Category Archives: Blue Note

Bass On Top- Paul Chambers

Bass On Top 2

‘Play the one with the man on the cello’ is a frequent request in my home. No matter how many times I answer by saying ‘Not again! And it’s a double bass ffs!’ Bass On Top remains number one choice when something that isn’t too strident is called for. Time to take a look at this wonderful album and if you read to the end there’s a tale of crime involving a sculpture of a beautiful German woman.

The great double bassist, Paul Chambers recorded this album on July 14 1957. It was his fourth set as a leader and the third to be released on Blue Note. A member of Miles Davis’s first great quintet/sextet, Paul Chambers drew on early classical training in Detroit and became one of the first jazz bassists to play bowed (arco) sections live and on recordings. He featured on numerous key sessions with a pantheon of modern jazz greats (over 300 sessions between 1955 and 1962), including contributions to Monk’s Brilliant Corners, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues And The Abstract Truth, Coltrane’s Blue Train, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ and Art Pepper Meets The Rhythmn Section and of course Miles Davis. There were fourteen releases of sessions led by John Coltrane and seven led by Hank Mobley. Indeed, his work on Kind Of Blue has been praised as one of the great jazz bass performances by some people who like to quantify things like that.

The opening track here, Yesterdays, opens with three choruses that strike a subdued tone of wistfulness, or saudade as the Potuguese would say, before the tempo changes (and if I’m not mistaken, which is very likely, the key moves from minor to major). The bow is used throughout. Blue without being a blues track, Yesterday’s is a unique and much covered jazz composition both by instrumentalists and vocalists. The full lyrics are here– but these will suffice now:

Then gay youth was mine, truth was mine
Joyous free in flame and life
Then sooth was mine
Sad am I, glad am I
For today I’m dreamin’ of yesterdays.

The sense of saudade in a nutshell!

You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To follows. It is a jaunty Cole Porter number played finger-style this time (pizzicato). There is lots of space for PC to develop solo ideas as Kenny Burrell reverses conventional roles to keep time on rhythm guitar before getting his own Hot Clubesque solo as PC walks the tune towards a tasteful contribution from Hank Jones on piano.

Chasin’ the Bird by Charlie Parker offers up a neat intro on the tune’s head from Kenny Burrell (not that we’d expect anything less) before PC gets to work again. His bass solo is fluent and creative with the second solo from Jones’ piano providing another perfect element here. Burrell gets a solo too before sticksmanship from Art Taylor and a re-statement of the head, which brings this fine rendition to a close.

Dear Old Stockholm flows down deliciously in a well-ordered mainstream sort of way that is very satisfying. This is the selection from YouTube that I’ve chosen to accompany this post:

To play either touch or click on the arrow.

PC then plays Miles Davis’ The Theme. He was on the original recording in 1955 and this bebop workout sees his bow produced and used to great effect again.

Finally on the original release, Confessin’ is a lively tour de force take on the much covered standard with PC’s bass to the fore delivering a compelling interpretation until Hank Jones has a brief solo.

My copy of Bass On Top is the RVG CD version as the original Blue Note vinyl pressing is a rare find and priced well beyond what I can afford. The RVG edition has its bonuses though. Chamber Mates was not on the original release but it is an uptempo number that sounds like great fun, especially for jazz dancers. There are the usual excellent additional notes from Bob Blumenthal and three Francis Wolff photos from the hallowed Mosaic Collection. These were taken at the actual session and one of them, copied below, prompted me to undertake some additional research.

PC Bass Head 2

You will note that a youthful Paul Chambers (amazingly only 22 years old when the session was recorded) is playing, supervised by the sculpture of a female face on the bass head, which is as remarkable as it is unusual. I’d never seen its like before, although the power of the Internet soon introduced me to a wide range of ornate bass heads and the following:-

“Well, in growing up in New York with Bass in hand in the mid-late 60s, I just missed Paul Chambers. He died about when I joined the Union. I did however see his Bass in pictures and asked one Luthier about that carved Ladies Head on the top of the Neck/Scroll. The Bass was a Germanic Shop type Bass from the late 19th-early 20th century or so. The Head was added by him I heard but in either case, it was not part of that Bass.” (Ken Smith- see here)

There’s another story about the bass with the woman’s head possibly, apocryphal, but well worth the telling. It is said that the maestro and Doug Watkins, another great bass player and close friend (and some say, cousin) of PC were on tour in Italy in the 60’s when they saw the bass, unattended in a car belonging to a member of a classical orchestra. They helped themselves to it and subsequently shared the instrument back in the States. Then, one dark and stormy night, as they usually are in the best tales, the original owner of the bass walked into the club where PC was playing it. What happened next… …Well, he listened and listened some more before confronting PC at the interval, when he told him that he’d never heard the instrument sound so great and that he would like to give it to PC with his blessing. As somebody famous once wrote ‘The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar.’

