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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MILES DAVIS 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis) Album Cover 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis)
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4.85 | 26 ratings
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4.77 | 44 ratings
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4.92 | 8 ratings
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4.88 | 9 ratings
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4.78 | 18 ratings
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4.76 | 21 ratings
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4.73 | 35 ratings
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4.92 | 6 ratings
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hard bop Music Reviews

SONNY ROLLINS Saxophone Colossus

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
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siLLy puPPy
To clarify the confusion of this album that seems to have different info with every source i encounter, it was recorded on 22 June 1956 and released in April 1957 and the excellent Rudy Van Gelder remaster finding its way onto the market in 2005. SAXOPHONE COLOSSUS is without a doubt the most revered album released by SONNY ROLLINS with the leading track “St. Thomas” being one of the most celebrated jazz standards of not only the 50s hard bop scene but of all jazz history. Although the track was a traditional calypso number, SONNY literally jazzed it up to make a classic of the ages.

This album finds many a jazz veteran lending a hand and an ear to the process. SONNY ROLLINS, of course, is the star here with his masterful melodic tenor saxophone, but we also get Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and the inimitable Max Roach handling drum duties. By definition, hard bop incorporates everything from R&B and gospel music to the blues and beyond and this album is a great example of these mixings and commingling of styles.

The saxophone and piano are obvious contenders here but the beauty of this album is how well every musician on board weaves his magic around the cohesive whole. While jazz ballads can be a point of contention in my world, i must admit that “You Don’t Know What Love Is” comes across as a tender yet intricately beautiful piece of work that straddles the pop world’s sensibilities while keeping the jazzy touches as the dominant feature.

This is music well before my time but it has a sense of timelessness to it. I was particularly surprised to hear “Moritat” which is a jazz interpretation of a song composed by Kurt Weil originally titled “Mack The Knife” or in German “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” which was in The Threepenny Opera which originated at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin in 1928. While the original had lyrics and was a product of its time SONNY deftly tackles the vocal parts on his sizzling sax and retains the spirit of the original without sacrificing the hard bop sensibilities of the time of release.

“Blue” which is a ROLLINS written original is another satisfying track. It delivers all the beauty of a blues standard with all the jazz touches as the icing on the cake. Somehow these four guys keep the whole thing sounding like a blues song even when they break into clear jazz territory of syncopated drum solos and the like. Very impressive.

This was a grower indeed. While feeling underwhelmed upon first encounter i have really grown to like SAXOPHONE COLOSSUS a lot and understand the hype behind its majesty. While not fluent in ROLLINS’ massive discography, i as an abecedarian of his music, can gleefully advocate recommending this album as the perfect introduction into his hard bop and beyond universe. While it’s true that in the 50s jazz appears a little incestuous with every musician at one time playing on someone else’s albums just like marriages in a TV soap opera, on this particular occasion the stars aligned for all involved and a veritable masterpiece was born.

MAL WALDRON Blood And Guts

Live album · 1970 · Hard Bop
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snobb
Pianist Mal Waldron first ever live album has been released in 1970 on tiny French Futura label. It contains four longish (each - over ten minute long)compositions, recorded in May 1970 at American Cultural Center in Paris. Mal plays in his most comfortable format - trio,two other members are local musicians who will never record with Waldron again. Twenty-four years old bassist Patrice Caratini will play on Kenny Clarke's French-released album " Kenny "To Day"" in 1980 and will collaborate extensively on domestic jazz and world music recordings. Drummer Guy Hayat already played in mid 60s with Bud Powell. Anyway, lesser known Waldron's band members surprisingly fit well for lively live music.

Album opens with Waldron original "Down At The Gill's" - groovy rhythm section openly push Waldron piano ahead, at moments he sounds almost as playing early rock'n'roll theme on piano. Comparing with Waldron other recordings coming from the same time,where he usually plays mid-tempo well balanced repetitive rhythmic beats or slower tuneful songs,muscular "Down At The Gill's" sounds as stadium rock-hit.

Recording engineer Alain Gandolfi (future drummer and co-founder of funky-fusion Cortex band)has been obviously interested in upcoming proto-funk sound: Mal's piano sounds a bit flat but drums and especially double bass sound are very deep,rich and mixed on the front(common sound mix balance is really pleasant,with just few ultra-low frequencies deep lows,dangerous for acoustic system). "My Funny Valentine" sounds surprisingly warm and original at the beginning but probably lasts a bit too long, last quoter of twelve minute-composition isn't all interesting and sounds like trio continues playing just because can't decide how to finish the song.

