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 | 69 ratings
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WES MONTGOMERY The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery Album Cover The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
WES MONTGOMERY
4.87 | 14 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Live at Birdland Album Cover Live at Birdland
JOHN COLTRANE
4.82 | 18 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE My Favorite Things Album Cover My Favorite Things
JOHN COLTRANE
4.73 | 59 ratings
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MILES DAVIS 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis) Album Cover 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis)
MILES DAVIS
4.72 | 46 ratings
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HORACE SILVER Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers Album Cover Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers
HORACE SILVER
4.88 | 9 ratings
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LEE MORGAN City Lights Album Cover City Lights
LEE MORGAN
4.88 | 8 ratings
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DEXTER GORDON A Swingin' Affair Album Cover A Swingin' Affair
DEXTER GORDON
4.90 | 7 ratings
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ART BLAKEY Free For All Album Cover Free For All
ART BLAKEY
4.70 | 19 ratings
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JACKIE MCLEAN Right Now! Album Cover Right Now!
JACKIE MCLEAN
4.79 | 10 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Giant Steps Album Cover Giant Steps
JOHN COLTRANE
4.60 | 73 ratings
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CHARLES MINGUS Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Album Cover Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
CHARLES MINGUS
4.63 | 22 ratings
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hard bop Music Reviews

JOHNNY GRIFFIN Night Lady

Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
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js
When it comes to discussing the top jazz saxophonists, Coltrane and Parker are givens, often followed closely by Rollins and Dolphy, but who is next in line. One name that doesn’t get mentioned often enough is Johnny Griffin. Early in his career, Griffin was often billed as “the world’s fastest saxophone”, but for some reason, the passing of time has eased Johnny more into the background. Possibly it is because Griffin was never particularly controversial, no publicized problems with drugs and alcohol or an early death to help immortalize him, Johnny was just a damn good saxophone player, maybe that’s not enough to hold the public’s wandering attention.

Griffin’s “Night Lady” was released in 1964 and finds the tenor man in fine form. This was recorded after Johnny had moved to Europe and was working with the big band led by Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland, as well as working with other artists too. To assemble the quartet for this recording, Clarke on drums and Bolan on piano were obvious choices, with Ellington sideman Jimmy Woode taking on the bass. This is a talented band with the extroverted Clarke playing all over the set in a style similar to today’s post bop drummers. Much like Griffin himself, Francy is also an under rated talent. Although Danish by birth, Francy’s playing has a lot of funky gospel and blues to it. A favorite technique of his is to grab a gospel riff and then insistently repeat it with slight variations as he hammers his point across. Every member of this band plays with a sense of contagious enthusiasm and smart-assed wit.

Apparently Griffin’s playing style had mellowed some since moving to Europe, but that might have been more about changing musical styles as laid back bluesy hard bop and soul jazz replaced the more frantic bebop of Johnny’s youth. A lengthy jam on “Night Lady” opens the album and finds the band swingin the blues, this style also covers much of side two as well. Of the standards herein, Griffin plays endless variations on the melody of “All the Things You Are” and manages to get some fire going on the usually tired sounding “Summertime”. “Little Man You’ve had a Busy Day” is one of Johnny’s favorite ballades and features an elegant solo from Francy. This is a great album for those who like pure jazz with no unnecessary additives or phony flavor enhancers.

GRANT GREEN Street of Dreams

Album · 1967 · Hard Bop
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Steve Wyzard
RAINY DAY MASTERPIECE

Taking into account that all Grant Green albums are unfairly marginalized in the shadow of the previously recorded Idle Moments, let's take a look at some of the myths and assumptions that have arisen regarding his 1967 release, Street of Dreams:

1) "It's quiet and dreamy": Don't take the title too seriously. Loaded with that intangible quality known as "atmosphere", Larry Young's brooding organ chords push this album far closer to noir than to "dreaminess". All of the players are motivated, and absolutely no one is sleep-walking through this session.

2) "It's far too simple and laid back": Street of Dreams can be described as low-key, contemplative, or even nostalgic, but any "easy listening" accusations can be immediately dispelled with the first track, the Latin-flavored "I Wish You Love". Grant's fluid picking/soloing is downright inspired, and not just on this track but throughout the entire album. Then Larry Young's intense performance on the title track will help you understand why he has sometimes been called the "Coltrane of the organ".

3) "Is that really Elvin Jones on drums?": Yes, it's really him on drums, but don't expect the fireworks he contributed to the John Coltrane Quartet. Elvin shows himself to be a master of restraint on this album, with just the right percussion for each and every track. His famous polyrhythms do make an appearance on the title track.

4) "Bobby Hutcherson is relegated to the background": While Bobby had led a few sessions by the time this album was recorded, none had yet been released to the music-listening public. But to call him a "supporting" player here is just wrong. He is given extensive solos on 3 of the 4 tracks, and he even doubles the melody line with Grant to open and close "Somewhere in the Night".

Recorded in November 1964, Street of Dreams does have to answer to one accusation made against it that costs it half-a-star. At 33:37, this album, as good as it is, is over far too soon. Nor have any alternative takes or extra tracks ever turned up on CD/boxset re-releases. It would have been exquisite if this session had lasted just a little bit longer, and yet the flawless performances do not indicate someone was hurrying to finish and catch the next train to who-knows-where. It's best to think of this album as a passing cloudburst that briefly drops everything it has before quickly moving on. And while nothing will stop you from enjoying this little masterpiece at noon on the brightest day of the year, it seems to become that much more magical on days and times when it's anything but.

