THE JAZZ WORD

All that's jazz... and more

Donald-Byrd-Black-Byrd
“Then the jazz people starting eating on me. They had a feast on me for 10 years: ‘He’s sold out.’ Everything that’s bad was attributed to Donald Byrd. I weathered it, and then it became commonplace. Then they found a name for it. They started calling it ‘jazz fusion,’ ‘jazz rock.’ ”
Donald Byrd, 1982

A jazz album on the charts? Whatever next? This was a very big seller for Blue Note, making No. 88 on the Billboard charts, but the furore that accompanied its release, when many accused Byrd of selling out, lasted for years. This fabulous, funky album just cries out to be heard and if you haven’t heard it, then rectify the situation as soon as you can. Think Isaac Hayes’s soundtrack to Shaft with stronger jazz overtones and you have Black Byrd. And to add insult to the injured there is even a synthesizer; Blue Note had embraced a brave new world.

Black Byrd is every bit as groundbreaking as a Jazz Messengers date from the mid-1950s or a Herbie Hancock session in the early 1960s, which poses a problem for some jazz aficionados who think their music should not move on – a mindset not exclusive to jazz fans. Byrd almost takes a back seat in the overall sound of this record, although when he does come to the fore, his solos are beautifully played, as you would expect from a talented and experienced trumpeter recording since the mid-1950s. Joe Sample from the Crusaders is essential to the vibe of the record as is Roger Glenn’s flute, which locks this record into its time frame. Jazz with vocals was another point against it for some purists, but on the title track in particular they are perfect, especially when added to David T. Walker’s funky blues guitar; he was fresh from recording Let’s Get It On with Marvin Gaye.

It was recorded in Los Angeles in April 1972 and completed in November of the same year. Aside from those already mentioned there is Dean Parks on guitar, Fonce Mizell on trumpet, Wilton Felder and Chuck Rainey play bass, drummer, Harvey Mason, Bobby Hall Porter and Stephanie Spruill on percussion and Larry Mizell on vocals and as arranger.

It’s available in the Back To Blue series here

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africanherbsman1967 July 20th at 8:42pm

"Love's So Far Away"-love the percussions and flute work.

Recorded at Van Gelder’s studio (where else!) in November 1965, organist Larry Young’s Unity featuring Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and drummer Elvin Jones was released in the summer of 1966 and has just been reissued on 180 gram vinyl as part of the celebration of Blue Note Records 75th anniversary.

 “The combination of organist Larry Young, Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson, tenor sax, and drummer Elvin Jones should make this a sure shot for jazz fans. Blue Note’s got a solid seller here.” Billboard, 27 August 1966

The thing that grabs you the first time you hear this album is the empathy – the unity – between Larry Young and Elvin Jones in particular. Yes, we’re talking rhythm section, but Jones’s drumming and Young’s oh-so-cool organ sound seamless, like the product of one mind. In the liner notes Young says, ‘Although everybody on the date was very much an individualist, they were all in the same frame of mood. It was evident from the start that everything was fitting together.’ All of which informed Young in his decision to call the album Unity.

Young is no songwriter, as the credits of the album show. Shaw contributes half the tunes with Henderson bringing, ‘If’ to the date along with ‘Monk’s Dream’ and ‘Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise’, the Hammerstein/Romberg tune from the 1920s operetta, The New Moon. For many, the stand-out track is Shaw’s ‘Moontrane’, written when the trumpeter was just 18 and dedicated to John Coltrane; the superb harmonic cycles are redolent of his most accomplished work.

While Young is one among four talented players, his contribution is immense and there is no doubting that Unity is his album. ‘Monk’s Dream’ is a dialogue between just drums and organ, and it is one of the most satisfying covers of a Monk tune that dates from the early 1950s, when the pianist was recording for Prestige. The Hammond seems to embrace Monk’s imaginings, its cycles wrapping themselves around the listener’s ears in a way that brings fresh ideas to such a well known piece – something that’s not to be underestimated when confronting a Monk tune.

And then there’s the cover art by Reid Miles. His prodigious talent is there for all to see on this simple but perfectly conceived sleeve – conceived without the aid of a Wolff photograph for once. The four orange dots inside the U are all that’s needed to communicate Young’s own description of the session, ‘that everything was fitting together’.

You can order it and hear it by clicking this link.

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The third in our series of 180 gram vinyl recording from the 100 titles that Blue Note are reissuing to celebrate the label’s 75th anniversary is Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch recorded in February 1964. It features Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (flute, alto saxophone bass clarinet), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass), Anthony Williams (drums) and despite being recorded 50 years ago sounds as fresh today as when Rudy Van Gelder committed it to tape.

“I’m on my way to Europe to live for a while. Why? Because I can get more work there playing my own music and because if you try to do anything different in this country, people put you down for it.” Eric Dolphy

Recorded in February with the liner notes written sometime shortly thereafter, this album was released in the middle of August 1964. Tragically, Dolphy died in Berlin in late June 1964 from an undiagnosed diabetic condition and this recording was to be his epitaph. Few artists have had a more immediate or more fitting one. Dolphy had been true to his word, leaving the US to tour Europe with Charles Mingus and at the end of the tour, he went to join his girlfriend in Paris. It was while playing a gig in Berlin that he was taken ill.

