During the 2020 pandemic, I had time to contemplate my music library and listen to things not always at the top of the pile.
At some point my collector’s aesthetic began embracing mainstream jazz LPs from the ’70s and ’80s, essentially from shortly after the death of John Coltrane to just before the rise of Wynton Marsalis, specifically music that was not made by the biggest names nor supported by any sort of significant critical discourse.
These reasonably conventional and straight-ahead players were usually (but not always) African-American and NYC-based.
In the ’70s, jazz musicians struggled while working out answers to pressing questions:
— “How do we relate to the commercial market?” — usually answered by forays into jazz-rock, fusion, and world music.
— “How do we relate to atonality and modernism?” — usually addressed by the avant-garde.
For most of the music on this page, the most important question — and the least visible question in the history books — was simply:
— “How much of John Coltrane (and related languages like McCoy Tyner) is allowed into small group acoustic jazz originally modeled on the bebop language of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie?”
There’s absolutely nothing systematic about this survey, I literally pulled 52 LPs off my shelf…
Andrew White Live at the New Thing (1970 and 1971). White was the great Coltrane expert, transcribed all the solos, built a business, made a living selling many Coltrane solos and a few original LPs, wrote one of the very best books on jazz, Trane ‘n Me, and was also an expert in European classical music. (He also passed away while I was working on this post.)
This noisy live date has a rare example of the young (and great) Eric Gravatt in an exposed situation.
A time and a place. White’s saxophone virtuosity is undeniable, but his breathless marathon Coltrane-isms would be more enjoyable in the club. He called his style “Chicken Alto,” partly because there is also an angular Eric Dolphy influence.
The back cover has some remarkable blurbs:
Harold Land, A New Shade of Blue (1971) For a time Harold Land and Bobby Hutcherson had a valuable partnership; some of the bootlegs are extraordinary.
This Mainstream date offers the Mwandishi rhythm section of Billy Hart and Buster Williams with William Henderson and, on one track, Mtume. The immense swagger of Mchezaji and Jabali together keeps a studio date moving right along despite the length of the tracks.
Harold Land was originally a bebopper but he studied Coltrane with the best of them. His slightly lighter tone is distinctive, although he possesses brawn and brain as well. Hutcherson is great, of course, but perhaps could be a little louder in the mix. Henderson is best known for a long association with Pharoah Sanders; he isn’t a major stylist but he understands the language and plays the harmony perfectly. (Henderson passed away while I was working on this post). Nods to the current moment include the 6/8 “Mtume” and “Angela” dedicated to Angela Davis. My favorite track is the most frankly virtuosic, the incendiary pentatonic workout “De-Liberation.” However all the tracks feel great, just like any other time Buster Williams and Billy Hart are in a room together.
While from 1971, the general style on A New Shade of Blue seems absolutely current. Indeed, between the moderately advanced composition and the colorful chord scale blowing, this could easily be fresh group hitting at Smalls in 2020 — except, of course, the young players study the tradition, while this group of masters are the tradition.
Art Blakey Art’s Break 1972. Not every edition of the Messengers is equally well known. This obscure live Lotus LP boasts trumpeter Bill Hardman in a fiery and distinctive performance. Tenor saxist David Schnitter is right in there on the mainstream tip, while pianist Mickey Tucker is a glossy and high-energy player somewhat in the vein of John Hicks or Ronnie Mathews. Bassist Cameron Brown plays well but sadly is far too hot in the mix; when people complain about the bass on ’70s records, this LP is what they mean. Indeed, it is hard to hear the drummer clearly over the bass (as unlikely as that sounds). The planned drama of a Blakey show is very much in evidence, every solo builds from a whisper to a cry. There’s one surprising repertoire choice, Woody Shaw’s “Perception,” where the band sounds especially happy. It’s really great to hear Blakey’s fiery drumming fuel a modal excursion like “Perception.”
Albert Dailey The Day After the Dawn (1973?) This is a pretty unlikely debut for a straight-ahead jazz pianist, a fancy and excellent-sounding LP for Columbia with a sexy cover and notes from Walter (later Wendy) Carlos. Some of the music boasts a chamber music ensemble, notably a rendition of Carlos’s gorgeous “Theme from Clockwork Orange.” The title track sounds like Bill Evans with Claus Ogerman. There’s even one totally overdubbed wall of sound fantasia, “Free Me.”
It’s all pretty interesting, but perhaps Dailey doesn’t have a strong enough profile as a composer to make for a truly durable project. In addition, certain elements just don’t make sense, like the vaguely rock ‘n roll guitar solos by Jack Wilkins and an elegiac essay by Mike Zwerin that isn’t even about Albert Dailey. The best things are no-frills trios with Richard Davis and wonderful under-recorded New Orleans drummer David Lee.
If I had been in charge, I would have commissioned Carlos to write an neo-baroque suite for just the trio of Dailey-Davis-Lee, something on a John Lewis tip, and filled out the date with ballads and blues…
Cedar Walton, A Night at Boomers, Vol. 2. This great music from an all-star quartet with Clifford Jordan, Sam Jones, and Louis Hayes is mostly on the CD compilation Naima. I grabbed the LP just to hear the 10-minute version of “Stella by Starlight.” It’s typically extraordinary. At this driving medium up tempo, Clifford Jordan’s searching tenor reminds me of Warne Marsh in places (not a typo) and Walton plays serious bebop through the dense changes. In a solo like this, Walton shows he has something from Bud Powell that a younger peer like Albert Dailey didn’t quite get.
