Blue Note 75 for 75: Freddie Hubbard & Woody Shaw’s The Eternal Triangle (1987)

Our forty-fourth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is a chance to highlight two great trumpeters: Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw. When Blue Note re-launched as a label in 1985, steps were taken to bring former roster members back into the fold. Hubbard and Shaw were fortuitously available and willing to record two albums together: Double Take (which was one of BN’s first comeback releases) and The Eternal Triangle, which is the album we’ll be featuring.

One listen as the two men negotiate the crazy changes of Sonny Stitt’s notoriously difficult title track should lay to rest all claims that Freddie was over-the-hill in the ’80’s. And any doubters of Shaw’s ability to truly ramp it up should be laid to rest as well:

Here are two master trumpet players, near the height of form, going flat out in a friendly war of mutual admiration. They are ably augmented by Kenny Garrett on alto sax, Mulgrew Miller on piano, Ray Drummond on bass, and Carl Allen on drums. Garrett gets some nice solo time in but make no mistake, this album is a feature for the trumpeters and they both shine, particularly when playing each other’s material. Have a listen to this delightful reading of Shaw’s “The Moontrane”:

And Hubbard’s “Down Under”:

Hubbard is his usual spit-fire self, blasting the high notes, and often getting ahead of himself. Shaw is the more introverted player, deftly melodic, with an ear for intricate harmony. The contrast shows off both men’s abilities quite nicely. Both this album and Double Take are excellent sessions and I believe have been recently boxed together. Would I necessarily recommend them over Hub and Shaw’s more formative 60’s & 70’s releases, probably not. But if you’ve dug in deep on both men, this is a great next step to take.

One final note is that Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records fame produced this session and played a big hand in Blue Note’s ’80’s revival. He nicely captures the sound and feel of a mid-60’s Blue Note release and avoids that nasty rubbery bass tone that destroys so much of my contemporary jazz listening.

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Blue Note 75 for 75: Lee Morgan’s Live At The Lighthouse (1970)

Our forty-third feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is a bittersweet one: Lee Morgan’s Live At The Lighthouse, recorded over three nights in June of 1970 at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, CA. Why is this album so bittersweet? Well, for one, Live At The Lighthouse finds Lee turning a corner stylistically, kicking well past the chronic rut he’d found himself in post-Sidewinder. As well, it was Morgan’s penultimate album for Blue Note before his untimely death in 1972. You can really hear Lee embracing his more adventurous side (perhaps stemming from some of his late 60’s sideman work for Larry Young and Andrew Hill), particularly on the Maupin penned tunes like “Absolutions”:

Lee assembles a killer band here that sees only former Jazz Messenger associate Jymie Merritt on bass as a familiar face. Bennie Maupin on tenor, flute, and bass clarinet was a challenging player more closely associated with the fusion projects of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Maupin really pushes the music forward here, generating tension with the more Memphis styling of pianist Harold Mabern. Drummer Mickey Roker plays super hard too, driving the music to stimulating levels. Jack DeJohnette guests on drums for “Speedball” and his polyrhythmic swing is a total delight:

I have often second guessed Lee Morgan’s mid-60’s output. A definite staleness crept in post-Sidewinder and Lee almost got too comfortable with his routine. It is a huge relief to hear him taking musical chances and even taking a tune like “The Sidewinder” and completely pushing its potential in live setting:

One really wonders what Morgan might have gone on to accomplish if his life hadn’t ended so abruptly (Morgan was murdered by his longtime girlfriend at Slug’s in NYC in February of 1972). Live At The Lighthouse shows there was a lot of creative fire left in his belly and that another huge musical breakthrough may have been just around the corner. It makes listening to this record all the more bittersweet.

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Blue Note 75 for 75: J.J. Johnson’s The Eminent J.J. Johnson, Vol. 1 (1953)

Our forty-second feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is an important document in jazz history, J.J. Johnson’s The Eminent J.J. Johnson, Vol. 1. Though he did not know it at the time, J.J. was fronting a band that featured a trumpeter whose career would be all meteoric rise before a tragic automobile accident prematurely silenced him. Though this is a J.J. Johnson led session (with J.J. being his usually eminent self and thus worthy of the appellation), I find most people dial into the performance from trumpeter Clifford Brown. Here is a photo of Brownie and Johnson working together on this session:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was Clifford Brown whose set jazz on its ear in 1953 only to die in 1956 and leave an amazingly compact but profound musical legacy. Despite being the young buck, Brown gels well here with a band of veteran boppers, including Jimmy Heath on tenor, John Lewis on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums. This compact little album features fine ensemble playing and quick-fire soloing. Check out “Capri” for a succinct example:

I have always been particularly intrigued by John Lewis’s unique “Sketch One,” which sounds like a classical chamber piece with light, delicate soloing over top:

And though I do feel Brownie shines bright on this record, Johnson is not to be outdone. As the leader, he gets a delightful solo feature on “It Could Happen To You,” demonstrating he was jazz trombone’s prime exponent. Considering that Johnson was mostly out-of-jazz at this point, working as a blueprint inspector, the depth of feeling to his performance is quite remarkable:

The rhythm section here is 3/4 of the MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet): John Lewis, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke had a genuine empathy from their years together, an intimacy that helps make this record shine.

