THE JAZZ WORD

All that's jazz... and more

Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean passed away on this day in 2004 having been born in New York City in 1931. He recorded for Prestige in the second half of the 1950s before switching to Blue Note in 1959 where he recorded a string of albums including Let Freedom Ring, arguably the best of the bunch. Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s in Englewood Cliffs on 19 March 1962 it features Walter Davis on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass and drummer Billy Higgins. The cover of the album is yet another striking Reid Miles design with his innovative use of typography to make this LP stand out from the crowd.

“I am proud to say that my musical schooling has been at the universities of Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey and of course Bird. Many of my early days in jazz were spent at Monk’s house. Monk has been a dear friend of mine for many years”. Jackie McLean, liner notes to Let Freedom Ring

*Three tracks are McLean originals and ‘I’ll Keep Loving You’ is a Bud Powell tune. All four are fabulous and the saxophonist’s playing is inspired, which is why this album is so justly revered. From the opening bars of ‘Melody For Melonae’, with Higgins’s drums sounding as though they are right there in the room, you know you are in for something special and significantly different from a Blue Note date of the period.

Throughout Let Freedom Ring there is evidence of the influence of Ornette Coleman. Higgins was a Coleman band alumnus, but this recording remains a unique post-bop album that has elements of the avant-garde on display and it feels like the link from the old to the new. Yet despite its modernist credentials, the music is also steeped in the blues: both tracks on side two of the original album are based on the old 12-bars.

McLean had already cut nine albums for Prestige before his 1959 Blue Note debut, New Soil, and this was his seventh record for the label – in spite of his prodigious output he was still only 30 when this album was recorded. His first Blue Note session had been in 1952 for Miles Davis, a week before his 21st birthday.

A comparative rarity among Blue Note albums from the period, this one features McLean’s own liner notes, and very good and informative they are, too. He was well aware of his position in the pantheon of jazz and the one thing that comes over clearly is his humility. McLean later became a teacher and founded his own musicians’ collective.

You can hear it here…

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Astrud Gilberto was born this day in 1940 in Brazil as Astrud Weinert, her mother was Brazilian and her father German. She was raised in Rio de Janeiro and married João Gilberto in 1959 and emigrated to the United States in 1963.  Astrud Gilberto sang on the influential album Getz/Gilberto featuring João Gilberto, Stan Getz, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, despite having never sung professionally before this recording. For this album she added her unique vocals to ‘The Girl From Ipanema’, the record that immediately says summer – whatever the weather. She went on to record a string of successful albums, mostly for Verve Records  and remains the epitome of cool and elegance.

Check out our Astrud Gilberto playlist.

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yonque March 30th at 11:19am

Astrud Gilberto ha influenciado ha muchas generaciones y se ha convertido en un ícono como vocalista de Bossa Nova, en lo personal felicito a Astrud hoy y le deseo muchas felicidades, parabéns minha linda!!! Obrigado!!!!

James Kerr March 30th at 4:47pm

It was love at first listen. Forever a fan. Happy Birthday.

Lcol Coleman March 31st at 6:07am

I grew up with this timeless music. My parents had the Getz/Gilberto album. I played it constantly.

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Saxophonist Michael Brecker was born on 29 March 1949 in Philadelphia. He moved to New York when he was twenty-one where he was a part of the short-lived, but much appreciated band, Dreams for about a year with his older brother Randy, who played trumpet, and drummer Billy Cobham. After Dreams broke up Brecker played with Cobham and Horace Silver before forming the Brecker Brothers in 1975 with Randy.

Begininng in the 1970s he was a much in demand session player working with some of the very best in rock including, James Taylor, Paul Simon (his song, ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ features a typical Brecker solo), Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, Lou Reed, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Dan Fogelberg, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, and Bruce Springsteen. His jazz credentials are equally impressive working with, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Chet Baker, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner, and Pat Metheny.

In the 1980s he was a member of the Saturday Night Live Band as well as Steps Ahead with Mike Mainieri.  Brecker recorded a solo album in 1987 and continued making his own albums during the next two decades, winning multiple Grammy Awards.