Some Walton scholars regard the Boomers music as the high point in Walton’s pianism. It could be true. That such miracles occur an out-of-tune upright is one of the quintessential jazz mysteries.
Walter Bishop Jr. Valley Land (1974). The cover photo may be more memorable than the music, which is a journeyman date with a stellar rhythm section, Sam Jones and Billy Hart. The detailed liner notes give Bishop’s artistic history, which began with Bird, Miles, and Blakey. For me, those earlier years were Bishop’s peak. Later he wrote a bland book about quartal playing and studied with Lyle “Spud” Murphy. Sadly, I don’t believe these modern influences were ever entirely digested in Bishop’s sound. Bishop owns Bud Powell, but when he works with fourths or unexpected minor seconds it just doesn’t sound comfortable. I admit Sam Jones’s superb walking on “Killer Joe” is a good reason to own this album.
The best Bishop Jr. LP I know is the purely bebop Speak Low with Jimmy Garrison and G.T. Hogan.
Earl and Carl Grubbs The Visitors (1974). The Grubbs brothers were cousins of Naima Coltrane; they knew John Coltrane well and have a substantial cameo in the biography Chasin’ the Trane. This LP is some Philly stuff, including the rhythm section of Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, and Tootie Heath. A nice disc! Great swinging vibe in the band. Carl plays alto and Earl plays tenor and the emotion is fresh, engaging, and authentic. The melodic original tunes are convincing and the all-stars sound happy to be backing the brothers. Tootie plays a couple of amusing noisy fills that show how he’s been listening to Billy Cobham.
I really enjoyed this one.
Sarah Vaughan And the Jimmy Rowles Quintet (1974). No complaints about the band: Rowles, Teddy Edwards, Monty Budwig, Donald Bailey, and trumpeter Al Aarons. Vaughan herself is in good form on this live gig and Rowles plays some pretty amazing things behind her. However the engineering is somewhat uncharismatic — Budwig is the loudest thing on the LP — and the repertoire is a little bland on the first side. Neither trumpet nor trumpet do all that much, and Bailey is very restrained. Honestly it should have been simply duo with Vaughan and Rowles: somehow the conceit of “quintet” confuses the issue. However Rowles completists need this for his two originals, “Frasier (The Sensuous Lion)” and “Morning Star.”
The best track is “A House is Not a Home,” which also can be heard elsewhere with Ella Fitzgerald and phenomenal Tommy Flanagan. This Bacharach-David anthem was one of the few late ’60s hits that naturally fit an older generation of jazz singers and their pianists.
Sonny Criss Saturday Morning (1975). Sonny Criss was a serious bebopper; he’s in that Sonny Stitt bag a little bit but with a simpler kind of harmonic perspective and another kind of open-hearted vulnerability. On this date the ballads like “Angel Eyes” and “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” are the best; the latter has a heartfelt declamation of the melody surrounded by double- and triple-time filigree. All the Xanadu dates with Barry Harris are worth hearing; Harris offered a post-Powell peak in this era and producer Don Schlitten was on the same wavelength. “Tin Tin Deo” shows Barry in somewhat funky frame of mind; he also gets a trio “My Heart Stood Still” (still one of his favorite pieces) that is an album highlight. The piano is out of tune but who cares? Leroy Vinnegar and Lenny McBrowne are a solid West Coast rhythm section and the vibes are good all around. (Amusingly, Vinnegar loses the form on the title track, a simple E minor blues. Perhaps he’s been looking at too much paper in the L.A. studios?)
Sonny Stitt Mellow (1975). There are so many Stitt albums, I’ll never hear them all. This is a somewhat unusual date, with only Barry Harris being a typical Stitt collaborator, the rest of the musicians are wild cards of one or another: Jimmy Heath (heard on soprano and flute as well as tenor), Richard Davis, and Roy Haynes. The Muse production is typically bare bones, the piano is out of tune and the drums should be louder in the mix, especially since Roy Haynes is far more in control of the beat than Richard Davis. (Davis is fine on the ballads but the swingers are a shade chaotic.)
The liner notes by Gary Giddins (who also produced the date) are rather shocking, he’s quite frank about what he perceives as Stitt’s strengths and weaknesses. I’d agree with most of what Giddins says but it’s either alarming or refreshing to see it on the LP jacket. The session is heavy on ballads (thus the album title) but I prefer it when they get into the blues on “A Cute One” and throw down the uptempo bop on “How High the Moon.” Heath puts some modernist and modal heat on Stitt (he’s especially good on “Moon”) but the elder doesn’t notice much, both horns just cook away.
Johnny Griffin Live in Toyko (1976). The opening “All The Things You Are” starts a fast clip and gets faster. Eventually the band stops, and the saxophonist takes a jaw-dropping cadenza, taking the music to a turf previously reserved for Sonny Rollins. This is serious bebop! Griff is joined by Horace Parlan, Mads Vinding, and Art Taylor. Taylor sounds particularly inspired. There aren’t so many ’70s discs with Taylor, making this session especially valuable.
The other highlight track is “The Man I Love.” Coleman Hawkins recorded a famous version with tempo doubled. Griff plays it even faster, but an old-school lyricism remains present despite the plethora of furious lines. Again, an amazing cadenza.
