Category Archives: Joe Henderson

If You’re Not Part of the Solution…Joe Henderson Quintet

It is high barbecue season here in South London; indeed I’m leaving to attend one shortly. What’s the weather like? Rain is likely, of course, although it will almost inevitably be followed by blistering heat during the working week that is only hours away.

Let’s go somewhere else. To a place where warm nights give way to warmer and far sunnier days. By the seaside where the surf is always up. What we need next to the beach is one of the great Jazz rooms and one of the finest tenor saxophonists on the stand with a new and exciting band. A snap of the fingers takes us to California. To Hermosa Beach. To The Lighthouse. Joe Henderson is playing a set which ranges from his songbook classics through to a lengthy slab of jazz funk. We need somewhere to dance. Another snap of the fingers and just through the door there’s a pier (actually we’ll skip that bit as apparently it has been done recently at this very location in the film La La Land).

Hermosa Beach lies just south of Los Angeles Airport on a west facing strip of coastline that sweeps north via Venice Beach, Santa Monica towards Malibu, sort of like Morecambe Bay perhaps although Morecambe lacks a distant Hollywood sign?

Enough! Let’s get back to the music on the turntable. Despite most of the albums I look at here having been ripped from CDs, vinyl is what we’ve got today. It is a UK pressing of a Milestone album which has been licensed to Ace and the sound is good without being amazing. I grade my copy of the record as being in VG+ condition with the cover also weighing in as VG+ and I’m very pleased to have it.

By 1970 Joe Henderson had contributed to over 30 classic Blue Note sessions as a sideman and had led five of his own great recordings for the label. In 1967 he signed a recording deal with Orrin Keepnews at Milestone Records which was to result in a dozen titles bearing his name eventually being issued.

This album was the fourth of these. In late September 1970 Henderson played a short residency at the famous Lighthouse Cafe at Hermosa Beach in California. Label boss Keepnews was excited by the new band that Henderson had assembled that summer and he had a hunch that they would work particularly well as a live unit. Arrangements were made to record the gigs and the resulting album captures a strong set.

A track entitled Caribbean Fire Dance has got to be lively and this take on it features flames aplenty. Henderson and Woody Shaw spark off the lively and percussive rhythm section which fans up a conflagration. Cables on electric piano offers up a vibes-like sound reminiscent of Bobby Hutcherson. It sounds great on record and must have been splendid live.

‘Round Midnight starts with a pensive exploration of the tune from Henderson’s tenor over a light reverberating accompaniment from the electric piano. Henderson then breaks out into double time Hard Bop territory with Ron McClure racing up and down the fretboard of his bass as he keeps pace with the leader during this middle section. After a brief piano and bass duet Henderson slows the tempo and brings the track to a calm and delicate conclusion during which the appreciative audience is completely silent. Cables and Shaw were to later accompany Dexter Gordon on another version of this standard when he performed at The Village Vanguard in December 1976.

Cedar Walton’s Mode For Joe has long been a personal favourite. Henderson’s long solo is a delight to listen to on this piece which brings the first side of the album to a close.

The origin of name of the title track, If You’re Not Part of The Solution, You’re Part of The Problem is a quotation from Eldridge Cleaver and makes passing reference to Henderson’s commitment to civil rights and equality. It is a lengthy jazz funk workout in a style that would have sounded up to date at the time of release but which was soon imitated by lesser talents, though it still sounds engaging. Ron McClure delivers a solid electric bass line throughout. It is a treat to hear and you can listen to it here courtesy of YouTube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

There’s a reading of his mentor, Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa on which Henderson’s tenor solo is tuneful and confines itself to the conventional range of the instrument before Woody Shaw takes a turn.

The very short Closing Theme runs for 47 seconds and does what it says, before the band are name checked and receive due applause.

