Category Archives: Rudy Van Gelder

Candy: Lee Morgan

candy-lee-morgan

Imagine. You are 19 years old and already a highly respected musician playing live and on recordings with the brightest and the best. You have already led six sessions which will be issued in your name and you are about to record your seventh. You are a trumpet player of prodigious ability and your name is Lee Morgan.

In November 1957 and February 1958 Morgan visited Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio to record Candy. This was the sole quartet date in his lengthy discography and the only time he was recorded without another horn in the line up.

This was Morgan’s final Blue Note recording as a leader (of a first series of six, with one outing ‘Introducing Lee Morgan’ on Savoy) before a period away from the label during which he served as a member of the Jazz Messengers before returning to Philadelphia to struggle with addiction.

The tunes chosen for the session were a range of popular crowd pleasers from the charts, Hollywood and then-current musicals. They would have been well-known at the time and would probably have tempted the wallet of the casual record store browser but nearly sixty years later most can only be regarded as lesser known entries in the list of standard tunes. That said, it was interesting to check the origins of most of the songs that make up this set.

A jaunty version of Candy opens the set. The style of trumpet playing here is somewhat reminiscent of Clifford Brown, from whom Morgan took a number of lessons while Brown was living in Philadelphia. Originally a hit in the 40’s, Big Maybelle had also belted this one out in 1956. This track has an audible flaw which has been attributed to a squeaky hi-hat pedal. I initially thought it was signalling the beginnings of a problem with my system but the well-documented fault lies on the original master recording. Many choose to try to ignore it, as I did when this review was originally published, thinking that it would be analysed to death by more extensively visited writers. On reflection, it is a comment that needs to be made about a sub-standard take that should have been scrapped and re-recorded.

Since I Fell For You is a slow and melancholy blues ballad and I have included a link below. It was later recorded by Stanley Turrentine and the Three Sounds on Blue Hour and that is the Blue Note version that I prefer. There is also a cover by Nina Simone, while a Van Morrison version from the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival is also worth seeking out, partly for his impassioned response to a heckler when the song is introduced.

To watch, click on or touch the arrow.

C.T.A. ups the tempo and takes us into bebop territory.

All The Way is a Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen number which was a current hit at the time of the recording, having been popularised by Frank Sinatra before being covered by a spectrum of artists extending from Billie Holliday via James Brown to Bob Dylan and beyond. In 1957 it received an Accademy Award for: ‘Best Original Song’, which meant that its inclusion on this album would have caught the eye and helped to boost sales. Whilst it is a pleasant enough ballad, for me, it will never rank in the pantheon of Blue Note’s finest covers.

Who Do You Love. I Hope is an Irving Berlin show tune from Annie Get Your Gun. I’m not fond of the rather trite chorus, but once Lee Morgan gets going into his solo it becomes well-worth a listen.

Personality featured in Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s ‘Road to Utopia’, a perennial TV film during my childhood and one of my favourites. Although it was filmed in colour, we had a black and white telly in those days and I can’t imagine it any other way. Dorothy Lamour performs the song in the movie

All At Once You Love Her is a bonus track on the CD release. It is the Rodgers and Hammerstein number from the musical ‘Pipe Dream’, which later became a hit for Perry Como.

The LP cover represents a sole Blue Note outing for Emerick Bronson. I assume that label stalwart, Francis Wolff was responsible for the overall image, which places a portrait of Lee Morgan, shot by Bronson, amongst an arrangement of sweet jars. It is not one of the better Blue Note sleeves and Bronson’s talents were deployed to greater effect through his career as a photographer with Vogue and Cosmopolitan. His pictures have featured in themed exhibitions in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and since he died at a fair old age in the bijoux Long Island hamlet of Sag Harbor, which was also a home from home for John Steinbeck I assume his career was a relatively lucrative one.

Candy is a snapshot of a confident young leader flexing his talents with just a rhythm section to support him and, in the additional sleeve notes which were added to the RVG series CD release, Bob Blumenthal rightly commends Lee Morgan for daring to be bold. Whilst it is interesting to hear him in this context, it seems a shame that the choice of material here draws so heavily on a mainstream popular songbook and it is an album that I listen to from time to time rather than a staple on my playlist.

Candy is currently available as 45 and 33rpm high-quality vinyl pressings from MusicMatters Jazz, but, as the above review suggests, this is not a title that I’ll be rushing to purchase.

The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Sonny Clark (piano); Doug Watkins (bass); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 18 November 1957 and 2 February 1958. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover Image of Lee Morgan: Francis Wolff. Cover photo: Emerick Bronson. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Originally issued as Blue Note 1590.

