The Legacy Of The Jazz Messengers (7): Kenny Dorham’s Whistle Stop

I haven’t been continuing my Jazz Messengers Mini-Series for a while. It’s really time to change that.

Kenny Dorham is probably one of the least know Jazz Messengers, and this in spite of the fact that he played on the famous Café Bohemia sessions, and being the composer of the great standard Blue Bossa (I just love that song, check it out on Joe Henderson’s Page One or Dexter Gordon’s Biting the Apple).

He has recorded quite a number of noteworthy albums, including Afro-Cuban (1955), Quiet Kenny (1959), Matador (1962), Una Mas (1963), and Trompeta Toccata (1964), all of which are very much worth checking out.

Whistle-Stop (Blue Note 1961)

Kenny Dorham Whistle Stop Blue Note 1961

 

So why call out Whistle Stop? Well, two reasons: a) the cast is stellar, with Hank Mobley, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, and b) we have only Dorham originals on this album

My favorite song is the bluesy Buffalo, which swings nicely and gives both Dorham and Mobley enough time to develop their solos. Another nice one is the title track, Whistle Stop, faster paced, but nicely grooving. Philly Twist is not dedicated to Philly Joe Jones, the drummer.

This is well done hard-bop, and deserves to be better known.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (HDtracks)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (2): Hank Mobley – Soul Station

For part II of my little mini-series (well, given the number of relevant musicians that I really like, it may turn out maxi, who knows) on the Jazz Messengers, I obviously had a lot of choice. I ended up with Hank Mobley.

Hank Mobley

Why? He’s certainly one of the lesser known artists of the Jazz Messenger stable, and also one of the least well-known Tenor players (Coltrane, Shorter, Rollins, … would anybody spontaneously continue this list with Mobley?)

However, his albums are consistently good. They are never outstanding, I don’t have a single five-star album with Mobley, but I’ve rated most of his albums a very solid four star, they are just always fun to listen too. Getting to such a consistency is already a major achievement for me.

What are those four star albums? Well, you can pretty much chose blindly. Whether it is (in alphabetical order to avoid any impression of ranking) A Caddy For Daddy (what a nice title), Dippin, No Room For Squares, Hi Voltage, Roll Call, Soul Station, or Workout, they are all just a lot of fun. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Well Mobley and his several groups have plenty.

Mobley grew up learning the … piano. Apparently he starting playing the saxophone only at the age of 16. I sometimes wonder, had he started earlier, would we list him with the Coltranes of this world? If Wikipedia is to be believed,  Miles Davis had considered him as a replacement for Coltrane for a little while (what is for sure is that you’ll find Mobley on the great Miles Davis album “Someday My Prince Will Come” playing alongside Coltrane).

As part of the Messengers he also played with Horace Silver, including the nice album “Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers” I completely forgot to mention in my previous post.

Soul Station

Hank Mobley Soul Station Blue Note 24 192

 

So why did I pick his 1960 album Soul Station here? Well, there’s obviously the personnel: Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, plus Art Blakey. What could possible go wrong? In any case, I don’t seem to be alone in preferring this album (witness this very nice article about him written by the folks at BlueNote), and Jazz critic Bob Blumenthal wrote that this album could be considered his “Saxophone Colossus” or “Giant Steps”.

Luckily I didn’t even have to research the facts above, as I have a very simple system: given that I try to rate individual songs as much as possible within iTunes, I can simply check the average score of an album. While most of my Mobley albums net out at four stars throughout, Soul Station stands out just a bit at “4.33” stars.

Two exceptional tracks

The album stands out due to two exceptional tracks: This I Dig Of You and Soul Station. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these are the longest tracks on the album. I’ve noticed before that usually the really long tracks (Soul Station is 9:05) are often the best, probably because they just leave more room to the individual soloing.

Overall rating: 4 stars (well 4 1/3 mathematically…)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (1): Song For My Father – Horace Silver

Hard Bop

I’m not going to win a price on originality here writing about one of the greatest Jazz groups in history, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. They’ve been praised over and over again over the last 50 years.

But never mind, my purpose was to write about music I really like, and the hard-bop era is one of my favorites in the entire Jazz history. And probably hard-bop wouldn’t be hard bop without the Jazz Messengers. Therefore, I’m starting this little mini-series about the Jazz Messengers and their spin-offs.

The Jazz Messengers

Starting in 1954, this group around the drummer Art Blakey was composed of an ever-changing group musicians that would pretty much all go on great solo careers, including, little known fact, Keith Jarrett at some point (in a way you could say Art Blakey discovered Jarrett). Other outstanding musicians include Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Clifford Brown, Curtis Fuller. By the way, most Jazz Messengers albums are worth having, including At the Café Bohemia, A Night In Tunisia, Caravan, and obviously, Moanin’.

The original quintet from 1954 was composed of Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, and Doug Watkins. One of my next entries in this series will be about Mobley, who has done some great albums. But given that I have a piano background, let me start with the pianists of the group, Horace Silver.

Horace Silver

And let me start immediately by what is probably his greatest album, Song For My Father.

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Recorded in 1963 and 1964, and released in 1965, this album falls around the end of the hard bop period, before most  Jazz musicians moved on to “Free Jazz” and “Fusion” (to me an absolute dead-end in music), and it took until the 1980s to get back to a some form of revival of hard bop. (Some say the sale of the Blue Note label in 1966 also significantly contributed to the decline of hard bop).

On this album, Horace Silver records with two groups of musicians, the first one includes Carmel Jones, Teddy Smith, Roger Humphries and the great Joe Henderson (tracks 1, 2, 4, and 5), the second one being Blue Mitchell, Gene Taylor and Roy Brooks. By the way, the initial group of Horace Silver in his earlier recordings were pretty much “stolen” directly from the 1954 Jazz Messengers group (only Art Blakey stayed on).

As usual, I’m not going to write a track by track review of an album, I usually find those rather tedious to read, especially in the internet age where everybody can just listen to the tracks anyhow.

Let me just point out my two favorite tracks on the album, which are the title track, and Calcutta Cutie. Both songs exceed 7 minutes, a great duration for a jazz song because it really allows for several solos that are really outstanding. But luckily, on this great album, even if you have the CD version with some bonus tracks, there are really no weak tracks.

My rating: 5 stars

Other Horace silver albums that are worth exploring include Blowing the Blues Away, Horace-Scope, The Tokyo Blues, and The Cape Verdean Blues (notice a lot of blues in there? well, that’s probably what’s so special about Silver in the first place, his bluesy tone).

Get the 24/192 remaster

Usually I don’t intend to write about technical details here, this blog should be dedicated to music, but if you intend to purchase this album please don’t buy the CD, especially not the RVG remaster series.

The most recent 2012 remaster is released in 24 bit and 192khz format and is available on several sites including Qobuz, HDTracks and ProStudioMasters. Even if you don’t believe in the benefits of higher resolution than CD, the remastering of the recording per-se is way better than all previous versions I’m aware off.