Joe Henderson – Mode For Joe – Blue Note Records (1966)

by | Oct 7, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Joe Henderson – Mode For Joe – Blue Note Records (1966) BST 84227/2014 B0020642-01 remastered stereo vinyl, 49:27 ****1/2:

(Joe Henderson – tenor sax; Lee Morgan – trumpet; Curtis Fuller – trombone; Bobby Hutcherson – vibes; Cedar Walton – piano; Ron Carter – doublebass; Joe Chambers – drums)

Joe Henderson was a rising star on the Detroit jazz scene of the late 1950s. He was classmates with Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris and Donald Byrd. An early career highlight was being asked to sit in with Dexter Gordon at Birdland. With roots in bebop (like many musicians of that era), he also explored rhythm and blues, Latin and avant-garde movements. As a session player he was in great demand, contributing to iconic recordings like Horace Sliver’s “Song For My Father”, and epic albums, including Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Herbie Hancock’s The Prisoner. But it was his tenure at Blue Note Records that defined his place in jazz annals. There he played on nearly thirty albums, including five as band leader.

In his fifth release for Blue Note (and his last as band leader), Henderson assembled an all-star lineup with compelling results. Mode For Joe expands beyond hard bop, reflecting the musical and cultural shifts of the mid-sixties. Anchored by Cedar Walton (piano) Ron Carter (doublebass) and Joe Chambers (drums), Henderson (tenor saxophone), Curtis Fuller (trombone) Lee Morgan (trumpet) and Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) constitute a potent instrumental front line. Opening Side One is “A Shade Of Jade” (a Henderson composition). Described as a 52-measure chorus, the arrangement reflects a larger ensemble awareness (Henderson acknowledged the influence of Stan Kenton). Henderson’s opening solo initiates a bold creative flow.  Morgan is up next and delivers a punctuated, hard-driving run as the front man for the rhythm section. Chambers and Carter are rock solid and mesh with each performer. Walton percolates as the jam shifts to a trio format.

The title cut (an original by Walton, and a one-take session) is ambitious and quasi-avant-garde as Henderson stretches the tonality before settling in a medium-swing groove. There are halting rhythm patterns and four-part chorus parts. Hutcherson’s first solo is a study of nimble articulation and fluidity, while Fuller adds nimble richness to his. The second Walton piece (“Black”) is carried by the propulsion of Chambers and the intuitive timing of Carter. Henderson’s up-tempo soloing complements the piercing Morgan trumpet and Walton’s scintillating piano.

Side Two keeps up the urgent pace with “Caribbean Fire Dance”. This latin-tinged romp weaves an exotic, inventive melodic structure with agile rhythm patterns. Henderson exhibits uninhibited passion, then passes it off to Morgan for an incendiary take. Hutcherson showcases some of the creative dexterity that would become his trademark. Again, the thundering resonance of Joe Chambers is palpable. Relying on bop flourishes, “Granted” is relentless. Morgan’s stellar performance is followed by Fuller in hot swing fury. Henderson expands his repertoire with improvisational flair. The “front four” erupt in unison (as they do throughout the album), and Walton unleashes a dazzling solo. The finale (“Free Wheelin’”) has an old- school jazz/blues feel. Fueled by a vampy, blues groove, Walton’s muscular play sets a grittier tone. Morgan (with an expanded solo), and Fuller bring fiery toughness to the mix. Henderson is colorful and provocative in interpreting this accelerated waltz structure.

Nearly fifty years later, the quality and technical recording expertise of Rudy Van Gelder is still prominent. The sonic detail is superb (albeit a bit less dynamic than pure digital hi-res). [But with a seeming more enjoyable warmth than most digital hi-res, according to fans…Ed.]  All of Chambers’ cymbal and drum work is precise. Even in a septet, the individual separation of the instrumentation is top notch. Carter’s bass is never buried in the mix and the delicacy of Walton’s piano notation is maintained. The saxophone, trumpet and trombone are captured with full, rich sound. Leonard Feather provides incisive commentary in the liner notes, and the original album cover art is a nice addition.

Mode For Joe is a must for jazz vinyl aficionados, and quite a bargain (under $20)!

Side 1: A Shade Of Jay; Mode For Joe; Black
Side 2: Caribbean Fire Dance; Granted; Free Wheelin’

–Robbie Gerson


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