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Blue Note 75 for 75: Ike Quebec’s Blue & Sentimental (1961)

Our forty-first feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is one of my Blue Note desert island picks, Ike Quebec’s achingly gorgeous Blue & Sentimental  –  one of the most heartfelt and deeply personal albums ever released by the label. I think album engineer Rudy Van Gelder said it best when he said that “Ike always played beautifully, even at the end, when he was dying…I mean, literally dying.” Which sadly was the case as Ike’s Blue Note comeback was sadly cut short due to lung cancer, though you’d never know it from the sheer majesty of his playing on the title cut:

Many people don’t know Ike’s long and storied history with the label. He was one of its initial stars in the ’40’s but fell out of playing in the early ’50’s when he served as A&R man for the label, bringing such talents as Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk to Alfred Lion’s attention. In the late 50’s, Ike mounted a successful comeback that was tragically cut off early. Ike played magnificently (despite tremendous pain) on his final Blue Note albums with Blue & Sentimental his masterpiece. Quebec’s big breathy tone was old-school all the way and his blues-drenched sound paired well with Grant Green’s gospel-inflected guitar licks. They are a dream together. Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums lightly color the proceedings. Dig the swing of “That Old Black Magic”:

I think you’ll agree with critic Steve Huey who wrote of Blue & Sentimental that it has “a superbly sensuous blend of lusty blues swagger and achingly romantic ballads… a quiet, sorely underrated masterpiece.” Burning Ambulance also did a wonderful write-up on Quebec that is a great read:

http://burningambulance.com/2011/01/24/ike-quebec/

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Blue Note 75 for 75: Dexter Gordon’s Clubhouse (1965)

Our fortieth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Dexter Gordon’s great “lost” session from 1965: Clubhouse, which unlike the also (at the time) unreleased Landslide is not a cobbled together selection of usable tracks from multiple failed sessions but an actual full-length releasable album that somehow moldered in the Blue Note vault, going unreleased for almost 15 years. Since then, it has seen release in multiple iterations with different cover art each time — but the music is what is essential and the music is timeless Dex: hard swinging, excellent:

You can’t really go wrong with a front line pairing of Dex with Freddie Hubbard. Dex, the rough and tumble elder don who could still churn up the changes, matches well with the spitfire young trumpeter whose lines are so brash and engaging. Dex and Freddie teamed up together a few times and really fed off each other. The rhythm section of Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums) is vibrant, locking up a killer groove but keeping things circumspect, giving all the shine to the horns.

Beautiful ballardry here:

Dexter Gordon was one of jazz’s great tenors and some of his best albums were on Blue Note. Clubhouse may be among the more obscure of his efforts for them but still totally worth your time and attention.

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Blue Note 75 for 75: Stanley Turrentine’s Look Out! (1960)

Our thirty-ninth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Stanley Turrentine’s debut as a leader, Look Out!, which also serves as the first of many collaborations with the Us Three trio of Horace Parlan on piano, George Tucker on bass, and Al Harewood on drums — a trio that just happens to be my favorite jazz rhythm section of all-time. Check the fat as all-hell groove they lay down for Stan on the album title track:

That’s ill! What I love about US Three is that deep-in-the-pocket groove which players like Stan and Booker Ervin can just eat up. Both men collaborated with this rhythm section quite often to spectacular results. In terms of a debut, Stanley couldn’t have chosen better. After blasting out the gate on sessions for Dizzy Reece and Jimmy Smith, Blue Note knew they had a star on their hands. Listen to this absolutely sensational and moody read of “Journey Into Melody”:

“Tin Tin Deo” is a tenor saxophone rite-of-passage made famous by Sonny Rollins and absolutely crushed by Tubby Hayes. Stan wisely decided to forgo pyrotechnics and get to the heart of the melody on his version and it kills:

For me, basically, any formulation of Parlan/Tucker/Harewood in support of some combination of either Turrentine brother, Booker Ervin, or Grant Green is gonna be a winner — all their Blue Note sessions together are worth checking out!

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Blue Note 75 for 75: Blue Mitchell’s Bring It Home To Me (1966)

Our thirty-eighth feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is a down-home gem from Blue Mitchell called Bring It Home To Me and its the kinda cool groovin’, soul swingin’ record that is sometimes easy to overlook because it focuses more on mood than chops but if you dig that warm summer night on the front porch vibe, this record is for you:

I review this album a long time ago here on the site and this is what I had to say about it:

Jimmy Heath once said that trumpeter Blue Mitchell was “one of the most melodic players of his generation.” He was certainly one of the most respected, working frequently with such heavy-hitters as Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, Horace Silver, Harold Land, and Dexter Gordon. His own output as a leader, however, remains maddingly in-and-out of print, with only a limited edition (and now unavailable) Mosaic Records box set gathering it all in one place. If any Blue Mitchell album deserves Blue Note’s RVG reissue treatment, this is it. Mitchell, along with tenor sax player Junior Cook, sparkle on the front line, while the rhythm section of Harold Mabern, Gene Taylor, and Billy Higgins lock in a cheery groove. This is upbeat, swingin’ stuff reminiscent of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, only better. I can only imagine the joy that “Gingerbread Boy” would bring to the ears of any soul-jazz lover. I sincerely hope that Blue Note Records will not allow this fantastic record to remain so inexplicably out-of-print.

I want to add a few things that have come to me since I wrote that. For one, Harold Mabern is a hell of a pianist. He’s got that cheerful soul swing and there is a depth of feeling to his playing that is liberating. I keep coming back to his playing more and more each year. On a record where everyone cooks, his playing stands out. Secondly, CD issues hardly matter at all anymore. Bring It Home To Me is now available digitally and has been re-issued on vinyl. Dig in!

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