In 2001 he co-founded the collaborative group, Hancock-Brecker-Hargrove, performing among pieces some dedicated to John Coltrane that are included on the album, Directions in Music: Live At Massey Hall (2002) that won a Grammy in 2003.

While performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 2004, Brecker was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome. By late 2006, he appeared to be recovering, but this was not the case and he made his final public performance on 23 June 23, playing with Hancock at Carnegie Hall. On 13 January 2007 Brecker died from complications of leukaemia in New York City.

Check out our Michael Brecker playlist.

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One of the ‘Big Three Tenors’, along with the Hawk and The Pres, Ben Webster played with striking rhythmic momentum and had a rasping tone that added so much to both his own records and the numerous jazz greats he accompanied, from Billie and Ella to Duke Ellington and so many more during a career that spanned five decades.

Born Benjamin Francis Webster in Kansas City Missouri on 27 March 1909 Webster took up the saxophone relatively late, aged twenty-one, having at first been a professional pianist after studying at Wilberforce University in Ohio, the oldest private, black liberal arts college in America. He recorded with for Blanche Calloway’s band and Bennie Moten’s band in 1931, at the time it included Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing and Hot Lips Page, as well as working with Andy Kirk’s band that featured the extraordinary, Mary Lou Williams.

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August 1935, behind the Apollo Theater in New York City Billie Holiday with left to right, Ben Webster, “shoebrush” (with guitar), Johnny Russell and Roger “Ram” Ramirez (in front).

In 1934 Ben moved to New York where he worked with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra before joining Duke Ellington briefly in 1935 and ’36. Finally in 1940 he became a featured soloist with Ellington’s Famous Orchestra in 1940 and recorded for the first time in February in a band that included Johnny Hodges, who helped Ben Webster develop his style, Harry Carney and Rex Stewart.

Webster left the Ellington band having improved dramatically under Duke’s leadership and began to freelance. He had met Norman Granz back in 1942 and played some jam sessions with among others Lester Young, but appeared in his first JATP tour in the autumn of 1953 with the usual suspects. His first sessions for Granz had been in 1946 as part of Charlie Barnet’s Orchestra for a Clef long-playing record. In 1952 he worked with Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra on a Norgran release that later came out on Verve. His first session as a leader for Norgran was in 1953 and this later became some of what was used on ‘Ben Webster  – King of the Tenors’ on Verve in 1957, in includes ‘Tenderly’ which is one of the sublime moments of tenor-saxophoney. He was accompanied on the 1953 session by Oscar Peterson and his quartet and there were a number of other releases where they worked together including ‘Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson and his Trio’ in 1959; two years earlier they recorded the album ‘Soulville’ together. Besides his own recordings he accompanied, Billie Holiday, Harry Sweets Edison, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, as well as making the album, Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster’.

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Come 1964 and Webster relocated at first to London, then Amsterdam before finally moving to live in Copenhagen, Denmark. He worked in Europe with visiting musicians including Duke Ellington; he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in Amsterdam, in September 1973, following a performance in Leiden, Holland in 1973.

Check out our Ben Webster playlist for some of his greatest recordings here

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It was on this day in March 1957 that guitarist Barney Kessel took a teenager into the studio to cut three songs. Two months later “I’m Walkin’” coupled with “A Teenager’s Romance” came out and both sides were massive hits on the Billboard chart, with the latter song making No. 2, and the former No. 4. By the end of August, the follow up “You’re My One And Only Love” with a Barney Kesssel instrumental on the B-side made the Top 20. The teenager’s name was Ricky Nelson and the situation turned out to be one of great good fortune for Verve Records that ultimately turned sour according to Mo Ostin the company’s chief financial man.

