Cal Massey – Blues To Coltrane – Pure Pleasure Records 

by | Jul 10, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Cal Massey – Blues To Coltrane – Candid Records CJS9029 (1961)/Pure Pleasure Records (2019) 180-gram vinyl, 40:46 ****:

(Cal Massey – trumpet; Julius Watkins – French horn; Hugh Brodie – tenor saxophone; Patti Brown – piano; Jimmy Garrison – double bass; G.T. Hogan – drums)

Philadelphia trumpeter Cal Massey toiled in jazz obscurity. A gifted composer, his compositions were covered by a wide array of jazz artists. Songs like “Bakai” (John Coltrane), “Fiesta” (Philly Joe Jones), “Assunta, Father And Son” (Freddie Hubbard), “Message From Trane” (Jackie McLean) and “Cry Of My People’ (Archie Shepp) detailed some of Massey’s contributions. Shepp additionally covered several other compositions. Massey’s brief career included stints with big bands, including Jay McShann, Jimmy Heath and Billie Holiday. In the late 1950’s he lead a band that featured Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner and Tootie Heath. John Coltrane and Donald Byrd often sat in with them. Unfortunately, Massey was a “socio=political” lightning rod because of his association with controversial politics, most notably The Black Panther movement of the late 1960’s. It is widely recognized that major and independent labels were unwilling to patronize him. Subsequently, there is only one recorded album. Blues To Coltrane was recorded in 1961 on Candid Records. Sadly. the album was not released until 1987, 15 years after Massey’s untimely death at the age of 42.

Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram re-mastered vinyl of this elusive album. With eclecticism, the musical vision of this overlooked trumpeter/composer is on full display. With a sextet format, 40 minutes of early 60’s jazz comes alive. Side A opens with the title track. Double bassist Jimmy Garrison locks down the bluesy groove with a sprightly line. Massey starts off with a soulful, cool trumpet line that flows with rhythm and vitality. As Garrison and drummer G.T. Hogan mesh, Hugh Brodie executes a muscular run on tenor saxophone. In an unusual twist a French Horn solo (Julius Watkins) adds a trombone-like resonance. Pianist Patti Brown glides with trills and half-steps. Trumpet and tenor combine on lead before a a second Massey solo delivers with counters by sax and French horn. In a catchy arrangement, “What’s Wrong” combines two motifs. It begins as a cinematic ballad with harmonic ambience, then abruptly shifts to up tempo swing, anchored by Brodie. Brown solos in a lively manner with an emphasis on notation before the number reverts back to balladry. The mellifluous blend of trumpet, saxophone and French horn is moving.

With exotic fury, “Bakai” is crisply syncopated with bebop shadings, but is “smoothed out” by the tenor. There is a notable double bass solo and frequent drum breaks, as the jam revisits the Arabic flourishes in true Coltrane spontaneity. Since B showcases the shared 1st verse lead on “These Are Soulful Days”. Massey’s solo is sharp and at times, restrained. The inherent swing dynamics remain intact as Brodie takes over. Things mellow out on Watkins’ run, but the trio rhythm section is unrelenting. Hogan is rewarded with an extended solo, leading into a reprise of the earlier instrumentation. “Father And Son” is a worthy finale to this album. It epitomizes the intricate compositional acuity of Massey. Hogan establishes a primitive tempo that morphs into a bluesy, swinging melody. The unusual time signature is imaginative. There is a soulful, vampy essence that connects the ensemble. Watkins is downright “nasty” (if that is possible with a French horn) and Massey’s final solo is captivating with some vibrato. Brodie’s run is playful and the trumpet and sax are joined adroitly by French horn.

Pure Pleasure Records has done an excellent job in re-mastering the “mysterious” Blues To Coltrane to 180-gram vinyl. Even with uneven source engineering, the music breaks through. More importantly, a forgotten jazz performer is getting a richly-deserved new look.

Side A: 
Blues To Coltrane
What’s Wrong

Side B: 
These Are Soulful Days
Father And Son

—Robbie Gerson

For more information, please visit vendor Acoustic Sounds website:

Logo Acoustic Sounds Square

Logo Pure Pleasure




Related Reviews
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01
Logo Pure Pleasure