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!
We love this record for the music as well as the fact that it was a foundation for a new branch of jazz - you can think of this as early progressive jazz, or even the rockier jazz which Weather Report made a name for. In terms of timing, this was the late 60s – rock was dominating the market place and Miles was looking for a new direction that carried forward his core values in a creative and relevant way. The record was greeted by mixed reactions from critics at the time, but is today regarded as one of Mile’s most important works. If we look at the line-up of musicians on this record it is nothing short of a who’s who of electronic jazz. You’ve got Wayne Shorter (later Weather Report) on saxophone, John McLaughlin on guitar, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on keys in addition to Joe Zawinul (later Weather Report and previously with Cannonball Adderley). These guys were seminal to the direction which jazz later took. The sound of this album has been described by reviews as a perfect marriage between music and technology. Personally, we hear something new in the album every time we listen to it and that’s what we believe makes it so special.
While so many music icons are discovered at a relatively young age, Bill's career only took off at age 32. By that point he had grown as a person, had experiences both good and bad and lived a life - and that’s precisely what he brought to his music. Every song he sings about love, heartache, friendship and camaraderie is covered in an extra layer of maple syrup. Bill, much like other folk musicians, was a storyteller, but he brought the kind of energy that belonged to a Janis Joplin. Every song has the potency to tear your heart out, while the next one will lovingly rebuild it. The record kicks off with the thick baseline of Lonely Town, Lonely Street, but our two highlights are Use Me, a tune with one of the funkiest grooves ever, and Lean on Me - what would become the undisputed anthem of friendship. The best aspect of Bill’s music to us is the fact that it’s relatable and accessible to so many people. Just about any experience one may have been through, Bill is likely to have sung about. We hope you all find something in this one that will make it as special to you as it is to us.
Released just one year after Miles Davis’s groundbreaking Sketches of Spain album, Olé Coltrane was John’s last studio album with Atlantic Records before moving over to Impulse!, who offered greater musical freedom for the saxophone maverick. Playing on both Spanish and Eastern-influenced scales and themes, Olé puts on display Coltrane’s continuous advancement and movement into much more complex compositions and new directions. Supported by the fantastic group of Elvin Jones (drums), Eric Dolphy (flute and alto sax), McCoy Tyner (piano) and a very young Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Olé can at times be an intimidating listen for those who’s ears aren’t Coltrane-attuned. With a play time of 45 minutes and a mere 4 tracks, each tune is given the opportunity to really develop and evolve right in front of the listener, reaching the kind of “high” which only Coltrane can provide.