‘Barney had asked Norman Granz if he could make a pop recording, and Norman said “Sure.” Back then, for jazz singles, if we sold 50,000 singles we were doing very well. 20,000 albums and we were making a profit. When we released Ricky’s single we sold a million copies. Ricky’s parents Ozzie and Harriet had their own TV show and Ricky sang his songs on the show and the record exploded. Ozzie Nelson came to Norman to ask him to increase Ricky’s royalties. Norman said, “l have no problem increasing the royalty but lets make an album so we can make a proper evaluation.” Ozzie was adamant, “Either you increase the royalties or we’re leaving the label.” Norman was equally adamant, “We have a contract.” What Norman didn’t realize was that Ricky was a minor and in order for the contract to be confirmed it should have been affirmed by a court. It allowed Ricky to walk from the label. Norman was incensed and asked me to find a new lawyer and the man I found was Mickey Rudin, Frank Sinatra’s long-term lawyer.’

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amy1027 March 26th at 12:05pm

wish I was there in 1957

Judy Cahill March 26th at 9:15pm

I guess Ricky really meant it when he sang I'M WALKIN'!

leo michiels March 30th at 3:08am

iv was there

Nitza April 28th at 3:38pm

I can't believe this modern generation does not even know who this heart throb was/is, I was watching the voice the other night, and these young people did not even know who he was...
My husband and I were both shocked...His children have done him so proud

On this day in 1952 Dizzy Gillespie was appearing in Paris at the Theatre Des Champs-Elysees. With him was Don Byas (tenor saxophone) Art Simmons (piano) Joe Benjamin (bass) Bill Clark (drums) Humberto Morales (congas) and among the songs they performed were, Cocktails For Two, Cognac Blues, Moon Nocturne, Sabla-Y-Blu, Blue And Sentimental and Just One More Chance.

You can hear how much fun it was here

And you can download it here

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There is no single record label that has introduced more people to jazz than Verve Records. The same man, who started Clef Records and Norgran, labels that included Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday on their roster, formed Verve. Founded in 1956, initially as a label to record Ella Fitzgerald, and through the dawning of the LP era it released classic records by Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and many others, In the early 1960s the craze for all things Bossa Nova was ignited by Stan Getz’s mellifluous saxophone and Verve released brilliant records by pianist, Bill Evans. As the 1960s progressed so did Verve signing the ebullient Hammond organ playing Jimmy Smith and guitar genius Wes Montgomery. In more recent years Diana Krall introduced a whole new generation to the possibilities of jazz, before in the 21st century Herbie Hancock won only the second Grammy album of the year award to be given to a jazz record, naturally the other one was also a Verve album.

Jazz is America’s one true original art form. During the 1960s, on the inner bag of every Verve long playing record was written, ‘the Jazz of America is on Verve’; on which basis, ‘the Sound of America’ was on every Verve album release.

 “Jazz stirs the possibilities for creativity in the moment. Jazz is about the human character; jazz is about feeling, not just about entertainment. Jazz is heeling. “

Herbie Hancock

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It was at the tail end of 1955 that Norman Granz decided to form Verve Records; he did so for Ella Fitzgerald, he already managed her career, but felt he knew how to make the kind of records the singer should be making – history has proved he was right.  Just how important has been recognised by the release of Ella Fitzgerald – the Voice of Jazz a 10 CD box set issued in 2013.

However, the story of Verve goes back a decade or more where it can trace its roots in Granz’s ambition to take jazz out of the clubs and into concert halls, as well as in Clef and Norgran, the record labels that he had been running for a number of years.

The genesis of Verve Records occurred when the twenty-five year-old Norman Granz staged his first ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ concert in Los Angeles in 1944. From the very beginning, Granz had a vision of what he wanted to achieve by taking jazz out of the smokey, sometimes seedy, clubs and into more respectable, prestigious even, venues like New York City’s Carnegie Hall – among the many brilliant musicians that played these concerts were Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. Bird, as Parker was nicknamed even did a concert with strings that featured the music that was on his Charlie Parker With Strings album that has recently been reissued on vinyl.

There are recordings of Billie Holiday on these JATP concerts and she appeared at Carnegie Hall to when her album, Lady Sings the Blues, came out that featured much of the material on the LP along with readings from her autobiography. It was a sell out and despite the limitations with Billie’s voice she delivered a superb performance – in less than three years she was dead.

