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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WES MONTGOMERY The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery Album Cover The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
WES MONTGOMERY
4.88 | 10 ratings
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HORACE SILVER Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers Album Cover Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers
HORACE SILVER
4.94 | 7 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Live at Birdland Album Cover Live at Birdland
JOHN COLTRANE
4.82 | 12 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 | 37 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE My Favorite Things Album Cover My Favorite Things
JOHN COLTRANE
4.70 | 45 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Blue Train Album Cover Blue Train
JOHN COLTRANE
4.69 | 55 ratings
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LEE MORGAN City Lights Album Cover City Lights
LEE MORGAN
4.87 | 6 ratings
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JACKIE MCLEAN Right Now! Album Cover Right Now!
JACKIE MCLEAN
4.83 | 7 ratings
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ART BLAKEY Free For All Album Cover Free For All
ART BLAKEY
4.69 | 15 ratings
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LEE MORGAN Cornbread Album Cover Cornbread
LEE MORGAN
4.72 | 9 ratings
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SONNY ROLLINS The Bridge Album Cover The Bridge
SONNY ROLLINS
4.80 | 6 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Giant Steps Album Cover Giant Steps
JOHN COLTRANE
4.58 | 60 ratings
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hard bop Music Reviews

HENDRIK MEURKENS Cobb's Pocket

Album · 2019 · Hard Bop
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js
For those not hip to pro musician lingo, the word pocket refers to keeping a steady groove, and if a drummer has ‘pocket’, then the rest of the band can solo with confidence knowing their man is not going to drop the beat or lose the momentum. One of the kings of pocket for several decades now has been Jimmy Cobb, the drummer for Miles Davis’ famous groove fest known as “Kind of Blue”, as well as countless other well known jazz recordings on up to the present. It should come as no surprise then that when Hendrik Meurkens wanted to record his new album of hard bop and soul jazz numbers he reached out to his old friend Jimmy to man the drum chair one more time, hence his new CD title, “Cobb’s Pocket”. Joining Hendrik and Cobb on here are two other veterans who have jammed often with Meurkens in the past, Mike LeDonne on B3 and Peter Bernstein on guitar.

Hendrik is somewhat of an odd one in the jazz world in that he is a virtuoso harmonica player. He started out on vibraphone, which he still teaches, but switched to harmonica early on and remains one of the few jazz performers on the instrument. Don’t expect too much of the bluesy and country sounding clichés we often associate with the harmonica, instead, Meurken’s playing is infused with rapid bebop runs that recall saxophonists like Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy. Some of the wide interval leaps he takes almost sound like vibraphone licks, possibly he pictures the vibe keyboard while choosing his notes. LeDonne and Bernstein fill out the sound with a mix of blues and bop sourced soulful solos.

Three of the tunes are Henrik originals. Meurken’s tunes remind me of 60s Quincy Jones in that they would make for great TV theme songs. Other tunes include a Latin flavored Mancini “Slow Hot Wind” and Sam Jones’ hard driving “Unit Seven”. Possibly the top track is the high speed title tune, “Cobb’s Pocket”.

JORDON DIXON On!

Album · 2019 · Hard Bop
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kev rowland
Jordon Dixon was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He started playing tenor sax when he was twelve and was performing in local clubs within just three years. After high school, he enlisted in the Marines, serving the country for 11 years and having many opportunities to perform music. After his honourable discharge, he moved to Washington D.C. and enrolled in the music program at the University of the District of Columbia, meeting and playing with Allyn Johnson, who has been the director of the jazz program there since 2005. He graduated in 2016, the same year that he made his recording debut with ‘A Conversation Among Friends’.

He has now returned with ‘On!’, which like his debut is solely comprised of original numbers, and again sees him working with Johnson. The line-up is completed by Herman Burney (bass) and Carroll V. Dashiell, III (drums), while J.S. Williams (trumpet) guests on two numbers as he did on the debut. So, sometimes a quintet, sometimes a quartet, and often even working as a trio (no drums), this is a very interesting album indeed: it certainly doesn’t sound like the work of a band leader who in many ways is new to his craft. This is a string album of complex and interwoven songs, and although everyone has their turn at showing off their chops, this is very much a band designed to work together. The key is definitely the relationship between Johnson and Dixon, as they bounce off each other, repeating each other’s themes and melodies. It is Johnson who takes the singular melody from Dixon and drives it, finessing and stretching the themes so that they provide a curtain against which Dixon can stay within it or move tangentially.

There is a great deal on here to enjoy, from frenetic hard bop to numbers which are far more laid-back and delicate, and it is one of these to which I find myself often returning, “She Meant It When She Said It”, which uses space very much as an additional musician. It is slow, respectful, and Johnson’s production and mastering captures it all in manner which makes the listener feel they are there in that small room during the performance. The bass here is simply sublime, working with the piano to provide the perfect backdrop, while a few delicate cymbal touches here and there is all we hear from Dashiel. Delicate yet powerful, this song typifies what this album is all about.