On this, his first and only album for Blue Note as a leader, Dolphy excels; his achievements made more poignant by what might have been. The opening track ‘Hat and Beard’, a reference to Monk, gets the album off to an incredible start. The interplay between Hutcherson’s vibes and eighteen-year-old Tony Williams is fascinating, but then again that word can be applied to everything on this recording.

Dolphy wrote all the tracks – the album stands head and shoulders above his previous recordings – and it is deeply ironic that just as the thirty-six-year-old Doplphy had found where he wanted to go musically, he died. His bass clarinet on ‘Something Sweet, Something Tender’ is perhaps the album’s very highest point. Make no mistake, this is not easy listening, but once you have allowed yourself to be immersed in Dolphy’s musical imaginings then all is revealed. On Side two Dolphy plays the alto saxophone and for us, this is the place to start your initiation into his exploration of free jazz.

With it’s brilliant Reid Miles cover, featuring one of his own photographs – just imagine Miles stepping out from his office at lunchtime, a brief for the cover design and the title of the album in his head, and suddenly his eyes fall upon the perfect sign – this is now considered one of the most important free jazz albums ever recorded, and not just (as some have suggested) because Dolphy died prematurely. Avoid it at your peril.

Click here to visit the Back To Blue web site where you can order Out To Lunch.

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For our second 180 gram vinyl record in the series of 100 titles that Blue Note are reissuing to celebrate the label’s 75th anniversary we are looking at Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. According to Blue Note President Don Was this album is particularly personal to him and one of his favourite releases from Blue Note. “It’s a little mysterious, particularly side two of the record. I bought it in the late 1960s when I was having some problems in my life and when I played Speak No Evil for the first time it made me feel like myself again, it restored balance to my life.” Such is the magic of music and especially Wayne Shorter[s fabulous album.

“I was thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange dimly lit shapes – the kind of places where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of witch burnings too.” – Wayne Shorter, elaborating on his compositions for Speak No Evil, 1965

Shorter began recording this album in early November 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio but the three tracks the band cut were all rejected for various reasons, and when he got back into the studio on Christmas Eve, Elvin Jones had taken over on drums from Billy Higgins. Jones had played on a handful of Blue Note sessions in the 1950s but during 1964 he was playing more regularly; the sense of swing he brought with him from Coltrane’s group is essential for this record.

‘Witch Hunt’ opens with a flurry of a fanfare from trumpeter, Freddie Hubbard and Shorter, then quickly settles into the theme of the piece. The empathy between the old Messengers is clear and the feel of the track is brighter than much of what follows. ‘Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum’ is darker in tone and conjures up the shadowy, mythicalworld that inspired Shorter to write this, and all the other compositions on the album.

The album’s title track is pure hard bop and is driven along with intensity by Shorter before Hubbard solos; all the while Herbie Hancock’s piano teeters on the edge of the avant-garde. It’s a heady mix that works superbly well and helps to justify the huge reputation that this album has built up over time. Despite its originality, the album attracted little attention on its release: Shorter was not as well regarded in 1965 when it was released as he was to become.

Perfectly juxtaposed with the title track, ‘Infant Eyes’ was written for the saxophonist’s baby daughter; her mother, Shorter’s wife, is the woman who appears on the front cover of the record (both photographed and designed by Reid Miles). This beautiful, tender ballad is followed by the gorgeous ‘Wild Flower’, which brings the record to a slow but intense close. The album appears to be precisely structured, with clearly defined sections, and Shorter clearly had the whole thing worked out. Perhaps this explains the reason for ditching earlier session; it simply failed to come up to the standards that Shorter demanded of himself and his band.

Click here to visit the Back To Blue web site where you can order Speak No Evil

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As part of the celebration of its 75th anniversary Blue Note are reissuing 100 treasured titles on 180 gram vinyl. Among the first batch of five is this gem from John Coltrane – his one and only recording for Blue Note.

“A provocative item in the hard, modern idiom, most notable for tenor-ist Coltrane’s arresting solo continuity. Obviously moved by vibrant, creative rhythm playing – Paul Chambers, (Philly) Joe Jones, Kenny Drew – trumpeter Lee Morgan and trombonist C. Fuller also turn in top performances.” Billboard 3 March 1958

This is an album revered, cherished, and loved by many; and there are others who cannot quite see what all the fuss is about. We are firmly in the former camp. Granted, some controversy surrounds the recording and critics argue that both Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller have done much better work elsewhere. Yet such judgements seem overly harsh; this is after all a Coltrane album. Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones had already played together on an album the pianist recorded for Riverside Records, so they were already acquainted with each other’s style.

In truth, for the title track alone – and its value is virtually doubled by the addition of a ‘Moment’s Notice’ – this record is a masterpiece. So familiar is ‘Blue Train’ that it feels like a theme to some long-forgotten TV series or the soundtrack of an atmospheric movie. It is everything that makes jazz so affecting.

Much of the debate surrounding the album centres on the track, ‘Blue Train’. On the original album release, the piano solo from take 8 is spliced into the following take from the same September 1957 session to create what we have come to accept as Coltrane’s masterpiece. A later reissue has both the complete take 8 and the composite version, much to Van Gelder’s annoyance, who considered such tape-splicing ‘desecration’.

Along with the four Coltrane originals there is a beautiful reading of the Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer standard, ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ that is unapologetically sentimental and among Coltrane’s finest ballads.

Click here to visit the Back To Blue web site and order Blue Train.

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