I like all the Griffin albums I’ve heard, but this joyous double LP set of extended performances must be one of the most essential for any serious Griff fan.
Art Farmer On the Road (1976) What an amazing one-off quintet: Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Ray Brown, and Steve Ellington or Shelly Manne. Ellington is an interesting drummer, underrated, I only know him from an earlier record with Hawes, a later association with Hal Galper, and one LP with Dave Holland. He’s somewhat in a discursive Elvin Jones bag on the opening minor blues by Hawes, “Downwind.”
The very first two pieces don’t entirely work. “Downwind” is looking at the Coltrane influence and not entirely succeeding. There’s also something of pop music they are trying to sort out: I adore Hawes, but don’t know what he’s doing playing that soft-rock beat behind Farmer on their duo “My Funny Valentine.” The “Namely You” that follows is much better, Ray Brown sounds inspired and Farmer gives unforced warmth.
Still, from the same era, I prefer other examples of these great musicians: Art Farmer’s albums with Cedar Walton are in the right pocket; the Pepper/Hawes collab Living Legend satisfies; Hawes’s At the Piano with Brown and Manne is a masterpiece.
Barney Kessel Soaring (1976). Trio date with Monty Budwig and Jake Hanna (who is great drummer but can’t be heard too clearly in this mix). Kessel enlivens various famous ’50s dates with his countrified bebop guitar, but I can’t say I have the measure of the Kessel discography. The LP begins with “You Go to My Head” at the fastest clip I’ve ever heard for this old torch ballad. Kessel can really play, and his chops are up. The original “Soaring” is a light modal investigation in the style of “Invitation” and “Stolen Moments.” Not really my thing, but surely a safe bet for Kessel fans.
Kenny Burrell Tin Tin Deo (1977). More my speed is another West Coast guitar trio session on the Concord label from the following year, featuring Kenny Burrell, Reggie Johnson, and Carl Burnett. (Reggie Johnson passed away while I was working on this post.) Burrell plays only half the notes of Kessel, but Burrell’s warmth is palpable and you can hear him surprise himself in his improvised line. The trio sounds tight, I don’t know much of either Johnson or Burnett but it’s all a good vibe. The title song is groovy and the ballad “Old Folks” is right in there on the romantic tip. The bass feature for “Have You Met Miss Jones” is underwhelming; “I Remember You” done straight down the middle is more like it. The surprise repertoire choice is “La Petite Mambo” by Erroll Garner.
[photo of Charles McPherson and Barry Harris from the inside of Today’s Man]
Four from Charles McPherson, two on Mainstream, two on Xanadu. I’ve studied with Charles a bit, interviewed him for DTM, and enjoyed his live performances tremendously. These four LPs are representative of the challenges and delights of ’70s straight-ahead jazz….
Charles McPherson (1972). Barry Harris, Ron Carter, Leroy Williams, but also Lonnie Hilliard on trumpet, plus a second pianist, Nico Bunink, and two guitarists, Gene Berntoncini and Carl Lynch. The cheerfully funky opener “What’s Goin’ On” is for radio play — in the liners McPherson says that he always wanted to do a track like this — but then the album never gains much momentum, with questionable recorded sound and simply too much guitar.
Today’s Man (1973). Barry Harris and Billy Higgins with a bassist who played with Art Blakey, Lawrence Evans, plus (on side A only) an all-star horn section including Richard Willams, Cecil Bridgewater, Frank Wess, Julius Watkins, Chris Woods, and Garnett Brown. Evans is too loud in the mix and Higgins’s ride cymbal can barely be heard. There’s quite a bit of uncredited percussion, could that possibly be an overdub? The arrangements by Ernie Wilkins (uncredited on the jacket) work okay, and of course McPherson sounds wonderful, but something isn’t flowing exactly right.
Too bad McPherson didn’t make an album for Creed Taylor and CTI, that might have been the right version of the “big sound” that these two Mainstream LPs are going for.
The second side of Today’s Man is quartet, and everything falls more into place, especially on the standard “Stranger in Paradise” and the bebop blues “Cheryl.”
Beautiful (1975). Duke Jordan, Sam Jones, Leroy Williams. We are back to more like home turf for McPherson on a set of standards with a pianist associated with Bird, Duke Jordan. I particularly enjoy hearing McPherson and Jordan play “It Could Happen to You,” a song strangely beloved (and therefore almost ruined) by jazz students worldwide. McPherson can double-time with the best of them, but on this session he’s really in a lyrical frame of mind. Jordan’s comping is excellent but he’s not a major voice as an improvisor.
New Horizons (1977). Mickey Tucker, Cecil McBee, and Freddie Waits. Producer Don Schlitten puts McPherson with younger musicians (Tucker was also a Xanadu artist).
McPherson’s four originals have a modern, even a modal, feel. Unlike his mentor Barry Harris, McPherson would support new ideas. Something about this disc really lands, the alto solos are commanding and Tucker’s piano is gregarious. A highlight is the original bossa “Night Eyes,” where Tucker does a superb job supporting the fluid melody. The chord changes to the uptempo title track suggest “Giant Steps” and the funky “Dee Blues” hints at Bartók. There’s plenty of McPherson’s insightful wisdom in the liner notes as well.
McPherson was great from the beginning, but he definitely grew over time, and of these four I just placed on my turntable in order, the last was the best. (It also definitely sounds the best; the engineers and producers were practicing as well.)
