Friday, 10 July 2015

Lee Morgan-Lee-Way

Soul Jazz has been an oft maligned and misunderstood part of the Jazz genre, written off as being simplistic and catering to popular tastes it's never received it'd due recognition. Looking into the canon of soul jazz you find a plethora of amazing albums and musicians coming out of the hard bop era who were looking to explore jazz in a different but still challenging way. Still keeping the anarchic elements of bop as it's thread Soul Jazz added a relaxed and rolling swing with some funky twists and turns along the way. Cookin-Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-1965 is a great history of Soul Jazz and gives you the breakdown on what you need to listen to.

Lee Morgan remains in the background in terms of Jazz music's pioneering trumpet players, his early passing in 1971 has meant that his catalogue has been largely ignored. I found this record in the second hand section at Greville Records, keen to expand my jazz knowledge I grabbed it and was intrigued by the intensity of what I heard. Lee-Way was recorded in April 1960 for Blue Note under the supervision of famed produced Alfred Lion, the album came at a juncture in Morgan's life, he was battling a growing addiction to heroin which would see him return to his Philadelphia home within the year to get clean. This was also the period in which his reputation was reaching an early peak, he had become a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1958 at the tender age of 20. Lee-Way features an all star cast with Art Blakey on drums, Jackie McLean on alto sax, Mile Davis alumni Paul Chambers on bass and Bobby Timmons also from the Messengers on piano. Lee-Way is the early genesis of soul jazz, retaining a lot of the brimstone of hard bop it also has a relaxed groove that permeates the album. Timmons was a great composer writing songs like Moanin and Dat Dere and This Here for Cannonball Adderley, in a similar vein to Wynton Kelly he played the blues with feeling and restraint. Paul Chambers at the peak of his powers was at that point the go to sideman for a powerful swinging anchor on the bass. Jackie McLean had also been a Jazz Messenger as well as part of Charles Mingus' band and a searing sound emitted from his alto.

The reflective These Are Soulful Days is an elegant tune but with an ominous feel, McLean and Morgan duet on the opening refrain and it feels like there is a darkness in that opening. Paul Chambers and Bobby Timmons then take their turn to bounce of one another before Timmons delves into a solo that starts out refined then brilliantly begins to slink and snake along picking up a distinct blues groove along the way. Even though Timmons was a pianist that respected space and rhythm he was more than adept at firing off clusters of notes. McLean is probably at his most relaxed in his solo, more known for his piercing modal riffs he is very wistful on this tune. Morgan floats and weaves, unlike Miles who at that point was becoming less known for his intense bursting solos, Morgans playing has an intensity and urgency to it.

The Lion and the Wolff was a dedication to produced Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, it has one of the best opening rhythms I've heard. Timmons plays an ominous refrain with Blakey summoning up a boss nova style groove before McLean and Morgan match each other note for note with some funky meanderings.It's Timmons playing that captures my attention melodic and deeply infused with soul he then plays some call and response with Paul Chambers. Blakey is one of my favourite drummers, so precise and powerful with those ham fisted rolls, and then he just rolls into that opening groove. Morgan pours some fat on the fire, maybe ruminating at his current state of affairs, it's a solo full of jagged twists and turns.

The Jackie McLean penned Midtown Blues, is just that, late night greasy filled slice of blues. With McLean and his leader playing the distinct opening melody before Lee unleashes a brutal assault full of sonic piercings. Nakatini Suite is a more driven hard bop number which is enhanced by the powerful drumming of Blakey who combines fierce syncopation with a latin pulse. If you want to hear the coming of age of soul jazz, Lee-Way is a good place to start.

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