Now I don’t know it this is true, or not. If it isn’t, I hope that the spirits or descendants of PC and Doug Watkins will not be offended by my repetition of scurrilous tittle-tattle. In any event it’s a story too good to miss. Who knows, the bass with the woman’s head may still be out there and one dear reader may actually be its custodian as I type this? If you have it, please let us know, we’d love to hear. Was the mysterious woman ever given a name? Someone may still know. Unless I hear differently, for personal reasons, I’ll settle for Gwladys.

Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging is that it is a bit dull to just trot out my impressions of albums. I like to add a bit of extra information that’s a bit harder to find for the reader and sometimes sourcing anything new is a bit of a struggle. Hopefully, my musings about PC and Bass On Top have achieved that this time round.

If you are interested in an analysis of Paul Chambers bass style, there’s a very fine essay written by Brian Casey, which you can read here.

The band etc: Paul Chambers (double bass);Kenny Burrell guitar); Hank Jones (piano); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 14 July 1957. Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 1569 in 1957.

RIP Paul Chambers, Jr (April 22, 1935 – January 4, 1969).

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The Sermon: Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith The Sermon cover

Time to get going again! My last posting here was over three months ago. So, no excuses, time to get to work and get something new out.

The Sermon is a good place to start. Three tracks are taken from two recording dates in August 1957 and February 1958. This set was Smith’s fourteenth Blue Note release during a period from 1956 onwards when his Hammond organ albums were the label’s major cash cow. Indeed on hearing him play in Greenwich Village, Miles Davis told label boss and producer Al Lion, ‘Alfred, he’s going to make you a lot of money.’ He recorded no less than 10 sessions in 1957 alone. The Sermon is the second of two titles to be taken from the August 57/February 58 sessions with House Party being released first, in 1958.

My theory about the Hammond organ phenomenon is that in a time when live popular music was usually played in small venues without powerful amplification, the sudden introduction of this behemoth of an instrument created a new kind of live excitement. In the case of the Hammond, what is played in a small venue can extend beyond the aural to become something that is almost palpable. You can hit all the right notes on other instruments but it is the swells and trills of the mighty B3 organ, played at volume, that seem to me to have a tangible quality all of their own. My own instrument was the tenor sax (played very badly) and I love its sound but the Hammond does something that is very different. I’m not a keyboardist but I am aware that modern technology enables all sorts of sounds to be emulated but unless somebody invites me to a blindfold audition and convinces me that the contrary applies I’ll continue to believe that it is impossible to capture and faithfully replicate the sound of a Hammond and Leslie speaker. Of course, this is an invitation for any of you out there to tell me that this is nonsense and prove your case with suitable sonic illustration.

The title track, one of two JS original compositions here, is a tribute to Horace Silver and opens with a long opportunity for Jimmy Smith to stretch out and develop his ideas before the baton is passed to the great Kenny Burrell. A typically tasteful laid back exploration follows, somehow so appropriate for the lazy Sunday morning that I’m writing this on. Then it’s over to Tina Brooks, whose mellow mid-register tenor saxophone adds a deliciously sour texture for an extended solo. Jimmy Smith sends out long note signals for Brooks to wind up, but they are ignored because Tina’s really blowing the blues here. His solo ends and is followed by a couple of words that I cannot quite make out, but which sound like appreciative ones. Over to Lee Morgan which contains punchy staccato notes and a longer run. Lou Donaldson’s solo is another masterful contribution to the whole before the ensemble briefly reappear and Jimmy Smith gleefully leads us to the fade. Art Blakey plays drums with understated power but no solo here.

On the sleeve notes to the RVG CD edition, Bob Blumenthal reminds us that the recent introduction of the 12 inch long playing record allowed musicians the space to record with more space to develop ideas and less need to limit a recording to the shorter length which was the previous limit of what could be captured and released in earlier 10″ 78 rpm disc format. Although some, so-called, blowing sessions could sound self-indulgent, The Sermon uses the extended period to great effect. You can hear the full track from YouTube via the following link:-

To view, click on or touch the arrow

J.O.S. was recorded during the previous year, in the August of 1957 with George Coleman (alto sax), Eddie McFadden (guitar) and Donald Bailey (drums) rather than the greater stellar magnitude of Burrell, Blakey and Donaldson. It is a pacy outing with a fluent alto solo from Coleman. Jimmy Smith signals the end of this with what Ira Gitler’s original sleeve notes liken to a musical buzzer. He later becomes increasingly insistent that Morgan should end his solo but Morgan is in full flow and wisely ignores a full four blasts to offer another fine chorus. McFadden’s guitar picking is deft and delightful before the session leader duly takes the last solo.

