“Ursula” by Harold Land and “Hip” by Hampton Hawes

[West Coast interlude]

Jazz clubs are not created equal. For example: What music are they playing over the sound system when the band isn’t onstage?

Le Duc des Lombards in Paris always has some groovy tunes. A decade ago, Le Duc is where I heard Introducing Johnny Griffin, which is now high on my list for both Griff and Max Roach.

Last week a strange piece of great jazz was audible on the set break. Mark Turner told me it was “Ursula” by Harold Land.

Land has slowly been creeping more into the frame. Not long ago I spent some time with A New Shade Of Blue, which is an early example of Buster Williams and Billy Hart in an exposed and extremely swinging situation. In the car I re-listened to all of Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and decided that I had underrated Land’s importance to that famous group.

“Ursula” is from West Coast Blues! with Joe Gordon, Wes Montgomery, Barry Harris, Sam Jones, and Louis Hayes, recorded just after Land’s most familiar record, The Fox. Before that was the debut leader LP Harold In the Land of Jazz, with marvelous Carl Perkins, a soulful pianist somewhat in the Sonny Clark/Hampton Hawes mold.

I plan to write about this spectacular opening Land trilogy at some point. Among other things, the compositional integrity of these LPs is very strong. Clifford Brown’s pieces for the Brown/Land group have gone into the repertory, but the Land originals on his early discs (not to mention Elmo Hope’s outstanding contributions on The Fox) push much further into pure modernism.

Indeed, “Ursula” can hold its own with anything intellectual or experimental written in New York for a Blue Note date at that time. Fun to hear East Coast legends Wes Montgomery and Barry Harris blow on this tricky form, but Land might be the only one comfortable here. His tenor sax lines snake so beautifully through the changes…

(Mark suggests I have the 2/4 bar in the wrong place, which could be true.)

Land also appears on Hampton Hawes’s For Real!, a wonderful quartet session that seems to be Hawes’s only studio date as a leader with a horn. Of the great 50’s West Coast jazzers, I know Hawes the best, and as I grow older, he becomes more of a touchstone. Truthfully I think Hawes is not so organized behind Land in accompaniment on the standards, at that point he might have been a more natural trio pianist. Still, For Real! offers truly great playing from all hands, Frank Butler is right in there, and this might be the most unrepentantly swinging Scott LaFaro I’ve ever heard, especially on the opening blues, “Hip.”

Hawes has a way with the piano that seems to be powered by an external supernatural source. His bluesy/bebop lines on “Hip” are really in a class of their own. Of course, there are so many: The 50’s terrain controlled by Bud Powell on one side and Horace Silver on the other includes Hope, Perkins, Harris, Sonny Clark, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and others.

Still. Hampton Hawes. Wow.