Sam Most Flute Flight (1976). A relaxed Xanadu session with Lou Levy, Monty Budwig and, most importantly, Donald Bailey, who naturally brings something surreal to the date. Sam Most was a bebop flute pioneer; his quick lines and graceful balladeering are perhaps more like a muted trumpet than an alto saxophone. At times Most hums (really more like “growls”) through the flute while blowing, an engaging texture. Nice piano work. (Paul Motian told me that Lou Levy was an influence on Bill Evans.) Donald Bailey doesn’t let all the dogs out here, but it’s still a good example of how Bailey could bring something special to relatively conservative jazz. Several beats are “Latin” or “Brazilian” or some such.
Jimmy Raney Live in Tokyo (1976). This was part of a package tour that included Charles McPherson, Barry Harris, and Leroy Williams. All of the music I’ve heard from these concerts has been wonderful; indeed, the Barry Harris trio set is one of his best. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one Raney’s best as well. Love his relaxed uptempo bop lines on “Anthropology,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “Cherokee.” Sam Jones and Leroy Williams are at their greasiest, perhaps especially on the outrageously swinging “Here’s That Rainy Day.” Not sure if I wanted to hear “Watch What Happens” but the trio is joyous and inspired throughout, even that chestnut (my least favorite Michel Legrand tune) sounds great.
The Pentagon (1976). The Magic Triangle was Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins. They backed Clifford Jordan on several wonderful dates. Those four plus Ray Mantilla on percussion are The Pentagon.
Interesting LP, they are paying homage to the Afro-Cuban tradition introduced by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, they even include “Manteca.” Another puzzle piece is Lester Young’s “D.B. Blues,” a blues with bridge, the first of its kind, and surely something of a touchstone for Sam Jones, for Jones wrote some famous examples that form, “Unit 7” and “One for Amos.” It’s an audiophile project, and it sounds good, certainly much better than many of the era, but Jordan might be a shade low in the mix. There’s something a little brusque in the playing from these masters, it’s not their loosest and most inspired, but still, an amazing band.
Howard McGhee Jazzbrothers (1977). McGee was a key figure in the 40’s. He gave Scott DeVeaux a lot of time, giving added depth to DeVeaux’s valuble book The Birth of Bebop. This LP features Charlie Rouse, Barry Harris, Lisle Atkinson, Grady Tate, and Jual Curtis on congas. Some great playing here, McGhee is snap crackle pop, but even better is Rouse, who lays down the law. In the intriguing liner notes, Benny Bailey writes of Rouse, “He’s really painting pictures, letting his maturity and knowledge work for him.”
It’s all originals by McGee, usually on standard forms. Bailey singles out the rather Monkish “Search” as the best track. Barry Harris is naturally prime 1977 form. I admit that I would have preferred the date without conga, especially since there aren’t so many quintet dates with Grady Tate in full effect.
Sam Jones Changes ‘n Things (1977) Still more Xanadu, this one a jammin’ sextet date with Blue Mitchell, Slide Hampton, Bob Berg, Barry Harris, and Louis Hayes. Wonderful music from a group of peers who generally understand the same information. It must be one of Blue Mitchell’s last sessions but he crackles with blues just like always. Slide Hampton had something to do with arrangements and plays great too, talkin’ that bop through the bone. Newcomer Bob Berg was appreciated for his Coltrane-inspired frenzy.
Barry Harris and Bob Berg together is unusual, and indeed, Barry is perhaps a shade mis-aligned with this aesthetic overall. Harris is forced into playing waltzes, modal music, Coltrane changes, and Benny Golson’s “Stablemates.” Of course Harris can do it, but it’s not a natural fit the way Cedar Walton would have been. Louis Hayes is at the top of his game with his classic partner, the very very great Sam Jones. Jones’s best feature is a bluesy rendition of Oscar Pettiford’s “Laverne Walk.” On this same track the pianist turns his bop corners in that relaxed fashion as only Barry Harris can.
Once again, the main problem is the reproduction, these dim sounds desperately need a remaster. Chris Sheridan’s extensive liner notes include many intriguing biographical details. There should be an authoritative biography of each member of this sextet, but that doesn’t seem to be the way it works in American music.
Lee Konitz Figure & Spirit (1977). Noted Tristanoite Ted Brown joins Lee in the front line accompanied by a heavy black NYC rhythm section of Albert Dailey, Rufus Reid, and Joe Chambers. It’s a worthy listen, everyone is willing to make music together. The presence of Brown and those thorny unison heads and contrapuntal horn improvs perhaps make the affect more “Tristano” than needed; I would have preferred to simply hear Lee play standards with the cats the way he does on the classic LP Motion.
The opening “Figure & Spirit,” based on “Body and Soul,” begins straight out with Lee blowing his slightly chilly but nonetheless beautiful and soulful lines over Dailey’s conventionally excellent comping; this special effect is the most memorable moment on the LP.
Still, top-shelf Lee in the ’70s is harder to find than earlier; Figure & Spirit is certainly preferable to the Nonet or most of the Milestone albums. It’s also nice to hear Joe Chambers play a “straight” date in the mid-70s, he sounds great of course.