Flamingo is from the February 1958 session, although Brooks and Donaldson sit out. It starts with a beautiful statement of the theme on Morgan’s trumpet before it is swapped to Burrell and then taken back again. There’s a sense of smoochy luxuriance here- the sort of ballad that you have to be in the right sort of mood for and a bit too MOR for some ears. It was written in 1940 by Ted Grouya and Edmund Anderson, with Duke Ellington as an early performer before Earl Bostic too it to the top of the R&B charts in 1951. Miles Davis would have done it differently and played half as many notes but Morgan’s own greatness shines through.

I’ve struggled with this review, which suggests that I don’t regard this as the essential Jimmy Smith set that the newcomer should seek out immediately. However, it does have its charms and delights.

With a writing block dispensed with, I’m away out of the traps again with lots of ideas about what is to follow. Thanks for visiting downwithit.info

The band etc:- Jimmy Smith (Hammond organ); Tina Brooks (tenor sax); George Coleman (alto sax); Lou Donaldson (alto sax); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Eddie McFadden (guitar); Art Blakey (drums); Donald Bailey (drums). Recorded 25 August 1957 and February 25 1958. Produced: Al Lion; Manhattan Towers, New York City. Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note BLP 4011.

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True Blue: Tina Brooks

Tina Brooks True Blue

I’m surprised that I have not written about True Blue before now. My recent acquisition of an excellent Music Matters copy on vinyl presents me with an opportunity to put that right though.

In 2001 in Blue Note Records: The Biography, Richard Cook wrote: ‘This is one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Blue Note catalogue.’ Thankfully, diligent work from Michael Cuscuna and a series of reissues has made this gem readily available.

Tina Brooks was one of a select group of female artists who played on the New York scene and were recorded by Blue Note.

No he wasn’t! His actual name was Harold and Tina was a childhood nickname, deriving from ‘tiny’ or ‘teeny’. Although he recorded four self-led sessions with Blue Note between 1958 and 1961, True Blue was the only recording issued with him as leader in his lifetime. He played on notable sessions with Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell but it has been suggested that, with a reserved and shy demeanour, he didn’t push his own case sufficiently well with Blue Note for the label to issue strong sets including Minor Move and Back to The Tracks (which are both in my collection). He never recorded again after 1961 and played local gigs in The Bronx. TB died in obscurity in 1974 after a life marred by drug-related illness. He was a contender who, perhaps, could have been a king. There’s a piece entitled ‘Who killed Tina Brooks’ which you can find if you want to know more- but I’ve not linked to it here as those in the know have suggested that it is unjust in its criticism of TB’s treatment by Blue Note.

Good Old Soul is the first of five Tina Brooks compositions here. It has a slinky feel about it and an extended solo from TB which shows his command of his tenor. A 22 year old Freddie Hubbard is also on fine form here too, as is Duke Jordan on piano.

Up Tight’s Creek bops and bustles along and after a bright trumpet solo from Hubbard, features a fluent tenor contribution. Duke Jordan’s piano is also worth pausing to listen to.

Theme for Doris is a mid-paced piece that is pleasing and again showcases TB’s inventiveness as a soloist.

True Blue opens the second side of the set. To these ears there’s something that conjures images of Sixties city architecture, all concrete, glass and straight lines- in the most unlikely event that I produce a TV documentary about The Barbican, you now know part of the soundtrack. What do you think (courtesy of YouTube)?

To play touch or click on the arrow

Miss Hazel is a conventional hard bop piece with another flowing tenor solo followed by Hubbard and Jordan.

Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You is the only standard tune here. Written by Jack Segal and Marvin Fisher, it had been a hit for Nat King Cole in 1956.

There is a collection of Tina Brooks complete works available on Mosaic. When compiling this Michael Cuscuna went to Freddie Hubbard, whose career had flourished. His memories of Tina Brooks were warm ones and he recalled TB’s talent and strengths as a musician.

The sound quality of the Music Matters pressing of True Blue is excellent on my Rega RP6/Naim/Spendor system. If you don’t have any of his recordings you should consider seeking some out. True Blue particularly benefits from working as a showcase for TB’s musicianship and compositional skills. It is an album where the tunes fit well together and has a greater sense of unity than some Blue Note sessions where the artist seems to want to cover too much ground by including a distracting variety of styles. Often a straight ahead tune will be followed by a snippet of Bossa, a sprinkle of standard and a slice of ballad with the sum total lacking a true centre. That’s not the case here though.

