Return of the Titans, by George Grella
There’s a lot to love when it comes to Blue Note records, not least of which is the combination of the consistently fine music they’ve recorded and released and the distinctive and influential graphic design of the record albums. were some of the most important parts of creating what “cool” meant in American culture, before it was co-opted and perverted by the idea that making money and buying things – rather than sticking out crooked to the square consumer society – is sort of cool.
Put on a Blue Note disc and you will dig the music. Return to the mountain top view and examine the landscape of the recorded music, and you will see that each record is a document of a historical moment, which can be as thin as an afternoon in Rudy Van’s studio. Gelder or as complex as the personal and social circumstances that inform the moment a musician approaches the microphone and their human experience flows through an improvised solo. Then take all those Blue Note records and put them in a quilt, and you’ve got one of the most important and informative aesthetic tales of 20th century music and culture. Now open this quilt for two more new archive issues of the major voices of this story, and relive both moments and see the panorama in greater detail, depth and clarity.
Released at the end of summer, on Blue Note, The complete live at the lighthouse, by trumpeter Lee Morgan, and Full Sessions of Blue Note Joe Henderson Studio, in limited edition, under license Blue Note, on the specialized label Mosaic Records (www.mosaicrecords.com). Mosaic produces in-depth limited edition box sets with excellent remastering and full scale full booklets filled with essays, analysis, beautiful photographs and detailed discographic information. The Henderson ensemble lives up to their usual standards and is packed with excellent tracks after another, on five CDs. But there’s one major caveat to this collection: it’s a far cry from the full sessions of Henderson’s Blue Note studio, and I have no idea why it’s titled as such.
The ensemble extends from trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s A mass album, recorded April 1, 1963, by Henderson’s Fashion for Joe, featuring Morgan in a band that sounds like a modernized version of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, but with Joe Chambers on drums and the addition of great vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. This session took place on January 27, 1966. Bob Blumenthal writes in the booklet that: “This collection contains all of Henderson’s Blue Note albums and the pair he made with Dorham, as well as a sample of the original compositions that he made. ‘he contributed by recording with others. “
This last clause explains the absence of great albums like Grant Green’s. Moments of inactivity and Andrew Hill Black fire, and that of Morgan The Sidewinder, one of the great jazz albums of all time. But that also confuses things, as Henderson doesn’t have any writing credits on A mass. The saxophonist has also released two Blue Note albums, Page one and Our thing, beforeInner envy, from 1964, which is in this set and is a mid-60s classic and very influential. It’s far from complete, and the explanation is frustrating in how it obscures both the truth and its own logic.
Other than that, there is only musical enjoyment here. Like Henderson, Dorham may be number two in brand awareness, but remains one of the all-time greats. The thrill of hearing these two together is that they were both smart and hardened players, constructing sophisticated musical ideas on the fly with power and respect for feel, the epitome of great jazz playing. Henderson has one of the most distinctive sounds in jazz, punchy, warm, light and fast like a jab but with the weight of a hayloft.
The capsule journey of Inner envy, and the high blues of the title song, to the set of Fashion for Joe, is one of the stories of modern jazz in the 60s, with the expansion of hard bop, thanks to the influence of free play on the one hand and the composition which moved away from the standard 12 bar blues and AABA song shapes and assembles more complex rhythms, harmonies and shapes (listen to Jackie McLean and Wayne Shorter’s Blue Notes from the same period for more on this story). The harmonies and shapes on Fashion for Joe are expansive, players are ready to stretch outward linear phrases into musical gestures that reach for raw emotion, but the swing and swagger of hard bop are all there. There’s never a dull moment in this set, and while the gap between what the title promises and the content is too wide to tell us anything new about Henderson, the music is so good it’s a major release.
Lee Morgan was a real star in the 1960s. He made his first recording sessions the first week of November 1956, at the age of 18, and two years later he is stunning on John’s album. Coltrane. Blue train. It’s all over the decade’s Blue Note catalog, with giant hits like The Sidewinder and The Rumproller, great artistic declarations like Search for the new earth, frontline, with Shorter, in the Jazz Messengers, and as the kind of star sideman who helped make albums of musicians like Clifford Jordan, McLean, Hank Mobley, Shorter and Jimmy Smith being part of the central history of the jazz.
Morgan was fiery, fluid, absolutely above post-Charlie Parker idioms while being deeply rooted in blues and funk. He didn’t experiment with the avant-garde, but he did advance his own music as jazz incorporated rock, soul, funk and other pop ideas in the late 60’s. Until now , there were only hints of it in his discography (his story ended on February 19, 1972, when his common-law partner, Helen, shot him at Slug’s Saloon – the highlight of the 2017 documentary film I called him Morgan). He left behind one last session and a tantalizing double live album, Live at the Lighthouse.
Blue Note has now released the full version of this, eight CDs with 12 sets over four days at Club Hermosa Beach, CA. It’s great. Morgan was there at the center of the music, in the summer of 1970, bringing together hard bop, Latin jazz, pop ideas (he quotes “Eleanor Rigby”) and rock beats, and some beautiful and rich harmonies. Some styles may seem old-fashioned, especially the arrangement of “I Remember Britt”, but the intelligence, strength and explosive excitement of the playing is timeless and everlasting – the mainstream of modern jazz still looks like this record, 50 years later.
Morgan plays exceptionally well, no surprise there, even when battling drugs he always played energetically and had some meaningful things to say. The revelation is to hear so much from Bennie Maupin, who plays tenor saxophone, flute and bass clarinet. Maupin is a central part of some of the most important jazz albums of the past half century, including Bitches Brew and Head hunters, but apart from these records, it is difficult to hear his playing. This release cements his status as a background musician. His muscular, leathery tenor sound is as distinctive in jazz as Henderson’s, and his sophistication and power are just as fine. He’s a great all-round player on all his horns, and when it’s time to kick in, his solo is deep and full of the propulsive excitement of the moment. This is a huge amount of great live jazz, and Maupin is as responsible for it as Morgan.