JAZZ CORNER Presents: Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder (1964)
This release is exceptional on many levels, the first and most important, and certainly most satisfying for this listener, is that the whole sounds like the sum of it’s parts … in other words, the more you listen the more you hear, everything exists for the purpose of development. There is a remarkable juxtapose revolving around liberating and constraining the time signatures … aside from that the most important aspect expressed is one of tension, or should I say, the notion of tightening things up and then letting them loose, giving a moment or pause to breathe, then tightening up again … this aspect is one that the listener can almost feel their body react to. And the coolest part about the opening number, which runs for nearly twelve minutes, is that between the opening and closing themes, each artist gets to solo once, and all of these solos depend on the previous, even to the point of morphing out of each other, before they tie into the closing theme … I’ve heard The Grateful Dead do this, and intend to revisit my live Dead recordings with new ears.
The sound is not muted or distorted, nor does it require any distortion or a sense of purposeful jitteriness to get its clear sharp edged message across … though these edges are counterbalanced with a smooth, knee tapping Swing. Again, the only aspect I didn’t dig was the alternate take of the song “Totem Pole,” which to my mind doesn’t sound that different and is only fourteen seconds shorter then the original … one version is good enough for me, and I like the original presentation. The RVG Edition has been done very well, there is a fullness to the sound, it does not sound tinny, but rich and textured. Yeah, folks call this Hard Bop, but for my money, Lee Morgan, from my hometown of Philadelphia can do it all.
I love what has come to be defined as Modern Art and Architecture, and this release should be required listening when viewing such objects. This is daytime and early evening Jazz, music that will pick up the temp and get you in the mood. The mood for what? Well that, you’ll have to decide, but I can’t imagine this recording not making anything that much better.
On revisiting my review:
It’s rather easy to say that The Sidewinder is simply hands-down, one of the best jazz albums ever released … and to that end, Lee Morgan should have seen much more success than he did. Had Lee disappeared from the face of the planet, The Sidewinder would still have stood as a jazz landmark. Truth be told, most of his work never saw the light of day, lacking the “Hit,” they were most often shelved, and in his attempt to find that magic again, to find an album with a hit, Morgan became formulaic, beginning too many outings that opened with tracks attempting to emulate “The Sidewinder.” But all of that is irrelevant now, some 60 years later, where we can sample those unheard bodies of work, and appreciate them without the hit, simply for what they were … and you certainly should.
Running for nearly eleven minutes, the song “The Sidewinder” pulsates, moving with not only precision and grace, but with an sense of economy, constructed to soar within the limitations of the vinyl sides, where the opening and closing themes developed with a consciousness that each note had to be on the money, that each phrase had to be essentially perfect, and like a stone carver, leaving no room for wasted effort or vanity. I believe that Morgan sensed the importance of The Sidewinder in all of its splendor and limitations, conceived it, developed it, and recorded it in one of those rare seasons where he’d kicked heroin long enough to get his chops back, assemble an entourage who understood his vision, and brought it to fruition almost without thinking, as if it were second nature … a perfect moment in time.
There are many who are going to say that it’s unfortunate, even sad, that the rest of the album [basically side two] couldn’t keep pace with the first two tracks [side one], that Lee runs out of gas. But not me, I see Lee winding down, like a sidewinder snake that strikes, and then moves off effortlessly, because it’s not about slaying you, it’s about bringing you back to earth in a manner where you can catch your breath without teetering on the edge of your seat the whole time. And to that end, for me, Lee Morgan with his blues based jazz, achieves sheer magic … an album I keep within easy reach.
Lee Morgan: Trumpet, Band Leader
Joe Henderson: Saxophone
Barry Harris: Piano
Bob Cranshaw: Bass
Billy Higgins: Drums
Review made by Jenell Kesler/2015
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