If You’re Not Part of the Solution… is well worth tracking down if only to trace the continuing development of a great musician. It is a very a different recording to that made by the acoustic trio featured on the two excellent State of The Tenor live albums from the mid-1980’s. I’m not yet familiar with the other Milestone recordings although, over time, I will make it my business to track them down and report back here.

Henderson relocated to the West Coast in the early 1970’s, where he combined recording and live performance with teaching. Sadly, he passed away aged 64 in 2001. I never got to see him live and that is something that I regret. However, the live recordings remain and provide an opportunity to appreciate his playing. Other than learning of a brief period spent with Earth, Wind and Fire there is little readily available on the net concerning Henderson’s life in the 1970’s. However, after a search on Google Scholar an article in a journal’ The Black Perspective on Music (Vol 5, No. 1. Spring 1977) by Frank Kofsky suggested that in the mid-70’s he was probably playing less than 10 gigs a year in the San Francisco area and largely living on royalty payments, studio work and a small income from academic activities. A later triumphant return to the spotlight was to come in the 1980’s but I will leave that for another day.

The band etc.:- Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone); Woody Shaw (trumpet & flugelhorn); George Cables (electric piano); Ron McClure (bass & electric bass track 4); Lenny White (drums); Tony Waters (percussion). Recorded live September 25, 25 & 26 1970 at The Lighthouse Cafe, Hermosa Beach, California. Produced by: Orrin Keepnews. Recording Engineer: Bernie Grundman. Photographs: Philip Melnick. Design: John Murello. Issued in 1970: Fantasy Records Milestone MX 9028.

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Ptah, The El Daoud: Alice Coltrane

Ptah The El Daud Cover

What an awful front cover was my first reaction after the excitement of happening across the burnt orange and black spine that meant another Impulse recording had crossed my path. Oh well! Let’s check out who was playing on the session with Alice Coltrane, before I re-shelve it, I thought. It was my good fortune that I did, as I discovered that two of my favourite tenor saxophonists were on duty here: Pharoah Sanders, who I was half-expecting anyway and Joe Henderson, who I wasn’t.

I still felt a sense of trepidation as I prepared to listen. How ‘out there’ would it turn out to be? Would it be some sort of strange concept album exploring arcane spiritual myths with music that was near unlistenable.

As things turned out, I needn’t have worried at all. The set is an absolute treat that deserves to be much better known. Essentially, it is Alice Coltrane’s first recording as leader of a quintet featuring horns (although the sleeve notes point out that Pharoah played bass clarinet on A Monastic Trio, AC’s first release following John Coltrane’s untimely passing). It was recorded at the home studio in the Coltrane house at Dix Hills, Long Island, which adds a certain cachet too.

The title track has a remorseless march-like jauntiness about it and it is a most engaging piece of music that benefits from an ever-present sense of motion and direction.

Turiya and Ramakrishna starts with over four minutes of the most beautiful piano playing before Ron Carter takes a restrained bass solo. Alice Coltrane returns with more wonderous piano on this masterpiece of playing. I don’t know exactly what she is doing, but I’ve asked a piano playing colleague to take a listen to see if he can enlighten me. He tells me that the pianist is playing the black keys and the improvisation is centred on Eb Minor, which gives it the delicate and sophisticated bluesy feel (thanks Mark). If you want a treat you can listen on the link below- either touch or click on the arrow to play.

Blue Nile brings the return of Henderson and Sanders who have exchanged their tenor saxophones for alto flutes with which to accompany Alice Coltrane who plays harp.

Finally, Mantra offers a platform for the two tenors. The sleeve notes helpfully identify that Pharoah is to be heard through the right channel, while the left belongs to Joe Henderson. The first solo is Joe’s and he does reference Mode For Joe briefly in it. Pharoah gets plenty of space and plays with great skill and control before introducing some of his special phonic techniques.

The presence of Alice on piano keeps things grounded around an extremely listenable modal centre.

