Category Archives: Hammond Organ

A Man With A Horn: Lou Donaldson

2017 has dawned. The World is still spinning. I’m delighted to declare that after an abstemious Festive Season, my head isn’t. So, Happy New Year everybody and let’s hope it turns out to be much less ‘interesting’ (in the sense of the Chinese curse) than 2016. Here’s a fresh post to get matters underway at downwithit.

Over the last two months A Man With a Horn has been the most played album on my system and it has led me to an even greater respect for Lou Donaldson.

It is not one of Donaldson’s better-known albums, mainly because it was not released in the early sixties. The two sessions that make up this recording were from 1961 and 1963 and they remained in the vaults until 1999. It was over 35 years before they were dusted down as part of the Blue Note Connoisseur CD series, a conduit for rare and previously unissued material. As far as I am aware, this set has never been issued on vinyl but that does not mean it should not merit attention.

Both sessions featured guitarist Grant Green who was encouraged to move to New York and introduced to the Blue Note label by Donaldson. The earlier session utilises Jack McDuff on Hammond organ in a rare Blue Note outing, whilst John Patton, another Donaldson protege, plays the keyboard on the 1963 date. McDuff is used as an accompaniest, playing understated swirling chords on the five ballads from ’61, while John Patton is given more space to solo.

The CD alternates between songs from each of the sessions and I have marked 1961 tunes with a single asterix (*) and 1963 with double asterixes (**). I initially wondered why the set had been sequenced in this way. I eventually grouped and played through the tracks in the two discrete sessions. This leads me to the conclusion that while the 1961 session, which consists of mellifluous ballads is strong, the tunes benefit from being interspersed with the more uptempo offerings from 1963. As presented there is the variety and texture to turn this CD into a more rewarding listening experience.

The Errol Garner standard Misty* is given a lush rendition as opener. The purity of tone from Lou Donaldson’s alto sax is exceptional and is well-matched by the sensitive contributions from the other three musicians, especially Grant Green. It is currently on Youtube courtesy of Zateuz and you can watch here:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Hipity Hop** starts off in the manner of a 1950’s swing tune before John Patton plays an incredible solo starting with a Morse code like trill held for a full 24 bars. It certainly catches the attention. This Donaldson composition is an uptempo and funky toe-tapper and he plays an assertive and exemplary alto sax solo before Grant Green and Patton contribute to a rich confection flavoured by Irvin Stoke’s wah-wah muted trumpet.

It is then back to 1961 for Please*, a second delicate romantic ballad on which all four musicians acquit themselves well.

On My Melancholy Baby** Lou Donaldson builds on riffs that owe much to Charlie Parker’s school of soloing, with an engaging contribution delivered from the trumpet of Stokes.

Man With A Horn* features more delectable and sensitive playing from the 1961 quartet in a track that is a bit of a smoocher.

Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White** is delivered over a playful cha cha rhythm and contains a solid portion of Grant Green’s ever-tasteful guitar.

Prisoner Of Love* is a standard which was in the charts courtesy of James Brown and The Famous Flames (If still on YouTube this is too good to miss) when this was recorded.

Then it is off to the church of funk with Soul Meetin’**, the second Donaldson composition here and one of those great finger-snapping ‘Baptist Beat’ numbers. I’m very fond of them when they occasionally appear on Blue Note sets. As a New Year bonus this is the second YouTube post courtesy of The Nada73

To play, touch or click on the arrow

The set closes with Star Dust*, a fifth ballad that maintains the high standards of the other four. In his excellent and informative ‘The Jazz Standards’ Ted Gioia refers to it as’…the song to which their parents and grandparents courted, romanced and wed’ and traces the history of this formally much-loved song which is slowly fading into obscurity (in the way of all things).

If you come across this set on CD (and it is relatively rare) don’t hesitate to purchase it as it captures Lou Donaldson playing on the ballads with a very clear and intense tone and also includes a good balance of more uptempo tunes from the 1963 date. Grant Green is on great form, as is John Patton on this very worthwhile jewel from the vaults.

