Some cool swinging Jazz for a reasonably warm early summer’s day. This classic Blue Note track features a fine ensemble led by the impeccable Horace Parlan on piano and joined by the gifted Grant Green on guitar, super smooth Booker Ervin on tenor sax and the always solid George Tucker (bass) and Al Harewood (drums) providing the rapid rhythm.
With that warm, signature Rudy Van Gelder sound, the whole eponymous 1961 album is well worth giving a spin on the ol’ hi-fi. And with the standout title track Parlan confirmed that he was ready to lead and compose Jazz classics, something the 84-year-old legend continues to do to this very day.
If you are just starting a Jazz collection there are a few seminal records you should acquire right out of the box. Anything by the Miles Davis Quintet from the 1950s, any of Coltrane’s Atlantic recordings, Stan Getz’s Bossa Nova years just to name a few. Another certain must-have is 1959’s Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Looking nothing like reefer-smoking beatniks with their spit-and-polish suits and heavy frame glasses, this classic ensemble featured Brubeck on piano, the great and super smooth Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass and the wonderfully nuanced Joe Morello on drums. But the four were actually radicals in geeky disguise. Inspired by Turkish and Bulgarian folk music, the whole album features compositions with weird time signatures like 9/8 and 6/4 and “Take Five”, credited to Desmond, swings ever so propulsively in 5/4 time.
Radiating cool and sophistication, “Take Five” sounds as fresh today as it did in 1959 even as it has permeated the entire pop culture subconsciousness with its omnipresence for over 50 years. It’s a must-have for the beginner, intermediate or expert Jazz fan because it is quite simply one of the greatest compositions in 20th century popular music. Put it on the hi-fi then slip into your smoking jacket, mix up some ice cold martinis for you and that special someone and see if you don’t feel like Hef at the Playboy Mansion.
And I mean the whole album, Miles’ first for Columbia in 1955, and not just the admittedly fantastic Thelonius Monk track “‘Round Midnight” that opens up this seminal work.
With Davis on trumpet, Coltrane on tenor sax, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones on drums, this was the archetypal 1950s quintet’s maiden voyage and set the tone for a massive outpouring of now-classic music that filled four more smokin’ albums in quick succession (Cookin’, Workin’,Relaxin’ and Steamin’).
As the session that started it all, the newly patented mix of Cool and Hard Bop sounds magically intimate, warm and almost casually virtuosic and ‘Round Midnight still has that “breaking of a new dawn” kind of effect even today. From the not-quite-eponymous opener to the gorgeously aired out “Dear Old Stockholm” to the telepathic “Bye-Bye Blackbird”, this 10-track masterpiece is an album that belongs in any serious music collection, Jazz-focused or otherwise. It creates an inspired mood all its own, whether you’re on your own, entertaining friends or wooing that special someone. It never disappoints and always sounds fresh. How many things can you say that about?
Apologies for the radio silence — we’ve been moving the MFL world headquarters to new digs and as anyone who has moved recently (or ever) knows: it’s a time consuming PITA. But we’ll be back and running up to full strength very soon, have no fear. In the meantime here are a couple of sterling versions of Duke Ellington‘s gorgeous Jazz standard, “In a Sentimental Mood”, to tide you over while we get back up to speed.
The tune features wonderful solos by the often overlooked Golson and the great trombonist Curtis Fuller, who wrote it. The rest of the bouncy group for this session includes Al Harewood on drums and the brothers Tommy and Ray Bryant on bass and piano respectively. Moving along at a jaunty 4:26 and featuring tight team playing, “A Bit of Heaven” more than lives up to its title with Golson coolly demonstrating his impressive range amongst fine company.
One of the more intriguing and often overlooked alto sax men to come to prominence in the late 1950s and 60s, Jackie McLean straddles the line between the era’s reigning Hard Bop and the Free Jazz being pioneered by Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. With excellent support from an obscure but swinging rhythm section of pianist Larry Willis on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Clifford Jarvis on drums, “Right Now” from the eponymous 1965 Blue Note album is nine and a half minutes of hard charging excitement.
