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.

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hard bop Music Reviews

CHARLES MINGUS East Coasting (aka Charlie Mingus)

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
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js
“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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js
"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.

CHARLES MINGUS The Charles Mingus Quintet + Max Roach

Live album · 1964 · Hard Bop
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js
Although it was not released until 1964, “Charles Mingus Quintet + Max Roach” was recorded live in NYC in 1955. In fact, this is the second half of a show that had its first half released in 1956 as “Chazz”, or “Mingus at the Bohemia”. Its no surprise then that “Quintet” is fairly similar to “Chazz” in that it reveals a band experimenting with new things, while trying to please the crowd with something familiar too. This recording comes very early in Mingus’ career, and you can hear early versions of future classic tunes before their eventual direction was established.

The three Mingus tunes include “A Foggy Day”, “Haitian Fight Song” and “Love Chant”. “A Foggy Day” combines the standard a “A Foggy Day in London” with musicians mimicking street sounds. The later studio version will capture this effect better, but its still interesting hearing this early attempt. The version of “Haitian Fight Song” on here also has a ways to go before it transforms from the bluesy soul jazz tune it is on here, to the fierce battle cry it will become on “The Clown” album, and any later recordings as well. Meanwhile, “Love Chant” is not too different from its eventual studio recording, although it will pick up a little more energy.

Mingus’ band on here includes Mal Waldron on piano, George Barrow on tenor, Eddie Bert on trombone and Willie Jones on drums. As the title implies, Max Roach replaces Jones on a couple cuts, and its on those cuts where things get a little more out there. Roach and Mingus’ composition “Drums”, is more similar to avant-garde concert hall music than anything happening in jazz at this time. The instruments play drones and off-kilter chords while Roach explores polyrhythms in constant flux. Over the next few years, an avant-garde scene will develop in jazz, but you still will never hear much music like this. Roach also takes an extended solo on “I’ll Remember April”, displaying the sort of free-wheeling rhythms that will be picked by new drummers like Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. The other standard on here is “Lady Bird”, whose melodic arrangement takes on a very Mingus flavor. Throughout the album, Barrow and Bert tend to play things a little more straight, while Waldron is more apt to get into his odd gritty avant-blues and occasional flamboyant extravaganzas from his classical background. Waldron, in general, brings a heightened sense of awareness and sly humor that fits well with the Mingus musical vision.

The biggest problem with this CD is the recorded sound. Barrow is a bit louder than everyone else and Waldron is so far in the background, sometimes you can barely hear him at all. This CD is probably only interesting to Mingus fans who want to hear his work while it was being developed, or just fans of jazz history in general, but anyone looking to get their first Mingus CD, I’d stay far away from this one, there are much better recordings to be had.

DUKE ELLINGTON Money Jungle (with Max Roach & Charles Mingus)

Album · 1963 · Hard Bop
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js
“Money Jungle” is one of those albums where you should get the much shorter original version. Later versions include a lot of songs that were not good enough to make the original album, and when you hear them, you can hear why they were left off. It really weakens the impact of the entire album to have these lesser cuts added back on. Putting Ellington with Roach and Mingus was a risky experiment to begin with, and it works occasionally, so why expose the moments that it doesn’t click so well by including tracks that were originally deemed not up to grade, it really makes no sense. Having said that, this review will deal mostly with the original cuts.

Apparently this was a fairly stormy session with Mingus walking out at one point, due to frustration with Max, only to return when Duke persuaded him to return. Things came to a head while recording the title track, you can hear the aggressive frustration, and for some reason this is the track that leads off the album. This track is a bit chaotic, with Mingus way too loud and Duke slamming the piano, and its also one of those tracks where Duke doesn’t seem to totally fit with the world of Mingus and Roach. All three of these musicians are experimenters by nature, but the grooves that Roach and Mingus laid down on here were rooted in modern free ranging hard bop. Hard bop piano is based on a modern RnB language, and Duke didn’t play much RnB, much less 50-60s style RnB. He does his best to fit his style to theirs, but sometimes the in-congruency is evident.

Despite the problems, there are some excellent cuts on here. This is probably one of the most intense versions of “Caravan” you will ever hear, with lots of interesting rhythmic change-ups and one of the best “out there” solos you will hear from Ellington. Exotic ballad “Fleuritte Africaine” is a jewel, pretty in places, and slippery and abstract at times, it features great interplay between Mingus and Ellington. “Wig Wise” is a good grooving composition by Ellington, and the band sounds very coherent on this one. On the less than excellent side of things, "Very Special" is a blues that never really takes off. The remaining two cuts on the original album are two well known Duke ballads, they are well played, but come across as filler due to the fact that Duke practically plays them by himself, and better versions already existed.

So there you have it, the original LP isn’t too bad, an odd experiment in combining styles that works sometimes, but then enter the ‘completion-istas’ who can’t leave well enough alone and we get all these extra tracks that probably should have remained on the cutting floor. Most of these tracks involve some sort of unremarkable blues jam that highlights the three musician’s differences more than their sames. Of the extras, "REM Blues" is probably the best of the lot.

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.

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