Johnny Griffin, NYC Underground (1977). Griff tracks a live set from the Village Vanguard with Ronnie Mathews, Ray Drummond, and Idris Muhammad. Begins with a swinging version of the old operetta chestnut “Yours Is My Heart Alone.” Naturally Griff is all over the horn, double time lines blazing, and the arrangement has some cute tricks. This is a classic ’70s rhythm section, I especially admire Muhammad, who turns every corner with street-wise insouciance. “Alone Again” is an original ballad, a worthy composition; even better is “Let Me Touch It,” which despite a raunchy title is rather oblique and Monkish in effect. Griff’s solos gather heat as they go, a master of the language. Naturally, the way uptempo “Rhythm-A-Ning” ends up being the highlight, with a concluding frenzy that borders on the ludicrous.
Philly Joe Jones, Philly Mignon (1977). Nat Adderley, Ira Sullivan, George Cables, and Ron Carter confab for the drum legend. (Ira Sullivan passed while I was working on this post.) Once again, the potential is severely undercut by frustrating engineering: on the opening “Confirmation,” the drummer can barely be heard except when he is soloing.
The music is otherwise starts out fine, the white Chicagoan Sullivan more than holds his own next to the black New Yorkers,,,,but it’s hardly fair to Sullivan that Dexter Gordon is featured on two long quartet tunes. Benny Bailey’s modal “Neptunis” (a slowed-down version of Woody Shaw’s “The Moontrane”) with Gordon is immediately more in the pocket, while Gordon’s declamation on “Polkadots and Moonbeams” is naturally definitive. Of the two other tunes with Adderley and Sullivan, “Jim’s Jewel” is latin number with some of the best Philly Joe on the date (there’s no piano on this track so you can hear the drums better) and Ron’s “United Blues” is a classic tune.
Hugh Lawson Prime Time (1977). Horace Parlan wrote the notes to this sleeper LP, with Ben Riley and a rare ’70s appearance of Bob Cranshaw on acoustic bass. Lawson is a name you might not know unless you have plenty of Yusef Lateef sides, and this was his first trio album. He’s a strong player in the legendary Detroit tradition, informed by both Bud Powell and McCoy Tyner. The intriguing track list kicks off with Clifford Jordan’s inimitable “Highest Mountain” before moving on to selections from Mingus, Powell, and Sonelius Smith’s contemporary-sounding (meaning circa 1977) “The Need to Smile.” Lawson’s own “Blue Bones” is just right, blues all the way with a bebop touch. Special nod to the great Ben Riley, he really hooks up this date.
Hank Jones ‘Bop Redux (1977). Ben Riley keeps floating his flawless beat on this remarkable session. Hank Jones was already a seasoned professional when Charlie Parker came to town. Jones learned bop, could play it great, but never really sounded like a child of Bud Powell; He always sounded like child of Teddy Wilson who learned bop. That linage is notably clear on this recital of compositions by Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
The history lesson is evident, but the music is even better. George Duvivier plays bass.
Illinois Jacquet In Swinging Sweden (1978) A fun session with a divine cast, Joe Newman, Jimmy Rowles, George Duvivier, and Walter Perkins. The repertoire has no surprises (“The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Darn the Dream,” blues and rhythm changes) but Jacquet was a quintessential big band musician and each track has fun structural elements. Naturally, it’s all done with grace and surreal swing, both Jacquet and Newman “talk” through their horns. The obscure S.I.R. label offers an amazing cover photo of the band but the engineering sits Perkins far in the back. However, Duvivier fans will want this one, for he’s playing out and really driving the session. Rowles is casually creative, nobody else would be quite this risky in this situation.
Jackie McLean and the Great Jazz Trio, New Wine in Old Bottles (1978). I love Jackie McLean, and I love the Great Jazz Trio with Hank Jones, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, but somehow this LP never lands for me. Jackie McLean was an early adapter of Coltrane ideas, but the elder Hank Jones never really dealt with Coltrane. Therefore the modal tunes Mclean brings to Jones like “Appointment in Ghana” and “Little Melonae” push Jones into a slightly awkward space, leaving Jones to arpeggiate augmented triads and other vaguely unhip things.
Joe Roposo’s “Being Green” is an unexpected choice, here McLean’s tart sound offset’s Jones lush sound in an intriguing fashion. Of course, Ron and Tony are Ron and Tony, so there are some exciting moments. “Confirmation” is the best swinger on the date. Overall the Great Jazz Trio seemed best when on their own rather than backing a horn.
Ronnie Mathews Roots, Branches and Dances (1978). From what I’ve heard, this is acclaimed as Mathews’s best record, a freewheeling date with Frank Foster, Ray Drummond, Al Foster and (on two tracks) Azzedin Weston on percussion.
Mathews is aligned with Albert Dailey, John Hicks, Larry Willis, Joe Bonner, Mickey Tucker, Onaje Allan Gumbs, George Cables, and others of that generation, pianists who could play ballads and modal music with equal commitment. For this crew the bebop of Bud Powell and Barry Harris was a secondary (rather than primary) reference.
However, Mathews was more interested in Thelonious Monk than most of his peers, and “It Don’t Mean a Thing” here has lovely Monkian overtones. The star of the date is Frank Foster, who really sounds amazing, just burning it up on tenor, try “Hi-Fly,” good lord. Great feel in the rhythm section as well.
Johnny Griffin, Bush Dance (1978). Generally Griffin managed to play relatively straight bebop. However on this unusual date he adds percussion and guitar. The long vamp into to “A Night in Tunisia” includes Griff on chant vocal, and the opening sax lines have the most Coltrane-type modality that I’ve heard from him. When the head arrives, it goes back to normal, and the saxophonist delivers a typically devastating bebop solo.
