Tag Archives: Francis Wolff

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


Blue Train: John Coltrane

It is the first day of 2014 and time to tackle one of the big beasts of the jazz jungle. Blue Train was John Coltrane’s second session as a leader and his sole Blue Note set in that role. It is nothing less than one of the great jazz albums that everybody should know about and own, if possible.


Recorded on 15 September 1957, Coltrane assembled a crack squad sextet at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, New Jersey studio to lay down 5 tunes on tape.

However this was a session that nearly didn’t happen, partly due to the less than timely intervention of a cat. Richard Cook in his excellent book ‘Blue Note Records’ recounts how John Coltrane, keen to improve his understanding of soprano sax, dropped by early evening at the Blue Note Records office. He wanted to borrow some Sidney Bechet records to learn what he could from them. Although between record deals at the time, he was regarded as a hot property on the scene. Francis Wolff, who took care of contractual arrangements at Blue Note had already gone home but his partner, Al Lion sensed that he could possibly make an offer to JC and he proposed a small advance to make one record, which was accepted.

Just as matters were about to be formalised, the Blue Note office cat (name unknown here) jumped out of the window and onto the street. Lion rushed to the window where he saw a woman trying to entice the puss into a cab. He dashed out and recovered the feisty feline but on returning found that John Coltrane had gone. The putative agreement was verbal and shortly afterwards JC signed a deal with Prestige Records.

However, Coltrane’s legendary integrity was to the fore and having given his word to record a session, he duly delivered…and what a package Blue Train turned out to be.

The title track runs for close to 11 minutes and is a wonderful strolling blues. Some listeners consider it to be eerie and sombre but I just don’t hear that. I just hear a piece of musical near perfection with solo following solo seamlessly. It is reproduced here from YouTube courtesy of everythingchangesmoi

To listen to Blue Train, touch or click on the arrow in the centre of the picture and enjoy.

The band really perform. While John Coltrane is on great form, trombonist Curtis Fuller makes a massive contribution to the overall ambiance. Meanwhile, Lee Morgan, on trumpet and although only 18 years old had already released 5 Blue Note albums as leader. Moments Notice and Locomotion are lively hard bop numbers which drive forward and each offer a great platform for the soloists. throughout the set the rhythm section of ‘Philly’ Joe Jones, Kenny Drew and Paul Chambers are impeccable.

I’m Old Fashioned is the sole standard played on the session. It is a Mercer/Kern song which was used to provide a vehicle for a song and dance routing featuring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in a now little-known 1942 film ‘You Were Never Lovelier’. The closer, Lazy Bird is a light, bright hard bopper. Job done.

The band etc:- John Coltrane (tenor sax); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Kenny Drew (piano); Paul Chambers (bass);’Philly’ Joe Jones (drums). Recorded 15 September 1957. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder Studio. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 1577.

As the photo shows, my main copy is nothing special. It is the CD and not even the RVG remaster or one with extra alternate versions of Blue Train and Lazy Bird (which are quite listenable as alternate takes go). However, it is much loved and if you haven’t yet got it, I urge you to purchase and learn to love it too. Update: In February 2015 I bought the splendid MusicMatters 33 1/3 rpm mono vinyl reissue for those times when I want to listen to this great album at its best.

Happy New Year


Mode For Joe: Joe Henderson


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).


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.


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.