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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hard bop Music Reviews

MASAHIKO TOGASHI Update: Live at Pit Inn Shinjuku on December 16, 1995 (with J.J. Spirits)

Live album · 1996 · Hard Bop
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snobb
One of Japanese free jazz corner stone percussionist Masahiko Togashi is known mostly by his late 60s-early 70s advanced recordings but actually he continued playing and recording up to the beginning of new century. His music is mostly all avant-garde jazz but there is a rare exemption - his J.J.Spirits (or Japan Jazz Spirits).

All-stars quartet containing beside of Togashi legendary pianist Masahiko Satoh (another Japanese free jazz cult figure),sax player Kohsuke Mine (better known by his excellent albums from early 70s) and bassist Nobuyoshi Ino. Surprisingly enough for band of such background, J.J. Spirits played mostly jazz standards not all that far from originals.

Quartet released three albums in early 90s, but here on "Update" is reunited again for one gig celebrating 40th Anniversary of Togashi's musical activities. Series of Anniversary's concerts took place in Tokyo's Shinjuku Pit Inn, some material has been recorded and released ("Update" is second album in Anniversary concert series).

Here on this live gig (as almost on any other music recorded by Togashi as leader) extremely important factor is great team and band's members communication. Togashi was better organizer than leading artist, and his all vest albums are well organized collaborative works. On "Update" (which have been released by tiny Take One Record and is true obscurity doesn't even presented on such complete sites as discogs.com)quartet of advanced jazz musicians plays full-bodied groovy mainstream jazz with some unorthodox soloing and obviously they all have fun!

Two Togashi originals ("Monk's hat blues" and "My old dreams") sound as is they are evergreen hard -bop era standards, and his third "Rumba de funk" mixing hard-bop, funk and some Latin would perfectly fit on one of Hancock's pre-fusion albums.

Nobuyoshi Ino's acoutsic bass is physical, deep and rich - all music is full of it's velvet sound, recalling early Three Blind MIce's audiophile albums. Masahiko Satoh, who can be heard playing straight extremely rare, demonstrates how good he is in this unusual for him role (he still adds quirkiness and complexity to piano line,but anyway his playing is bob-rooted). True album's hero is sax player Kohsuke Mine, who almost disappeared from jazz scene after he released some exceptional albums in early-mid 70s.

All album sounds as one of those fantastic hard-bop albums from 60s where jazz spirit was all around, just with big respect transferred to mid 90s. It is not a regular Togashi's recording but music here is so great that could be recommended for everyone from jazz purist to advanced jazz fan.

CHARLES MINGUS Jazz Portraits (aka Wonderland aka Jazz Portraits. Mingus In Wonderland)

Live album · 1959 · Hard Bop
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js
Charles Mingus had many productive years during the first part of his career, but possibly none as productive as 1959. Three of his most acclaimed studio albums come from that year, and maybe that’s why his one live release, “Jazz Portraits“ (also known as “Mingus in Wonderland”), does not get the attention it deserves. “Portraits” may not seem as ambitious as his studio albums, its not a concept album with a unifying theme and an artsy album cover, instead, its just five guys jamming on four tunes, but what they do with those tunes makes this album one of Mingus’ best live dates ever.

“Portraits” opens with the hard bop groove of a Mingus original titled “Nostalgia in Times Square”. Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin turns in a hot solo, as well as altoist John Handy, and Mingus closes out the solo section with a lengthy exchange between himself and the always inventive percussionist, Dannie Richmond. A cover of “I Can’t Get Started” follows, which Handy covers mostly by himself. Handy’s playing on this one is incredible as he draws on Charlie Parker and hints at the playing Eric Dolphy will soon bring to the band. Handy’s treatment of “Smoke” is sometimes lyrical and passionate, while other times he turns the tune inside out. Its a textbook example of what an inventive artist can do with a well written melody. Mingus also turns in a nice solo on this one.

Third track, “No Private Income Blues”, is a hot jam session that closes with the two saxophonists in an intense battle that merges into a double solo. Their heated exchange and outside lines mirror similar developments from Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. The album closes with “Alice’s Wonderland”, an excellent Mingus ballad that seems to slightly mirror “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Handy turns in another great solo, as does Mingus too. If you are used to ignoring bass solos, Mingus’ playing on here will change that. He handles the bass like its a small acoustic guitar, playing quick nimble lines with perfect intonation, no doubt Mingus was raising the bar for the bassists in jazz for good.

This album is what so much great jazz is all about, five guys standing on their own without any gimmicks, or the safety net of the studio, and showing how they can transform four tunes into streetwise tone poems. It also helps that the recording quality on “Jazz Portraits” is excellent, every instrument is very clear and well balanced. Mingus’ bass sounds like its right there in the room with you.