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Rudy Van Gelder RIP

It is as a sad matter of duty that downwithit notes the passing of the man who had oversight of the most of the greatest recordings made by Modern Jazz artists.

Rest in peace RVG.
November 2 1924 to August 25 2016.

This music would not have been the same without him.

You can read Mr Van Gelder’s obituary from The New York Times here.

An extensive list of sessions recorded at his studios can be found here.

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Crescent: John Coltrane

JC Crescent cover

There’s only one place to start this post: with a plea of Guilty as charged. I thought I was familiar with all of the great albums by John Coltrane up to the time that I assumed that he forsook beautiful and comprehensible playing for the outer limits exemplified by the likes of Interstellar Space, an album that I struggle with.

I was wrong. To my ears, Crescent should be ranked amongst Coltrane’s finest releases. Many tag this as Coltrane’s darkest and most sombre set. I prefer to think of it as the product of an artist going through a contemplative and reflective period of composition and recording. Entirely overshadowed by his next release, A Love Supreme, Crescent should be better known and far more celebrated than is currently the case.

The opening number which gives the set its title starts out with Coltrane laying down his theme in ballad form. Then the rhythm section and piano come in and Coltrane starts an improvisation that is at first leisurely but which grows in complexity. McCoy Tyner’s subtle and melodic boundaries are matched by Garrison and Elvin Jones and Coltrane’s freer and more phonic playing is contained within a structure that keeps things entirely, in my opinion, intelligible. Take a listen courtesy of YouTube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

Wise One is one of the great Coltrane ballads. It is reflective rather than joyous and none the worse for that- some would say it is spiritual. Again Tyner is superb. I’ve long been familiar with this performance as it features on the excellent Gentle Side of John Coltrane compilation, which I also wholeheartedly recommend.

Bessie’s Blues is a short hard bop excursion, which hits the spot in a straight-ahead 4/4 style.

Lonnie’s Lament offers sophisticated listening, perhaps best heard at the end of a day when the listener is open to reap the rich rewards of a track which is evocative of whatever deeper thoughts one wants to evoke but which does not strike me as a sad lament (perhaps You may perceive it as such though). Garrison gets a good opportunity to show his talent on a lengthy bass solo that he plucks from heart and soul.

Drum Thing doesn’t surprise as it contains a fine drum solo from the great Elvin Jones. Coltrane’s contribution sounds very Northern European and, to my way of hearing, would not be out of place on an ECM release (which, to clarify, I consider to be a very good thing, though in moderation).

There is a belief that at Coltrane may have written about his intentions and subject matter for some of these compositions and others, including Alabama, in prose or poetry but any evidence of this remains missing, perhaps lost for ever. The tunes themselves are strong enough, alone, to stand the tests of time.

So there we have it. Crescent is a brilliant album that you should not miss. Coltrane plays wonderfully on a set where his great quartet are at the height of their powers and all members receive time and space to solo impressively. I can’t recommend this set too highly.

The band etc: John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Elvin Jones (drums); Jimmyy Garrison (bass). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs. 27 April & 1 June 1964. Cover Design: Freddie Paloma. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1964. Original release: Impulse AS-66.

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Tauhid: Pharoah Sanders

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Time for another look at a Pharoah Sanders set. In late November 1966, Pharoah was ready to lead the first Impulse session to go out under his own name and Tauhid was the result. Having already come to notice alongside John Coltrane, where his tenor saxophone added heat and fire he was in the driving seat. What were listeners to experience on hearing his first album for what I’m tempted to refer to as the label that enabled?

Upper and Lower Egypt represents Pharoah’s attempts to create an image of how his extensive reading about that part of the world made him feel and the resonances that it created in him. The slower portentous Upper Egypt introduction gives way to a repetition of the theme that is very close to the later You’ve Got To Have Freedom. We are some 12 minutes into the piece before Pharoah’s tenor takes pride of place, sounding as though he wants to blow it apart. A brief scat vocal follows

Henry Grimes, who we met playing alongside Marc Ribot here, adds double bass throughout and a very impressive contribution he makes too!

Japan is a delightful short tune that Pharoah wrote While reflecting on a trip that he took there with John Coltrane in the summer of 1966. There’s a bit of improvised vocalise and it is enjoyable.

The final suite was written as three individual pieces which flowed together when recorded. Sanders plays alto saxophone on Aum, which features a series of scales and phrases played extremely fast in a manner reminiscent of Coltrane’s sheets of sound. The sleeve notes record how for Pharoah, the word holds a kind of magical quality and:- ‘It means God. It means peace. It means the beginning of things.’ Sanders was certainly aiming for something miles away from easy melody when he started to blow on this and Grimes adds to the challenging cacophony with sharp notes he finds and plucks from his four strings.