LEE MORGAN The Sidewinder

Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
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Rexorcist
It's 1964, and Lee Morgan's making a name for himself among the jazz community. The general idea of the album is becoming more and more relevant, and Morgan already made a hit among jazz fans with The Cooker. But he's most popular for his 1964 piece, the Sidewinder. This is my first ever venture into Lee Morgan, so I had no expectations.

Lee Morgan's heyday started with The Sidewinder, and he'd release several other classics. However, I'm of the impression that these classics are either better than this, or overrated as well. See, while the ten minute opener is a nice funky beat to get behind, as a jazz piece, I've heard bop tracks that have a stronger presence, a little more complexity and a less "standard" jazz mood, if you know what I mean. All the other tracks on this album are following suite, and variations in tempo and melody don't really feel like enough to justify the fact that this album is mostly just a catchy album following a style and theme that had been done before many times in the late-40's and early-60's. A couple of the tracks get better as the album goes along, but this pretty good jazz album is just that, a low 4-star. I'm really hoping the other classics by Morgan are much better. It's cool the first time around, but it doesn't live up to the hype.

MIKE CLARK Kosen Rufu With Eddie Henderson

Album · 2023 · Hard Bop
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snobb
Legendary "Headhunter", Mike Clark, who only released a dozen albums as leader in three decades, just released already his second studio work this year. Even more unusual, differently from his work in Hancock's Headhunters and all series of his own albums, the music on both of his new albums isn't funk-jazz at all. Clark is obviously returning to pre-funk-jazz mainstream, propelling it right to the second decade of a new Millennium.

The sextet contains another former Headhunter, percussionist Bill Summers, legendary trumpeter (and former member of another Herbie Hancock band, Mwandishi) Eddie Henderson, veteran double-bassist Henry Franklin, eclectic keyboardist Wayne Horvitz (renown by his collaborations with John Zorn and Bill Frisell among others) and punk-jazz sax player Skerik. It's quite surprising, that such an unorthodox collective plays well controlled and precisely framed bop. True, the arrangements are very contemporary and makes the entire music very attractive. No surprise then, that among the original compositions there is a classic version of Eric Dolphy's "Hat and Beard" from possibly the most renown free-bop album in jazz history, "Out To Lunch". Six decades after the original's release, such music can hardly be described as "avant-garde jazz", as it was in 1964, but the addition of this genre-defining composition from the past helps a lot to understand what Clark's "Kosen Rufu" is about.

In fact, the great drummer recorded his very own "Out To Lunch" for the second decade of 00's. Rooted in the best bop tradition of the 50s, with help from extra-skilled collaborators, Clark presents a very contemporary sounding "new-bop", very percussive, tuneful and full-bodied. Perfectly recorded (with "old school" crystal clear warm sound), the album's music contains extended moody Henderson trumpet soloing over the groovy physical rhythm section on many songs. Former Headhunters' background sparkles perfectly on funky "BBQ on Auseon" and "Signature". "Luconchu's Night Out" demonstrates high energy with both reeds dueling. Some freer improvs never destroy the quite comfortable music flow.

Very modern sounding album which at the same time perfectly illustrates what the real Jazz (with big "J") is, the feeling that has been partially forgotten for a while. Many listeners will return back to this music again and again.

JOSH LAWRENCE And That Too

Album · 2023 · Hard Bop
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Steve Wyzard
RETRO COVERS

Drawn in as I was by Ola Baldych's delightfully retro cover design, no one could have been more surprised than I was to discover a 21st Century hard bop masterpiece. Without any form of plagiarism or obvious imitation, And That Too brings the sound of Lee Morgan-era Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers into the modern, post-Jet Age world. This album was recorded in June 2021, but a first-time listener could be graciously forgiven for assuming it was from June 1961, yet with crisp, digital sound/production.

When I first became aware of this release, I was only familiar with one of the two drummers, Jason Tiemann. In 2020, he self-released a phenomenal organ-trio album called T-Man. And That Too features Josh Lawrence on trumpet, Willie Morris III on tenor sax, Art Hirahara on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass, and Rudy Royston drumming on five of the eight tracks. Let it be said here that ALL of these players are true masters of their instruments, which makes this amazing album a true force to be reckoned with. If news about this release reaches influential listeners, these guys will not be residing in virtual anonymity for long.

The album opens with the driving energy of "Grit". Lawrence, Morris, and Hirahara all take formidable solos before a sudden ending. The only cover is Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti", played luminously slow with Lawrence adding a mute. "Cosmological Constant" is ridiculously fast, while "North Winds" is bright and brilliant. The album's true stand-out, "Black Keys", starts with a Hirahara intro before the group joins in for a 1...2...3... cadence. Lawrence's guttural growls make this Louis Armstrong tribute, topped by Royston's exquisite brushwork, a much-too-short stunner. The brisk "Hole in the Wall" is this album's "exploratory" moment before Kozlov's arco playing highlights the muted ballad "Left Hanging". Finally, "Cantus Firmus" becomes a "band showcase" number with fiery trade-offs galore.

You know how successful an album is by how fast it goes by. May I submit that And That Too is one of the fastest 56:30 albums ever recorded? These guys are THAT good. And while skeptics may doubt that anything released in 2023 could be comparable to something from 60 years ago, I challenge one and all to give this album an honest listen and prepare to be blown away. Thank you Posi-Tone Records for putting this one out: it will still be good in 2083!

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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