Hard Bop

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Cool jazz's reign as the prevalent jazz style after bop's demise was short lived as many jazz players, especially on the east coast, wanted to return to a style of jazz that had a little more grit and aggression. Hard bop was a return to some of the ascetics of bop, but also offered some new differences. Hard bop brought back the faster tempos of the bop era, but in hard bop the harmonic changes did not come in such rapid fire succession and musicians found themselves stretching out on longer modal style solos. The new emphasis on albums rather than singles also led to longer songs. Hard bop players also began to bring more influences from the church, blues and RnB into jazz which foreshadowed the coming of soul jazz. Despite an influx of avant-garde jazz in the 60s, hard bop remained the prevalent jazz style until the emergence of fusion in the late 60s. Hard bop has enjoyed many revivals over the years and remains one of the most enduring and popular styles in jazz. Miles Davis is considered an early innovator in the field of hard bop, but Art Blakey and the many musicians who played in his Jazz Messengers are considered to be the epitome of the style.

hard bop top albums

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JOHN COLTRANE Blue Train Album Cover Blue Train
JOHN COLTRANE
4.74 | 59 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE
4.74 | 50 ratings
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MILES DAVIS 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis) Album Cover 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis)
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4.75 | 39 ratings
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WES MONTGOMERY
4.88 | 10 ratings
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4.80 | 14 ratings
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4.63 | 20 ratings
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hard bop Music Reviews

KERRY MOFFIT What Goes Around Comes Around

Album · 2021 · Hard Bop
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js
Today’s entry in the ongoing series on musicians who deserve wider recognition goes to Kerry Moffit and his debut album as a leader, “What Goes Around Comes Around”. Kerry has been performing, arranging and composing for over 40 years, yet chances are you are not familiar with him. One reason for this is that much of Moffit’s career has been in working with US Air Force bands, both in the states and in Europe. The Air Force band program provides a great resource for musicians who need to be working steadily because they have a family to raise. Its just not practical for a struggling musician to take his family to a small cold water apartment in NYC while he searches for work, so the Air Force provides top notch professional gigs for those who choose that route. Since leaving the Air Force in 2015, Kerry has been working with top talent such as Chuck Mangione, Louis Bellson, Arturo Sandoval and more.

The music on “What Goes Around…” centers around contemporary hard bop plus some Latin grooves and a few impressionistic ballads. Moffit is a virtuoso on trumpet who mostly avoids gimmicks and ’sounds’ and instead plays clean and fast streams of notes. I suppose this would be a continuation of the Clifford Brown school of boppin trumpet. The rest of the band is equally adept at their instrument with special mention going to Seth Ebersole’s sweet and fluid alto sax that recalls Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderly. A big plus on this record are Kerry’s creative arrangements. Moffit treats his three horn front line like a mini big band with sectional trade off’s that recall Duke Ellington and other Moffit influences such as Sammy Nestico and Neal Hefti. My ears also hear a lot of 60s Quincy Jones, especially in the TV theme flavored “This I Dig of You” and “Katrina Ballerina”.Half the tunes on here are standards and the other half are Moffit originals. Some top originals include “Free for All”, which is high speed hard bop with an interesting Ornette styled stop-start opening theme, and “20-4” Jam”, which has a Latin fusion flavor and features simultaneous soloing from all the horns towards the end of the track.

MILT JACKSON Reverence And Compassion

Album · 1993 · Hard Bop
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Steve Wyzard
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT

You've heard the putdowns: "Uncle Milty-baby", "Tuxes and Cocktail Lounges", and "Everybody's Darling Dozing Deacon of Good Vibezzzz". Then there's the Damned with Faint Praise category: "consistent", "dexterous", "solidly entertaining", and, of course, "nice". Very occasionally, a voice in the wilderness will speak up. Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton have never been shy about the influence of Milt Jackson upon their music. The Rev has even been called "one of the great soloists in jazz". So just who is he, really?

If ever an album qualified as a "career achievement" album, Reverence and Compassion is it. No, it can't rightly be called the greatest moment in the history of recorded sound, but simply the album that sums up and epitomizes his very full life in music. Who is Milt Jackson? Listen to this album! 50% classics and 50% originals, Milt calls it "the best CD I have ever made" in the liner notes.

So who's accompanying Milt on this album? On piano, Cedar Walton almost steals the show on "Reverence", "Young and Foolish", and "Newest Blues". On bass and arrangements, the underrated John Clayton sets down a funky groove on "This Masquerade", receives a solo spotlight on Milt's composition "J.C.", and duets with him on "Compassion". Drummer Billy Higgins is admittedly under-utilized, but he provides a great solo on the galloping "Bullet Bag". Everyone plays like the momentous occasion it is, but it's Milt's awe-inspiring playing that dominates the album. At 61:30, Reverence and Compassion is not in an agitated hurry to go anywhere, yet it never drags or meanders.

It should be mentioned (because everyone else does) that there is also a huge string orchestra and a six-piece brass section on this album. The textures can be slightly heavy, and from time to time, there are reminders of the infamous CTI sound. Listen to the haunting, otherworldly performances of "Little Girl Blue" and "It Never Entered My Mind". This is achingly beautiful (without being soporific), endless blue sky music, even if they do close with "Here's That Rainy Day". I've heard many a "sleepy w/strings" albums in my day, and let it be said here that this is not one of them. And while Milt still had a few more albums up his sleeve before the end of his life, the truly poignant Reverence and Compassion is the one to remember him by.

