1970 Jazz: Blue Note Records, part 2

1970 was the year when many artists ended their recording contracts with Blue Note Records. The label was owned by United Artists at that point and jazz was not the main focus for its parent label. It was the last year with Francis Wolff still in the picture before his death in 1971, and with Duke Pearson acting as house producer. Still, the label managed to record many excellent albums in 1970. We start this review with a piano player, a gifted composer and an alum of the John Coltrane Quartet.

McCoy Tyner’s first album with Blue Note, The Real McCoy, was recorded in 1967 after his departure from John Coltrane’s group. He kept a steady diet of one album a year with the label and in 1970 he recorded a number of sessions. However none of these recordings materialized to an album at the time and had to wait a number of years before being released. In February of 1970 Tyner entered the studio with a stellar cast of musicians, about which he raved in the liner notes.

McCoy Tyner, 1970

First, the horn players: “Wayne Shorter and Gary Bartz have to be two of the most important horn players living today for the strength, technique and creativity they both express has been instrumental in making this particular recording date the success that it is.”

Then the harp player: “Alice Coltrane is a very talented musician as well as being a Black woman. The very personal communion that she shared with her late husband enriched her spiritual and musical potentials as John did for all musicians.”

The drummer: “Elvin Jones is not just a drummer – he is a musical spirit. His playing expresses the highest plateau of spiritual and musical expression. I’ve always felt the spiritual intensity that Elvin expresses through his instrument.”

And last but not least, the bass player: “I chose Ron Carter for this date because he had always been creative as an artist in the recording studios and on concert dates. The dues Ron Carter had paid over the years are evidence of the man’s ability.”

The resulting album is Extensions, famous for the faux-National Geographic cover, featuring a photograph by Clifford Janoff.

This is a highly spiritual album in Tyner’s discography. He is quoted in the liner notes saying: “I am the music I play. In trying to explain the direction of my music, I can only base it on the direction that I pursue in life. Music tells a story – it may summarize the past or re-direct the future. Compositions written and played by Black musicians are vehicles to express the struggles and sufferings of Black people.”

About the opening track, Message from the Nile, the liner notes say: “The history of the Black man is deeply rooted in the experiences that transpired on and along the Nile River. Music was also an integral part of these experiences for Black people.”

Album credits:

McCoy Tyner – piano

Gary Bartz – alto saxophone

Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone

Ron Carter – bass

Elvin Jones – drums

Alice Coltrane – harp

McCoy Tyner’s last session as a leader for Blue Note was in September 1970. He was about to begin another great run of albums with Milestone Records, and this recording was a preview of the new style he would demonstrate on that label. The instrumentation on this recording is quite unique. It reaches back to Africa with a wooden flute, a guitar used as a kora, African percussion and vocal chants.

The title track from the album, Asante, starts with a meditative mood before the singer Songai starts vocalizing.

McCoy Tyner – piano, wooden flute

Andrew White – alto saxophone

Ted Dunbar – guitar

Buster Williams – bass

Billy Hart – drums, African percussion

Mtume – congas, percussion

“Songai” Sandra Smith – vocals

By the time McCoy Tyner’s album Extensions was belatedly released in 1973, it carried the following footnote by Andre Perry: “I would like to dedicate this record to the late Lee Morgan for the respect McCoy Tyner had for the man and or his family, and may his spirit live on.” Tyner’s earliest performances were in Atlantic City with Lee Morgan. He remembers one happy memory from those times: “On my birthday while performing with Lee, he came to me joking, said Happy Birthday and gave me a big birthday card.” Morgan was killed in February 1972, at Slugs’ Saloon, a jazz club in New York City’s East Village where his band was performing. Following an altercation between sets, Morgan’s common-law wife Helen Moore shot him.

Lee Morgan, 1970

In July 1970 Lee Morgan toured the West Coast with his group, including a two-week engagement at the famous Lighthouse club in Hermosa Beach near Los Angeles. The performances were recorded and released as the album Live at the Lighthouse.

Howard Rumsey, musical director at The Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach between 1949 and 1971, remembers the gifted trumpeter performing at the club: “Lee lifted the band and the listeners with his free swinging effortless, inspiring, personal, pixie-like style. He was a young man, already older than his years, thrilled with his talent and the wonders of the world around him and those ahead of him.”

Bennie Maupin, reed player in the quintet, was a good friend of Lee Morgan. He recalls a period when Morgan was overcoming a busted lip and loose front teeth due to an altercation: “He had to have his teeth wired together with braces to hold them in place. To avoid pinching his lips against the braces he had to change the lip placement on the mouthpiece. The healing process was painful and slow. Many nights his endurance was so low he could only play one set before the chops were finished for the evening. It was during this period that I had the great opportunity to see the real Lee Morgan. He played through the pain to rebuild his lip and week after week he got stronger and more comfortable with his new placement of the horn. A problem that could have ended his career became a source of his greatest strength. It was awesome to see how much courage he had.”