I assume the transformation into the Venus section is the point where we return to conventional tune and melody. Venus was written with Sanders star sign in mind, as was Capricorn Rising which, he informs us, is also part of his horoscope. It is both sweet and sour, seemingly without form but improvised around a beautiful tune. If a tune can frighten the horses while soothing the savage breast it is this one.

A bass passage (coda?) leads us into Capricorn Rising. This piece is an angry sounding, instrument testing taster for the lyricism which came to the fore in Phroah’s playing on his much later A Prayer Before Dawn set (which we will visit at some stage).

Tauhid is an album where Pharoah doesn’t seek to hog the limelight and where he sought to convey feelings and impressions. He speaks about what he is trying to do: ‘…it’s not that I’m trying to scream on my horn. I’m just trying to put all my feelings into the horn. And when you do that the notes go away’. So Tauhid is not an album of dinner jazz or one for a first date. Those chained to a classical sense of what is musical and what isn’t will run away making dismissive comments, but the open-minded will reap rich rewards here. Why not give it a try courtesy of YouTube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

The band:
Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Alto saxophones, Piccolo, Voice); Sonny Sharrock (Guitar); Dave Burrell (Piano); Henry Grimes (Bass); Roger Blank (Drums); Nat Bettis (Percussion). Recorded: 15 November 1966. Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Produced: Bob Thiele. Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photography: Charles Stewart. Originally issued in 1967 as Impulse AS9138.

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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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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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All The King’s Horses: Grover Washington, Jr

Back in October I mentioned that, as a teenager, in the early 1970’s on a visit to London, I ‘discovered’ Dobell’s record shop on London’s Charing Cross Road. It was there that I purchased my first two jazz albums. I’ve already written about The Crusader’s Hollywood. This Grover Washington set was the other one that I excitedly brought back on the north bound train with me.

At the time the record was newly released and may have been well reviewed in Blues and Soul magazine which I used to buy each week. Although I knew it was a Creed Taylor production what I didn’t realise until recently was that it had been recorded at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio with the great man himself acting as Studio Engineer.

The record itself is a mixture of soul and jazz with a curious nod to Henry Purcell in the form of Love Song 1700. Overall this LP is an early 1970’s milestone on the highway that leads to smooth dinner jazz. No fewer than 46 musicians are credited on the sleeve, including a 12 man violin section and the sole female contributor, Margaret Ross, on harp

No Tears, In The End is a promising opening number with Grover playing in an old school RnB style. A sudden shift down the gears for All The King’s Horses complete with smoochy sax guitar interplay follows next. Where is the Love is a straightforward rendition of the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway hit and the side closes with Body and Soul, where a very full arrangement includes the violins and the harp.

Bill Withers Lean on Me is given a reggae treatment with good contrast between Grover leading on sax over a very respectful and MOR sounding brass choir. It has a pleasing short guitar solo from Eric Gale and Washington stretches out slightly towards the end but the track doesn’t get close to the big league. See what you think courtesy of Corneel Van Driel on YouTube.

To play touch or click on the arrow.

Lover Man is given another big arrangement with a Bondish interlude that boasts a good trumpet and flugelhorn solo before a return to the head and a flourish to end on. Love Song 1700 is a very polite sounding Bob James arrangement which even features a couple of appearances from a recorder, hardly the most jazz of instruments.

So there we have it. From Hollywood and All the King’s Horses, my collection grew and arguably contains a great many sets that present greater fire, complexity and interest. All the King’s Horses is OK to listen to once every so often, which I do for old times sake. It features expert musicianship and is well recorded but ultimately its undemanding nature means it is not an album that will ever set the pulses racing.

Perhaps sometime later this year we’ll take a look at Grover Washington’s earlier Inner City Blues on which his reputation was founded but it may be some considerable time before we get round to Mister Magic and Feels So Good which are also in my collection. I can guarantee that we will not be taking a look at Winelight here though, unless there is the most unexpected demand and at least ten positive comments! As for me, I’m off to pan fry a couple of delicious pieces of sea bass and perhaps dig out some more dinner jazz.

Post fish postscript: Love Song 1700 was requested twice before the food was served. There was consensus that it was well produced but pushed at the limits of downwithit jazz. I then dug out Inner City Blues and thought that it was a more rewarding album than ATKH.

My copy of All the King’s Horses is a UK pressing of Kudu KUL5, with minor pops and scratches that bear witness to numerous plays over the last 40 years, albeit by one careful owner.

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