The band etc: Tracks marked * Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); Jack McDuff (organ); Joe Dukes (drums). Recorded: 25 September 1961
Tracks marked ** Irvin Stokes (trumpet); Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 7 June 1963.
Both session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ed Hamilton. Cover design: Patrick Roques. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 21436.

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Whatever happened to Freddie Roach?

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Here at downwithit.info I’ve always attempted to explode the notion that ‘jazz’ is music that listeners have to have a special understanding of before they can listen to it. It is most definitely not the case that the music is a monolithic block that you have to either fully appreciate or fully reject. You don’t have to devote yourself to the study of music and artist biographies to actually listen and decide whether you like or dislike what you hear. How you respond is up to you, the listener.

Alongside this great tide of music, however, there are lots of interesting anecdotes and stories that deserve to be known about. I wanted to learn more about Freddie Roach because it seemed that there was a risk that a remarkable man was slowly being forgotten. It was an unsatisfactory biography that set me off down the track.

As of February 2014, Freddie Roach’s Wikipedia entry still stated that, after abandoning his recording career at the end of the 1960’s, he had moved to France and was never heard of again.

This left me wondering how a recording artist of Freddie Roach’s stature could disappear, seemingly without trace, and I set out to try to find the answer. You can read about some of the information that I uncovered in my posts about FR’s work.

My internet searches led me to several places on both sides of the Atlantic. I followed a promising lead about a mystery Hammond organist, which took me to the South of France and Barcelona, before I learned that it was Lou Bennett and not FR.

The French link took us to The American Centre for Students and Artists in Paris and a 1974 performance which almost certainly featured our main man FR. You can read a little more about this information here.

My investigation returned to New Jersey, where FR had lived and I sought out information about FR’s band mates and local clubs in the hope of finding some answers. I found out that FR had a rehearsal space and studio theatre in his former home in Newark and Internet mapping and images enabled me to take a virtual walk through a neighbourhood that has now changed significantly.

Then, suddenly, the biggest breakthrough in my search happened. Somebody else had uncovered and reported the answer! Jazz broadcaster, podcaster and historian, Pete Fallico had spoken to friends of FR and had discovered that he had actually moved to California where he had suffered a fatal heart attack and died in 1980.

As Pete Fallico’s excellent piece (which he has kindly given me permission to publish here) explains, there was far more to say than that. It is with great pleasure that I have been able to publish downwithit’s first guest contributor. A mystery becomes less mysterious- what a way to start!

Earlier this week (in November 2016) there was more news. A fellow writer, the excellent Francois from FlophouseMagazine had kept his eye on the ball when mine had strayed. He informed me that Pete Fallico had recently posted a podcast which featured an interview with one of FR’s sons, Gregory Payton Roach. In an superb broadcast which runs for nearly an hour, Mr Roach graciously tells us about his father’s last years. Mr Roach confirms that FR spent time working in France and Japan before moving to California, where, by the time of his death he had established links with Smokey Robinson and others in the musical community.

I have also discovered that FR’s grandson has been in touch with downwithit recently and I will invite him to add any further information that he may be willing to share with us, provided he is willing to forgive my regrettably slow response to his message.

I’m delighted that I can inform readers of what I hope you will view as a more satisfactory account of the mysterious later years of Freddie Roach’s life, although the really hard work was completed by Pete Fallico and the willingness of Mr Roach to tell the nub of the story through the podcast.

In addition to the story as outlined above on this static page, I have posted the information above as a regular blog entry on 25 November 2016.

Perhaps one day there may be a reissue and overdue revaluation of Freddie Roach’s music or perhaps even more? For that we will have to wait, since, as Joe Strummer once said: ‘The future remains unwritten.’