Second of three album's Mal originals,"La Petite Africaine", is excellent example of Waldron as composer. Again,pushed ahead with bopish but extremely groovy rhythm section,it shows how great Mal music sounds when more flesh and blood are added.

Album's closer (and title song) has been already recorded by Mal earlier this year,but in solo piano version (released on "Tokyo Reverie" same year). This live version,played with muscular trio opens new colors of this great composition, Waldrom will return playing it again and again years and decades after.

In all,better than average Waldron album,one between his best recorded during early 70s. Original vinyl LP is collectable rarity (it was re-released on vinyl some years later in Japan). Fortunately,there are French and Japanese CD reissues available on market,so there are some more accessible ways to get this strong album for your collection.

CYRUS CHESTNUT Midnight Melodies

Live album · 2014 · Hard Bop
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Matt
Another new one from that new label Smoke Sessions. This time we have the talented Cyrus Chestnut performing his first live album, “Midnight Melodies” at the Smoke Jazz Club. Trio is the band structure and as Cyrus states in the album cover notes “ That’s one thing I really liked about this particular project was that there were three equal participants versus just a bass and drummer being the support for the piano” and the recording does have that with the trio working right throughout as one working unit with some wonderful interplay and cohesiveness in their sound. Cyrus Chestnut has become one of the most highly rated pianists in Jazz currently with numerous collaborations in music with one of his very early influences being the pianist John Hicks who like Cyrus is adept at any form of Jazz. Three of John Hicks compositions are included but the album is not a tribute, it is just the band likes to play them. The recording also has three compositions included from the band with one from Cyrus and two from the drummer Victor Lewis with all three being just as good as the other great Jazz standards covered within the album from Strayhorn to Coltrane and Davis.

Then again although the composition’s are of an excellent quality this trio could take “Chopsticks” and make it sound amazing such as the talent within the band. Cyrus Chestnut on piano first became noticed by Jazz audiences in 1986 first supporting Jon Hendicks followed by Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Wynton Marsalis and Betty Carter who became another major influence in shaping Cyrus Chestnut’s music and approach with her advice. Curtis Lundy on bass has also previously worked with Betty Carter as well as John Hicks and like Cyrus has played most of these compositions right throughout their careers. The drummer is Victor Lewis who although did not work with Betty Carter, he did with Carmen Lundy (sister to Curtis) but once again it is John Hicks whose presence and influence is right there with the Trio, as Victor also spent time drumming for him. Still not a tribute album it is just all this familiarity with the band members themselves and past music collaborations brings a unique understanding into so many of the album’s compositions.

A John Hicks composition gets proceedings underway, “Two Heartbeats” with a laid back mid tempo structure Cyrus just dances over that piano building intensity to return beautifully back to the compositions beginning. Slightly quicker time with “Pocket Full of Blues” and a twang that Curtis’ bass provides between Cyrus’ piano is a delight with another stunning build throughout his solo. The next is one of Cyrus Chestnuts’ own compositions “To Be Determined” with a beautiful relaxed feel and I find from this point the album seems to improve even more with a fabulous take of “Bag’s Groove” and does Cyrus lay down one superb piano input getting quite percussive at points throughout the Milt Jackson Jazz standard and becoming an album highlight. The band members own compositions with the following by Victor Lewis the drummer “Hey, It’s Me You’re Talkin’ To” are wonderful with Victor opening with a superb drum solo and the band following with more of that amazing Cyrus piano technique all over it. Two Billy Strayhorn compositions are next with a beautiful relaxed take of the ballad “Chelsea Bridge” with U.M.M.G. ( Upper Manhattan Medical Group) following with Cyrus coming on a lovely groove for this number with a superb take of the tune to follow. There is another composition from Victor Lewis “I Wanted To Say” with a swirl coming from the pianists left hand and his right hitting high notes like ice picks you know you are in for another musical treat from Cyrus and another bonus in the number is Curtis’ superb solo on bass. “ Giant Steps” ,the ballad “Naima’s Love Song” and Miles Davis’ “The Theme” containing a band introduction and farewell from Cyrus round of this fabulous new Live recording with all of these last three numbers having wonderful takes and solos from the band.