JEREMY MONTEIRO Jeremy Monteiro, Jay Anderson, Lewis Nash : Live at No Black Tie Kuala Lumpur

Live album · 2021 · Hard Bop
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js
The newest installment in my ongoing attempt to feature incredibly talented musicians you may have never heard of goes to veteran pianist Jeremy Monteiro. In the West his talent may be somewhat of a secret to many, but in his homeland of Singapore he is well known, having garnered their top artistic recognition when he received the Cultural Medallion. Getting back to the US scene, back in the 80s Jeremy replaced Ramsey Lewis in his trio with Eldee Young and Redd Holt to become Monteiro, Young and Holt. Back in the day, Young and Holt took Jeremy to the African American congregational church and the powerful emotions of that music have stayed with Jeremy for his entire career. Jeremy’s latest album, “Live at No Black Tie”, is of course a live album recorded at the Malaysian club mentioned in the title and features Jay Anderson on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.

Monteiro’s playing is a force of nature, his ability to take the piano from a soft whisper to a thunderous roar in a split second is admirable, so also is his ability to turn individual songs into suite like extravaganzas full of interesting twists and turns. Jeremy’s playing is rooted in older pianists who used the keyboard in a more orchestral approach. He cites Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson as influences, and it shows, I also hear a lot of Art Tatum and McCoy Tyner as well. Although Jeremy displays his interest in the bop virtuosos, his playing is hardly old fashioned as he is hip to any of today’s tonalities or modern jagged rhythms which he uses liberally in his solo workouts. As mentioned earlier, all of these songs are lengthy and feature unpredictable arrangements in which any of the three musicians might solo or duet at any time. We have all seen the boring club band that features the exact same rotation of solos on every song, there is none of that on “No Black Tie”. Some songs might open with a bass solo, while others might feature a rhythm solo after a piano solo, only to have the piano return and play another solo with a very different feeling.

There is a nice variety of music on “No Black Tie”, a couple modal jams, several ballads, two gospel flavored soul jazz numbers and plenty of swinging hard bop. Jeremy includes a couple of well known standards and balances that with his originals which all sound somewhat familiar.

JACKIE MCLEAN Consequence

Album · 1979 · Hard Bop
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Steve Wyzard
HARD BOP DEFINED!

Jackie McLean's Consequence album was originally released as part of Blue Note's infamous LT-series 14 years after it was first recorded (December 1965). The liner notes suggest that McLean's more avant-garde albums (Let Freedom Ring/One Step Beyond/Destination Out) rendered sessions such as those that make up Consequence "too straight ahead" in comparison. Yet listening to it today, one can only wonder "what's not to like?" about this intensely visceral recording. Consequence is unequivocally one of McLean's most definitive achievements, to the point where if someone asked me, "Just what is hard bop anyway?", I would simply point them to this record.

What's so memorable about this album? From the start I must insist that all of trumpeter Lee Morgan's fans hear his performance on this record immediately. His blistering first solo on "Bluesanova", his shrieking second solo on the same track, and his solo on "Slumber" are all truly awe-inspiring. Harold Mabern's slam-bang piano work on this album can only be described as "Tyner-esque". Drummer Billy Higgins destroys absolutely everything in sight, and bassist Herbie Lewis deserves to be a little higher in the mix. For ensemble playing, watch out for the furious title track, the trade-offs on "Tolypso", and Morgan and McLean playing the heads together throughout the album, but especially on "Vernestune". Altoist McLean plays his wildest solo on the aforementioned "Vernestune", and don't miss the fiery playing behind the slower tempo of "My Old Flame".

When I first heard this album, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. While not to be compared to a Coltrane-like intensity, the "oomph" that gives hard bop its name can be heard on every track. Consequence never fails to amaze and lift one's spirits, like all the best albums of this genre. And while "definitive" shouldn't be confused with "greatest", there's no better word to describe the epitomizing performances on this sadly underrated album.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Trio Introducing Freddy Gambrell

Album · 1958 · Hard Bop
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js
Freddie Gambrell is another pianist you can file under the tag, ‘one of the best piano players you never heard of.’. The reason you probably never heard of him is that he only recorded three albums, and the best of those three, “Chico Hamilton Presents Freddie Gambrell”, shows up in the Chico Hamilton discography, not Gambrell‘s. The best way I can introduce Freddie is to describe how I found his playing. I was listening to a 5 CD collection of Chico Hamilton music from the late 50s on random shuffle when I noticed this rather odd and attention grabbing pianist would show up occasionally. His playing was rooted in hard bop, but there were these weird surprises and unexpected jumps in his solos. All of this was reminding me of Herbie Nichols or Jaki Byard, but this guy was obviously neither of them. I didn’t even think that Chico ever worked with a pianist, but upon checking the CD package I see there is this one album with pianist Freddie Gambrell, someone I was not familiar with at all, so I wanted to find out more.

Apparently after recording this one album with Chico in 1958, Freddie released two more in 1959, with neither making much of an impact and although he worked regularly in San Francisco for the rest of his life, both as a pianist and big band leader, you can not find much more information about him than that. So really, the best of Freddie’s lasting legacy is just this one album with Hamilton. The style on here is west coast hard bop, in other words somewhat laid back. Chico and bassist Ben Tucker provide a rhythmic pocket for Gambrell but not much else. There is little interplay between the players and no bass or drum solos either, this is very much a Gambrell solo act. Freddie’s playing is rooted in the pre-Bill Evans school of Art Tatum and Erroll Garner, with a lot of blues thrown in as well. Then there are his unique excursions that can go anywhere unpredictably, this is what grabbed my attention about this guy in the first place, and its what continues to get my attention anytime I give him a listen. If you like any of the other pianists I referenced in this review, or other slightly off-kilter players like Monk or Ellington, then give Gambrell a try. This is one jazz musician who should be better known.

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