percolates softly in the background, sort of shimmering against the wide open bluesy tones of Hutch and Corea’s solo efforts. Land adds a smoky solo bordering on noir. The push-pull tension of the rhythm section against these solos is fascinating:

Hutcherson and Land have about a dozen albums together, some are better than others, though hardcore fans of either man will want them all. I find Total Eclipse to be among the strongest.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (only ten more to go!)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Frank Foster’s Here Comes Frank Foster (1954)

Our sixty-fourth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is by an artist totally new to me, the tenor saxophonist Frank Foster. And what better why to get acquainted with him than with his Blue Note debut: Here Comes Frank Foster — a 10″ record from Blue Note’s early “Modern Jazz Series” that introduced a lot of great artists to the label.

Foster is accompanied here by Benny Powell on trombone (also new to me), Gildo Mahones on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums. Together they perform a straight ahead set of mid-50’s style jazz with a noir-ish vibe. This feeling of a permeated sadness from the horns of Foster and Powell is an unexpected treat, giving the album a solid after-hours feel, enough to make you question a title like “How I Spent The Night”:

This kind of smoky, low-key style swing became less and less evident as Blue Note moved deeper into the ’50’s and early ’60’s and I enjoyed the mood of this session immensely. It won’t knock your socks off and I wouldn’t call it essential but if you’re hankering for some vintage late-night jazz, Here Comes Frank Foster might just do the trick.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights, Vol. 2 (1958)

Our sixty-third feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is the second half of an in-studio jam session from guitarist Kenny Burrell, Blue Lights. Burrell, with Grant Green, was the Blue Note house guitarist at the time, renowned for his bluesy, soul jazz swing and expressive, highly melodic solo style — all of which is on display on “Rock Salt”:

Jammin’ with Burrell up front are two tenors, Junior Cook and Tina Brooks; along with the wildly underrated Louis Smith on trumpet. Bobby Timmons on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Art Blakey on drums are the rhythm section. Together they do a great interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”:

I really dig the loose playful vibe on this date, the feeling of a few friends just getting together and jammin’ with the tapes rolling. Burrell particularly thrives in the freer confines and the rarely recorded Louis Smith really cuts loose, making a great case for himself as an artist undervalued.

Of final note, the cover art Reid Miles solicited for both volumes was done by Andy Warhol, who did a few other for them as well:

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Lee Morgan’s The Gigolo (1965)

Our sixty-second feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is a testament to the fact that jazz can always surprise you. For whatever reason, Lee Morgan’s The Gigolo was an album that had somehow escaped my attention.

Not that I wasn’t aware of it, I was; and I knew it had a killer line-up but my relationship to Morgan’s work post-Sidewinder is a wary one: for every truly great record (like Search For The New Land), there are two or three rote Sidewinder-lite blowing sessions (like The Rumproller) and thus I proceed with caution. Many people have taken issue with me over this and have rightly pointed me in the direction of some great stuff. In fact, I wrestled with this whole problem a while back in a series of posts here entitled “Re-evaluating Lee Morgan” (the video in these posts need updating but the sentiment written remains):

https://bopandbeyond.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/re-evaluating-lee-morgan-part-one/

https://bopandbeyond.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/re-evaluating-lee-morgan-part-two/

Which brings us to The Gigolo. Doing the prep work for a Lee Morgan class I’ll be teaching soon, I finally came around to listen to this and — wham! — it totally knocked me out! TKO, starting with the jaw-droppingly incredible “Yes I Can, No You Can’t,” which kicks out a killer vamp, hot licks all around, and a thunderous back beat groove you can’t ignore — all this while sounding slightly treacherous and avant-garde, like you just can’t trust how head-noddingly good it is:

Lee Morgan on trumpet and Wayne Shorter on tenor are a perfectly simpatico front line dating back to their Messenger years. Harold Mabern’s deft touch with interlacings of dark blues and soulful grit makes him the perfect pianist for this date. Bob Cranshaw on bass and Billy Higgins on drums get adventurous, almost rock-n-roll-ish and together the whole band just crushes it. Morgan wrote all the songs and he crafted a true classic in “Speedball,” a song that encapsulates the greatness of soulful hard bop:

I am absolutely enamored of this record. Since first putting it on three weeks ago I have basically listened to it non-stop. Every track is killer: vital and fresh with great playing all around and a testament to just how good Lee Morgan really was. The more I study up on his life and records, the more grateful I am for the music he was able to write and perform in the face of exceptional challenges.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Horace Parlan’s Headin’ South (1960)

Our sixty-first feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Horace Parlan’s Headin’ South. Parlan, on piano, is featured here with his regular Us Three trio mates, George Tucker on bass and Al Harewood on drums, with special guest Ray Barretto on congas. They get a nice funky line going here, dig especially the ride cymbal patterning of Harewood — that guy could swing!