Guitarist George Freeman (brother of Von) was an old hometown associate, and the percussionist is Kenneth Nash. However, if I had been in charge, I would have hired just core trio for rhythm: Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, and Tootie Heath. Walton sounds great blowing on “Tunisia.” Tootie swings out with big drum kit and somewhat fusion-y tuning.
“The JAMFs are Coming” (a dirty blues) stands for “The Jive-Ass Motherfuckers are Coming.”
Frank Foster A Blues Ain’t Nothing but a Trip (1979). More strong Foster on live Belgian date with Ted Dunbar, Mickey Tucker, Earl May, and Billy Hart. Foster is certainly working on his Coltrane influences, a straightforward “Giant Steps” is on the set list, and his classic modal blues waltz “Simone” is very much inspired by Coltrane. Nice band, Ted Dunbar is an interesting figure, complex lines, some kind of “system,” but he plays four to the bar comping a la Freddie Green on the down ‘n dirty blues “Jane Huck” as well. “Jane Huck” has an odd key scheme, modulating in thirds all around map. This also suggests Coltrane, but perhaps Foster is taking the long charts he’d write for the Basie band into a small group. (Foster had a NYC big band in around those years as well.) I’m biased because he’s my mentor, but damn does Jabali sound good here.
The band goes for a lot of house, which would be fun live, but is less successful when listening at home.
Slide Hampton World of Trombones (1979). Yeah! This is good one, a wall of brass arranged by a master of the Dizzy Gillespie tradition, and quite well-recorded to boot. The other bones include Clifford Adams, Jr., Clarence Banks, Curtis Fuller, Janice Robinson, Tyrone Jefferson, Steve Turre, Angel ‘Papo’ Vasquez, Earl McIntyre, and Douglas Purviance. The top-shelf rhythm section is Albert Dailey, Ray Drummond, and Leroy Williams. At first glance the repertoire is commonplace — the opening “Chorale” is actually “Giant Steps” before proceeding with “Lester Leaps In,” “Con Alma,” “Impressions” and so forth — but detailed and contrapuntal arrangements give way to inspired blowing in a natural fashion.
Bebop trombone is perhaps a specialist listen — never more then where there are ten of ’em at once — but this LP must one of the best examples of its kind. Everyone gets a say on “Lester Leaps In” but otherwise the leader takes the lion share of the solos, and he sounds great too. It’s fun to hear Leroy Williams power a bunch of bones.
Joe Albany Bird Lives! (1979). Rough around the edges: it sounds like neither Albany or Art Davis are playing many gigs at the moment, so it is up to Roy Haynes to keep the beat steady. In that sense, the record is a masterclass, as we get to hear the great Haynes be a flexible Papa Jo Jones (he stays on the high-hat quite a bit) while working around the loose bassist and pianist. Albany’s lines are fresh, there’s no received wisdom to be heard from that quarter, and I stole a voicing from his presentation of “Yardbird Suite.” The engineering from a young David Baker does Haynes’s drums no favors.
Bunky Green Places We’ve Never Been (1979). Almost everything has an antecedent. Steve Coleman cites Bunky Green is an influence, and the relationship is obvious. This is a nice quintet date with a great band, Randy Brecker, Albert Dailey, Eddie Gomez, with two tracks also documenting Green’s relationship with Ronald Kubelik. Green’s alto sonority is in the biting Eric Dolphy or James Spaulding tradition but the harmonic information is post-Coltrane, try the wonderful “speaking in tongues” on “Command Module.” Everyone else sounds good too, especially Freddie Waits, who is playing out, and Randy Brecker, at that time at a career peak with the Brecker Brothers (their single “East River” was a hit that same year). and who sounds just delighted to be asked to participate on such serious post-modal music.
Houston Person Very Personal (1980). Interesting band: Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Buster Williams, and, especially, Vernel Fournier. This mellow date, over half ballads, but Fournier is hot in the mix on the swingers. There aren’t so many records where one can hear Fournier booting horns like he does here on “Chicago Serenade.” The arrangements are credited to Walton: They are fine but sometimes a bit fussy.
Person’s tenor is authentic, the real deal, one of the “oldest” sounding “modern” tenors. A sexy woman is frequently on the cover of a Person LP, suggesting smooth jazz or something for the R n’ B market, but the music is usually straight down the middle in the best way. Person produced a lot of work for Muse, this is one of the best. Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues” may be the most exciting track here for hot solos from all hands.
Junior Cook, Somethin’s Cookin’ (1981). Cook is fine, perhaps not a significant stylist, but someone who could play. However the star on this date is Cedar Walton, who came to hand out some piano lessons. The groove with Buster Williams and Billy Higgins is naturally exceptional. Recorded sound is not great but everything can be heard. There are two Walton tunes, “Fiesta Español” and “Hindsight,” and two from Larry Willis, “Illusion of Grandeur” and “Heavy Blue,” but the best is Parker’s “Chi-Chi” with a stellar piano solo over the weightless bass and drums. Community music.
Norman Simmons, I’m….the Blues (1981) Simmons is best-known as a vocal accompanist, and perhaps that’s a shame, for he certainly is a great straight-ahead pianist with a heavy and swinging touch. His charming liner notes introduce his friends, Jimmy Owens, Clifford Jordan, Leslie Atkinson, and two astonishing drummers, Vernel Fournier and Al Harewood. While billed as a quintet, many tracks are trio, with lots of groovy blues piano flourishes and superb ride cymbal beats. Simmons even sings on one number.
