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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4.72 | 38 ratings
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4.80 | 13 ratings
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4.69 | 55 ratings
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HORACE SILVER Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers Album Cover Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers
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4.87 | 8 ratings
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4.88 | 7 ratings
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4.69 | 15 ratings
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4.62 | 23 ratings
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4.57 | 61 ratings
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4.75 | 7 ratings
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hard bop Music Reviews

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.

HENRY ROBINETT Jazz Standards Then, Volume 1

Album · 2019 · Hard Bop
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js
Guitarist Henry Robinett has been playing jazz since the late 70s, including stints in NYC with big names like Hal Galper, Clifford Jordon, Muhal Richard Abrams and Chico Freeman. Since the late 80s he has been recording as a leader, usually in a somewhat radio friendly style of fusion with influences from around the world. If you are already familiar with his previous albums, then it might come as a surprise that his latest offering, “Jazz Standards Volume 1”, is a set of grooving hard bop played with energy and playful creativity. These tracks were not actually recorded recently, instead, they were recorded back in 2000 and have been sitting on the shelf since then. Apparently Henry gave them a listen again and decided they were worth putting out and it’s a good thing because this is one of the better recordings of these well known tunes in recent years. Its hard breathing new life into songs that have been recorded by so many, it takes a lot from an artist to lift these up one more time, and Robinett and his quartet come through on every track.

Henry’s playing is often in a rapid abstract blues bop style, maybe somewhat similar to Joe Pass or Barney Kessel, but really he has a personal voice all his own, particularly when he goes into a skittering barrage of muted notes as sheets of sound. Pianist Joe Gilman is similar in his playing that mixes in the pocket hard bop with more extravagant excursions that push the band. As a quartet they present a healthy variety from the high speed, “The Way You Look Tonight”, to the mysterious, “Soul Eyes”, and the rambunctious free wheeling chaotic energy of “Invitation”.

BOBBY TIMMONS Chun-King

Album · 1965 · Hard Bop
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Bobby Timmons is well-known for playing with Blakey and Adderley but until recently I hadn’t come across his work as a leader and I found ‘Chun-King’ from 1964 and really enjoyed it.

There’s a range of standards and original compositions on this hard bop, almost funky release that has snap and drive, but also more relaxed pieces like Timmons’ take on “I Could have Danced All Night” and Gershwin’s “Someone to Look Over Me” which rhythmically is soothing – yet Timmons is almost ‘busy’ over the top.

My favourites are probably the more up-tempo ones with “Gettin' It Togetha'” and especially the title track standing out. I can’t quite put my finger on why but maybe the Keter Betts’ arrangement on that one gives me a slight post-bop feel, signaling that nice variety to the record. It was also fun to hear some bossa nova too, with the “O Grande Amor” cover.

SIMON VINCENT Simon Vincent's The Occasional Trio : Live In Berlin

Live album · 2019 · Hard Bop
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js
Simon Vincent is a modern composer who often works with electronics and other experimental sources. Occasionally he also performs as a jazz pianist with his trio under the moniker, The Occasional Trio’. Despite his ‘long haired’ and academic background, Simon’s jazz playing is often rough and blues centered, which he then colors with the abstractions of his more avant-garde leanings. Possibly it is because he performs mostly in Europe and the UK, that Vincent is not better known in the US, but this is one pianist that stateside jazz fans would really appreciate if they would give him the chance. Simon points to Monk, Brubeck and Mingus as influences. The Monkness shows up in Vincent’s rough dissonant approach, the Brubeck leanings lead to big block chords played in odd rhythms against his backup players, and you can hear Mingus in Simon’s tendency to take the blues into outside improvisations. His latest album, “Live in Berlin”, was recorded live because in Simon’s own words, “In front of an audience you tend to stretch out and take risks on the spur of the moment which makes the music more exciting, and makes it breathe and come to life.”

Simon’s partners on here include bassist Roland Fidezius and drummer Kay Lubke. Fortunately there is very little gratuitous solos for the other two, instead, all three players keep at it non-stop for the duration of the concert in constant interplay and communication. Given Simon’s diverse musical background you can expect a rather eclectic set from this free wheeling trio. The group’s tendency towards hard hitting bluesy bop shows up on “Blues in Fink”, “Well You Shouldn’t” and “Sweedad’s Pastry”. More lyrical and sensitive post bop approaches s appear on “Raindrops in June” and “Every Moment of Every Day” and an ability to freely improvise in modern idioms can be found on, “Portsmouth Blue” and “Prayer unto the People and unto the Land”.

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”.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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