Friday, January 24, 2020

Lee Morgan - Search for the New Land (Blue Note, 1966; CD re-issue, 2003)

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was riding high in 1964, with a hit album in The Sidewinder and some advertising dollars in his pocket, he wanted to show people he wasn't just one trick pony. While not avant-garde by any means, this album was fresh and modern compared to the boogoloo jazz Blue Note was looking for and therefor sat on the sidelines for two years before being released. Morgan assembled an astonishing band of young musicians for a program of originals, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Grant Green on guitar, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums and proceeded to record a classic of post-bop jazz. "Search for the New Land" is a long and episodic performance, with an opening that evokes mystery, followed a beautiful Wayne Shorter tenor saxophone solo, Individual features seem to bubble up from the ether of the melody, such as Morgan's first solo, which is stoic and thoughtful, interacting with the rhythm section and showing a clear tone and purposeful approach to improvisation. Green's deliberately chosen notes soon build into a web of intricate guitar sounds, played with the utmost tact and dignity. The swinging yet restrained rhythm section percolates, leading the group into the final fanfare to close the piece. Led by a brash and proud theme that marches out of the gate, "The Joker" has Shorter emerging over swinging accompaniment to solo in an angular manner followed by Morgan, who sounds at the height of his powers blowing with strength and vision. The great theme surging in at the end to prompt a wave of sound from the whole group. "Mr Kenyatta" is an edgy and fast paced performance, with the horns building a complex theme and the drums boiling underneath. Morgan bobs and weaves like a fighter in the ring with quick jabs and longer punches of crisp sound. Shorter's response is nimble and fleet with a manic piano, bass and drums team goading him on. Grant Green picks his spots, but each is golden, as he adds just the right seasoning to this roiling strew and then solos by weaving through the horns and drums as does Hancock who follows. Slower paced, with brushes and a subdued theme, "Melancholee" is a ballad with the music seemingly hanging suspended in the air. The trumpet and bass engage slowly with brushed percussion, playing patiently and gracefully amid the open space. Hancock is perfect for this setting, adding ethereal asides and spare support for Shorter's tenor saxophone. "Morgan the Pirate" has a punchy and memorable theme and variation setup that works well, and the leader steps out for a bold sounding solo that is articulate and imaginative, playing with muscular grace. Green pokes through with his unique playing adding sharp needles of notes, that set up Shorter for a wonderful solo. Hancock, Workman and Higgins are the engine room that makes it all go, and for their disparate musical personalities they come up huge here, setting the table for Lee Morgan to make one of his finest albums. Search For The New Land -

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