The RVG series CD has alternate takes of True Blue and Good Old Soul from the same session. The version of True Blue which omits the piano for the first eight bars of the intro is of particular interest.

The band etc: Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone); Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Duke Jordan (piano); Sam Jones (bass); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 25 June 1960. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 84041.

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The Gigolo: Lee Morgan

Gigolo Lee Morgan

It’s a warm spring evening and the new ‘downwithit Lounge’ in Hoxditch Hill is about to open for business. You know the sort of place and area. No children or old people (over 25s) for miles, hard won full beards will have to be shaved off by mid-April 2015 because they’ve been spotted in the provinces (Highgate and Deptford), the only pets allowed are pugs- specially dressed for the occasion and the door password is ‘Beyond Ice Cool’.
A conversation takes place which goes something like this:-
“Hey DJ, I’m opening the doors. Let’s have something to pack our clientele in!”
“OK boss. What’s it to be?”
“Hit ’em hard with the first track on this set, ‘Yes I Can. No You Can’t’ and guests and good times will surely follow.”

Have a listen to the original on YouTube.

To play, click or touch the arrow

So here we go, back to 1965, a shade under 50 years ago. Lee’s flying high and there’s a young lad on piano, one Harold Mabern Jr. On this opener he’s playing soul Jazz at a very high level. If you like this vibe and don’t already possess this recording, kick yourself and get out and get it. By the way, right here and right now in April 2015, Harry is just releasing a new album (Afro Blue), live from Smoke in NYC and featuring some young vocalists including Gregory Porter and Norah Jones

Next up, and the mythical downwithit Lounge has got ’em in and they are Trapped by the music. This is a Wayne Shorter composition. Didn’t I tell that Wayne’s on tenor saxophone duties on this set. Well, he is!

Speedball, a tune that remained as a staple within Lee Morgan’s repertoire, makes its first appearance here. It’s a fine hard bop tune. The band is really tight and Lee is at his very best.

Title track, The Gigolo, is a fast heady Jazz waltz tune- although perhaps my understanding of the time signature is mistaken. It is exciting and enjoyable with a worthy contribution from Wayne Shorter.

The album closes with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Actually, that’s not true, it is You Go To My Head – but there is a link and your starter for 500 in any quiz. The link is that both songs were written by Coots and Gillespie. Morgan’s take here is wonderful, pure caberetsville and is probably recorded because Bill Evans and Freddie Hubbard cut a well-regarded version in 1962 (thanks to Ted Gioia‘s magisterial The Jazz Standards for this snippet).

Every so often a little research around a review reveals an interesting sidetrack to explore. Although Blue Note covers are generally strong and visually appealing, especially if Reid Miles and Francis Wolff were involved, this one isn’t particularly wonderful. The tight cropping of a picture of Morgan playing his trumpet provides us with an engaging image with a classic rule of thirds leading our eyes to Morgan’s embouchure- but I’m not at all keen on the use of full colour for the final print. Black and white or an overlay of a single colour over the image worked well on numerous classic Blue Note sleeves, especially when coupled with well-chosen typefaces. The later designs, using a colour picture of the artist or, of a model seem to me to be less powerful and following the retirement of Alfred Lion as a producer and the sale of Blue Note to Liberty, Reid Miles design work association with the label ended.

Incidentally, Wikipedia records that:- Miles wasn’t particularly interested in jazz, professing to have much more of an interest in classical music; he received several copies of each Blue Note album he designed but gave most of them to friends or sold them to used record shops. Miles used the descriptions of the sessions relayed to him by producer Alfred Lion to create the artwork.

This album cover was designed by Forlenza Venosa Associates, who went on to deliver over 50 covers. They are typified by full colour pictures featuring the artist or a model and are often rather boring head and shoulder shots, in my opinion. The late Robert Venosa went on to work as a successful member of the Fantastic Realism school of artists and apparently his pictures are represented in major museum collections and in the private collections of ‘…rock stars and European aristocracy.’ I don’t covet any of them. He also designed Santana’s Abraxas album cover, although he was not responsible for the cover painting.

The Gigolo is well worthy of your attention, despite the cover. If you see a copy, get it. You are unlikely to be disappointed. Lee Morgan and the band are in great form. Nat Hentoff summed it up in the original sleeve notes, writing: ‘It’s the kind of set you know- by the way you feel- will never be dated.’ The CD copy has a slightly longer alternate take of title track as a bonus.

S.Mos delivered a mash up version and mixed in Tupac Shakur. There’s a link here for your enjoyment. It’s a bit 2011 for downwithits Hoxditch Hill lounge, but you may enjoy it. The bass is more to the fore on this one.

To play, click or touch the arrow

The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Wayne Shorter (tenor sax); Harold Mabern (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded: June 25 and July 1 1965. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Forlenza Venosa Associates. Issued as Blue Note 84212.

