Lee Morgan

(Blue Note)


Lee Morgan, trumpet; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Jackie McLean, alto sax;
Herbie Hancock, piano; Larry Ridley, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.

1. Cornbread (Morgan) 9:00
2. Our Man Higgins (Morgan) 8:50
3. Ceora (Morgan) 6:20
4. Ill Wind (Koehler-Arlen) 7:55
5. Most Like Lee (Morgan) 6:46
Produced by ALFRED LION
Cover Photo by FRANCIS WOLFF
Cover Design by REID MILES
Recording by RUDY VAN GELDER
Recorded on September 8, 1965

TV viewers of the 1965 World Series, if they weren't in the kitchen grabbing a beer between innings, most likely heard a finger-popping blues behind the automobile commercial. It was "The Sidewinder" by Lee Morgan. The use of jazz in TV commercials has both good and bad aspects. Here the music was being played faithfully to its fashion and, as such, was representative of Lee Morgan's new success.

If the music from Morgan's albums subsequent to "The Sidewinder" has not been utilized by Mad Ave., it has been heard on the radio -- AM and FM -- and on many a home music system. These albums have enabled him to form his own group which has played in nightclubs of some of the eastern seaboard's larger cities. Lee, who had been with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1958 into 1961, rejoined Blakey in 1964 but 1966 found him on his own.

In a June engagement at Slugs', tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and drummer Billy Higgins were members of Morgan's group. Here, they are part of his recording group along with three others who are no strangers to their session-mates or Blue Note listeners: Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock and Larry Ridley.

The name of the title number, "Cornbread," may stir the memories of you older fans. Back in 1948, tenor man Hal Singer made a record called "Cornbread." It enjoyed so much popularity that he soon became known as Hal "Cornbread" Singer. Lee's "Cornbread" has some of the same basic ingredients as Singer's but its texture and flavor--to say nothing of its shape--mark it as an exclusive product of the Morgan oven.

The baking starts with a bright, brassy, bluesy ensemble, rolling piano and Higgins keeping the beat boiling. It's the happy-sad shout of the blues. Morgan's stimulating solo is first with especially effective use of choked notes. Then Mobley contrasts elongated upper-register cries and moans with sure-fingered accelerated runs. McLean, a very good bluesician, follows with his slightly harsher, stone-edged tone. Hancock's two-fisted attack melts into some well-placed right hand statements and then back to the double-barrelled approach. After the bread is done, the fires are damped slowly as Herbie is faded out. "Cornbread" in a capsule: you don't have to grow up in the back country to be able to play the blues.

Next is an ominous, minor-key theme, punctuated by Higgins, that seems to have been called up from the bebop era. "Our Man Higgins" is a rhythmic, drummer's "head" conjuring up visions of early Monk, Bud, Klook and the rest. McLean is full into it in the opening solo, one of his best in recent years. Morgan's hard swing creates images of Diz, Fats and Blue Note Miles in our minds. Then Mobley: laying back on the beat, exploring the rhythm, swooping around, digging in, straight ahead, biting off chunks of harmony and chewing them up. Hancock: catching the mysterious mood, his articulate right hand propelled by Ridley's fat notes and Higgins' unflagging beat. Finale: Billy, the thinker-swinger, back into the theme for more punctuations in what has to be one of the most exciting tracks in a long time--memories of the past with the urgency of today.

A dreamy Hancock intro precedes the horns' wafting of the lovely theme of "Ceora," replete with bossa beat. Morgan's expansive sound and warm feeling create something with the beauty of a Cellini bowl--but unbreakable. Mobley is tender, and Hancock applies delicate bell-like tones. Then the theme returns and you've soon finished floating on fields of gossamer forgetfulness.

The band blows a lazy zephyr before a muted Morgan states the theme of Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind." Mobley drifts in with the bridge and Lee comes back for the completion of the first chorus. Hancock's method is single-line into chords, a whiff of "It Might As Well Be Spring," some bluesy bits and hints of Red Garland. Lee is still muted for his improvisation. His emotional power is by no means blunted as his horn darts deftly in and out of the air currents. Hank is in for the last bridge and Lee takes it out. This is an "Ill Wind" that everybody blows well--er, good.

"Most Like Lee" is a staccato, minored, medium swinger. Mobley launches his solo with staccato phrasing, in keeping with the character of Morgan's melody, and then makes good use of the upper register of his tenor. Lee exhibits his round sound and way with a grace-noted style modelled after Clifford Brown. McLean is direct and heartfelt as he is, throughout the date. Hancock's multi-noted runs lead into a short but sure-noted solo from Ridley. The band comes back on the bridge and out.

Other than "Ill Wind," all the tunes in this set are from the pen of Lee Morgan. They not only reflect his ability but they point up his versatility. "Our Man Higgins," "Ceora" and "Cornbread" are three distinct grooves, each one successful in its own area. Lee is not only one of our brightest trumpeters but he is an accomplished composer. And speaking of cornbread - I'm sure there are many places where it is done well in New York but two that I know are the Copper Rail on Seventh Avenue and Minton's Playhouse on 118th Street. And on Blue Note LP 4222!

--IRA GITLER, from the liner notes.

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