The Return Of Howard McGhee – Pure Pleasure Records 

by | Dec 13, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Howard McGhee – The Return Of Howard McGhee – Pure Pleasure Records January 2014 180 Gram LP ( Mono) – Original Release Bethlehem Records 1955 BCP 42 41:57****:

(Howard McGhee – trumpet; Sahib Shihab – baritone & alto sax; Duke Jordan – piano; Percy Heath – bass; “Philly Joe” Jones – drums)

In 1940 Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. However he was wrong. You can go home again. I did. I went home to vinyl records. After over two decades of listening to nothing but CDs that have a laser beam reading 0s and 1s imbedded on a disc, now to watch a tone arm drop down on a piece of virgin vinyl, and then have it glide over the LP, and listen to a sound that cuts to the ears like a warm knife through butter. It was truly invigorating.

Pure Pleasure Records, which is based in Twickenham, Middlesex UK is the source of this gem along with a couple of others to be reviewed in the coming weeks (drummer Stan Levey/tenor saxophonists Charlie Rouse & Paul Quinichette- all Bethlehem Records reissues from the 1950s), and are flawlessly re-mastered by Ray Staff at Air Mastering.

When Howard McGhee died in New York City in 1987,  he was largely a forgotten figure. Most jazz fans had overlooked his contribution to the West Coast bebop movement of the late 40s and early 50s, as well as his link in the chain of jazz trumpeters from Dizzy Gillespie to Fats Navarro to Clifford Brown. Like many of his contemporaries he was caught up the drugs culture of the period, and thus was only sporadically active during the 1950s. The Return of Howard McGhee from 1955 was one of those releases that came after a period of incarceration.

While McGhee was never considered a trumpet innovator, he did have a brisk attack as evidenced by the opening track of Side 1 “Get Happy”. After a fast run through of the melody and then carillon effect from pianist Jordan, McGhee then takes a solo turn in which he is vivid and exciting. Baritone saxophonist Shihab and pianist Jordan are both boppishly effective in their interpretative explorations.

“Lover Man” was written by Jimmy Davis/Ram Ramirez/James Sherman in 1941 and was usually linked to Billie Holiday. For McGhee it is a tour de force ballad turn.  Although he does not stray very far from the melody line, his bright tone and legato phrasing define his approach to the number.

“You’re Teasing Me” and “Transpicuous”  which are McGhee originals that close out Side 1. The former is a ballad with McGhee and the rhythm section. It is a straightforward interpretation of a simple melody but done with cheerfulness and commitment. The latter composition is realized in a two part harmony between McGhee and Sahib Shihab on alto, who then takes a Charlie Parker style solo, which was all too common by alto players during that time period.

Portrait Howard M cGhee

Portrait Howard McGhee 1976,
by Tom Marcello Webster

Side 2 opens with a Coleman Hawkins original “Rifftide” that was part of  Hawkins’ small group band book during the 1944-45 period that included McGhee. Based on the chord changes to Lady Be Good, the up tempo number comes swaggering out of the gate lead by drummer “Philly Joe” Jones. McGhee and Shihab on baritone work out some interesting exchanges, with the long melodic lines favoured by bebop players in full evidence.

Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields wrote the beautiful ballad “Don’t Blame Me” for the 1933 musical review Cloys In Clover. Following a brief intro from pianist Duke Jordan, both McGhee and Shihab take turns riffing off the melody leading into a thoughtful Duke Jordan interlude. McGhee closes the number out with several cadenzas that are models of his warm articulation and supple tone.

The final track is “I’ll Remember April” which opens and closes with the requisite Latin rhythms. However in-between it is free flowing flag waver whereby all the participants have a chance to feature their professional capabilities. They all have potent command of their instruments and they bring a feeling of vitality to the composition.

Side 1
Get Happy; Tahitian Lullaby; Lover Man; Lullaby Of The Leaves; You’re Teasing Me; Transpicuous

Side 2
Rifftide; Oo-Wee But I Do; Don’t Blame Me; Tweedles; I’ll Remember April

—Pierre Giroux

More information at the Pure Pleasure website:

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