(Artists: Frank Morgan, alto sax; Ronnie Matthews. piano; Essiet Essiet, bass: Billy Hart, drums)
Back in the early 1950s, Frank Morgan was compared to his idol, Charlie Parker. Many thought that Morgan would inherit Parker’s legacy after Bird’s premature passing at age 34 in 1955. They were right on one aspect of this prediction – that of addiction to heroin. It took Morgan nearly 30 years to kick his addiction, and his alto playing during this time was spent either in prison bands in San Quentin and Chino or in recovery with Synanon musicians. However, in the comeback success story of the 1980s, Morgan fully recovered and began to take on Round Two of his life. He returned to the recording studio in 1985, and has been making up for lost time since, recording 17 CDs in the 20 years since.
His latest CD – Reflections – shows his stature as one of the elderly masters of the alto-getting first class treatment in sidemen – Ronnie Matthews on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass, and Billy Hart on drums -each a band leader on their own accord. To top off High Note’s regard for Morgan, he also gets the perhaps the greatest sound engineer ever, Rudy Van Gelder, to record, engineer, and mix this CD. The package is then gift wrapped with production by Houston Person, and a selection of largely ballads fit for a musician of Morgan’s stature.
Reflections opens with the Miles Davis’ classic, Walkin’, and Morgan’s sweet tone takes center stage, backed by the all star rhythm section. Essiet solos solidly and Hart trades fours with Morgan. Next Monk’s Mood is taken at a slow pace backed up by Matthew’s intuitive comping. You can feel Morgan’s life experience here – Reflections indeed. Alec Wilder’s I’ll Be Around is an apt song title and Frank milks the emotions, while Matthews has his say with several swing choruses.
Love Story, the movie theme, normally a clunker due to its vapid celluloid reception, was chosen by Morgan due to the fact that he played it at both his father’s and mother’s funerals. You can feel Morgan’s sadness at their passing here. The mood is brightened up next with another Miles Davis tune, Solar, which features Ronnie Matthews. Then comes Blue Monk, taken at a loping pace. The tribute train continues with Crazy He Calls Me, made famous by Lady Day. Morgan ends this session of Reflections with Out of Nowhere, which he played at the Chicago Jazz Festival, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit last year. His partners at that alto summit were Charles McPherson and Donald Harrison, who had got out of New Orleans just in time to play the Chicago gig.
Frank Morgan’s resurgence over the last 20 years, after being out of the recording scene for 30 years, is the stuff of legends, a feel good story to inspire all jazz fans, and certainly one to rival that of Art Pepper.
Songs: Walkin’, Monk’s Mood, I’ll Be Around, Love Story, Solar, Blue Monk, Crazy He Calls Me, Out of Nowhere
– Jeff Krow