This is a rewritten incarnation of my very first post on The Hum. Though my affection for these five albums has not wavered, a great deal has changed since I made that early gesture – not the least of which is my approach to writing, and the energy which I feel compelled to dedicate. The original was far too brief, and explained my motive far too little.
Looking back, The Hum began with simple ambitions. I’m a record collector, and a lover of music. I’ve never been much of a fetishist. I prefer vinyl, but my collecting has always an avenue of exploration and learning, not a pursuit of the rarefied object. Sound always comes first. My initial impulse to embark on this project, drew from three observations. The first was that the music which I find most exciting, is largely ignored by the press, and has trouble finding its way to listeners. Though a great deal of writing has moved online, and free of the restrictions of print, one might presume that this would enable greater inclusiveness, we often witness the reverse – selections chosen for their ability to generate transient traffic, rather than for their quality. In its new environment (like much of the field of journalism) music writing is shifting toward offering readers what they expect and want, rather than displaying an accurate vision of a context, or challenging them to explore beyond their comfort zones. In effect, we are presented with a growing lack of faith in readers, which is changing the quality of writing and the terms for inclusion. This is not intended as a critique of my fellow writers, or even the artists they chose, rather the circumstances in which they are forced, and a need to recognize its character and effect. Since The Hum is a labor of love, and thus free of the demands of capital, I wanted to offer an alternative, which through faith in the reader, attempted to give more. My second observation was a reaction to the tendency within music journalism to rely on a very narrow temporality when regarding its subjects. Output is usually timed with release dates, and then moves on. I wanted to place recordings from a broad range of periods, genres, and cultures together in the same platform – so they might exist in conversation, the way they do in my collection. The third impulse was a response to dispositions often present within the culture of collecting – snobbishness, the hoarding of knowledge, or protectiveness of discoveries. This strikes me as counterintuitive. I want to share what I find or know. Though my mission has greatly expanded in the year or so that has passed, these simple intentions still underscore many of my efforts.
Though not the logical place to start, the original drafting of Five Neglected Notes was also intended to intervene with presumptions about new avenues for discovering the past, and how objects from history effect our vision of the present. As collectors and fans, our focus seems to be increasingly drawn toward obscure and private press releases, defaulting to the believe that all other veins have been tapped and drained. This is yet to be something I’ve found to be true. Very often great things lay just out of sight, or below the nose.
A lot has been said about Blue Note – and with good reason. Few labels can match its consistency and quality. Because of this, its catalog occupies a paradoxical place in the world of record collecting. It is one of the most sought after cannons – particularity first pressings (deep grove/ RVG / ear), which regularly command unparalleled prices. On the other hand, there’s an eerie silence sounding it. The catalog has been so thoroughly explored, that mentioning it often risks an eye roll – seeming to say, “if it was worth talking about, it has been done so already…move on.” The focus rests on obtaining the best pressing of any number of iconic albums, but not digging further into the label’s depths. Though far from complete, my own collection of Blue Note albums is reasonably extensive – numbering into the multiple hundreds. Of the most sought after, there are few I don’t have. Truthfully, if I was to sell them off, I could probably make good headway on a down payment for a house. What stuck me, when consider this shelf-bowing mass in my life, was that many of my favorite releases are rarely mentioned. I’m the first to sing the virtues of Somethin’ Else, Out To Lunch!, Moanin’, Blue Train, The Sidewinder, Song For My Father, Soul Station, A New Perspective, Unit Structures, and any number of others, but I would never recommend anyone stop there. At least up to a certain date, I’m yet to encounter a dud.
These five albums are almost never absent from my listening stack. They are unrecognized masterpieces, sometimes falling outside of what we most expect from the Blue Note catalog. This might explain why so many have passed them by. Each is filled with a rare energy and artistry. They’d likely have been considered iconic, had they been housed anywhere else. If you are aware of them, I encourage you to return. If they have thus far escape your gaze, I hope they bring as much joy into your lives as they have my own.
Eddie Gale- Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music (1968)
Eddie Gale is monster! Born in and raised in Brooklyn, as a youth he cut his teeth playing with Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Booker Ervin, Illinois Jacquet, among others. He studied with Kenny Dorham, and played trumpet in Sun Ra’s Arkestra for a number of years. He was also a member of Cecil Taylor’s band and appears on the iconic Unit Structures. Gale ventured out on his own during the late 60’s, making two records as a leader for Blue Note (during a hiatus from the Arkestra). Both are incredible – take this as a proxy recommendation for 1969’s Black Rhythm Happening. Neither sit comfortably within the label’s larger catalog. I doubt they caught much attention. They weren’t pressed again after initial release, and fell from view. Ghetto Music would have made more sense on Impulse with the likes of Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders, or on a smaller more focused private label. It is an early realization of Black Nationalist Spiritual Jazz – a form that would rise to prominence over the next decade. Beyond being one of my favorite Blue Notes, Ghetto Music stands as one of my favorite records of all time. A heavy, deep, groovin’ big band with some of the best vocals you’ll ever hear. It’s a perfect realization of the concerns and politics of its era, and given the times we’re living in, seems as relevant as ever. Check out the full album below, track down a copy as soon as you can, and keep your eye out for Gale. He’s still on the road, and remains a force.