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An update: Down With It!: The Blue Mitchell Quintet.

No prizes for guessing that my first post here at downwithit.info in September 2013 took a look at the Blue Mitchell set entitled… …Down With It! You can read what I thought about this fine set here.

Shortly after writing the post I bought what at the time I thought was an original first stereo pressing of the LP. It didn’t break the bank and I was a little dissatisfied with the sound quality. It was good but I was expecting a lot more. Then a little research confirmed that what I had was indeed an early issue- but not a first pressing. There was no Plastylite ‘ear’ for a start. I was disappointed but determined to obtain a good quality mono first pressing without paying silly money.

Over the last year or so I’ve bid for a number of copies on eBay, without success. I took another look on New Year’s Day, not particularly expecting to find what I wanted.

Oh me of little faith! I was wrong. An American dealer was auctioning a copy which he advertised as a conservatively graded VG+/Ex stereo copy, but which clearly had the mono serial number (BLP 4214, not the BST 84214 that a stereo copy would have on the label) in the accompanying photo. Everything else indicted that this was the first pressing that I was after.

The entry price was moderate and the cover was fully intact but a bit discoloured (I’d grade it as VG).

I was successful and paid well under the not over-large sum that I had set my snipe at. It arrived today and I’m delighted. It has all of the presence and clarity that I’d hoped for first time round and an independent listener confirmed in a blind test that it sounded better than my stereo copy. Indeed, things may get even better as it is off to the vinyl shop for a spin on their high-quality disc washing machine tomorrow.

So there’s much rejoicing tonight in the land of downwithit.info and as there’s currently a version of the excellent Hi-Heel Sneakers from the set on youtube (courtesy of Antonio Jiminez) you can have a listen (until it gets removed from youtube again):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAoLPw-Fh0c

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

I really should add that March On Selma and Alone, Alone and Alone are superb tracks which you really should make time to listen to.

In 2014 I took a look at 26 classic Jazz albums. There’s a shortcut to a summary page here.

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Blue Spirits: Freddie Hubbard

Blue Spirits Freddie Hubbard

Recorded over two sessions in early 1965 and on CD supplemented by a further two tracks from early 1966, Blue Spirits was Freddie Hubbard’s last studio release on Blue Note and it wasn’t an album that I had come across very often in the shops. However, some good came out of a trip to a football match in Manchester, when I picked this up at Vinyl Exchange.

It then languished unplayed and neglected in my workbag until Christmas. This was a mistake as it is a very fine album. Without further ado, take a listen to the opening track, Soul Surge from YouTube, courtesy of Rogerjazzfan.

To play touch or click on the arrow

There’s a division in fans of Blue Note between those who enjoy Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder and those who speak dismissively of the number of similar tracks that opened subsequent albums by a host of other artists in the hope that they could replicate its success. Soul Surge is one of those tracks, but it is a wonderful piece of music in its own right. Indeed it is one of those pieces that should probably have gained standard’ status but never quite made it. Harold Mabern on piano and Joe Henderson make their mark and conga drummer, Big Black combines delightfully with bassist Larry Ridley.

The same lineup play on the fourth track, Cunga Black. This has a Latin feel and Hubbard stated that he was looking for a dark sound, although I wouldn’t characterise it with that quality.

The second session from late February 1965 yielded the title track, Blue Spirits, which seems to open like a subdued version of Silent Night, before lightening up with the introduction of James Spaulding on flute.

Outer Forces strikes on with a lively feel and pace, while Jodo (‘pure land’ in Japanese) also swings along in a funky way. All fit well with the two tracks from earlier in the month, despite a change of rhythm section and tenor saxophonist with Hank Mobley sitting in here.

The original vinyl release was made up of the five tracks above. However the CD offers a further two tracks from a session in early March 1966, where Joe Henderson returns on tenor, with pianist, Herbie Hancock and Elvin Jones, joined by Reggie Workman on bass and the lesser known Hosea Taylor (alto sax and bassoon). The Melting Pot is more of a modal piece than its predecessors from the previous year. True Colors has a freer, more experimental feel, especially in the solos, and interesting use is made of Hancock’s celeste and it is very different from the rest of the CD. However, both tracks retain a strong sense of cohesion and, in the playing is restrained and confined to the normal range of each instrument.

Bob Blumenthal’s notes accompanying the RVG CD release state: ‘While often overlooked, Blue Spirits is one of the greatest albums in Freddie Hubbard’s voluminous discography.’
It is an album that I’m enjoying very much and one on which the talents of an array of great Blue Note artists are deployed in a wondrous way. All in all, yet another fantastic Blue Note set that is well worth tracking down.