The longest track, “Good Humors,” is a bit exotic and modal in flavor, and Jordan is heard to surprising effect on alto. Owens sounds very good and melodic in this 60’s vibe and Fournier is the busiest I’ve ever heard him. A truly deep cut for a vicious blindfold test!
I would have thought this boutique production for the obscure MJP label would be rare, but it’s available on all streaming services…
Albert Dailey Textures (1981) Trio with the “Dexter Gordon rhythm section” of Rufus Reid and Eddie Gladden. Dailey’s originals like “Textures” and “Pogo” identify with the post-bop and modal world of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. It’s well done, but the Ellington and Dameron ballads (“If You Could See Me Now” is solo piano) might bring out a more personal side of this pianist.
Obscure tenor saxophonist Arthur Rhames, who in some circles is much better known as an innovative guitarist, lights it up in Coltrane-inspired fashion on “The Dues We Have to Pay.” If Rhames, Dailey, and the rest of the quartet had played a week in a club before recording there might have been a masterpiece to be found…
Bob Mover In the True Tradition (1981). Mover is a bit of an underground musician, a bebop alto master influenced by Lee Konitz and Sonny Rollins, also an important teacher. This trio date features Rufus Reid and another unsung legend, drummer Bobby Ward, who reportedly was a big influence on Tony Williams. Ward’s busy polyrhythmic approach (try “Poinciana” and a few insane fills on “Blues for Bobby Ward”) and unheralded rep suggests an alliance with Edgar Bateman and Donald Bailey. (Bobby Ward passed away while I was working on this post.)
Perhaps this date is more of a valuable document than an entirely successful LP, for (strangely) much the repertoire is rather fussy and unsuited to a piano-less instrumentation. Mover’s intervallic opening cadenza to Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For” is gorgeous but when the band comes in, it seems wrong to play such a rich piece without any middle voices. Only “Blues for Bobby Ward” and “Evidence” hit the right unforced groove.
Bob Mover, Things Unseen! (1982) The basic unit for the follow-up was Albert Dailey, Ray Drummond, Bobby Ward. The first track, a way up rendition of the very old chestnut “Bye Bye Blues,” has a damn remarkable alto solo. Some of Mover’s concept comes from the oblique stop and start gestures of Rollins’s most raggedly ensembles. Indeed, one can hear the Bostonians Mover and Ward wrong foot the New Yorkers Drummond and Dailey. Tenor saxist Steve Hall joins for a dedication to another mysterious Boston figure, “Twardzik,” where the band is almost swinging too hard (sic) for the delicate textures; this complex piece might have benefitted from a more Tristano-esque approach. And so the rest of the LP goes, with successful and unsuccessful moments side by side. Still a very interesting listen, very much a piece of the puzzle.
Art Blakey and the All Star Jazz Messengers (1982). All star is right, with Freddie Hubbard, Bennie Golson, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, and Buster Williams aboard. The Japanese Baystate looks nice but the recorded sound and overall production is a bit unorganized, without enough drums in the mix and bass solos that are consistently longer than the piano solos. It’s valuable to hear these masters play “Moanin'” and “Blues March” years after the fact. The biggest star is surely Hubbard, who blows almost as hard as did with VSOP. Benny Golson is surprisingly abstract in his phrasing, and contributes a memorable new piece, “City Bound,” one of his best from the era. As good as it is, something of a missed opportunity.
Two from Charlie Rouse —
The Upper Manhattan Jazz Society (1981). A kind of collective with Benny Bailey, Albert Dailey, Buster Williams, and Keith Copeland. In this era Rouse was having a career rebirth thanks to the supergroup Sphere. He sounds just great here, as does everyone else. Indeed, this is spectacularly good example of the genre, I could have almost built this whole page around this disc. (Benny Bailey’s Grand Slam (1978) with Rouse, Richard Wyands, Sam Jones, and Billy Hart is just as good.)
Among other things, the set list is satisfying, all recent works that deserved attention. Rouse’s “Lil’ Sherry” is a bop blues, Fritz Pauer’s “Spelunke” is Monkish (hell of a piano intro), Dailey’s “Mr. McGee” is funky. An honorary member of the Society was obviously John Hicks, for he’s represented with two modal pieces, “Naima’s Love Song” and “After the Morning.”
Both Rouse and Bailey shout and dance in their solos, and the rhythm section is tight and swinging. I don’t have so much Keith Copeland in my collection but he sounds good here, while Buster Williams once again contributes pure magic to each quarter note. It doesn’t say where the date was recorded but the engineering is good.
Social Call (with Red Rodney) (1984). Albert Dailey again, with Cecil McBee and a young Kenny Washington completing the quintet. Some of the undefinable magic of Jazz Society isn’t present; certainly the sonics aren’t nearly as satisfying. (Van Gelder in this era wasn’t what he used to be.) It’s still a fun listen. The opening rhythm changes by Rouse, “Little Chico,” is strikingly abstract, with a melody of fast moving minor seconds and lots of unexpected sounds from the rhythm section. What!
The stars are Rouse and Rodney, both are in top form, bebop masters who comfortably absorbed chromatic and modal innovations. (I need to listen to more Rodney.)