Eddie Gale- Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music (Full Album) (1968)
Andrew Hill- Compulsion!!!!! (1965)
Compulsion!!!!! is one of a small number of albums in the Blue Note Catalog which tread into explicitly avant-garde territory – along with Cecil Taylor’s Conquistador! and Unit Structures, Grachan Moncur’s Evolution, and Some Other Stuff, Ornette Coleman’s two Golden Circle releases, and Don Cherry’s Symphony For Improvisers,Complete Communion, and Where Is Brooklyn?. and perhaps a small handful of others. Of the few recordings issued by the label that stray into the realms of Free-Jazz, Compulsion!!!!! is probably my favorite. It’s a blisteringly complex, fierce piece of work, and one of a handful to feature John Gilmore working outside of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. The album sounds unlike any other in Hill’s catalog, or Blue Note’s for that mater. The pacing and careful consideration of its compositions are brilliant. It shifts between frenzy, and slow passages of complex harmonic and rhythmic relationships that defy expectation. It’s Free-Jazz, but not. An album of rare heights and intellect which I can’t recommend enough.
Andrew Hill- Compulsion!!!!! (Full Album) (1965)
Art Blakey- Holiday For Skins Volume 2 (1958)
Art Blakey needs no introduction. He was a giant. During my teenage explorations of Jazz, I skipped over him on my way toward more avant-garde pursuits. It took many years to get back. Strangely, it wasn’t Jazz that brought him into my life. It was my love of percussion records. Drummers are often more willing to drawn from cultural traditions beyond their own. Blakey was no exception. He was among the first producers of a Western popular music, to draw inspiration directly from Africa, and see the beauty of unaccompanied and ensemble percussion. The result was far from pastiche or appropriation. He turned these rhythms into an art all his own – bringing fans along for the ride, and in the process opening the door to a broader approach, understanding, and cultural appreciation of sound. Blakey deserves much of the credit for breaking the membrane between traditional and ethnic musics, and Western forms. He was an early democratizer of sound.
There are two Holiday for Skins records. Both are incredible, but in my ear this one takes a slight lead. It is part of a body of work hiding in Blakey’s large and familiar cannon – albums which directly focus on drums. Though there are moments of further instrumentation, the bulk of Holiday for Skins is made of up of ensemble percussion. It is a hypnotic frenzy that leaves the listener lost in its depths, picking out tangled references to worlds beyond our own. There are hints at the Congo and other parts of Africa, Haiti, and Cuba. Released in 1958, the year following his two Orgy In Rhythm albums, and Drum Suit – which hint at this new direction, Holiday for Skins is a milestone, and a first of its kind in the history of Jazz. The fact that it so rarely mentioned, is nothing short of sin.
Art Blakey – Dinga (from Holiday For Skins Volume 2) (1958)
Pete La Roca- Basra (1965)
Pete La Roca is better know as a side man. As such, his credits are as respectable as it gets – Coltrane, Rollins, Hubbard, McLean, Russell, Bley, Henderson, among countless others. As a leader, he made this record for Blue Note in 1965 and only one other in 1967 for the Douglas Label, which sadly, in an attempt to drive sales, was miss-credited to Chick Corea in subsequent issues. Basra is a stunning piece of work and saddens me that there are so few recordings with La Roca at the helm. It’s a chugging, driving, early Spiritual wonder. Its closest touchstones are with Coltrane. Acknowledging that.. it’s its own beast, deserving the creative respect and attention showered on the best of those he supported over. It’s another one of those albums that must have failed to capture sales. With the exception of a mid-70’s pressing in Japan, it took Blue Note thirty years to bring it back to light. It’s bound to leave every listener wondering where it’s been.
Pete La Roca – Malaguena (from Basra) (1965)
Duke Pearson- The Phantom (1968)
Duke Pearson is an interesting figure in the history of Jazz. Though his output as a leader carries reasonable respect among collectors and fans, he was as prolific as a composer and arranger. This has left many of his efforts under-acknowledged and buried in liner notes. He’s someone that people come to late, or by chance. The Phantom was the first I discovered (in a dollar bin). I couldn’t believe such a master stroke had been released by a name I had never heard, and quickly set out to find more.
Pearson got his break playing with Donald Byrd. His recording debut was on his iconic 1959 release Fuego. The pianist’s talents must have caught someone’s ear. Though he continued to work and record with Byrd for many years, he released Profile – his brilliant first album on Blue Note, the same year. It was quickly followed by 1960’s Tender Feelings, before his name disappears from view until the middle of the decade.
Over the years I’ve tracked down most of Pearson’s output. He has a grossly under-acknowledged voice as a leader, but he often lacks the consistency that many Blue Note artists are known for. When he nailed it, he nailed it. When he didn’t, the result is pretty underwhelming. The Phantom remains my favorite, but I also highly recommend the his first two releases mentioned above, and 1965’s Wahoo. Of all the records on this list, this is by far the most listener friendly. It’s straight ahead, soulful as hell, funky and modal. Somewhere between Jazz and instrumental Soul. I’m not sure if Byrd brought this to Pearson, or Pearson to Byrd, but there is a great deal overlap between the two artists during this period. Like Byrd’s more widely acknowledged A New Perspective, it took me close to month to get it off the turntable when I first discovered it.
Duke Pearson – The Phantom (From The Phantom) (1968)