CHARLES MINGUS Mingus Three (aka The Wild Bass)

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
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1957 was a very productive year for Charles Mingus, a year that found him knocking out three very ambitious albums, “The Clown”, “East Coasting” and “Duke’s Choice”, plus one more that was a little more on the fun side, “Trio”, with Hampton Hawes on piano and Dannie Richmond on drums. This album is a bit different from the more experimental works that Mingus was producing at this time, more of a jam session really, “Trio” finds Mingus on Hampton Hawes’ turf; tough gritty hard bop blues played with a jazz man’s finesse and creativity. This almost comes across as more a Hawes album than a Mingus one, but then there are enough bass solos to remind us that it is Mingus’ date.

There are four standards on board, plus two Mingus originals and one by Hawes. Of the two Mingus originals, “Back Home Blues” is a straight up blues that almost sounds more Otis Spann, than jazz. His “Dizzy Moods”, on the other hand, features some of the rhythmic change ups that Mingus had been experimenting with. Hawe’s “Hamp’s New Blues” may have just been a group jam, but it’s more jazz oriented approach to the blues has a lot of energy and is one of the album’s best cuts. All of the standards are treated imaginatively, with Dannie Richmond’s Latin fusion beat transforming the sometimes wore out “Summertime”. After six blues oriented numbers, “Trio” closes with the ballad, “Laura”, which is handled beautifully by Hawes.

“Trio” is a great sample of late 50s hard bop piano bordering on soul jazz and should easily appeal to fans of Hampton Hawes and his many followers. Mingus fans may want this too, just know that this one is more about Mingus blowing off some steam in a bluesy jam session

CHARLES MINGUS East Coasting (aka Charlie Mingus)

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
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“East Coasting” is one of the more overlooked and under-rated albums in the Mingus discography. I think it slipped under the radar for a lot of jazz fans because it came out when Mingus was practically releasing a new album every couple months. Also, “East Coasting” doesn’t have a particularly artsy album cover or a unifying album theme like some of his other albums that have taken on legendary status, outside of the jazz world, with the art rock crowd and post-mo hipsters. Still, on a purely musical level, “East Coasting” holds up well against some of his more famous albums that might appear more ambitious at first.

Five of the six tunes on here are Mingus originals, and its on those five that Mingus displays this album’s salient feature; well developed long line melodies filled with interesting rhythmic changeups that sound like no one else. There is a bit of Ellington and Monk in these melodies, but these tunes remain as evidence that Mingus is still one of the better writers to this day. A nice surprise on here is the presence of Bill Evans on piano, not someone you expect to see on a Mingus album, and he sounds great, both with his silky impressionism on the ballades, and his hard jaggedy rhythmic figures on the up-tempo pieces. The three horn soloists are all solid, although maybe not as ‘out there’ as some other Mingus sidemen who will come along on later albums.

All of the cuts on here are good. You get one pastel ballad, three hard driving bop numbers and a couple other cuts that experiment a bit with changing tempos, and/or two different tempos playing at the same time. Overall, "East Coasting” holds up well against anything else Mingus was doing in the mid to late 50s. On a side note, its odd that this album is credited to 'Charlie' Mingus, as I understand he didn't like being called 'Charlie".

HAMPTON HAWES Hampton Hawes, Freddie Redd ‎: Move!

Boxset / Compilation · 1965 · Hard Bop
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"Move" is a mid-60s re-issue of “Piano East Piano West”, an album from the mid-50s that presented two new pianists at the time, with one side given to Freddie Redd, and the other side to Hampton Hawes. Although the original release gave top billing to Redd, “Move!” gives top billing to Hawes. This is an excellent LP that captures the sound of piano jazz in the mid-50s, still rooted in the bop innovations of Bud Powell, but also leaning towards the new hard bop sound that these guys, along with others like Horace Silver, will create. Between Redd and Hawes, Freddie is more apt to wear his Bud influences on his sleeve, sounding very much like Powell at times, although a little more lyrical and less given to flash. Hawes, on the other hand, has more of a unique sound with a lot of dissonant quirky edges that may remind some of Monk or possibly other odd stylists like Ahmad Jamal or Herbie Nichols. Along with their bop background, the other uniting factor for Redd and Hawes is that they are both very under-rated and overlooked performers, with neither getting near the acclaim as many of their contemporaries.

The Freddie Redd cuts feature the pianist with just bass and drums, while Hawes adds Larry Bunker on vibes to fill out his otherwise similar quartet. Redd tends to stretch out on his solos, taking many choruses, while Hawes and his group have that be-bop styled short and sassy approach to solos that leads to eight tunes on his side, to the four on Redd’s side. The addition of vibes to Hawes’ group makes for a unique sound, definitely leaning towards a more exotic west coast feel, but these guys are not ‘cool’, as they definitely work up a sweat on several tunes.

Both sides of this split LP are excellent, but Hawes’ sometimes off-the-wall approach to the piano, plus his colorful quartet sound and their short punchy tunes gives him the edge in a comparison. I doubt this was ever re-issued on CD, but this sort of older acoustic jazz sounds so much better on vinyl anyway. Modern digital production tends to smooth out all the rough edges and natural dissonances that make this music enjoyable in the first place.

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