Anchored around a recurring piano-bass refrain reminiscent of Horace Parlan’s “Skoo Chee”, McLean’s hyperkinetic yet melodic sax is shown at its finest on this track and on the entire Right Now! album. In all, McLean recorded 21 albums as leader for Blue Note alone and was elected to the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 2006.
Jackie McLean also passed away in 2006 after an up and down career, with bad contracts and time out for teaching at the University of Hartford. But he still performed intermittently and produced solid work until the end, often with his students. As a really fine and innovative sax player in a very exciting time for Jazz’s development, his almost-but-not-quite sweet and very often sharp sound is ripe for rediscovery.
Along with Charlie Christian, Texas blues man T-Bone Walker revolutionized the use of the electric guitar in popular music directly before, during and and after WWII. A disciple of Blind Lemon Jefferson and featuring a smooth and easy vocal delivery to go along with his virtuoso guitar playing, Walker’s brand of big band jump blues is not always how most people think of the genre. The playing and arrangements are spotless and more often ecstatic than forlorn, whatever the lyrics might be saying. And one can hardly picture such a raconteur as T-Bone, legendary for his athletic live showmanship, going through any real trouble with the ladies. But his suave style is one of the pleasures of the blues canon and a rollicking pre-Rock burner like “The Hustle is On” makes clear where future legends like Chuck Berry jumped off from on their own epic musical journeys:
The faster-than-normal tempo, tight horn arrangements and bouncing locomotive back beat all provide T-Bone’s trademark Gibson ES-5 lead and unmannered vocals the proper urgency and punch. And his rhythm work on the sax break is equally forceful, a precursor to the less-is-more philosophy of Steve Cropper and Keith Richards. Whether it’s poker night with the boys or cocktails with a special lady, T-Bone Walker’s brand of blues always gets the evening off in fine style.
Recommended for further listening: The Complete Imperial Recordings, 1950-54. A double disc set, this 52-track collection is an essential and beautifully polished example of the master in his prime and with super tight backing personnel. Not a dud in the bunch.
Bonus video: An awe-inspiring performance from 1966’s Jazz at the Philharmonic in the UK–with Dizzy Gillespie, Teddy Wilson and other luminaries in the backing band:
A strong eye and ear opener to go with your coffee and breakfast, “Baghdad Blues” is an uptempo workout composed by Don Newey and recorded by the Horace Silver Quintet. Silver is a wonderful pianist and on this track (and much of the superlative 1959 album Blowin’ the Blues Away) he shows his usual fine eye as a bandleader by assembling the swinging quintet of Junior Cook on tenor sax, the estimable Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Gene Taylor on Bass and Louis Hayes on the skins.
Like so much of Horace Silver’s classic work, there is an effortless virtuosity to the Baghdad Blues. He also demonstrates the undervalued leader’s quality of selflessness: the solos are concise and spread around democratically. The song scoots along at a nice clip and circles back to it’s brassy bridge several times before jumping off again into ecstatic excellence. Best of all, he’s still going strong at 84. If he comes to your town, be sure to check out one of the living legends of Jazz.
A groovy, near 11-minute workout by the Master of the Sax relatively early in his career as a leader, “Dahomey Dance” features an all-star backing ensemble of Eric Dolphy on alto sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Art Davis & Reggie Workman on bass and the inimitable Elvin Jones on the backbeat.
Originally released on the “Olé” album in 1961 but also available on the Atlantic Coltrane omnibus “The Heavyweight Champion” (among other compilations), this track is accessible to any listener and, most importantly, really swings with a loping groove and concise solos. It’s long but somehow over before you want it to be. “Dahomey Dance” is what a great mellow jazz tune should be: smooth, full of soul and exhibiting superb collaborative musicianship. You owe it to yourself to check it out.
The best Miles Davis album not officially authored by Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly’s seminal “Somethin’ Else” from 1958 belongs in every well rounded man’s jazz collection (you do have a jazz collection, dontcha pal?). It oozes class, can be listened to regularly throughout all the years of your life and is also a great makeout album guaranteed to impress hip chicks. And aside from all that, it is absolutely some of the best music ever laid down on magnetic tape by the human race.