Tag Archives: Leonard Feather

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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Green Street: Grant Green

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

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

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

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

To play click on or touch the arrow

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

It isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sidewinder: Lee Morgan

The Sidewinder is an album which polarises opinions. The title track is an extended jazz soul number which inspired numerous imitations. It also set a mould for other albums within the Blue Note stable and beyond. Success resulted in some damning it with faint praise and others despising its success. Even Lee Morgan himself came to view it as something of a burden that he sometimes felt disinclined to visit, as he apparently recorded it as a filler track.

Sidewinder cover

Lee Morgan was a young talent who got his first break with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and who was already recording with Blue Note when he was 18 years old. In 1957 he played with Hank Mobley and on John Coltrane’s classic Blue Train session. In 1957 he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

During his period with The Jazz Messengers, Morgan’s increasing dependency on heroin led to his reliability being severely compromised and by the time of The Sidewinder session in 1963 his career was in decline. However, despite an initial pressing of under 5000 copies The Sidewinder became Blue Note’s biggest immediate seller and Lee Morgan was back.

The tune was used without permission in Chrysler Cars TV commercials before Blue Note’s lawyers intervened and put a stop to that and it later became an anthem of the 1980’s jazz dance scene. Have a listen courtesy of MusicForYourFunk on YouTube.

I enjoy listening to it and the rest of the album is well worth hearing too. Joe Henderson, a Blue Note session regular at the end of 1963, is in action on tenor saxophone while Barry Harris contributes piano steeped in soul. Totem Pole is so-named because the head of the tune has a short phrase in which trumpet and tenor sax seamlessly alternate notes within a musical bar. This was reminiscent of a native American totem pole in Lee Morgan’s mind as he recounted to Leonard Feather in what are informative sleeve notes filled with helpful insights. Given the eventual response to the album it was perhaps fortunate that Feather was onboard at the outset.

After the boogaloo beat of the title track, those wondering about the terpsichorean location of Gary’s Notebook, will learn from the sleeve notes that it is a fast jazz waltz. Apparently, Gary was a close friend of Lee Morgan’s, who is referred to in the interview linked to below. Boy, What a Night is both energetic and energising, a second fast blues waltz on the set with a solo by Joe henderson that I particularly enjoy. I’m less keen on Hocus Pocus, which sounds, to my ears like an improvisation on a Broadway show tune- a bit of a filler perhaps.

Lee Morgan was 25 years old when he recorded this session. There’s a fascinating interview with his former partner, Helen More, which can currently be found by following this link to the website of Jason Palmer (an eminent trumpeter and Professor of Jazz at the world renowned Berklee College in Boston).

http://jasonpalmerjazz.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/the-story-of-helen-morgan-if-you-didnt-know-already/

As you may have read, Lee Morgan was killed by Helen More in February 1972, when their long term relationship turned very sour.

Lee Morgan played a significant part in Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Jazz and People’s Movement which fought for increased coverage of the music of black America mainly by direct action and disrupting live recordings of television programmes. The tactic achieved tangible results and led to Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp and others appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Joe Henderson (tenor sax); Barry Harris (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded: On 21 December 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Leonard Feather. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 4157.

I currently have two copies of The Sidewinder: a vinyl Blue Note DMM (Direct Metal Master) copy which I bought in the mid-80’s and which sounds somewhat lifeless on my system (especially the drums) and a CD copy from the RVG remaster series, which is preferable to listen to.

Just in case you are interested I have added this terpsichorean footnote (from www.streetswing.com). I never knew that the boogaloo and the shing-a-ling were essentially the same dance:-

The Boogaloo or Shing-A-Ling was a 1960’s freestyle Fad dance which kinda caught on with the public thru American Bandstand and gained momentum in the late 1960s. Originally, It was considered a Latin dance because of it’s Mambo patterns, but was used in the Blues and Rock and Roll as well. The Boogaloo replaced the popular Latin Pachanga dance in popularity. The dance basically means to do simple weird movements with your feet, hips and body (kinda like speaking in tongues, but in dancing .) It makes sense only to the dancer who is doing it at the moment.

It would seem form the above description that lots of us do the boogaloo without really knowing that our dancefloor efforts actually have a name!

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Jazz Crusaders: Ronnie Scott’s

Time certainly flies by. About 40 years ago, on a visit to London, I discovered Dobell’s record shop on Charing Cross Road and bought two jazz albums. At that stage I was starting out and wasn’t digging back into the past. They were both contemporary releases and very much at the soul end of the spectrum. Hollywood by The Crusaders was one of my purchases and I enjoyed it very much. I still do.

Over the years I have probably had countless opportunities to see The Crusaders in various incarnations. One way or another it never happened and it was only on Thursday night that I saw them for the first time.

It would be extremely cheeky of me to expect the full classic lineup with Wilton Felder and Joe Sample in the intimate luxury of Ronnie Scott’s, so I was happy to settle for Wayne Henderson’s excellent touring band.

They were funky, very funky! They even made second song, Three Blind Mice sound funky!

Maybe it was because they were in the UK that they played a very sensitive version of Eleanor Rigby which showcased Brian Price on guitar. He’s a Londoner- from London, Canada and plays with a delicate touch, getting right down the fretboard and spinning an intricate solo.

Next we were told there was a special treat. Polly Gibbons, chanteuse with the support band was brought back to perform Street Life. She’s a good singer with a great vocal range and I got the idea that even Wayne Henderson, who must have played this thousands of times, thought that she brought something fresh to it. Well done Polly.

