Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Joe Henderson - In Pursuit of Blackness

Joe Henderson
In Pursuit Of Blackness
Milestone MX 9034

Recorded 1970-1971

Side One

1. No Me Esqueca (*)
2. Invitation (#)
3. A Shade of Jade (*)

Side Two

1. Gazelle (#)
2. Mind Over Matter (*)

(*) Recorded and mixed by ELVIN CAMPBELL
(#) Recorded Live by BERNIE GRUNDMAN


JOE HENDERSON; tenor sax
PETE YELLEN; alto sax (flute & bass clarinet on 'Mind over Matter')
GEORGE CABLES; electric piano

JOE HENDERSON; tenor sax
WOODY SHAW; trumpet
GEORGE CABLES; electric piano
RON McLURE; bass
TONY WATERS; conga drums (on 'gazelle' only)

Joe Henderson was one of the great tenor sax players. He cut his teeth in the 1960's playing with the likes of Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock, and as a sideman on literally dozens of Blue Note sessions. He also had a great quintet around 1970, featuring the players listed above. He was certainly becoming politicised at that time (like many other artists of that era) with album titles like this, as well as "Power To The People" and "If You're Not Part Of The Problem...". Unlike some of the more radical players of the time (i'm thinking principally of Archie Shepp here) he didn't head out in a totally free direction, but stayed playing the kind of post-bop sound which made it's first appearance in the music of the great Miles Davis quintet of the late 1960's (circa "Filles de Kilimanjaro").

This album is very much in that vein. It features a number of studio recordings from 1971 (*) as well as a couple of tracks recorded live at the Lighthouse Cafe, Hermosa Beach, California (#) in 1970 (other tracks from this engagement feature on "If You're Not Part Of The Problem..."). Right from the off, with the latin flavoured 'No Me Esqueca' the band are in great form, particularly Joe. He has a great tone, second only to Sonny Rollins in my view, with a big warm sound that fools you by not playing it straight but heading off at all angles. Cables is in excellent form too, with some great supporting play. Unfortunately the momentum is not really continued over into 'Invitation', one of the live tracks. It sounds a little as if the band were taking a breather from something particularly intense. They don't seem to be inhabiting the same universe, never mind stage. Still, 'A Shade of Jade' makes up for it with a strong showing from all concerned.

'Gazelle' kicks off side 2 in fine style - it might be another live track but it leaves the previous live outing in the dust with some of the best playing by the rhythm section on the album. And then comes 'Mind Over Matter'. Oh yes. Some startling free improvisation by the whole band. Yellen conjures up the spirit of Eric Dolphy with his fine bass clarinet and flute playing - the low, rich tone of the clarinet trading lines with Henderson's tenor in the closing passage is one of the finest moments on this excellent album.

Fantasy Jazz now own the rights to the Milestone records back catalogue, and can be found on the web if you want to (and you should) head out and buy a copy of this fantastic album.

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