To play us out, here’s a link to Freddie Roach playing One Track Mind from The Freddie Roach Soul Book set:-

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Evolution: Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr Lonnie Smith Evolution

Between 1968 and 1970 Blue Note released four albums by Hammond Organ master, Dr Lonnie Smith (a fifth was recorded in 1970 but remained in the can until 1995). Dr Smith plays in a funky style and after 46 years he is now recording on Blue Note again.

The new album Evolution, produced by label supremo, Don Was, is well worthy of attention. The sound reproduction is excellent and the material covered shows that there is life and many a good tune is still to be had from the hulking Hammond

Play It Back is deeply funky. The first Hammond notes are snarls played for effect. This is a long track with plenty of time and space for improvisation. Dr Smith plays very well here- in a very controlled and disciplined way. Some may have heard him play this track before on a Blue Note release, on his superb Jam Live At Club Mozambique set (recorded 1970 in but not released until 1995). That particular version contained a duet between tenor and baritone saxes, whereas Robert Glasper’s piano is to the fore here. Come to think of it, I can’t think of many tracks that have both piano and Hammond Organ played by two separate keyboardists, so if you know of any please let us know through the comments box below. There’s some fine trumpet from Keyon Harold here too.

For the first time, it’s been difficult to find a video clip to add to this post. I suspect Blue Note are being very protective of their new signing. We will have to settle for a brief trio rendition of this track recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in early 2016. I hope you enjoy it while it is here.

To play, either touch or click on the arrow.

Afrodesia. Joe Lovano plays a special 6″ mezzo soprano here. More wonderful trumpet, this time from Maurice Brown and there’s also tenor sax from John Ellis. This was the title track of a post-Blue Note album from the Doctor, although I’ve yet to get hold of a copy.

For Heaven’s Sake is a ballad with a solo played by Joe Lovano on a handmade wooden tenor saxophone, which has to be worth listening closely to as I’ve never heard of such an instrument before.

Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser needs little introduction and is well rendered.

Talk About This once again features some impressive trumpet from Brown and is funky with some streetsound style vocals.

My Favorite Things is given a novel and dramatic introduction that is really worth hearing. Played badly this number can sound very contrived but Smith freshens it up almost to the point of transformation.

African Suite is a jaunty tune which takes us off to an imagined landscape of rolling savannahs. It is a flute led whimsy which works for me and is seemingly a piece by a musician who is willing to drop his sense of cool in the pursuit of a piece that is fun. If you could imagine a lost Miles Davis recording of Peter and the Wolf you would be stretching credibility well beyond its breaking point but that would be the territory we are in here.

As to the be-turbaned Doctor Smith, the bio’s don’t give too much away (you can read his Wikipedia entry here). I felt compelled to turn to interviews to try to get some insight into the man responsible for the music. Once again there were no great insights other than to hear from a musician who loves his music and comes across as a thoughtful and gentle individual. When pushed he says that he regrets not having photos of his performances having good times with a good sprinkling of other great performers, but he says that at least he has the memories and that they are the most important thing.

All in all, Evolution is a newish album that should be bought and listened to. I’m quietly confident that this won”t disappoint.

The band etc: Dr Lonnie Smith (Hammond Organ); Robert Glasper (Piano- track 1); Jonathan Blake (Drums- all tracks- sole drummer on 4 & 6); Joe Dyson (Drums- tracks 1-3, 5 & 7); John Ellis (Tenor Saxophone, Flute (7) & Bass Clarinet (3)); Jonathan Kreisberg (Guitar); Maurice Brown (Trumpet- tracks 2 & 5); Keyon Harold (Trumpet- track 1); Joe Lovano (Wooden Tenor Saxophone- track2 & Mezzo Soprano Saxophone- track 3). Recorded: Systems Two Recording Stdio, Brooklyn. Produced: Don Was. Mastered: Ron McMaster. Cover design Mike Joyce , Stereotype Design. Cover photos: Matthew Bitton. Released February 2016. Blue Note.

