Recorded at the Manhattan Towers, NYC, on May 14, 1958.
The music on this 1997 two-CD set was originally on two LPs and already previously reissued as a pair of CDs. Guitarist Kenny Burrell leads a very coherent jam session in the studio with a particularly strong cast that also includes trumpeter Louis Smith, both Junior Cook and Tina Brooks on tenors, either Duke Jordan or Bobby Timmons on piano, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Blakey. The material consists of basic originals and standards and has excellent playing all around; six of the nine tunes are over nine minutes long. At that point in time, Cook and Brooks had similar sounds, but, fortunately, the soloists are identified in the liner notes for each song. The solo star is often trumpeter Louis Smith, who fell into obscurity after a few notable appearances on Blue Note during the period (including his own brilliant date, Here Comes Louis Smith). He was one of the finest of the Clifford Brown-influenced players of the period and deserves much greater recognition. This is a recommended reissue for hard bop collectors who do not already have the two individual CDs.
All Music Guide
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The "blowing session" (or "jam session" as it used to be called) is currently quite a ubiquitous commodity in the contemporary jazz recording industry. Musicians have always gathered to "jam" or "blow" with a minimum of preparation and preconceived ideas. And it was certainly a good idea, with the advent of recording equipment (and particularly the LP), to assemble and capture such sessions-this spontaneity of expression-on records. I think one must acknowledge that in the "blowing session" lies much of the unique and romantic flavor of jazz. It has been argued, however, that the recorded "blowing session" has lately become, in many instances, even more formless, disorganized and undisciplined than its definition would imply. And it has been said that the primary reasons for this are in the bringing together of musicians who are not in themselves disciplined instrumentalists and/or who have not had sufficient playing experience with one another to have developed the sympathies and rapport required for their successful integration. A related point which has frequently been voiced and which has, perhaps, even greater significance is that the recorded "blowing session" has come to be regarded by many musicians as just "another gig"; that it demands only that one be there, have his say on a tired set of chords, and leave. Since jazz has advanced to the point where many believe it to warrant consideration as a serious and important medium of expression and creativity, the "blowing session", when these comments are applicable to it, may represent something of a regression.
But all of this does not always have to be the case and if the "blowing session" is assembled with thought, purpose and care-which I think these two volumes of "Blue Lights" were-its many inherent and otherwise only implicit values can be brought to the fore and can offer a strong definition of much of what jazz is.
I think, Burrell's Yes Baby is a fine illustration of the exceptional jazz this context can produce. It is a growling, funky (in the best sense of that overworked term) blues, and the key to its success is also what is at the center of any successful "blowing session"-unanimity and a collective energy of expression and direction. After the mood setting "head" a succession of solos begins which contain a strong unity of purpose and in which one finds a related-to-the-group as well as an individual cohesiveness.
The majority of the musicians presented here have recorded previously for Blue Note. Twenty-seven-year-old guitarist and leader, Kenny Burrell, has proven that his flexible style (his experiences include gigs with Benny Goodman and Buck Clayton on up to Tony Scott, Jimmy Smith, etc.) fits comfortably and effectively within any jazz idiom or context. Several facets of his approach are in evidence here; his relaxed forcefulness on the blues (particularly on Yes Baby and Rock Salt) and his lyrical working over a pretty popular song, Autumn in New York. On the latter tune, which offers a very good showcase for his talents, he builds an engaging melodic statement-embellishing on the first chorus in a Johnny Smith-like chordal style and then improvising thoughtful lines on the chords. He is currently leading his own group at the Brankers Melody Room in New York City.
Trumpeter Louis Smith, also twenty-seven, may force, at this time, a comparison with Clifford Brown. But though his approach is strikingly similar to that of Brown's, he does have his own things to say and the equipment to say them well. His statements on Rock Salt and Man I Love (which seem to me to be among his best on record) show, apart from the open-emotion heatedness one has come to expect from him, a good sense of continuity and an adjectival restraint that is, perhaps, an indication of his growing control of this style which could make him a significant figure on his instrument. He is, at this writing, with Horace Silver.
Both Duke Jordan (thirty-six) and Bobby Timmons (twenty-three) belong to the line of pianists that has its roots in Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. I think Jordan's most gratifying virtue lies in his ability to weave spare, uncluttered lines which can be very beautiful in their directness and simplicity. His qualities of sensitivity and lyricism have frequently been praised by musicians and some critics, but, perhaps because he is not a particularly imposing piano player, he has never acquired the large audience his talents deserve. And yet, listening to him here (especially on Scotch Blues -where he briefly employs an effective chordal style-and Phinupi) one hears that it is exactly his economically-calm conviction which is quickly, and quietly (almost secretly), getting to the heart of the matter and getting some significant things said. Timmons' style contains elements of both Bud Powell and Horace Silver, but it would be unfair to pass him off as simply an imitator. He seems rather to have employed what he has learned from these men as a means of informing and enlarging his own conception and he delivers potent solos on Rock Salt, Caravan and Chuckin'.
I think having Art Blakey on a session guarantees that it will swing. Blakey can inflame the most apathetic of groups (which this one isn't) and propel it far beyond its normal capacities. His sympathies with the soloists are often uncanny and he himself solos with more consistent meaning, and with fewer extraneous displays of vocabulary, than do certain of his similarly dexterous contemporaries. Thirty-nine years old, Blakey has, in recent years, been leading groups of "Jazz Messengers''.
Bassist Sam Jones and tenors Junior Cook and Tina Brooks mark their initial Blue Note appearances with these albums. Jones, born in Jacksonville, Florida on November 12, 1924, worked with several rhythm and blues groups and led his own combo at the Harlem Club in Miami for three years, before moving to New York in 1949. He has an exceptionally strong rhythmic sense and is also capable of doing imaginative things with a melody. His work on Man I Love spotlights these talents well.
Cook and Brooks are two saxophonists of whom I think you will be hearing a great deal more in the future. Both are unusually forceful and fluent soloists whose conceptual foundations are related, but who are otherwise quite different from each other. Cook possesses a round, full, rolling tone and approaches his lines in a manner that suggests the influences of Wardell Gray and Sonny Rollins. An assured and inventive structuring can be heard in most of his solos here, particularly on Yes Baby and Rock Salt. Though there are occasional traces of Sonny Stiff in Cook's playing, a resemblance to Stiff is more immediately discernible in Brooks whose extensive experience with rhythm and blues bands has developed in him a strength and vitality of expression that are among his most significant attributes and which his statements on Chuckin' and Yes Baby illustrate. Cook was born in Pensacola, Florida on July 22, 1934; Brooks in North Carolina on June 7, 1932.
I think you will agree that the quality of these sets is above that of the average "blowing session." Just as important, I think, as the unusual consistency of good solos these volumes contain, is the work of the group as a whole. This is a session that went well and the musicians concerned seemed to have known that.