Dailey seems to lack some of the focus he displayed with Jazz Society. Both discs are dedicated to Dailey, who passed away before either session was released.
Don Sickler supplied some of the charts, including the Gigi Gryce slice of hard bop that gives the album its title. Another highlight is Rouse’s breathy romance on “Darn that Dream.”
James Williams The Arioso Touch (1982). I had this a teenager, when the LP was comparatively new. In my early twenties, I decided Williams was too glitzy and breathless; his fast lines seemed to be simply bland chord scale patterns. In my thirties I finally understood Williams’s connection to gospel music, and learned to enjoy his lusty and fervent embrace of “big piano.”
Still, even at this later hour, I remain convinced that his accompanists Buster Williams and Billy Higgins have something that eludes Williams in terms of staking out a personal and vulnerable place in the jazz aesthetic. The best track is the concluding blues “Judge For Yourself,” where the gospel sound is most to the fore and Williams turns some surprising corners in his improvised line.
Tommy Flanagan, Giant Steps and Thelonica (1982). Tommy Flanagan joined Coltrane on a famous album, then twenty-three years later re-recorded some of this challenging repertoire with George Mraz and Al Foster. Flanagan immediately followed that with a Monk tribute album, or more specifically a tribute to the relationship of the Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter to Monk. (Monk had died earlier that year, the Baroness was still around.)
Mraz and wonderful Art Taylor join for the Monk LP; I’ve long thought this was one of the best Monk tribute albums, an authentic point of view, and a good solution to integrating something of the Monk aesthetic into fairly straightforward bop. The Coltrane disc is almost as enjoyable, although (even after all this time) Flanagan doesn’t sound overwhelmingly comfortable in that repertoire. (Tellingly, there are no modal Coltrane pieces in the set list: Like Hank Jones and Barry Harris, Flanagan never really come to terms with McCoy Tyner.)
Together these two fine 1980s albums also foreshadow the 1990s trend of established masters recording songbook tributes like Joe Henderson’s homage to Strayhorn, Herbie Hancock’s Gershwin celebration, and the World Saxophone Quartet’s tribute to Ellington.
Clifford Jordan Repetition (1984). One’s ears change over time. Thelonious Monk says something like this in an interview somewhere: The records don’t sound the same. I’ve owned at least two copies of Repetition. I got it in high school, sold it, then bought it again 20 years later and was disappointed once again.
Now I’m listening and think it is great. There’s something a bit unsettled about it, that’s still true, but now I hear just how greasy everyone is. The band is Barry Harris, Walter Booker, and Vernel Fournier. The first tune, “Third Avenue,” is one of Jordan’s weird forms, like “Highest Mountain,” but it works. “Fun” is way up rhythm changes with a different bridge, and they nail it. As the LP continues the repertoire continues to surprise and delight, especially the title tune, the Neal Hefti chart that Charlie Parker played over.
This was a Stanley Crouch band, he booked them into the Tin Palace, wrote about them in the Village Voice, and wrote the liner notes. Stanley was right.
The problem is the bass chair. Walter Booker is playing sort of light, but he’s still a big presence thanks to the amp. At some point I was a purist about this, I couldn’t stand it. The arco line on “Repetition” is so out of tune it is laughable. But — now I can hear how Booker is actually really swinging. Again, greasy. Even the arco thing has a raw charm. “Accepting the bass” is a fundamental mindset that one needs to acquire to get the most out of straight-ahead records from this era.
Vernel Fournier sounds wonderful, it’s a shame he wasn’t two dozen more quartet records like this one. Jordan and Harris are in top form as well. Yes. Repetition is a classic of 1984 jazz!
Stacy Rowles with Jimmy Rowles, Tell It Like It Is (1984). Stacy Rowles had a gorgeous sound and effortless melodic sensibility, somewhat in the tradition of Chet Baker and Tom Harrell. She surely ranked with the most interesting trumpeters of her generation.
Her dad and Donald Bailey were two idiosyncratic musicians, and their fearless contribution elevate Stacy’s debut to something rather extraordinary. “Alabama Home” gives us one of the all-time great Donald Bailey performances. Pops is all over the piano in his most mysterious and Ellington-esque fashion.
The LP is held back by tenor saxophonist Herman Riley and bassist Chuck Berghofer; in small group creative jazz of this caliber there’s no room for people who merely do a good job. Compare the blowing of Stacy Rowles to Herman Riley on the familiar standard “There is No Greater Love”: Rowles improvises pretty melodies, Riley plays standard-issue 70s and 80s tenor stuff. However Riley does give nice heft to some rarely heard hard bop heads by Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter, “Most Like Lee” and “Tell It Like It Is.”
George Cables Phantom of the City (1985). This haphazard survey ends on an up note. All of George Cables’s albums have quality, but this trio session with John Heard and Tony Williams is a special document. Cables is playing an amazing amount of piano, and “Phantom of the City,” “But He Knows,” “Dark Side/Light Side” and “Blue Nights” are four of his best tunes. Tony Williams is on form, this is one of my favorite example of Williams in a piano trio setting, especially when dealing with the original Cables compositions. The drum solo on “Dark Side/Light Side” is phenomenal. Heard is a solid and musical bassist; Heard also painted the picture of Cables on the cover.
2020: George Cables is here and playing great, his last stream from the Vanguard with Essiet Essiet and Billy Hart was exceptional. If he’s online again soon, make sure you don’t sleep on George Cables…