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Good Gracious: Lou Donaldson

Good Gracious Lou Donaldson cover

Stuff happens and time has flown by since the last post on downwithit.info but it is anticipated that the site will benefit from more frequent updates from now on. I’ll kick off, on the first day of August 2015, with a quick look at this relatively straightforward set from Lou Donaldson. At 18.30 on 1st August 2015, just under two years after starting downwithit.info, I’ve finally received 10,000 visits to the site, so I’ll drink to that later.

I haven’t posted about one of Lou’s albums before, mainly because I’m not the greatest fan of alto sax. Without trotting out a whole series of prejudices, suffice to say that my introduction to playing tenor sax was in a Jazz workshop where all the other sax players were on alto and the tunes that we were handed were frequently Charlie Parker classics, most of which start with fast and fluent phrases, requiring the altoist to play with both alacrity and dexterity. Of course, they were in the key of E Flat and since tenor is in the key of B Flat and my transposing skills were poor, I was onto a loser (or a very steep learning curve, if you like) from the b of the bang.

Couple my own nonsense with the standard response to Lou Donaldson, which is that his music is generally light, unsophisticated with little technical adventurousness and there is a case explaining why I’ve not given his recordings much of a listen. However, over the next year or so, I will attempt to give him a fair hearing.

Donaldson joined the New York jazz scene in the late 1940’s. Although his love of blues and pre-bop stylings was never lost and was to serve him well throughout his career, Charlie Parker was a very strong influence. He played alongside his idol and had many conversations about music with him. He is quoted in Kenny Mathieson’s ‘Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65′ as saying: “He made a big, big impression on me, at least in a musical sense”. His next statement, a sober comment on Parker’s heroin addiction, suggests that he successfully avoided the then common fallacy that abuse of narcotics was what gave Parker his edge as a musician and the route to be followed if he was to be emulated.

Joe Goldberg’s sleeve notes offer some explanation of the musical course that Donaldson was charting at this stage. He notes the importance of the club circuit ‘… where patrons are laughing, talking, drinking; enjoying themselves rather than listening to the music with solemnly exclusive attention.’ He then says that Donaldson has attempted to offer something different in the social lounge setting: ‘His playing evidences more reserve and control than the emotion-dispensers whose honking and shrieking has tended to label anyone who works in this format.’ So LD was seeking the middle ground between the club and the concert hall and perhaps that captures the dilemma. By being neither in one genre or the other, he is easy for the critic to pass over ((for example Richard Cook barely mentioned this stage of LD’s career in ‘Blue Note Records: The Biography’). LD, however, was candid in his view that he was happy with regular live work and steady album sales and that he had not wish to be a starving, though unheard and unrewarded, cutting-edge genius.

Good Gracious was recorded on 24 January 1963. It finds Lou Donaldson presiding on alto over a trio of Hammond organ, guitar and drums, featuring early appearances in the careers of Patton and Green, who, as well we know were to become Blue Note stalwarts.

Bad John sets a bright opening fast blues tempo. Although Donaldson starts off with a light intro, the piece becomes a vehicle for first, John Patton on Hammond and then Grant Green’s guitar. Lou’s own solo is fluent, yet unchallenging, though easy on the ear.

The sanctified organ on the slow gospel blues The Holy Ghost takes us off to the land where it is perpetually Sunday morning. Lou’s alto sound here is melodic, shading towards the saccharine.

Cherry, a Don Redman tune harks back to an earlier era of 30’s swing and Donaldson’s solo quotes but does not launch into detailed exploration of a series of bebop phrases.

Caracas is, as the name suggests, a nod to bossa nova. LD had recorded an earlier version, years earlier, in the mid-50s during his well-regarded sextet date with Kenny Dorham and Art Blakey from 1954. I’m not familiar with that incarnation, yet, so I can’t currently comment on it.

Good Gracious is finger-snapping jump jazz featuring some gorgeous guitar from Grant Green. If ever a tune was calling out for a blistering solo from a saxophonist, this is one. LD’s is fast and fluid but again a little thin on excitement. What do you think?

Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me, a ballad made famous as part of Billy Holliday’s songbook and written by Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler (incidentally, Koehler wrote the lyrics to the great standard song, Stormy Weather). Once again, Grant Green takes a memorable solo, played with exquisite restraint that is matched by Lou Donaldson’s own contribution.

As our quick tour through Good Gracious has shown, the set is one of those Blue Notes which attempts to cover all bases and on a cursory listen fails to impress as it shifts from juke box to standard to Bossa to ballad, although the six tracks do include four LD original compositions. Despite that it is an album which you may consider to repay a little extended listening, in which the variety it offers eventually becomes a virtue. That said, it is probably one for the seasoned collector rather than a stand-alone purchase for somebody new to the genre. As I’ve said above, well return to consider other Lou Donaldson sets in the not too distant future.

Cover photography was by Ronnie Braithwaite, brother of Strich specialist George Braith. Some will view it as an image, which is inexcusably sexist, while others may chose to interpret it differently. While a full consideration of its semiotics would perhaps be of interest, I’ve got to get this blog post out now and I’ll not offer up my tuppence worth now.

The band etc: Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 23 January 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Joe Goldberg. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Model: Rose Nelmes (Grandasssa Models). Issued as Blue Note 84125.

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Got A Good Thing Goin’: Big John Patton

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After the disappointment of the last recording I reviewed, I turned a sure-fire winner with this 1966 sixth set as leader from Big John Patton. With five of these first six already in my collection, surprisingly, it has taken me some time to write about one of them.

With support from Grant Green’s guitar Hugh Walker’s drums and Richard Landrum’s congas, Got A Good Thing Goin’ is a soul jazz outing, based firmly on the blues.

The Yodel gets matters underway. I could see this track working very well as part of that DJ set in my mind. The cool dancer wearing sun shades on the cover shows us just what to do, the very image of a Soul Woman (London, Ready, Steady, Go! division).

I love Motown and Ain’t That Peculiar is one of countless tunes that gets my heart beating just that bit faster. Grant Green’s playing is particularly good on this track. I’m not sure who is on the tambourine but in the right place, like here, it really cuts through the other instruments to add extra zest- and it is an essential ingredient of the Motown sound.

Shake, penned by Sam Cooke but popularised by Otis Redding simmers. Let’s take a look courtesy of YouTube:

Duke Pearson’s Amanda from Wahoo (a set that I am currently chasing) brings this strong and fresh sounding session to a close. Some records need repeated plays to get into but this has an immediacy which made writing this review a pleasure. I suppose it could be described as a concept album- the plan is you put it on your system, play it through, get happy and possibly even dance. After yesterday’s woeful diversion into semi-ELP territory, even the hi-fi seems cleansed and happy. Every home should have a copy!

The band etc: John Patton (organ); Grant Green (guitar); Hugh Walker (drums); Richard Landrum (conga). Recorded: 29 April 1966. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Alan Grant. Cover photos and design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 80731.

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Ornithophobia: Troyka

What is no secret, dear reader, is that here at downwithit.info the Hammond Organ is highly valued. What has been hidden from you, until now, is that I once went to see Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I was sixteen. Thankfully, we are all permitted a few youthful mistakes and indiscretions. Beyond harbouring Pictures In An Exhition and Tarkus in my record collection for a couple of years, that was just about the limit of my excursions into hippy prog rock. The genre turned into a circus, on ice in the case of Rick Wakeman and his tales of Tudor royalty. Then Great Punk War broke out, the right side won and the pomp rockers went off to Switzerland to spend their royalties and receipts.

When I initially heard that Troyka were a trio and included a Hammond in their instrumentation I was keen to hear them as soon as possible and got my hands on a review copy. It was only later that I discovered that Ornithophobia was a concept album that leaned towards progressive jazz-rock rather than Jimmy Smith and Big John Patton. I was dismayed. Whilst plenty of modern jazz artists wanted to play like Bird and the great Donald Byrd cut a succession of fine albums, nobody has ever delivered a set concerning the virus induced transmogrification of men into birds, until Troyka turned up with this.