Besides introducing jazz to an expanding audience, Granz was on another mission; he was fighting racial segregation, a fight that that cost him both professionally and personally.  He also paid his musicians well. “With Norman, you travelled first class, stayed at first-class hotels and never played anywhere there was segregated seating.” Said trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie

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Granz was a visionary, this is what he had to say in 1947 “Jazz at the Philharmonic represents a trend in which jazz is likely to take in coming years, when instead of small, dimly lit, clichéd night clubs containing seventeen glazed of eye jazz fans (who are very hip and address everyone as Jack), the concert stage will attract thousands of people who will have a good time, whose listening standards will be raised and jazz, which heretofore has been an italicized art, will attain capital definition and stature.”  As the JATP tours grew more extensive, Granz developed what is the template for modern touring, one that is replicated today by just about every kind of artist from jazz to rock, as well as every other musical genre.

For Granz, starting a record company was, to begin with, a way of expanding his JATP franchise, but almost immediately the artists that appeared in his concerts recognised the opportunity of making studio recordings. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the artists that Granz recorded for his Clef and Norgran labels included, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Count Basie, and Stan Getz.

Soon after founding Verve, Granz placed Clef and Norgran under the umbrella of his new company, a move that gave his fledgling label a roster of artists and recordings that represents much of what is best from this golden era of jazz. New artists were signed to Verve and as the company expanded, and became even more successful, many new fans found that jazz was to their liking. Ella Fitzgerald’s recordings of the Great American Songbook, beginning with The Cole Porter Songbook in 1956, are one of the long-playing records’ early triumphs. As are Ella’s albums with Louis Armstrong, not an obvious choice of duet partners but one that works brilliantly. Satchmo’s recording with Oscar Peterson is another case of taking two musical giants, putting them together to create magic in the studio. For sublime readings of standards just listen to Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson and you will be convinced that you are in the company of two of the finest jazz musicians of the 20th century.

Oscar Peterson was the most recorded artist on Verve records, his work as an accompanist and partner to some of the labels best musicians produced stunning results, just give a listen to Oscar Peterson Meets Ben Webster. But it is O.P’s brilliance as a leader of a trio or quartet that he shines. His recordings of the Great American Songbook, The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson or Oscar Peterson At the Concertgebouw are testament.

In its early years Clef recorded two of jazz piano’s most accomplished exponents, Art Tatum and Bud Powell. But it was in 1962 that another master of the blacks and whites made his debut record for Verve, Bill Evans’s Empathy. There followed a string of diverse and creative recordings from the masterly, Conversations With Myself to Bill Evans With Symphony Orchestra.

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Count Basie is another who worked with some of the greatest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. However, he only got to do that because he had led one of the best bands since the 1930s. A relative veteran he produced a string of fine albums as count Basie and his orchestra, just listen to April in Paris to hear why a big band is one of the most exciting musical experiences… ever.

In 1960 Granz sold Verve to MGM Records and soon Creed Taylor was running the label and taking it in a new direction. It was helped greatly by the Bossa Nova jazz craze that swept in from South America with records by Getz and Charlie Byrd, Getz and Joao Gilberto and of course his wife Astrud. Jazz was not only cool, it was on the charts and more popular than ever. As if to prove the point the Getz/Gilberto album, the one that includes ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ won the Grammy award for album of the year in 1965.

Verve signed new artists, among them, Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery who became further conduits for converts.  Jimmy Smith had recorded a string of fine albums for Blue Note but when he recorded for Verve he reached the pinnacle of his career. For innovation and creativity just listen to The Cat (1964), an album that is enhanced by the complex arrangements of Lalo Schifrin or Bashin’ The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith from 1962 that features the arrangements of Oliver Nelson, big band meets Hammond, but at no time overshadow Smith’s attacking organ.

