3.5 stars: disappointing given astronomical expectations
Frank S. Cohen | Leominster, MA | 01/10/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"3 1/2 stars. This is a solid but disappointing Blue Note session given the strong personnel and that its recorded in 1966, a time when all these outstanding musicians are highly advanced in their musical development, approaches and familiarity with one another.
It is a mix of quintet and big-band numbers (two sessions, one for each group), with the big band numbers conducted by the great arranger, Oliver Nelson (who does not play on this session).
The players accompanying Morgan (trumpet) in this quintet are Joe Henderson (ts), McCoy Tyner (p), Bob Cranshaw (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums). Among his big-band mates are Wayne Shoter (ts), Tyner, Cranshaw, Phill Woods (as), and Phily Joe Jones (drums). Liner notes author, Bob Blumenthal, correctly criticizes Jones' drumming for weighing down the big band numbers.
When one sees personnel like this, circa 1966, the expectations are appropriately very high. Given the uniformly high quality of Morgan's numerous sessions for Blue Note, very high expectations become astronomical and, perhaps, unreasonable. It's impossible for this to be a bad album. It just simply falls short of expectations.
Highlights are Morgan originals, "Nite Flite," (the quintet version of ) "The Deliteful Deggie" and the big-band cover of "Sunrise, Sunset," where Shorter is clearly inspired in his soloing by the Fidder on the Roof tune. Nite and Deliteful and Sunrise are top flight affairs that alone make the album worth purchasing.
The album begins with pleasant but middle-of-the-road performances of Morgan originals "Ca-Lee-So" and "Zambia," which are fine compositions that are not fueled by the energy the quintet is capable of.
Again, besides "Sunrise," the remaining big band numbers are enjoyable but flat. "Filet of Soul," with its heavily swinging and catchy theme, just doesn't live up to its potential. The solos throughout the big band numbers simply don't reach the heights one would expect. The least effective among these numbers is the big-band arrangement of the Beatles' "Yesterday" where the band sounds like it's going through the motions minimally deviating from the melody. The solos on that number are conspicuously forced. Again, Blumenthal's comment on Jones' rather uninspired skins work probably points to the problem. Compare the quintet versions of Zambia and Delightful Deggie with the big band versions and you'll get the picture.
Don't get me wrong. There is much to enjoy on this album and any Lee Morgan fan will want this. Please keep in mind that I'm measuring this album against the gold standard set by Morgan's massive body of work with Blue Note. I have all of his Blue Note sessions issued on CD (non-boxset) up to now (Jan '08) and I find this one to be the least satisfying.