The band etc:-
19 February 1965: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); James Spaulding (alto sax & flute); Joe Henderson (tenor sax); Kiane Zawadi (euphonium); Harold Mabern (piano); Larry Ridley (bass); Clifford Jarvis (drums); Big Black (congas). On: Soul Surge & Cunga Black (tracks 1 & 4)
26 February 1965: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); James Spaulding (alto sax & flute); Hank Mobley (tenor sax); Kiane Zawadi (euphonium); McCoy Tyner (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Pete La Roca (drums). On: Blue Spirits, Outer Forces, Jodo (tracks 2-5)
5 March 1966: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Joe Henderson (tenor sax); Hosea Taylor (alto sax & bassoon); Herbie Hancock (piano, celeste); Reggie Workman (bass); Elvin Jones (drums). On: The Melting Pot, True Colors (tracks 6-7)
Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 19, 26 February and 5 March 1966. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Design Reid Miles. Tracks 1-5 Originally issued as Blue Note BST 84196

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Classic Albums on downwithit.info in 2014

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Happy New Year to all visitors, new and old. Here’s my 100th post on downwithit.

I still have an unfinished task from 2014 which is to look back at all the classic sets that I reviewed here in 2014. By classic I mean anything other than a new release so there are one or two sets from the present millennium included here. A quick count indicates that I wrote about 26 of these albums in 2014, so I think I can conclude that I wasn’t idle, especially given that I also wrote about a number of contemporary sets and offered up some live reviews.

What follows may be a bit of a trudge through a list, but I have linked to all the reviews and if any catch your interest, please click and take a look.

On NYD 2014 I started with a bang by taking a look at John Coltrane’s Blue Train, one of my all-time favorites that I urged everyone to obtain and listen to if they hadn’t done so already.

This was followed up by Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and a track that inspired numerous imitations.

My January postings dipped into dinner jazz in the form of Grover Washington Jr’s All The King’s Horses and British hard bop from the 1980’s UK jazz revival via Tommy Chase and Groove Merchant.

Thoughts of Tommy Chase led downwithit.info into fresh territory and I decided to devote some time to exploring the current scene, which was something that I really enjoyed during the course of 2014. If you want a recap of the newly released albums that I reviewed last year, they can be found here and my trawl of live performances is referred to here. I’m not sure if my ramblings have encouraged the purchase of a single album or attendance at any gigs but if they have, please leave a comment and let me know.

I wrote five reviews in February 2014 opening with Horace Parlan’s piano trio set Movin’ And Groovin’. I followed this up with Johnny Griffin’s Big Soul Band. I wavered about posting on that one because I thought that it was something of a departure from the classic small band context and that it would not fit- but it seemed to be OK and remains a popular review according to my stats.

Fred Jackson’s great Hootin”N Tootin’ was next up. At the time, I checked Wikipedia which did not give a date of death. Hopefully Fred still is with us and is enjoying a peaceful retirement at the grand age of 85 years old. If anybody knows more, please tell us.

A further less well-known Blue Note set, John Jenkins With Kenny Burrell was placed in the spotlight, before I took a look at Thembi by my favourite living saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders.

March 2014 saw me take an overdue look at Yusef Lateef (more to come in 2015) and Jazz Mood, his first set as a leader from 1957. The Cats, a fine session featuring John Coltrane followed and I made my first visit to a Grant Green recording on these pages with Grant’s First Stand.

In April, I brought news a a real gem: Heavy Sounds by Elvin Jones and Richard Davis, another set to listen to even if you have to beg steal or borrow. A slow journey north up the motorway system led me to grapple with Bobby Hutcherson’s Happenings. The same trip north gave me time to take a look at The Hot Club Of San Francisco’s Veronica and I got hold of a copy of Jimmy Smith’s lacklustre a less then incredible Softly As A Summer Breeze.

In May Sonny Clark’s Sonny Clark Trio was followed by another Sonny in the form of Sonny Rollins On Impulse, which sounds like a compilation album but isn’t. Later in the month, my local second-hand record store yielded up a copy of John Coltrane’s Ole.

I took another look at Grant Green with his lesser known Iron City, featuring a strong version of Hi-Heeled Sneakers, before returning to Blue Note and Harold Vick’s Steppin’ Out and later in September with Joe Henderson and Inner Urge.

I took the view that Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand’s Duet was slightly spoiled by Shepp’s poor sax technique on a couple of tracks, but I enjoyed Hank Mobley’s great Roll Call, Grant Green’s Green Street and Freddie Hubbard’s Ready For Freddie.

2014 was the year in which a bit of research yielded some more answers about Freddie Roach’s later years and I shelled out for a first pressing of All That’s Good which turned out to be much better than a shocking review suggested it would be.

