Mode For Joe: Joe Henderson

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Why should I bother with this:-  The track- Mode for Joe is wonderful.  Interesting line-up with vibes and trombone.  Amazing cover photography.  Branford Marsalis liked the album so much that he learned all of Joe Henderson’s solos by heart.  Challenging and varied; probably not recommended as an early addition to a new jazz collection- but it repays extended listening.

The band etc:- Joe Henderson (tenor sax); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Bobby Hutcherson (vibes); Cedar Walton (piano); Ron Carter (bass); Joe Chambers(drums).  Recorded 27 January 1966.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Leonard Feather.  Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Cover Design: Reid Miles.  Issued as Blue Note 4227.

The Music:-  Mode for Joe was recorded at the start of 1966 at a time of great change and dynamism, socially, politically and in jazz.  It represents Joe Henderson’s fifth and final Blue Note session as a leader in the 60’s, although he was to return with his excellent The State of The Tenor: Live at the Village Vanguard in 1985.  Written at a time when contemporaries were pushing deeply into free jazz, this one strains at the edges within clearly defined tunes.

It features an adventurous, non-standard lineup that extends to seven musicians, with vibes and trombone adding to the mix.   Some of the compositions will scare off the dinner jazz set as Henderson and Morgan veer towards free and expressive playing over complex rhythms.  Eight years earlier, Curtis Fuller had made a memorable contribution to the session which resulted in John Coltrane’s Blue Train and he is on fine form here too.

The opening track A Shade of Jade takes no prisoners with tenor sax and later trumpet delivering solos that sound like an urgent street corner dialogue of exaggerated points of view that the listener had better hear, or else!

The wonderful Mode For Joe is altogether more relaxed, a track of great beauty after an introduction to the tenor solo that verges on the sour.  Then we hear the vibes and trombone.  Pure sophistication.  I’ve Gilles Peterson (circa 1995) to thank for introducing me to this track.  Take a listen- what do you think of it?  (YouTube: courtesy of Andrew Jackson).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrTJd8lxH58

Black starts with a dramatic intro before heading off with a lively theme.  I probably would have sequenced this as the opening track for the album as it doesn’t frighten the horses.

Caribbean Fire Dance (YouTube: courtesy of 1blue1) has some great celebratory percussive rhythms driving things forward.  It is samba and more and a dancer could certainly make great use of it- must play it to a mate who is into salsa very soon (that’s you Pete).  Granted is straightforward hard bop while Free Wheelin’ closes the set with some delightful funk-tinged piano from Cedar Walton.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWdOj89hN1k

Leonard Feather provides the sleeve notes which are informative after he leaves behind his dig at Motown which was ruling the airwaves at the time.  He rejects “…the whanging guitars, adolescent lyrics and…massive accumulation of percussion” emanating from Detroit but then goes on to praise jazz alumni from Motor City, including Joe Henderson, Morgan and Curtis Fuller.  If you google Feather you will frequently find the term ‘acerbic’ in the articles you source but, because its nearly the weekend, I’m not going to be too hard on him here.

The cover:-  One of my all-time favorites.  I love the sequence of three photos of Joe Henderson: seemingly in conversation; contemplating and then taking a drag on his cigarette (sadly, Joe Henderson died of heart disease after suffering from emphysema in his final years).  Great portraiture fromFrancis Wolff though.

My copy of this album is on a CD which predates the 2003 digital remaster in the Rudy Van Gelder series, but which contains the alternative version of Black (also on the RVG collection).  CD’s of this great album cost from @£4.50 on Amazon, if you can put up with what the excellent London Jazz Collector calls ‘the evil silver disc’.  I would like a mint / near mint, vintage vinyl 1966 Blue Note first pressing-  but they seem to go for north of £90 at auction.

 

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