The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (4): Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder

Part 4 now of my mini-series on the Jazz Messengers’ spin-offs.

Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan was famous even before the Jazz Messengers, as he’d already played with Dizzie Gillespie. But his stardom even rose further after playing on the famous Moanin‘ album from the Messengers, which I still need to write about.

The Sidewinder

I was a bit hesitant at first whether I should really write about this particular 1963 album, which obviously is by far his largest commercial success as a leader. Doesn’t he have many other great albums, like The GigoloDelightfulee, Vol. 3, Tom Cat, The Cooker, or Cornbread, all of which I’d highly recommend.

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Well even though I wanted to be creative, and not recommend an album that made it into the Billboard pop charts (heresy!) I gave up in the end. There is something just magical about the bluesy groove of The Sidewinder’s 10:28 title track, that I just had to recommend this first. It may not be the most creative album, nor the most artistically developed, but hey, it is just addictive.

A great rhythm section

Obviously, a great deal of this addictiveness stems from the rhythm section (especially Harris, but also Crenshaw, Higgins), but we also get another taste of Joe Henderson (although his solo on the title track is not very memorable, he get’s better on Totem Pole).

And then there is Lee himself, his playing is fantastic, and he actually wrote all the songs himself. A little bit of trivia on Morgan: he died a rather unusual death for a Jazz musician of the time (i.e. not of drugs or alcohol), but was shot by his long-term girlfriend of the time in 1971 for unclear reasons.

Luckily, this is not a “one-hit-wonder” album, all the other tracks of the album are very good, I particularly like Gary’s Notebook.

Overall rating: Groovy, Baby! (formerly known as 5 stars)

Addendum: Reader Bob Ryan kindly commented here that I omitted to mention “Search For The New Land” as one of the must have albums for Lee Morgan. I absolutely concur with his opinion.

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (3): Joe Henderson – Inner Urge

Not properly speaking a Jazz Messenger Alumni

Putting Joe Henderson into my little Jazz Messengers mini series is probably slightly incorrect, I don’t think Henderson ever played directly at the Jazz Messengers, but he started playing quite a bit with Kenny Dorham, another Messengers alumni, and he also contributes to my previously mentioned Horace Silver album “Song for my Father“, and the hardbop classic “Sidewinder” by Lee Morgan (more about this later).

Joe Henderson

I nevertheless wanted to mention him here, as I believe he was heavily influenced by his first real gigs, including those above (although Henderson himself cited mainly Charlie Parker as a lead influence). He went on rather quickly to lead several albums on Blue Note. Funnily enough, apparently he was “discovered” by another great saxophone player Dexter Gordon (who I personally never particularly liked, as a side note).

The other reason for bringing him up here is that I had the pleasure of hearing 3 out of four of the musicians on the album this post will eventually get to live (albeit all individually) including Henderson himself at a gig in the late 80s in Hamburg, and Elvin Jones and McCoyTyner in the early 2000s in Paris. So there’s a (if tiny) personal connection here.

Like Hank Mobley, Henderson is maybe not one of the real A-league saxophonists, but still better known compared to the former, probably also due to the fact that he continued recording albums up to the 1990s.

Joe Henderson’s greatest albums in my humble (is it really humble? hopefully) opinion, are all on Blue Note, from a short period between 1963 and 1966 (notice a pattern here, how glorious these days were for Jazz…). Namely, Page One, In ‘n Out, Mode For Joe, and, obviously:

Inner Urge

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Why this album? Well, being a pianist (well that’s stretching it, but let’s rather say having played the piano), my answer is called McCoy Tyner. He really does an outstanding job on this album, in the beautiful combination with Elvin Jones on drums. These two obviously knew each other well from playing with Coltrane, including on the legendary “A Love Supreme“.

The title track – Amazing

There is a very simple reason to buy the album: the eponymous title track. Nearly 12 minutes of tension and harmonic complexity that reminds me in some places of the above mentioned “A Love Supreme“. 5 stars plus for this track only.

The other tracks, with the exception of the great “El Barrio“, where Elvin Jones builds a mesmerizing latin groove, are more fillers. Isotope is swinging nicely, but not very memorable, Night and Day is a bit light for an album ending (but Jones drums manage to keep it interesting), but overall never mind, this album is worth purchasing for two tracks only. Or if you have a download site that allows purchasing by track, stick to 1 and 3 and you’re all set.

Overall rating: 5 stars (I’m a bit hesitant here and probably should rather give 4.5 stars, but I don’t want to dilute my rating system even further and just decide that the title tracks on its own is worth the 5 stars).