With THE SOOTHSAYER, Wayne Shorter fronts a large ensemble for the first time in his solo endeavors. Like his previous sessions, Shorter's assorted guests are drawn from the most notable groups of the time. McCoy Tyner from Coltrane's quartet, rhythm-mates Ron Carter and Tony Williams from Shorter's employer Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard who shared horn duties with the saxophonist in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers are all present, producing a huge sound lead by Shorter's artistic vision.
Grant Green's third album to be released, Grantstand teams the clear-toned guitarist with an unlikely backing group of musicians who rarely appeared with Blue Note otherwise: tenor saxophonist Yusef Lateef (who doubles on flute), organist Brother Jack McDuff, and drummer Al Harewood. Although Lateef was beginning to delve deeply into Eastern tonalities and instruments around the same time, his playing here is pretty straightforward and swinging, fitting the relaxed, bop-tinged soul-jazz that makes up most of the session.
For ADAM'S APPLE Wayne Shorter returned to the simple quartet format for the last time in his solo career. This date from 1966 shows the saxophonist firmly between his modal style of the early '60s and his more experimental avant-garde period that was to come with albums like SCHIZOPHRENIA and SUPER NOVA. The effect of Shorter's membership in Miles Davis' legendary group is evident, as his improvisations here are more adventurous and his rhythmic drive more pointed and angular than previous efforts. Above all, this session gives us one last look at Shorter at his most unveiled.
One of the most successful of Blue Note's 'blue' period and an album that remains his finest work. Although his tenor sax occasionally grates, this is a brilliant example of late bebop. Supported by Bud Powell (piano), Kenny Clarke (drums) and Pierre Michelot (bass), the simple quartet sound coolly in control. 'Willow Weep For Me' is played with great beauty and 'A Night in Tunisia' is yet another well-crafted version. The wonderful bonus of 'Our Love Is Here To Stay' and 'Like Someone In Love' (from Powell's Alternate Takes) on the CD reissue puts this album in the first division.
This 1963 trio session was only the avant-garde pianist and composer Andrew Hill's second release for Blue Note, with whom he would enjoy a fruitful association throughout the decade. Already, on the previous BLACK FIRE, Hill had established himself as a worthy, somewhat more mainstream alternative to the radical Cecil Taylor. His musical style is heavily chromatic, both dense and angular, similar in part to McCoy Tyner's equally muscular explorations. For the most part however, SMOKE STACK takes things at a ruminative, deceptively leisurely pace. Still, the venerable drummer Roy Haynes remains energetic, supple. and busy throughout the set, much like the fiery Elvin Jones with the John Coltrane Quartet. One highlight: Richard Davis's arco bass stylings, moaning and keening throughout the exotic "Wailing Wall."
Although he is best known for his bluesy soul-jazz outings, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine's first Blue Note session as a leader was a much more traditional bop affair, and the resulting album, Look Out!, featuring a rhythm section of Horace Parlan on piano, George Tucker on bass, and Al Harewood on drums, shows as much artful restraint as it does groove.
SHADES OF REDD is part of the seemingly endless stream of bop and post-bop albums released on Blue Note in the 1960s, and as such is easy to overlook. That, however, would be a mistake, as SHADES OF REDD is a gleaming gem of a find. With saxophonists Jackie McLean and Tina Brooks in the front line, pianist Freddie Redd leads a rhythm section through nine blues-inflected bop numbers of his own composition. Cool, elegant, and with plenty of swing factor, SHADES OF REDD might sound, theoretically, like any other disc from the period, but this is one of the sets where the elements came together perfectly. Jazz fans of nearly any stripe would do well to pick this up.
Slow Drag was one of trumpeter Donald Byrd's final hard bop dates. Teamed with altoist Sonny Red, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Walter Booker and drummer Billy Higgins (who takes a surprise vocal on the title cut), this quintet outing features originals by Byrd, Walton and Red along with the standards "Secret Love" and "My Ideal." The music in general finds Byrd looking both backwards toward the blues and forwards toward modal music and hints of the avant-garde. A fine effort.
Organist Roosevelt "Baby Face" Willette is both a shadowy figure and something of a legend in the 1960s jazz scene. While he played with Blue Note heavyweights Grant Green and Lou Donaldson, he had drifted into obscurity by the '70s. But while on the scene, Willette made some fine music in the soul-jazz vein, and FACE TO FACE (1961) was his debut. Willette's Jimmy Smith-inspired organ pilots a combo of Fred Jackson's tenor and the aforementioned Green's ace guitar through some earnest, tasty, blues-tinged grooves. While it's no masterpiece, fans of soul-jazz should snap up FACE TO FACE while they can.
HAPPENINGS was vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's fourth Blue Note release as a leader. Where its predecessors DIALOGUE and COMPONENTS were packed with challenging avant-bop, HAPPENINGS instead brings things down a notch. With pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Joe Chambers, and bassist Bob Cranshaw on board, Hutcherson keeps the tone fairly light, performing his original compositions (the exception is Hancock's "Maiden Voyage") with a mellow, swinging style that emphasizes modal exploration. The performances are all top-notch, and the album still weighs in as one of the best in Hutcherson's fine catalogue.