A jazz man for all seasons…
Joe Henderson – The Complete Joe Henderson Blue Note Studio Sessions – Mosaic Records MD5-2711963-1966 – 5 CD – Limited to 2500 sets – ****1/2
(Artists include: Joe Henderson – tenor sax; Kenny Dorham – trumpet; Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Tommy Flanagan – piano; Butch Warren, Eddie Kahn, Richard Davis, Bob Cranshaw – bass; Tony Williams, Pete LaRoca, Elvin Jones, Albert Heath – drums)
Mosaic Records, the leading and most influential historical archive jazz label, has just released a new box set combining the 1963-1966, Blue Note label, studio output of tenor saxist, Joe Henderson. Using the original analog tapes (recorded at the iconic Rudy Van Gelder studio) new transfers were made at the highest possible bit rate, with current standard analog to digital converters. Mastering has been done by Malcolm Addey, arguably the best in the business. The resulting acoustics are pristine, bringing the listener an “in the studio” experience.
Henderson was still 25 years old when he made his recording debut in 1963. He had played in the US Army band from 1960-1962. After leaving the Army, he decided to come to the jazz capital of the world, New York City, to throw himself into the vibrant jazz scene there. Once there, he became mentored by trumpeter, Kenny Dorham, who was still in the prime of his career. It didn’t take Joe long to make a name for himself, and get noticed by Blue Note Records, which was “the” label for jazz connoisseurs at the time.
Kenny and Joe collaborated on five albums between 1963-66, with leadership being shared. Two had Dorham’s name and the other three were Henderson’s. Kenny was known throughout his career as a lyrical trumpeter, at home both in straight ahead mainstream, and hard bop settings. Joe on the other hand, fit in everywhere, equally proficient at that time in Dorham’s domain (and as a short term member of Horace Silver’s quintet), as well as the emerging more avant garde playing of Coltrane and Dolphy. His composing skills ranged from tender ballads, to wide open free playing burners.
His opening debut with Blue Note was onUna Mas, Dorham’s album. It had only four tracks, with the title track exceeding fifteen minutes. Recorded in a funky, shuffle time, it blends bossa nova with hard bop blues, an intoxicating mix. Kenny’s mid register choruses swing hard, while Joe’s first studio solos show a maturity for someone so young. His passion is evident as he darts in and out, both steady and creative. An equally young Herbie Hancock (then not quite 23) cooks with bluesy choruses. Eighteen year old Tony Williams’ cymbals fuel the fire. The old man of the group, Dorham, who was not yet 40 at the time, contributes “If Ever I Should Leave You,” a ballad, which was later added to the CD version in 1987(likely added due to the fact that the other three tracks were heat seeking missiles.)
Just two months later, Blue Note released Page One, this time under Joe’s name. McCoy Tyner replaces Hancock, while Pete LaRoca is in the drum chair. It features “Blue Bossa,” Dorham’s most famous composition, and Henderson’s “Recorda Me,” among his most cherished tunes. The former has an infectious melody with light Brazilian choruses and catchy stick work by LaRoca. The latter is a horn blend with sparkling trumpet from Kenny, and solid fills by Tyner. “La Mecha” is a haunting song written by Kenny for his then three year old daughter. I dug “Out of the Night,” a hard bop winner, classic 60s Blue Note fare.
Again Blue Note wasted no time with the Henderson/ Dorham hot streak, issuing Our Thing, three months later. Andrew Hill is now the pianist (known later for his avant leanings). Kenny opens up on a nice run on “Teeter Totter.” The title track has a great horn blend, with Joe stepping in and providing more heat. Later in the tune, they turn down the temperature to a soft boil. More 60s Blue Note manna occurs with “Back Road,” a hard bop feature.
A whole seven months later (after Henderson became a member of Horace Silver’s quintet on CapeVerdean Blues), the duo is back for Henderson’s In and Out. Joe had begun to more fully tackle “out” sessions, that were not Dorham’s forte. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones were aboard on this album. Their interactions with John Coltrane helped them inspire fireworks on their sidemen projects. That was evidenced here on both “In and Out,” and “Punjab.” A more comfortable setting for Dorham’s strengths is found on the ballad, “Serenity.” However, Joe is not content for standard changes, and pushes the envelope just a bit, like a race horse ready for some action. More straight forward tracks conclude this album, playing to Dorham’s talents, on “Tickle Toe” and “Brown’s Town.”
The last shared recording of Henderson and Dorham occurred five months later on Dorham’s TrompetaToccata. The line-up is a bit less adventurous with more mainstream artists, as pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. The title track has mixed emotions with striking changes. “Mamacita” has a Latin groove that Kenny described as a “gospel bossa nova.”
Henderson’sInner Urgecame out in November of ’64. There is no other front line partner for Joe, and he is clearly the “star.” Tyner is back along with Elvin Jones, and bassist, Bob Cranshaw. It was recorded just nine days before McCoy and Elvin played on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
“Inner Urge” is a 24 bar extended blues. Here Joe fully explores the limits of his tenor. Bob Blumenthal’s erudite liner notes point out that this Henderson penned tune explores the tensions of living in The Big Apple. “Isotope” is a tribute to Monk, and Joe and Elvin interact with gusto. “El Barrio” opens the envelope with NYC’s multi-ethnic neighborhoods as an inspiration. Duke Pearson, then the A&R man at Blue Note, contributes his track, “You Know I Care.” The album concludes with Cole Porter’s chestnut, “Night and Day.”
The remaining tracks on Disc 4 are made up of Henderson tunes performed on other Blue Note artists’ albums between 1963 and 1966. It’s like a highlight film of Joe’s talents. It features individual tracks from albums of trumpeters, Johnny Coles and Blue Mitchell; vibist, Bobby Hutcherson; organist, Larry Young; and a track from Horace Silver’sCape Verdean Blues. Thesefive tracks are memorable and swing mightily.
The last CD, Disc Five, is Henderson’s Mode for Joe, which has an all-star + septet. It adds the trombone of Curtis Fuller to the sound palette, as well as Blue Note stars, Lee Morgan and Bobby Hutcherson. The rhythm section is a dream trio of Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, and Joe Chambers. The title track has been covered by many artists over the years due to its catchy melody and horn blend. Henderson completists will relish for the first time an alternate take of this classic tune. Other special tunes include the Afro-Latin “Carribean Fire Dance,” the blues “Granted,” (tribute to NYC DJ, Alan Grant), and the blues waltz, “Free Wheelin’” where Morgan and Fuller shine with classic Blue Note “magic.”
This 5 CD set is a treasure trove of goodies exploring the wide ranging talents of Joe Henderson. His fans will enjoy his early career progression from straight ahead jazz towards avant. He later moved into modal, fusion, and electronic genres, on other labels (including Milestone), before going back to earlier roots with tributes to Strayhorn, Miles, and Jobim, on the Verve label.
Una Mas – Kenny Dorham (1963)
Page One – Joe Henderson (1963)
Our Thing – Joe Henderson (1963)
In & Out – Joe Henderson (1964)
Trompeta Toccata – Kenny Dorham (1964)
Inner Urge – Joe Henderson (1964)
Mode for Joe – Joe Henderson (1966)