Lee Morgan – trumpet, flugelhorn

Bennie Maupin – tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet

Harold Mabern – piano

Jymie Merritt – electric upright bass

Mickey Roker – drums

Another musician associated with McCoy Tyner is no other than his peer at the legendary John Coltrane Quartet, drummer Elvin Jones. 1970 was an interesting year for Elvin Jones, including a stint as an actor in the movie Zachariah. The film also featured rock bands Country Joe & the Fish and the James Gang. Jones plays the villainous Job Cain, who’s not only the fastest gunslinger in the West, but also the fastest drummer – which he displays in a 10-minute solo that’s the highlight of an otherwise forgettable flick.

After recording two albums with a trio for Blue Note Records in 1968, Jones started recording with larger groups. In July 1970 he entered the studio with an interesting quintet consisting of two horns, bass, percussion and drums. A very similar lineup played at the Newport Jazz Festival just days ahead of this session.

Elvin Jones said of adding a second horn player to his group: “Bringing Frank Foster and George Coleman together makes sense, because their sounds and styles complement one another.”

The album includes the track 5/4 Thing, written by George Coleman, who is also the featured soloist. Leonard Feather writes in the sleeve notes: “The theme is so well constructed that it makes that meter as natural as breathing. Candido, showing his ability to move with the times (or the time signatures), fits into the situation by turning this into a sort of 5/4 conga.”

Elvin Jones – drums

George Coleman – tenor saxophone

Frank Foster – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet

Wilbur Little – bass

Candido Camero – conga, tambourine

The next artist in our review is trumpet player Donald Byrd, who in the early 1970s abandoned the acoustic hard bop style he was known for on his albums with Blue Note in the 1960s. Instead, he adopted an electric sound influenced in timbre and mood by Miles Davis’ album In a Silent Way. In May of 1970 he recorded a session with a large ensemble of musicians, consisting mostly of long atmospheric pieces. It combines influences from a wide range of sources including post-bop jazz, psychedelic rock, traditional West African music, Brazilian music, and the fusion works of Miles Davis. The album is aptly called Electric Byrd.

Of note here is the participation of Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, at the time part of Miles Davis’ orbit of musicians. Airto also contributed one track to the album, his composition Xibaba, for which he invited Hermeto Pascoal to play on flute.

The track Essence is a favorite of mine on this album, starting with the great solo by Airto Moreira on the Brazilian Berimbau. The echo effect has been used generously here on all the reed instruments.

Donald Byrd – trumpet

Jerry Dodgion – alto sax, soprano sax, and flute

Frank Foster – tenor saxophone and alto clarinet

Lew Tabackin – tenor saxophone and flute

Pepper Adams – baritone saxophone and clarinet

Bill Campbell – trombone

Hermeto Pascoal – flute (on “Xibaba” only)

Wally Richardson – guitar

Duke Pearson – electric piano

Ron Carter – bass

Mickey Roker – drums

Airto Moreira – percussion

In 1967, after recording a number of fine albums for Blue Note, Bobby Hutcherson had to leave New York City. Taking a break during a rehearsal with pianist Andrew Hill, he went to Central Park with drummer Joe Chambers to smoke a joint. They were arrested by the police and thrown into jail. Hutcherson continues the story: “In those days you had to have a cabaret card in order to work. And I also had my taxi driver’s license. And so they took both of those away from me and so at that point, I didn’t have anything to back me up to be able to live. I wound up moving back out to California and I ran into Harold Land and he said, ‘Listen, I’m working at this club with Buster Williams.’ He said, ‘You can work here five nights a week for a year, year and a half.’”

Harold Land may be known to jazz enthusiasts from his work with the legendary Clifford Brown and Max Roach quintet in the 1950s. His collaboration with Bobby Hutcherson proved quite fruitful and the two recorded a number of albums with Blue Note from 1968 to 1975. Hutcherson recalls the circumstances around their first recording: “And so I started working with Harold. All of a sudden I get a call from Duke Pearson and Alfred Lion: ‘When are you going to come back and record again? The cabaret card has been abolished. You don’t have to have it any more.’ I said, ‘Harold, let’s go back to New York and record an album.’ That music started my friendship and music with Harold Land, and that turned out really wonderful. What a wonderful musician Harold Land was.”

The band had employed number of great pianists over the years, including Chick Corea and Stanley Cowell. On this album they are joined by Joe Sample. Other than the nucleus of Henderson and Land, it was a revolving door of rhythm section players. Harold Land explained: “It’s hard for us to get sidemen because we don’t work all the time. Living in Los Angeles is a disadvantage, too, when we’re trying to get a rhythm section. The best guys around here are always working.”

Harold Land, left with Bobby Hutcherson, right

In July of 1970, while in Los Angeles, Hutcherson and Land recorded the album San Francisco. On this album the two move away from their usual flavor of post-bop tunes to a more electric sound and rhythm and blues grooves, with the help of electric piano and bass in the rhythm section.

Hutcherson talked about that period in his career: “I was creating a different sound instead of typical jazz lines. The idea was to try to make it sound simple even though it was music that was hard to figure out.”

Bobby Hutcherson – vibraphone, marimba, percussion

Harold Land – tenor saxophone, flute, oboe

Joe Sample – piano, electric piano

John Williams – bass, Fender bass

Mickey Roker – drums

Categories: A Year in Music

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