However, I had promised to listen and I did. Several times in fact.

Suffice to say that there is little on the album that fits comfortably with anything else I’ve written about on downwithit.info Indeed, there are some Hammond power chords and sounds that have lain dormant since the mid-seventies when Keith Emerson used knives to sustain long notes on his Hammond and Rick Wakeman wore a silver cape.

I can’t find much that is positive to say (except that the last track, Seahouses, is a pleasant piece). So I won’t try. Next month’s contemporary Jazz album is bound to fit better here. You can bet the farm on that!

The band etc: Kit Downes (Hammond & synths); Chris Montague (guitars); Joshua Blackmore (drums). Recorded at Eton College and On The Record Studios. Produced: Peter Eidh and Troyka. Released: 26 January 2015. Naim Records.

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All That’s Good: Frederick Roach

Freddie Roach All That's Good cover
Freddie Roach’s Wikipedia entry has has finally been updated with news of his untimely death in the early 1970’s. So the former statement that: ‘He moved to California and was never heard of again’ is no more. That’s a good thing because Freddie deserved much better. Although downwithit.info can claim some credit for this, it was really Pete Fallico’s excellent interview with Conrad Lester (friend of Roach and tenor on this set) reproduced here, that enabled the record to be set straight.

All That’s Good is the last of Roach’s five Blue Note outings and it is so different to any other recording that I’ve ever heard on that label that it is easy to surmise why his talents ended up elsewhere.

Roach penned the sleeve notes for many of his albums and they make it clear that he wanted his work to tell stories and capture images. With All That’s Good he is trying to paint a picture of a somewhat idealised Black inner city community, looking at the positives of everyday life.

Journeyman has a delightful born-again Baptist feel to it. Over at London Jazz Collector a recent post had fellow jazzers voting on instruments that they disliked. Although there is no vibraphone or bowed double bass here you should have a listen to this track which features two of the usual suspects and more in the form of: Hammond organ, a choir, tambourine and soul clapping. I imagine Rudy Van Gelder dancing at the controls as this one was recorded. Not one for the purist or the narrow minded, who will be sure to fulminate, but I think it is amazing and you can take a listen too thanks to YouTube:-

To listen touch or click on the arrow

The title track, All That’s Good, follows with the small choir going for a celestial effect with attendant ‘Oh Yeahs! before some delicate blues saxophone from Conrad Lester and an equally strong guitar solo from Calvin Newborn redeems matters. On Blues For 007 the feel created by Roach is that of a now archaic swinging sixties tune that is sub Aqua Marina (please excuse the weak Stingray reference and pun). The organ setting is a bit too rinky dink and trebley for me here.

Over on Side Two where Busted is played in waltz time and, once again a bit of muscular R n B saxophone saves the day. Club 788 is probably not the strongest blues that Freddie Roach ever wrote or played on. Finally, Loie the strongest track on this side, a Kenny Burrell number from his Guitar Forms album closes things in Bossa nova style.

This LP gets one of the worst reviews I’ve yet to read on the generally very helpful Allmusic website. Enroute to a poor 2 star rating, Stephen Thomas Erlewine opines:- “Roach never hits upon a groove, choosing to create a series of bizarre, hazy textures. That atmosphere is catapulted into the realms of the surreal by vocalists Phyllis Smith, Willie Tate, and Marvin Robinson, whose wordless, floating singing sounds spectral; the intent may have been to mimic a gospel choir, but the effect is that of a pack of banshees wailing in the background.”

Not the sort of endorsement to set the pulse racing and the hand reaching for the wallet then. That combined with the tatty sellotaped cover that you can see at the top of this page kept putting me off purchasing this album at my local second hand record store. Luckily for me the price reduced by 50% after several months due to the shop’s Dutch auction approach until my tipping point was finally reached yesterday. I expected the condition of the disc to match the cover and I was in for a great surprise when I was handed a shiny very strong VG+ first stereo pressing complete with Plastylite ‘ear’.

