LEE MORGAN — The Sidewinder (review)

LEE MORGAN — The Sidewinder album cover Album · 1964 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Lee Morgan started after a few lessons from Clifford Brown with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band when he was only 18 and in the same year of 1956 cut his first record with Blue Note titled "Lee Morgan Indeed" with five albums to follow within the period of just a year as his last recording for this period with Blue Note was in 1957, a promising young career in jazz looked certain but drugs got in the way and in the late fifties Lee almost disappeared and only recorded a few albums for Vee Jay in that time which was only to 1960. Things did not look good as being a junkie made him unreliable and his work was getting very irregular but he decided to clean up and let it be said "it was a job well done". This is a wonderful effort he put in to his first, in a way come back album. He wrote every track himself and not only that he provided Blue Note with their biggest hit ever with the title track "The Sidewinder". So big in fact it nearly sent them broke as the company had to print them all up with their own outlay in advance and not only that they could not get payment for their previous album sales because simply the dealers did not pay for the last delivery till the new one arrived. The composition "The Sidewinder" was also released as a single with half on one side and the other on the flip. The album made it too number 25 on the Billboard charts and were they all surprised as well sweating on where to get the money at Blue Note but things worked out and the company continued on with superb jazz when they finally received the profits.The band is super with Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone which was the first time that Lee had recorded as well as played with Joe. Barry Harris is on piano and he and Lee know each other well having played together before with the bass player Bob Cranshaw who is also present. Billy Higgins is drumming and if you are looking for a Blue Note stalwart he is definately one as he has played in dozens of sessions for them as well as being in Ornette Coleman's band but at this time at Christmas in 1963 ( 21/12/1963) he was just freelancing.

"The Sidewinder" is first and the rythmn stays put the whole time giving the composition one great extended blues theme which provides the opportunity for some driving solo's were everybody has a shot except for Billy on drums but after that intro by the band with Lee repeating the blues chords and Joe on tenor dancing in between with rythmn pounding underneath we are underway for Lee's solo which opens with a great quick progression and then he really stretches out with Joe who follows with that authority in his tone and just listen to his quick changes. Barry on piano shows why Lee wanted to play with him as his notes just land right between each rhythmn time and Bob follows with a groover on bass. Not everybodys idea of great jazz as the tune has plenty of repitition but being an old rocker myself I love this absolute groover of a jazz number and can understnd why it was popular."Totem Pole" is back to more the normal structure with its laid back intro which quickly drops when the band kicks in and once again Lee is first for another beautifully played solo that shots to high moments throughout. Joe as always is right on and comes in seamlessly after Lee and he solos up and down, as the title is "Totem Pole" and that is what they seem to be doing by climbing up and down throughout with their approach. Barry plays another beauty on piano but Lee comes back for a great high blow with the rythmn section to finish things off. "Gary's Notebook" shows off the rythmn section with a tricky time as the solos start. It is a blues composition but just a little more complicated than usual with superb solo's from Lee and Joe respectively. Another blues follows "Boy What a Night" and is more up tempo with the usual great results. Joe goes first on this composition which has a great old blues style ending. The last "Hocus Pocus" is standard jazz but not that standard because as with every other composition the solos are just wonderful on this little blower of a tune with Lee giving us a trick or two with his notes.

What a way to pick yourself up from what has been a dreadful time for him with narcotics and kudos to him. This is another Blue Note classic that you should be thinking quite seriously about for your collection. One last note as I reviewed this album from its original cd release Blue Note as well as the Prestige label who still do it, have a habit of putting alternate takes straight after the released one and it spoils the sequencing within the album. I do want to hear them but they should all be at the end and not one after the other. Keep the album as it was released for maximum enjoyment.
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