Blowin' the Blues Away is one of Horace Silver's all-time Blue Note classics, only upping the ante established on Finger Poppin' for tightly constructed, joyfully infectious hard bop. This album marks the peak of Silver's classic quintet with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, and drummer Louis Hayes; it's also one of the pianist's strongest sets of original compositions, eclipsed only by Song for My Father and Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. The pacing of the album is impeccable, offering up enough different feels and slight variations on Silver's signature style to captivate the listener throughout. Two songs - the warm, luminous ballad "Peace" and the gospel-based call-and-response swinger "Sister Sadie" - became oft-covered standards of Silver's repertoire, and the madly cooking title cut wasn't far behind. And they embody what's right with the album in a nutshell - the up-tempo tunes ("Break City") are among the hardest-swinging Silver had ever cut, and the slower changes of pace ("Melancholy Mood") are superbly lyrical, adding up to one of the best realizations of Silver's aesthetic. Also, two cuts ("Melancholy Mood" and the easy-swinging "The St. Vitus Dance") give Silver a chance to show off his trio chops, and "Baghdad Blues" introduces his taste for exotic, foreign-tinged themes. Through it all, Silver remains continually conscious of the groove, playing off the basic rhythms to create funky new time patterns. The typical high-impact economy of his and the rest of the band's statements is at its uppermost level, and everyone swings with exuberant commitment. In short, Blowin' the Blues Away is one of Silver's finest albums, and it's virtually impossible to dislike.
- Steve Huey (All Music Guide)
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Horace Silver not only projects a distinct, immediately recognizable talent with his playing but in the way he writes for and guides his group, he again affirmatively expresses his unique personality. In this day of conformity, when many groups are only concerned with "getting a sound," often through gimmickry, Silver's quintet has established their own identity without the aid of spurious musical devices.
Horace does not merely write beginnings and endings for the soloists to fill, he makes his compositions grow by introducing interludes and variations on the opening theses; his ballads have power and yet they are tender: these are some of the reasons that the Silver group does not paint in monochrome.
Then there is the spirit, the group's emblem which they wear most boldly on the "swingers."
"This group has a lot of fire and that's what I want." These words were spoken by leader Silver, one of the fieriest players in jazz. A mild-mannered, sincerely affable young man who dresses with a hip neatness, Horace becomes a perspiring demon when pouring out his musical soul at the piano. I remember Cannonball Adderley, newly arrived in New York, commenting on Horace's off-stand appearance: "How can a cat look one way and then play so funky?"
Apropos of all the talk about "soul" and "funk" recently, it is interesting to note that with Horace Silver, the one who has them in abundant amounts, they have always been natural qualities and never the result of self-conscious striving.
To build a harmony of feeling in a group, you must have musicians who really want to play but the spark must come from the leader. Horace has the unflagging zest which acts as a strong unifying force. In referring to the group's performance level on any given night, he says, "Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don't... but nobody ever lays down on the job." This esprit de corps gives the quintet a vitality and surging power. Most groups today do not have this necessary ingredient; in the end they sound like pale imitations of one another.
In Blue Mitchell the group has a trumpeter who, while playing within a generally idiomatic style (he has listened to Brownie), says things in his own way. Tenorman Junior Cook, whom I once described as being touched by John Coltrane, is in reality out of the Hank Mobley mold but in a much more muscular manner. Both Blue and Junior have this in common with Horace; they don't waste notes but speak boldly in lean, declarative sentences.
Drummer Louis Hayes, who joined Horace as a teenager, has developed into one of the most intelligent of the young, swinging drummers. Eugene Taylor's drive and apartment house-size sound are explained by Silver: "Gene never has to be coaxed to really work."
The music in this album is the best illustration of all the things I've said about the Horace Silver quintet. The seven numbers, all written by Horace, are excellent representations of his very large talent and the group plays them in the manner to which they have accustomed us.
"Blowin' The Blues Away" can only be described as a smoker. It has no connection with the number of the same name that Billy Eckstine's band used to play in the '40s.
As in his previous albums, Silver devotes space to his piano in a trio context. "The St. Vitus Dance" is the first of two trio tracks here. Horace picked the title for it humorously; I doubt if it will make anyone nervous. Spiritually it harkens back to some of his first trio offerings on Blue Note.
"Break City" is so called because of the Charleston-like breaks played by the rhythm section during the theme. This one is another high-caloric cooker.
"Peace" is for the peaceful mood that it embodies. Horace's titles are as forthright and uncluttered as his music. The writing and playing show the group at their balladic best.
"Sister Sadie" is from down home. Horace relates that Coltrane, when he heard the group play it in Philly, said to him, "What's the name of that 'amen' number you're playing?"
In "Baghdad Blues" Silver establishes a Middle Eastern setting. It is not really a blues as far as the changes go, but has much of the blues feeling in the minor mode.
The second trio track, "Melancholy Mood," was originally heard in a first version as part of Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet (Blue Note 1 589). Its further exploration was brought about by pianist Gil Coggins's rendition of it played at Horace's house. 'The other version was out of tempo with Teddy Kotick bowing behind me. Gilly played it out of tempo too, but with some new voicings that inspired me to try a different interpretation of the tune and play it in tempo," explains Horace.
If this album doesn't succeed in blowing your blues away, then I doubt whether you ever really had them in the first place.
- Ira Gitler (original Liner Notes)