Jimmy Smith made some fine albums with Wes Montgomery, including The Dynamic Duo, Creed Taylor continuing the Granz idea of pairing some of the label’s best talents, but it was the guitarists solo albums on which his reputation was built. Montgomery made his debut for Verve in 1964 and the following year released Bumpin’ which is as good a place to start as any to explore Montgomery’s ability to make six strings sound like at least double that number.

Diana Krall is one of the most gifted and talented musicians to play jazz in the modern era. People talk about Frank Sinatra’s gift of timing and ability to get inside a song. Krall is up there with him on the same plain. She digs deep, and tells us things about songs like no one else can. The Look of Love in 2001 made No. 9 on the Billboard main chart and has become Diana Krall’s best-selling record. Krall’s superb vocals and perfect piano accompaniment to the delicate and languid Claus Ogerman arrangements and Tommy LiPuma’s exquisite production make this a record that exudes class in the best tradition of the great Verve records from earlier decades.

It was not until 1994 that Herbie Hancock recorded for Verve, but once he did it felt like he had just been waiting for the moment. In 2007 his album, River – The Joni Letters won the Grammy for album of the year and it is a masterpiece. It’s the kind of album to play to people who say, “I’m not sure I like jazz.”

Today, under the leadership of David Foster, Verve Records is producing quality new recordings by artists that includes Diana Krall, Trombone Shorty, Lizz Wright, and Smokey Robinson.  Seventy years after Norman Granz decided to take jazz out of the clubs and into the concert halls the musical revolution that he founded continues to flourish. At the very first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert on 2 July 1944 Nat King Cole was among the artists that appeared. In 2013, among Verve’s releases has been one by Nat King Cole’s daughter, Natalie Cole en Español – the wheel has turned full circle.

In 2013 the 400-page book, Verve – the Sound of America was published by Thames & Hudson to tell the story of this truly remarkable record label. It features over 1200 images, the majority of which were shot in Verve’s New York archive. To accompany the book there’s a box set of five CDs that traces the story of the label through 100 of its single releases and a series of ten vinyl reissues in the original album art, remastered at Abbey Road that includes LPs by Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson and Billie Holiday.

Find out more about the book, Verve – the Sound of America

Hear our exclusive Verve playlist here

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Mark Cavanagh March 24th at 8:42pm

Nice blog. Love it

‘Lester Young has had one of the strongest effects on other tenor saxophone players – both in technique and in sound, his sound being dry and sophisticated. But always as you can hear swinging’ ­ – From the back cover of the album

Are you ready to Swing? Because swing is what Lester Young is all about. Even after the experience of being drafted into the army and the subsequent harsh treatment he received nothing could take that away from Pres, at least not when these sides were recorded. “Almost Like Being In Love” is the perfect record to play anyone who wants to hear Lester Young’s lightness of touch. Let’s not forget Oscar Peterson either, who swings for Canada on this brilliant record. If you’ve not heard it before then prepare yourself for a classic. This is small group jazz of the highest order and if the swing of the opener, ‘Ad Lib Blues’ doesn’t get you then track two is just so beautiful that you may well stick it on repeat – ‘I Can’t Get Started’ is pure perfection.

“These Foolish Things” is a song that Lester Young made his own when he recorded back in 1945 for Aladdin Records and this is another standout track. It should, of course, been called The Oscar Peterson Quartet as besides OP it features Barney Kessel on guitar, playing beautifully, Ray Brown on bass and J.C Heard on tracks one through five.

Originally issued in August 1952 in New York City for a series of Norgran 10″ albums, Verve reissued it as a LP in 1957 making it a 12 track record, subsequent CD reissues added a couple of bonus cuts. Sixty plus years has not dimmed its lustre…

Hear it Here

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“”I think my career stands on my experiences. There’s a legitimacy about it because of the years I put in when I wasn’t recognised. Records where I tried pop, R&B, blues. . . if anyone wants to question my legitimacy it’s all there on record”. – George Benson

George Benson is one of the modern era’s truly great guitarists, who when he sticks to playing the guitar has few rivals.  Giblet Gravy is very much in Wes Montgomery territory but Benson is no Montgomery copyist, he creates complex tapestries with his rhythmic melody lines that give him a unique ‘sound’. Most of the tracks, as was popular at the time, are covers but the title track and ‘Low Down and Dirty’ are written by George Benson.