As you’ve read above, it is an enjoyable recording that I’m pleased to welcome as an addition to the Freddie Roach section of my collection (even if he does style himself as Frederick on the cover).

The band etc: Frederick Roach (organ); Conrad Lester (tenor saxophone); Calvin Newborn (guitar); Clarence Johnston (drums); Marvin Robinson (baritone vocals); Phyllis Smith (soprano vocals); Willie Tate (alto vocals)  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded October 16, 1964.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Frederick Roach.  Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Models: Grandassa Models.  Originally issued as Blue Note ST84190.

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Harold Vick: Steppin’ Out

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In the jazz universe, some stars appear brighter than others, while others are not even visible to the naked eye. In pondering this, I began to read about cosmology, Hipparchus, Norman Pogson and perceived brightness. Then the hard maths formulas started to appear and I decided it was time to get back to the music here at downwithit.

Harold Vick barely registers as a footnote these days and, doesn’t even make the index in Cookin’, Kenny Mathieson’s superb book about hard bop.

I first became aware of HV through his tenor playing on Big John Patton’s Along Came John and then became determined to get hold of his sole Blue Note set as a leader. The CD is not difficult to track down, though it can attract a premium price.

Steppin’ Out is well worth the search since it features performances from John Patton and drum partner Ben Dixon as well as the great Blue Mitchell and Grant Green. All are on fine form.

Featuring five self-penned numbers and only one standard (Laura), Steppin’ Out represented a great opportunity for Vick. Our Miss Brooks is a blues with something of a burlesque quality that a gifted fan dancer could flutter her feathers to (I gather burlesque is almost respectable these days and taught through the medium of evening classes in some places). HV, the dexterous Grant Green and John Patton on Hammond, really contribute to the ambience.

Our Miss Brooks from YouTube follows:-

To play, press or click on the arrow.

Trimmed in Blue is a hard bop tune with a saxophone line that confirms that Harold Vick played alto before he played tenor and that he was well-versed in Charlie Parker’s styling. Blue Mitchell’s trumpet is bright and clear, indeed, the very epitome of clarion clarity.

Laura, a Raskin / Mercer composition follows. It is one of those melancholy sax and organ outings that could provide a soundtrack to a slow autumnal midnight walk along The Albert Embankment, while contemplating something sweet, yet lost. Then it goes into double time and new hope rises like the sun- or at least that’s one way you may imagine this piece perhaps? (The Editor says: “Shut up, immediately!”).

Dotty’s Dream is an organ-fuelled hard bop strolling tune with a fine finger-picking solo from Grant Green. The ending, when the horns return is nicely arranged. Next up, Vicksville is a bluesy soul-jazz lope with Blue Mitchell showing his skills and Harold Vick discretely exploring the full range of his tenor. Finally, Steppin’ Out, the title track, is a blues which sounds like it was a joy to play on. There are some tunes that bring a smile to the face and I feel sure the musicians were having a great time playing on this one.

Harold Vick went on to work, largely in a hard bop and soul-jazz context. He recorded seven other albums away from Blue Note as a leader, which I have yet to hear. Amongst them, his Caribbean Suite seems, perhaps, the most promising from the reviews I’ve read.

He also had another axe in his sack, having studied to degree level in Psychology, with a view to further training as a Clinical Psychologist. However, as far as I am aware, his musical career meant that he never realised that ambition. He also appeared in a couple of films, including Spike Lee’s School Days (and playing on the sound track of She’s Got To Have It). Sadly, he died of a heart attack, aged only 51, in 1987.

So there we are. Harold Vick was a gifted tenor saxophonist who has been overlooked but who still deserves to be listened to- especially in such stellar company as on Steppin’ Out.

