Nate Morgan – Retribution, Reparation – Nimbus West Records NS-3479 (1984)/Pure Pleasure Records (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl 37:07 ****1/2:
Pure Pleasure Records releases an upgraded vinyl of an under-appreciated jazz musician.
(Nate Morgan – piano; Danny Cortez – trumpet; Jesse Sharps – reeds; Fritz Wise – drums; Joel Ector – double bass)
Jazz has been a vehicle for spiritual and political expression for decades. Legends like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and Billie Holiday have articulated various socio-political perspectives and inspired a next generation of jazz players. One of these musicians is pianist/composer Nate Morgan. He was a member of Union Of God’s Musicans And Artists Ascension. Morgan recorded with Horace Tapscott and Rufus (with Chaka Kahn). His playing style was influenced by McCoy Tyner and Horace Tapscott. He is best known for his recording catalogue with Nimbus West Records.
Pure Pleasure Records has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of Nate Morgan’s debut album, Retribution, Reparation. Recorded in 1984, it features a talented quintet (Morgan/piano; Danny Cortez/trumpet; Jesse Sharps/reeds; Fritz Wise/drums and Joel Ector/bass) and offers deep jazz translations of original compositions and covers. Side One kicks off with the pulse-driven up tempo “U.G.M.A.A.Ger”. Framed by a hard driving tempo by Morgan and the rhythm section, trumpeter Danny Cortez takes the first solo with crisp low vibrato play. At the 1;30 mark, there is a transition to swing mode. Jesse Sharps follows on soprano saxophone with sharp, tone-stretching play. The energy is sustained. When Morgan takes over on piano a dizzying array of right-hand notation and chording with bluesy shading ensues. It is hard bop with depth of feeling. Drummer Fritz Wise starts off “Impulse” with a full-minute solo. Then the complicated groove is established with horn and sax on lead. Sharps comes out hot on tenor as the band percolates. Morgan glides with passionate notes and chords executing deft syncopation. His interaction with the trumpet and horn is compelling. “Mass Madness” explores free jazz with soaring intonation and dissonance. At 2:14, Cortez injects incendiary fury leading to Morgan’s dazzling explosive run. It epitomizes the intensity of spiritual jazz.
Side Two features the title track. After Joel Ector’s vampy bass line, the band shifts into exotic motifs, driven by Morgan. Cortex solos first with the ensemble offering complicated time signatures and flow. Sharps creates a piercing and flowing saxophone while the tenacious rhythm section remains in the pocket. Morgan delivers numerous skillful piano riffs, especially in swing mode, complementing the vamp. When the trumpet and horn return, it is muscular and elevates the jam. The final two cuts are covers from renowned jazz composers. Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap” is concise and arranged with a furious double bass and nimble piano. Morgan’s unique timing complements the Sharps and Cortez unison delivery. The finale, Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” is a distinct change of pace. It is classic Ellington sophistication and melodic eloquence with attention to the song’s lyricism, Cortez and Sharps play against each other with palpable chemistry. Morgan shines on his solo which ushers in a medium-swing, soulful vibe. Ector gets a well-earned opportunity to solo. Morgan and Wise surround him with a hushed elegance. As Cortez returns on muted trumpet, he hands off to Sharps and they duet with subtle chemistry.
Pure Pleasure Records deserves recognition for shining a spotlight on the talent of Nate Morgan. Due to his abbreviated career, the recognition has been sparse. This vinyl pressing is excellent with no discernible surface noise. The overall mix is clear and balanced.
Side One: U.G.M.A.A.Ger; Impulse; Mass Madness
Side Two: Retribution, Reparation; One Finger Snap; Come Sunday.