This was Benson’s debut recording for Verve Records and was recorded over three days in early February 1968 at A & R Studios and Capitol Recording in New York City. As well as George Benson it also features Herbie Hancock on piano, Billy Cobham on drums, Pepper Adams on baritone sax and Snooky Young on trumpet; the arrangements are by Tom McIntosh

Photographer and producer Esmond Edwards had worked at Prestige Records prior to taking over from Creed Taylor at Verve and he had an impressive list of credits to his name, including Miles Davis. George Benson would record next with Taylor for his CTI label, an imprint of A & M Records

Hear Giblet Gravy Here

Buy Giblet Gravy on 180g Vinyl Here

The Jazz labels George Benson playlist

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“Until we got to ‘Dedication’ the session had been extremely happy. But here a kind of melancholy settled on us. At one point, Kenny after playing that wah-wah section of his part said it brought tears to his eyes.”  Andrew Hill, 1964

All five compositions on this momentous yet under-appreciated album (except, that is, by those in-the-know) are by Chicago-born Andrew Hill – a giant of bop and post-bop piano.  Here is a man steeped in the Monk tradition – ‘New Monastery’, get it? – yet he is no copyist or mere acolyte; Hill is very much his own man and his music is deserving of a wider audience. He said: ‘Monk’s like Ravel and Debussy to me, in that he put a lot of personality into his playing’ and the same is true of Hill, whose style is intensely personal. His music has been labelled avant-garde, but that somehow seems to undermine his compositional skills.

The way that Hill holds ‘New Monastery’ together is typical of what makes this album so appealing.  You get the sense that Hill, having written the piece, is telling the band that he knows exactly where the track is going and he’ll get them there; all they have to is weave their interlocking phrases and make magic.

In the main quote, Hill acknowledges that the session changed direction when they got to the fifth track. ‘Dedication’ was originally entitled ‘Cadaver’ and the name fits. So sparse, empty and soulless does the track feel, punctuated with small silences from Hill’s piano, that it creates a singular intensity.

Hill’s first Blue Note session, when he recorded with Joe Henderson, had been less than six months before Point of Departure; another date with Hank Mobley followed before Hill cut his own album, Black Fire, in November 1963, and then came two more albums, Smokestack and Judgement. Hill recorded four complete albums of his own compositions in the space of just four months – a case of creativity in overdrive. Yet, perversely, his creativity and compositional skills meant he appeared only infrequently as a sideman, which perhaps reduced his exposure; he much preferred to play his own music.

Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on 21 March 1964 the album features Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Andrew Hill (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Anthony Williams (drums)

Hear it Here

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Ashwin Panemangalore January 22nd at 5:11pm

Thanks Good insight I have all the Andrew Hill albums mentioned

Scott Brookman January 22nd at 11:48pm

Why is this up? Shouldn't it be up on March 21? which you say is the recording date. Today is February 22. Repost in a month!

Promodh Malhotra February 5th at 11:37pm

Andrew Hill was a true genius and was just not appreciated. These recordings feature some of the greatest soloists of that time- Kenny Dorham , Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Richard Davis, and Tony Williams. I wore out my original two LPs of Point of Departure and had to get a third. I was lucky to hear Andrew and his group live at Slugs on the lower East Side in 1971. Divine music and conversation between sets. Alas, he made too little music and there would have been nothing for us had it not been for Blue Note Records.

Richard Leigh February 11th at 12:08am

Great to see a reminder of this neglected musician. I've always loved the albums mentioned, which were, I think, his best. Perhaps what stopped him from being recognised is that his music was complex and original enough to appeal to some of the best players around, but wasn't free jazz - which was very influential at just the time when Hill emerged. So his music was too new for those who liked their music old, and not hip enough for those who prided themselves on being up to date.