The hits continued with Always There, which always makes me think of an imagined night in an Essex soul mine (being honest imagined ones are the only Essex soul nights I’ve ever been to. They are based on poorly recalled but seemingly legendary depictions of The Goldmine in Canvey Island from those Blues and Soul magazines I used to read as a teenager. Perhaps those are the best ones though). This featured a masterful bass solo from Derek Murdoch.

Finally, it was time for Way Back Home aka ‘The Anthem’. There’s a great version of this on an earlier post on this site- make sure you take a look. This was the track that got me into jazz in the first place. I loved the Junior Walker covers (both the vocal and the instrumental) and it was seeing a version by the composer on Hollywood that led me to part with my two quid- or whatever the album cost. There are some tracks that dredge up deep and sweet feelings- not necessarily linked to finite memories and this is one that does it for me. A great tune.

Regulars will know about my dislike of bitter critical remarks in the style of Leonard Feather. As an ex-saxophonist, albeit one who couldn’t really blow his own way out of a paper bag, I am wary of criticising pro-players. I know what I like though. That is why my personal jury remains out on Paul Russo. However, he is a brave player who performed very expressively and freely at times and who wasn’t afraid of blowing a soprano sax in public, which few do with much credit. I will listen out for more from him.

Drummer Tony Ward was the baby of the band but was absolutely solid and the aptly named Bill Steinway was superb on keyboards.

All in all, another great night at Ronnie Scott’s: which is an essential stop if you enjoy music (although if you are entertaining on the company credit card and just want to chat to your clients, please go elsewhere on the nights I’m in).

I’m starting to rate gigs from here on and this one gets a strong 7/10. Thanks Wayne!

I’m aware that I’ve veered towards soul jazz in these early postings but I’ll not be neglecting other strands. So please come back often and leave your comments. If I don’t like what you have to say, I’ll set the monstrous reincarnation of Leonard Feather loose on you.

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Six Pieces of Silver: Horace Silver

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Why should I bother with this? It’s 57 years old! Quite simply because Horace Silver and a select group of other New York musicians broke the mould. They created a new sound- ‘Hard bop’. Stealing the words of my mate Matt ‘They had something to say!’ Stealing from Gilles Peterson- Talking Loud, Saying Something! Adding my own view- Playing Great, Sounding Ace! And..although the sound is superb, Rudy Van Gelder, recorded this and other classics in his mum and dad’s front room in Hackensack, New Jersey.

The band etc:- Horace Silver (piano); Donald Byrd(trumpet);Hank Mobley (tenor sax); Doug Watkins(bass); Louis Hayes(drums). Recorded 10 November 1956. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Sleeve Notes: Leonard Feather. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 1539.

The Music:- This great session was recorded some 57 years ago (at the time of writing). I’d like to be able to write that this was one of the first Blue Note sets that I heard and that its excellence paved the way to other things. That wouldn’t be true. I bought it on an RVG series CD last weekend but I haven’t stopped listening to it since although all of the musicians seem like old friends from other outings. I think, in part, I didn’t buy earlier because I was put off by the front cover. This, in my view, is far from Francis Wolff’s best picture or Reid Miles’s most striking example of his adventurous design.

The playing sounds so fresh and the performers so disciplined. There’s no sloppiness here. Remarkably, the average age of the five musicians was a shade under 24 with 28-year-old Horace Silver being the oldest of the bunch by two years. Silver and Art Blakey were part of a tight group of New York based musicians who developed the ‘hard bop’ style of playing, drawing on the blues, gospel and R&B. Horace Silver’s own influences were diverse. Richard Cook writing in ‘Blue Note Records, The Biography’ identified how Silver had ‘…absorbed an unusually wide range of music’. His mother had sung gospel in church, he listened to Latin bands and to blues records from the previous two decades, which Cook notes as surprisingly unusual listening for a young man in the 40’s. He had worked with Stan Getz in 1950 and had befriended Lou Donaldson and Art Blakey soon afterwards.

Cool Eyes is a lively opener with Hank Mobley delivering the first solo and offering up a run that shows he had listened very closely to alto genius, Charlie Parker. Shirl is an engaging ballad with Silver playing in a trio of piano, drums and bass.

Camouflage is a great funky gospel-tinged tune with 3 solos near perfection in under four and a half minutes. Take a listen courtesy of koastone on YouTube

Enchantment closes side one of the original LP with a Latin feel. Of course with the CD format it is not necessary to stop what you are doing to flip the disc and Senor Blues follows immediately. This is the tune that caught the attention of the multitude, as the album’s standout track. It got so much play that it led to Horace Silver putting together a working band to tour the clubs. It was later re-recorded as a 45 rpm single and with a vocal, both of which appear on the RVG CD. rogerjazzfan has uploaded to YouTube for your pleasure.

Virgo dashes along with some space for the young drummer to impress, while the set closes with For Heaven’s Sake. This is a return to the trio format and is the only non Horace Silver penned tune on the album.

Original sleeve notes are of the (Leonard) feathered variety, offering moderate encouragement, biographies and a brief run through the tracks- with little to annoy (but remember, I’ve got my eye on you Mr. Feather!).

You can get hold of this on CD with all the extra tracks for @ £4.00, although the ultimate listen is possibly the Blue Note first pressing, a fabled Lexington as the cognoscenti say. If you want to know more about that please visit the superb http://londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/horace-silver-six-pieces-of-silver-1956-lexington/ but please come back here again!

So there you have it. I think this is actually the fifth Horace Silver set currently in my collection, although there may be a couple of old tapes from the 80’s when I used to borrow and record library copies on cassette. I recommend it highly- purchase and enjoy!

As Matt would say:- ‘They had something to say!

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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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