Early days I know but this one will be mentioned at the end of the year in my top albums. Cyrus has all the Jazz space required within his play but it is not often that a pianist can go right to the other extreme filling the place with a multitude of notes and just keep sounding better. Highly ,Highly Recommended for us lovers of a great Jazz Trio and a working band.

MAL WALDRON Free At Last

Album · 1970 · Hard Bop
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snobb
Pianist Mal Waldron made his name as Billie Holiday accompanist till her last days, his solo albums in late 50s were all well-made but not virtuosic hard bop. He played with Charles Mingus,recorded "The Quest" with Eric Dolphy - Mal's most significant work of that period and nearly died from a heroin overdose. After long months of rehabilitation in hospital Mal relocated to Europe, where during followed years made strong reputation as one of most respectable American jazz expatriate.

Being always hard-bop rooted, during late 60s-early 70s he evidenced free-jazz influences, "Free At Last" titled album is one of such examples. Being historically more significant as very first release of just founded German ECM label (still without traces of what later will be widely known as "ECM sound"), this album contains Waldron transitional music recorded with acoustic trio (Swiss drummer Isla Eckinger plus another American Clarence Becton on drums).

Being quite free (at least by Maldron standard) this album contains five Mal originals plus ballad "Willow Weep For Me". Mostly up-tempo groovy music includes some longish bassist soloing,but Waldron piano even if a bit freer than usual demonstrates early stage of what later will become his signature style - uncomplicated beat in combination with drone and tuneful non-virtuosic not-too-fast playing.

Album's compositions are still far not so memorable as Waldron later works and rhythm section is all but "free at last" (not Waldron himself is to be honest as well). Mostly interesting as Mal's early step on what very soon will become his visit card, this album is still quite pleasant and far not boring. For ECM collectors original version is a Holy Grail, fortunately reissued on CD by ECM in early 90s(and once again in Japan - in 2014).

CHARLES MINGUS Mingus at the Bohemia (aka Chazz!)

Live album · 1956 · Hard Bop
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js
“Mingus at the Bohemia” comes from a live concert early in Mingus' career and features some of his first originals in the avant-blues style that will come to be the hallmark of his career. Album opener, “Jump Monk”, is driving hard bop with a catchy and insistent arrangement that teeters on the verge of chaos. This tune would go on to be one of Mingus’ most played classics, and it sums up so much of what his career would be about. The other tunes on here are no slouches either, and they present the variety that Mingus was working with. “Serenade in Blue” and “Work Song” continue the hard bop wrapped in interesting arrangements initiated by “Jump Monk”, and “Septemberly” has Mingus combining “September in the Rain” with “Tenderly” in an odd arrangement that has the two horn players each playing one of the tunes simultaneously. Likewise, “All the Things You C Sharp Minor” is an unlikely mix of “All the Things You Are” with a theme from Rachmaninoff, and “Percussion Discussion” is avant-garde third stream chamber music with Mingus on bass and guest Max Roach on percussion. Apparently Charles added a piccolo bass part to this one in the studio. All combined, the tunes on this CD constitute a very imaginative collection of music that was well ahead of its time.

The music on here is great, but the recorded sound is not as great. The horns and drums come in loud and clear, but the bass and piano are low and can almost disappear if you don’t turn it up. This is unfortunate because the virtuoso piano playing of Mal Waldron is the star of the show here. Mal’s ability to fuse blues with humorous extravagances and deconstructionist blunt force mixes well with Mingus’ musical vision, as both seem to draw upon a combination of Ellington, Monk and the new avant-garde. Mal gets to show off his well developed classical chops when he combines the structures of the standard “All the Things You Are”, with a well known Rachmaninoff theme, its one of those typical musician rehearsal jokes that made it to the stage, and it’s a surprisingly clever trick when Mal pulls it off.

Conventional wisdom maintains that the two horn players on here were a bit old school for what Mingus and Waldron were up to, but they both do a great job playing Mingus’ unusual arrangements and plunge right into the spirit. Their solos, particularly trombonist Eddie Bert, are more conventional, but Eddie’s soft swinging style just adds to the interesting incongruities of the entire project. This isn’t Mingus’ best recording, the sound is uneven, his musical vision is not totally unified yet, and his ensemble is not exactly on his same beam, but this is still an interesting and eclectic album for any Mingus fan to own.

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