DOUG MACDONALD Organisms

Album · 2019 · Hard Bop
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kev rowland
Originally from Philadelphia, Doug MacDonald started out as a jazz guitarist in Hawaii, working with trombonist Trummy Young, altoist Gabe Balthazar, and Del Courtney at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. During a period in Las Vegas, he performed in lounges and showrooms with such greats as Joe Williams, trombonist Carl Fontana, and tenor-saxophonist Jack Montrose. He has been a fixture in Los Angeles for many years, playing with the big bands of Bill Holman, Ray Anthony, and John Clayton and with such classic performers as Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Buddy Rich, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, pianist Hank Jones and bassist Ray Brown. For his thirteenth album as a leader, and third organ project, he is joined by organist Carey Frank (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Eric Marienthal, Jane Monheit, Bob Mintzer, the Phat Cat Swingers), drummer Ben Scholz (Roy Hargrove, Esperanza Spalding, Buddy Guy, Bill Watrous, Aaron Neville) and tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard (Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Mike Stern, Michael and Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine, Billy Childs, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell etc.).

There is something about a Hammond B3 in the hands of a master which is incredibly compelling (likewise it also makes me often think of horrible holiday camps if in the hands of someone who just thinks they are a master). Although MacDonald is the band leader, he is more than happy to sit at the back and let the others have their time in the spotlight. Scholz is the one who has to keep it altogether while the others bounce off each other, all knowing when to take the lead and when to hand it over. Indeed, there is so much organ on this album that one would expect it to have been driven by an organist as a opposed to a guitarist, but MacDonald has put his stamp over all the arrangements as well as providing three originals.

Fresh, interesting and exciting, the almost staccato sound of the guitar is wonderfully complemented by the drawn-out sounds of the organ, while the sax moves between the two and the drums fills in the rest of the spaces. One to savour.

JOHN ZORN John Zorn / George Lewis / Bill Frisell ‎: More News For Lulu

Live album · 1992 · Hard Bop
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snobb
John Zorn is one of key figure in New York down town scene for some last decades who for many listeners associates with radical experimentation and/or prolific accessible jazz-related releases long lasting history. Both tags are right, but Zorn has much more faces then just this. In late 80s, besides of developing one of his most shocking and influential Naked City project, based on Japanese brutal avant-rock jazzier interpretation, Zorn played in unusual trio with his regular guitarist of that time Bill Frisell and AACM trombonist George Lewis. Two albums has been recorded - both in Europe.

First one - "News For Lulu" - is mostly studio work, when its continuation "More News For Lulu" contains similar material but this time coming from two gigs - one in Paris and the other in Basel, Switzerland. Unusual trio of sax player, trombonist and guitarist plays Blue Note material,or more precisely - hard bop compositions from Sonny Clark, Hank Mobley, Big John Patton, Kenny Dorham, and Freddie Redd, in addition to one selection from Misha Mengelberg.

Most unusual is the fact that this music, recorded almost in the same time when Zorn worked with Naked City,sounds very bright, swinging, light-full and in general very optimistic. Surprisingly enough, trio doesn't cross hard bop frames too often and their down town touch on material is noticeable mostly by modern arrangements and some freer soloing.

Probably a bit too long (lasting one hour and 18 minutes),the album demonstrates some repetitiveness in a second half, but in all it's an enjoyable example of three highest class musicians' work, one among best music John Zorn ever recorded under his name and excellent entry point for newcomers with mainstream jazz background interested in John Zorn massive legacy and unorthodox modern jazz in general.

ERNIE WATTS Ernie Watts Quartet : Home Light

Album · 2018 · Hard Bop
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kev rowland
Double Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Ernie Watts is back with the latest album with his quartet, which has had the same line-up of Christof Saenger (piano), Rudi Engel (bass) and Heinrich Koebberling (drums) since 2011’s ‘Oasis’, although Watts originally formed the quartet in 2004. But his own history goes back much farther than that, as he originally won a won a Downbeat Scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While he was there, Gene Quill quit Buddy Rich's Big Band, and trombonist Phil Wilson (a professor at Berklee), was asked to recommend a student as temporary replacement. A young Ernie Watts was referred, and “temporarily” stayed with Rich from 1966-1968 and toured the world, and since then has been a professional musician who works in popular music (Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan etc.), TV and film (“Ghostbusters” among literally hundreds of others), but whose first love is jazz, ever since he was blown away by Coltrane on what was then the brand-new Miles Davis album ‘Kind of Blue’.

When someone has been playing music for as many years as Watts, it is of course no surprise that he has an amazing tone, and when four top musicians have been together for this long, they all know each other incredibly well and bounce ideas off each other with panache. Watts’ sax is often the lead melody instrument, but not always, and the feeling is that this really is a band as opposed to one person with a bunch of supporters behind him. It is fresh, it is exciting, powerful, uplifting music which also includes a sense of fun and joy. It is bright, full of life and light: the sun breaking through on the horizon is a perfectly apt photo for the cover as it ties in directly with this. The band work through different styles from bebop and gospel through to the likes of swing, always with aplomb, care and direction. Watts will even sit back out of the music for complete sections to allow the others to take the lead, knowing he doesn’t always have to be in the thick of it for magic to happen. Ian Patterson at All About Jazz has been quoted as saying about Watts “Not just at the top of his game, but at the top of THE game”, and here is yet another example of why that is the case.

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