Monday, June 23, 2008

Lee Morgan - Indeed! (1956)

The present music represents Lee Morgan's first trip to a recording studio and first album as a leader, though the evidence on these points at the time of original issue was confusing. Morgan returned to Rudy Van Gelder's a mere day after these tracks were taped for the first of two quintet sessions organized by tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley for Savoy. Some of that music appeared on a Savoy album picturing Morgan and his Gillespie-model trumpet alone in the cover photo. Introducing Lee Morgan blared the title, with Hank Mobley's Quintet added in a small print. Whether this influenced producer Alfred Lion in choosing his own title for Morgan's true introduction is unclear, but the original Blue Note LP did offer the alternative Presenting Lee Morgan on its back cover.
While Morgan recorded no original compositions on any of these first studio visits, Lion clearly gave the trumpeter more direct input in terms of a front line partner and the program. C.Sharpe's later recorded appearances can be counted on the fingers of one hand, yet until his death in 1990, he was intermittently on the periphery of the jazz scene, often in the company of his wife, vocalist Chinalin Sharpe. The rhythm section, which had been heard as a unit two weeks earlier on the J.R.Monterose album Leonard Feather mentions, looks more like Lion's call, despite the inclusion of another Philadelphian in its midst. Comparing this trio with the Hank Jones, Doug Watkins, Art Taylor unit on Savoy underscores the more assertive rhythmic feel that had already become a Blue Note trademark.
Morgan gave particular distinction to this and his next three collections on Blue Note through his emphasis on original material from talented young writers, especially one particular hometown friend. Benny Golson would ultimately contribute 14 compositions to these early Morgan dates, including such classics as "Whisper Not" and "I Remember Clifford". His offerings here reflect the influence of two important modern writers; his early boss, Tadd Dameron, and early section mate, Gigi Gryce. The 42-bar form (10/10/8/14) on "Reggie of Chester" is a sign of Golson's ability to make unusual structures sound logical. Two more Owen Marshall scores also appear on Morgan's next album, but Marshall disappeared after contributing a few more tunes to albums by Art Blakey, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe. The session's ballad "The Lady" is not to be confused with the Rudy Stephenson opus Morgan blew so beautifully on his 1965 album The Rumproller.
Of the remaining titles, "Roccus" was the first track Horace Silver recorded for Blue Note (with Lou Donaldson in June 1952) and his first composition to appear on the label. Donald Byrd's "Little T", heard in two takes, has a history as convoluted as any Golson composition. The composer first recorded the melody as "The New Message" on a Jazz Messengers session the previous June, along with a completely different theme called "L'il T". "The New Message" then became "Little T" here and on the 1957 Kenny Brew disc This Is New. The tune originally called "L'il T" returned on the Art Blakey's Ritual under its original title but as "The Third" on the Byrd/Art Farmer Prestige joust Two Trumpeters and the Monterose Blue Note date. The master take of "Little T" here was the first version to be released, while the alternate track first appeared on a 1995 Mosaic boxed set. The alternate is the superior take, despite hesitant moments in both theme choruses and during Morgan's first solo. The Sharpe solo is his best on record, with a brighter tone and dodging accents that recall Sahib Shibab with Thelonious Monk. Morgan is muted in the beautiful second solo, and Ware's statements are a treat. This take, with its variety of new insights, is as far from superfluous as an alternate can get.
Lee Morgan clearly fulfilled the precocious promise on display here, and it takes nothing away from the 18 year old's achievement to acknowledge that this is clearly a freshman effort. Clifford Brown's imprint is particularly clear on these early performances. Still, Morgan is supremely confident, rhythmically adept, willing to put his technique to the test, and (despite excessive quoting that infects his fellow soloists as well) a convincing soloist on the ballad. The need for seasoning may account for producer Lion's preference for more detailed sextet settings on the next three Morgan albums. It was not until his fifth collection, The Cooker, that the trumpeter returned to the more open blowing terrain that would become his forte.

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