I’ve already got a the first few reviews for 2015 in mind, so please come back soon and see what I’ve been listening to and remember that comments are most welcome.

One New Year’s Resolution– the quality of the photography at downwithit must improve. No excuses!

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Green Street: Grant Green

Green Street features Blue Note guitarist Green with just bass and drums in support and nowhere to hide. He doesn’t need to. It is a great performance, stripped down to basics, without anything that is remotely superfluous.

This early album, from 1961, was Grant Green’s second release on Blue Note, recorded just two months after Grant’s First Stand. The opener, entitled, naturally, Number 1 Green Street swings out with Green’s strong bluesy lines, which confirms that lead lines played with crisp precision by horn players were a major influence.

Monk’s Round Midnight was a track that everybody wanted to hear in 1961 and this version does not disappoint. I’m well aware that there are many collectors who have a strong preference for mono recordings. However, for my money, the stereo version of this track on a good stereo system is wonderful. My version is a high quality WAV file ripped to a Naim UnitiServe from the 2002 24 bit Blue Note RVG series remaster. I’ll be delighted and surprised if I ever hear the original vinyl first pressing over a system that sounds better.

Grant’s Dimensions is next up. Although based on a blues form, GG plays around with the structure and produces his own distinctive composition, with a perfectly crafted contribution from Tucker on bass. Take a listen now, courtesy of YouTube.

To play click on or touch the arrow

Green With Envy has a short sequence where Green plays the same note repeatedly, to the point where the listener begins to think that the track is stuck.

It isn’t.

Alone Together, is jazz standard, composed by silent film accompanists, turned lawyer, turned marketing exec, finally turned mega-successful composer, Arthur Schwarz. It has a teasing, slinky vibe to it and in the hands of many becomes dark and sombre, although these qualities don’t spring to mind on hearing GG’s treatment.

The RVG Edition CD has two bonus alternate takes of the two last two tracks.

The original sleeve notes were written by no lesser commentator than Leonard Feather.
It’s fair to say that Len was a fan of the early GG as he wrote:-
“Superlative piled on superlative can build a dangerously precipitous mountain. After you have hailed the most brilliant new this and the most remarkable new that, what words do you have left when a Grant Green comes along.”
Well called, Leonard!.

So pour a large glass of something you like, dim the lights, take some ‘me time’ and enjoy. Green Street is a great album from a guitarist with a fine discography. If you see it, grab yourself a copy.

The band etc.: Grant Green (guitar); ben Taylor (bass); Dave Bailey (drums). Recorded: 1 April 1961. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Sleeve notes: Leonard Feather. Originally issued as Blue Note BST 84071.

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Flying The Jazz Flag at Macc Record Club. November 2014

Macclesfield Record Club was in session for its third meet-up last night. Held in the upstairs bar of Mash, a stylish, quirky bar that would not be out of place in Shoreditch or Manchester’s Northern Quarter, the second Wednesday of each month offers a cornucopia of vinyl.

You know how it is. You may just have bought an amazing box set reissue of the life’s work of a critically acclaimed African musician and producer, William Onyeabor; you may select a couple of favourites from Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson; movie soundtracks might be your thing; you are a DJ who wants people to hear a potential floor filler; you might want to put metal against your fellow listeners mettle with some light satanic death thrash, while the deservedly obscure Flexi Sex might be something that just has to be played. All of these things and more were there last night.

The album of the evening, chosen through a pre-meet internet ballot and played in full was Bowie’s Hunky Dory. Discussion ranged widely over what were considered by those present to be his best recordings, without any final consensus. I’m not sure if it was the first pressing on UK RCA that was lacking in a bit of punch or whether the volume was a bit low, but after a while, it did start to sound a bit backgroundy in this context (although it’s up there with Bowie’s best for my money).

As for me, I’m the guy who fights from the Jazz corner. So much to choose from, so many potential barriers to overcome. Although there was a temptation to turn up with Albert Ayler’s Truth Is Marching In, I resisted exposing my fellow listeners to the glories of the free extremes of the Impulse label.

My first track was designed to grab the attention with some hard-edged, soul flavoured saxophone and guitar. Don Wilkerson was called on and you can hear Camp Meeting right here.

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

My own copy isn’t a brilliant pressing (French Liberty) but it still sounded OK. I expect near-mint original first pressings are rare and extremely expensive, but I live in hope.

