While we do love studio albums, there's something unique and magical about live recordings. There's no chances for a second take, the dynamic between band members is felt straight away and the audience's participation just adds to the ambiance. When this all-star bebop cast gathered in Montreal in 1980, the resulting performance was simply sensational. Strangely enough, the concert didn't become a hit at the time and the tapes were locked away until very recently. Though it was recorded about 30 years after the golden age of bebop, these guys were ready to impress upon the crowd just what it was that made that music, and specifically Charlie Parker, so timeless. The evening was loaded with fiery free-running tunes like the opening Blue 'n' Boogie, and complemented so beautifully with mellow classics like Stardust. While the cast is certainly star caliber, we feel that James Moody (tenor sax and flute) absolutely steals the show. His performance on Darben the Redd Foxx (his own tune, no less) is simply sensational and a masterful display of his technique and skill.
When the first Ella and Louis album was released in 1956 Verve knew that they had a winning formula and there was no way that a second album wouldn't be back by popular demand! There is certainly a magic between these two when they perform that is hard to put into words. Yet the two performers couldn't be more different from one another - Louis' deep growling voice and at times goofy demeanor somehow fits so well with Ella's silky smooth style. The timeless Let's Call the Whole Thing off is the perfect example of what we mean! Every single tune on this album feels like a nice warm cup of soup for the ears - it's the perfect Sunday morning listen for when it's cold outside and all you want to do is curl up on the sofa and relax!
Chicago-born Donny Hathaway's career started off with Curtis Mayfield's Curtom Records in Chicago. A successful arranger and producer, he quickly moved up the ranks and became the house producer for the label. In 1969 Hathaway signed with Atco Records and started releasing material under his own name. As is the story with many geniuses though, Donny's life wasn't a straightforward one - he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia which ultimately led to his tragic death in 1979. The album you have here is one his most inspired performances and one of the greatest live albums we've ever heard! The record comprises of two separate sessions - one at The Troubadour in Hollywood and the other at The Bitter End in New York, and what's clear from both is the love and admiration the crowd has for him. The audience becomes part of the band, clapping to the funky beats and bass lines and singing along like they would in gospel church, with Donny leading the funky congregation. We don't know what the definition of Soul music really is, but we like to think that it's when music comes from the soul of the performer and is delivered straight into the soul of the listener, and that's exactly what we feel every time we spin this incredible album!
It's been said that the band that's playing this set is the strongest ever put together under the legendary Art Blakey. We've definitely been saving this one all year and think it's the perfect record for all jazz lovers! Trumpet prodigy Lee Morgan, who at this point had been with Blakey for two years, is paired with the newcomer (replacing Hank Mobley) Wayne Shorter - a steaming duo by all standards. On piano - Bobby Timmons, who some may not know but actually wrote the legendary tune Moanin', paired with Jymie Merrit on bass. The album was recorded in September 1960 at Birdland, a place which has consistently brought out the very best of those who have played there. Wayne, still the relative newcomer, shows he fits right in with his incredible solos and muscular sound. That's of course complemented by Lee Morgan, whose tastefully flowing phrases and runs are testament to his ability at such a young age. No doubt being under the leadership of a 41-year old jazz veteran like Blakey the best is always brought out of musicians. In fact, when asked about the band, Timmons was quoted saying "There is really no other group to go to from here.". Indeed, there isn't! Sit back, and enjoy this one!
Sam Cooke would have turned 90 in January 2021, but we thought we would already start the celebrations a month early! Cooke started off as a teenage sensation as part of the gospel group The Soul Stirrers and has often been credited with bringing a gospel a younger audience due to his looks and charisma. Following a split from the group, he immediately gained recognition and commercial success with three rapidly-released albums for Keen, Encore being the second. With the material leaning heavily on the Great American Songbook, Cooke brings us a beautifully swinging album which is very reminiscent of Sinatra, or a young Nat King Cole. While Oh Look at me Now and Accentuate the Positive remain our highlight tunes, we find the entire album to be the perfect listen for this time of year when you're warm at home!
Make no mistake about it - this isn't your usual cheesy Christmas album we all have a love-hate relationship with. This is the finest jazz artistry at work brought to us by the virtuoso and genius that is Ramsey Lewis, wrapped in Christmas paper with a red bow on it, under a Christmas tree! It's jazz first, Christmas second! And that's why we love it - it brings us those familiar tunes we all love to hear this time of the year, but turns them into something very fresh, new and exciting! The fun and playful rendition of Jingle Bells remains a favourite of ours. Basically, it's one of the most fun Christmas albums we've heard and hope that it's one that you will also enjoy with your loved ones!
Born in Indiana, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard moved to New York in 1958 at the age of 20, where he was quickly recognised by fellow musicians as an exciting talent. Pretty soon he was performing with legends including Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy and Quincy Jones to name a few. Throughout the 60s, Freddie amassed a huge body of work with appearances on some of the most legendary jazz albums including The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Speak No Evil, Out to Lunch!, and Maiden Voyage. In 1962 he replaced Lee Morgan in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and recorded a number of albums with them until his departure in 1966. Freddie made great use of the trumpet’s lyrical potential and became a masterful ballad player, but where he really shone through was in his more up-tempo soloing. Teaming up with alto/flute player James Spaulding and pianist Herbie Hancock, Hub-Tones brings an outstanding example of Freddie's skill as a band leader in the post bop era. Our favourite tune remains the title track - a jaw-dropper of a tune so technically difficult it’s incredible to listen to it be tamed by the masterful Hubbard!
Gil is in our view one of the greatest urban poets to have lived. We like to think of him as a funkier, groovier Bob Dylan sprinkled with a generous amount of soul. The themes which Gil sang about were influenced by the brutal reality of his time and his surroundings in New York and the US more broadly. Take Home is Where The Hatred Is, or The Needle’s Eye - both of which explicitly describes the inner conflicts in a drug addict’s mind - kick it, quit it, never go home again. Coming off the heels of the civil rights movement, there were very powerful political shifts taking place which Gil was able to tap into in a way for people to understand. Aside from the social commentary and satire, Gil simultaneously laid the foundation for hip hop to develop as a major musical movement. We’ll leave you with this quote from the genius - “I think everybody has six senses, and the sixth one is your sense of humor. And that's my most valuable one. I can imagine myself without the other five, but I can't imagine myself without my sense of humor.”
The year is 1960. The world is about the enter a decade which will set social and economic wheels into a motion that will change the course of everyday life for millions of people. Frank Sinatra is in his golden age, coming off the successes of his prior Come Dance With Me and Come Fly With Me albums. Nice 'n' Easy, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, steered away from the prior swing jazz and instead brought a breezy, easy-going set of standards. The arrangements written by Nelson Riddle are fantastically charming and are as much of a pleasure to listen to as is Sinatra’s silky voice. The opening title track sets the mood for this record - let’s take it nice and easy, and is probably the swing-iest of tunes in the set. Our favourite remains I’ve Got a Crush on You, the timeless Gershwin composition which is only topped by the fact that it’s Sinatra performing it!