This is a great session from a group I have a strong, abiding love for and continue to listen to on regular basis.

When asked why I love Parlan’s Blue Notes so much, I often answer that his records deepened my appreciation for jazz on a variety of levels and taught me that there is more to the genre than the filibustering pyrotechnics that initially caught my ear. No disrespect to jazz’s greatest technicians but it was Parlan who taught me that beyond the triangulation of talent, technique, and virtuosity there is a further quadrangle of soul, groove, nuance, and joy. I think everyone who truly falls for jazz finds an artist like that for them. For me it was Parlan, he took me from John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman to Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and back again. Horace’s piano, like that of a Sonny Clark or Mal Waldron, is one that can bubble quietly at the center of all jazz, which is why you can find Horace comping as easily for a sweet Stanley Turrentine standard as you can for a wild Mingus circus ride. What Parlan and co. do to George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is magic incarnate, taking an old chestnut and infusing it with new life: an arco bowed melody by Tucker that Parlan spins a counter melody into and an overflowing exuberant bounce once they really get going. It’s lovely:

They do similar treatments of several other standards, including Irving Berlin’s “The Song Is Ended” and Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss.” Most appealing to me is their cover of Ahmad Jamal’s “Jim Loves Sue” as Jamal is a clear antecedent in that both pianists are almost painterly in their use of space, silence, and repetition:

Headin’ South is a desert island disc for me, one I could just stretch out in the sun with and bask forever.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…

Blue Note 75 for 75: Dizzy Reece’s Blues In Trinity (1958)

Our sixtieth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is hands-down one of my all-time favorite jazz albums: Dizzy Reece’s Blues In Trinity. Dig that fat title track:

Straight up-and-down this is an unusual Blue Note, in that it was recorded in London at Decca Studios but had to be passed off as being recorded in Paris due to contractual issues. As well, the cast of musicians was truly international: Jamaican trumpeter Dizzy Reece, American trumpeter Donald Byrd, Brits Tubby Hayes on tenor sax and Terry Shannon on piano, Canadian Lloyd Thompson on bass, and American Art Taylor on drums. This disparate crew was brought together by Tempo Records boss Tony Hall at the behest of Blue Note as a try-out for Reece and Hayes.

 

 

 

 

 

Since Byrd and Taylor were gigging in London already and available, they were added to increase American audience familiarity. What impresses me most is that despite a rather cobbled-together line-up, the ensemble playing and overall feeling is super tight. This is a rockin’ band, as evidenced on “Shepard’s Serenade”:

As stated, this record was a try-out of sorts for Reece and Hayes, both of whom were big names in the London scene and looking to cross over. Reece indeed would move to New York and record more for Blue Note (we spotlighted his Comin’ On album earlier) but Hayes, for whatever reason, didn’t catch on. It couldn’t have been for musical reasons though because he absolutely aces his solo spotlight reading of “Round About Midnight”:

In many ways, Tubby Hayes is one of the great lost jazz men of the 50’s and 60’s. His reputation in England is deservedly strong but aside from this record and a session for Fontana with Clark Terry and Horace Parlan, he is virtually unknown in the States. Which is too bad because his playing is so robust that one could argue his place in the pantheon of true greats (check his renditions of “Tin Tin Deo” on his Tempo recordings to see what I mean).

This is Dizzy Reece’s album though and he too shines in the spotlight, his solo feature, “I Had The Craziest Dream,” is damn beautiful and haunting. He gets the whole tune to himself and just totally nails it:

I think Dizzy Reece is extremely underrated. He smokes Byrd across the board on the tracks they share and his ear for melody is sharp and perceptive. All the original tunes he wrote for this, and his other BN sessions, are great. I recommend them all highly.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75…