A further surprise was discovering that the original sleeve notes were written by Leonard Feather. If ever a critic had the capacity to wound with razor honed stiletto words, Lennie was that man. You know what though? He enjoyed this set.

So there you have it. downwithit.info loves it and so does Leonard Feather. You might like it too. My pristine CD copy cost me £4.00, which is significantly less than the pint of Meantime Brewery’s Yakima Red that I’ve just enjoyed. There seemed to be lots of copies available on vinyl on eBay last week. Don’t be put off either by the iffy cover or the Arabic title (incidentally, Ptah is an Egyptian god (highly placed in the pantheon, I understand) and ‘the El Daoud’ means the beloved).

This is an unreserved recommendation. Buy this beautiful recording at your first opportunity! Let us know what you think. I doubt if you will be disappointed.

If you have enjoyed what you’ve just read, please click or touch on the thumbs up/like button. If you don’t like it please select the thumbs down.

The band etc: Alice Coltrane (Piano, harp); Pharoah Sanders (tenor saxophone, alto flute, bells. Right channel); Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone, alto flute. Left channel); Ron Carter (bass); Ben Riley (drums). Produced: Ed Michel. Recorded: The Coltrane home studio, Dix Hills, New York. 26 January 1970. Graphic Design: Jason Claibourne. Cover Photography (and occasional bells). Charles Stewart. Released: 1970. Original release: Impulse AS 9196.

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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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Inner Urge: Joe Henderson

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Inner Urge was the fourth of five 1960’s Blue Note sessions with Joe Henderson as leader. They are all strong sets, ranging from his bossanova flavoured debut to the adventurous Mode For Joe, from this saxophonist who never seems to quite get the credit he merits.

Inner Urge showcases Henderson as the sole horn in this quartet with two members of John Coltrane’s band and Bob Cranshaw who worked with Sonny Rollins. Just over a week after this recording session, drummer Jones and pianist Tyner would be back in the same studio working on Coltrane’s ground-breaking A Love Supreme.

Henderson had become a sought after session player in the short period since he had appeared on the New York jazz scene. He had been mentored by veteran trumpeter, Kenny Dorham and played memorable solos on Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder, Horace Silver’s Song For My Father and on Grant Green’s Idle Moments.

The sleeve notes disclose that the title track was written to capture some of the frustration and anger experienced by Henderson as he struggled to come to terms with the pace of his life in New York City. Certainly, there is a sense of relentlessness about the playing and McCoy Tyner’s piano playing is a mercurial journey along his keyboard. Inner Urge is a standard repertoire choice these days (as you will learn if you search the title on YouTube) and this YouTube choice will allow you to form your own view, if you are not already familiar with it.

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Next up, Isotope, is a well-crafted musicians tribute to Thelonious Monk, with a playfully jumpy tune which offers great scope for the soloists improvisations.

El Barrio is a further high point on a fine set. In his sleeve note interview, Nat Hentoff, ever skilled at drawing out something more from his subject, records that Joe Henderson told him of his love of Spanish culture and studied the language as a child. Not surprisingly this tune has a Latin feel and Joe Henderson is trying to create a soundscape that evokes a picture of a Spanish community. It sounds great.

The set closes with two tunes from other composers. Duke Pearson’s You Know I Care is a beautiful ballad, which shows that Henderson can play with great sensitivity. Cole Porter’s Night and Day had been covered by both Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz in the months before Henderson put down this version. This tune was one of the ten top revenue generating American songs of all time and Henderson’s version is fairly ranked amongst the best jazz covers of it.

So there we have it, Inner Urge is well-worth tracking down and the critics love it, as do I. If you are an aspiring jazz musician the title track is almost certainly one you will be required to study and learn to play the changes on. This is another set from an artist who never seems to disappoint. Buy, beg or borrow it with confidence of a rewarding listening experience.

The band etc:- Joe Henderson (tenor sax); McCoy Tyner (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 30 November 1964.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff.  Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Originally issued as Blue Note 84189.

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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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