The band etc: Harold Vick (tenor saxophone); Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 27 May 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Joe Goldberg. Cover photos and design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 84138.

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Grant Green: Iron City

This album is something of a mystery piece. Recorded in 1967 during a period when Green’s recording career was on hold, due to problems stemming from his addiction to heroin, Iron City was eventually released on the small Cobblestone label in 1972. This album may have been recorded in Pittsburgh between shows (Pittsburgh was once known as the Iron City), reportedly for ready cash in hand, although there are other differing opinions.

There is some speculation concerning the identity of the Hammond organist. John Patton gets the credit but apparently he was ambivalent about whether he sat in on this recording and died before he could clarify with a definitive answer. There are those who maintain that it was Larry Young who played on this date. The debate from 2002-2003 can be found on the excellent Organissimo website here. I’ll sit on the fence and leave the advocacy for the different positions to those who are more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.

The set opens with its title track. Iron City mines an easy soul-blues seam and should sound great played with suitable volume in your local bar (note to self- must have a word with the DJ who occasionally entertains at my local).

Samba de Orpheus is a disposable and light shuffling confection. It is little more than journeyman stuff from the great Grant Green and not a great deal that is relevant is present on this makeweight track.

Things thankfully take a more rewarding turn on Old Man Moses (Let My People Go) offers a great vehicle for GG to solo and for the trio to offer what sound like distant echoes of Acknowledgement from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.

The pop number, High Heeled Sneakers opens the second side of the album. It’s a favourite tune of mine (with close cousin I’ve Got My Mojo Working). Play this even louder in your favourite disco bar and watch those feet start to move. There’s a link to YouTube, courtesy of groove addict:-

To watch, click on or touch the arrow

You can hear Blue Mitchell’s version of Hi-Heel Sneakers (sic) which I wrote about in the first ever post on downwithit in September 2013 here. I will be writing about a third great version from another artist shortly (it won’t be the Tommy Tucker original though).

Next up, Motherless Child is a rendition of a second spiritual and starts at a very slow pace before the tempo increases very slightly. Finally, Work Song is a pleasing version of the Nat Adderley original and another of the stronger tracks on the album.

Iron City is a good solid organ trio set with several strong tracks and is well worth buying, to supplement or start a collection of Grant Green records, if you find it at a reasonable price.

The band etc: Grant Green (guitar); Big John Patton (Hammond organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: Believed to be in 1967. Producer, Studio and Cover Photography: All unknown. Originally issued as Cobblestone CST 9002.

There is also a version of the cover in a further alternative colourway, which is the one used on my vinyl copy of this album:-

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Record Store Day 2014

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Record Store Day 2014 took place on Saturday 19 April 2014. It didn’t take too much prompting for me to make a quick trip to an excellent second-hand record store close to where I was staying for the holiday weekend.

I was after a first UK pressing of a John Coltrane LP, first released about 50 years ago, which they had advertised. It had gone, but after a bit of crate digging, I was happy to settle for an inexpensive first pressing of one of Jimmy Smith’s less popular Blue Note LPs that I didn’t have (though four of the six tracks feature both Kenny Burrell and Philly Joe Jones). I’ve yet to play it but the record looks in extremely good shape (at least VG+) though the cover is a bit tatty. That Easter Bunny was good to me this year!

Update (27/04/14): I played Jimmy after cleaning and the sound quality did turn out to be VG+ Softly As A Summer Breeze is a relatively lightweight recording which remained unreleased for seven years by Blue Note. Best regarded as one for the fan, rather than as an essential purchase or listen. Whilst it is gentle on the ear, you may prefer a stronger Kenny Burrell set that you can read about here.

The band etc: Jimmy Smith (Hammond Organ); Kenney Burrell (guitar); Philly Joe Jones (drums) tracks 1-4. Burrell and Jones replaced by Donald Bailey (dr) & Eddie McFadden (gtr) on tracks 5&6. Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey on 26 February 1958.

Support your local record store, if you are fortunate enough to have one!

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