Attendees like to hear a little about the recording before the stylus graces the groove and my temptation to say a little about Freddie Roach accompanied the title track from his Brown Sugar, presented here for your delectation:

Freddie Roach wrote in 1964, in his self-penned sleevenotes:

I decided to do show soul tunes: Brown Sugar was written with this in mind. I really pictured the dancers in my head. I saw them as they danced the twist to the first twelve bars. Then switching to the Bop for the second twelve and eight bar turnback. Then back to the twist. I could see them so plainly that instead of saying ‘One More Time” at the end, I say “Now where you think you’re going girl” because I can see the girls heading back to their seats.”

I took a look at Brown Sugar here in December 2013. Joe Henderson on tenor sax and the great Grant Green on guitar really soar. My own copy is the Blue Note mono first pressing and a beast with great presence it is too, standing sonically alongside the punchiest 12 inch singles that were played tonight. Hats off to Rudy Van Gelder at the controls. I’m confident that my excursion to the Boogaloo Baptist part of the Blue Note spectrum won the label several new friends in the Castle Quarter of Macclesfield.

I can’t praise Macc Record Club too highly, offering as it does, the opportunity to listen to music that perhaps you wouldn’t normally consider listening to. Hosts Nick and Simon have wisely, in my view, limited themselves to an entry level music system, as they don’t want to introduce hifi eliteism. However, their move from a Rega RP1 turntable with basic cartridge to a more advanced Project / Ortofon Red cartridge arrangement next month will be interesting. Those Christmas carols and festive beats will be displayed at great advantage.

If you like the concept of what you just read about, why not do it yourself and start your own Record Club right there in your own locality. You can visit Macclesfield Record Club’s Facebook pages here.

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Ready For Freddie: Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard Ready For Freddie cover

I haven’t yet taken a look at a Freddie Hubbard recording here, so its time to put that right, as I’m the proud owner of a number of his sets. Although Miles Davis casts a massive shadow over modern jazz trumpet, it is really refreshing to hear others who have also made the instrument their own. By the time he recorded his fourth Blue Note set as leader, dues had been paid and Freddie Hubbard had the freedom to be creative. That certainly shows on this set. There’s a definite sound of excitement and a willingness to strive for something new. Even over 50 years since Ready For Freddie was recorded, Hubbard’s quest to deliver something that excites rings through.

At the time of recording Ready For Freddie, Hubbard had just been in the studio with John Coltrane, playing on Ole which I wrote about here. He cites his aspiration to follow in the exemplary saxophonist’s footsteps and Elvin Jones, and McCoy Tyner at the heart of the rhythm section, joined by Art Davis, who had also played a second double bass on the Ole session.

Arietis is a lively uptempo number, still hard bop but a tune that’s striving towards something else. The euphonium adds a bit of variety with an unexpected quality to its voicing. The YouTube clip is courtesy of Roger rogerjazzfan:-

To play click on or touch the arrow.

Victor Young and Jack Elliot’s Weaver Of Dreams is a sensitive ballad. Surprisingly, Young the composer was on a Bolshevik death list in revolutionary Russia but escaped (see bottom of this piece) to write ‘When I Fall In Love’, work as Bing Crosby’s musical director, win 22 Academy Awards and an Oscar for his work on movie scores (sounds like a story I should be writing a screenplay of- but, sadly, I don’t suppose I will).

Marie Antoinette is a Wayne Shorter composition, apparently so titled because the tune made him think of the carefree life of the Queen before the revolution, when the axe fell. Let ’em eat cake! Its a mid-tempo piece and a pleasant listen.

Birdlike opens the second side of the original LP version of this recording and it is a tribute to Charlie Parker. Crisis is informed by the global Cold War tensions that were current, coming, in the words of sleeve note writer Hentoff: “…from Freddie’s desire to express in music some of the spiralling tension of all our lives under the growing shadow of the bomb.” This is accomplished through the contrast between the first 12 bars of each 16 bar section with the music ‘exploding’ in the last four bars- or that’s the theory as the explosions are still relatively polite.

The CD version contains the bonus of alternative takes on Arietis and Marie Antoinette.

The band etc:- Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Bernard McKinney (euphonium); Wayne Shorter (tenor sax); McCoy Tyner (piano); Art Davis (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 21 August 1961. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Originally issued as Blue Note BLP 4085 & BST 84085

Although born in the United States in 1900, Victor Young was a musical prodigy and went to stay in Warsaw with his grandfather when aged 10. His wikipedia entry takes things up:- Playing before Russian generals and nobles, while in Warsaw, he was later introduced to Czar Nicholas in St. Petersburg, and his playing so impressed the Czar that he presented him with many gifts but the revolution cut short his success in Russia. Having been connected with the court of the Czar, the Bolsheviks deemed it advisable to get rid of him, and it is only by a miracle that he escaped death, for he was already sentenced to die. After a long and tiresome escapade, he succeeded in reaching Warsaw, then Paris, and from there to the United States.

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