Sunday, May 23, 2004

Moanin' with Lee

Moanin'Listening to Art Blakey's Moanin' for the umpteenth time yesterday (but the first time in a while), I was reminded of how Lee Morgan's solo on the title track is one of my favourite in all of recorded jazz. Doubtless, part of it has to do with the fact that this was one of the first jazz albums I ever bought, but what strikes me most is the absolute, almost divine, clarity with which Morgan threads his ideas together.

The solo far from totally improvised: the alternate take and subsequent live recordings show that Morgan had etched a lot of his ideas for the song in stone. Yet, the solo on the earlier alternate is merely good, while on the master it is heavenly. Morgan goes from funky to jazzy, from short notes to long, from melodic to percussive to smeared with incredible facility, continuity and certainty of purpose, all jibing perfectly with Morgan's big, bold, show-off tone.

This is not to say that the others soloists are lacking. While Bobby Timmons does relatively little for me (on this tune or the others), Benny Golson is impressive. He gets short-changed by Morgan's irresistably brilliant turn on "Moanin'": Golson's solo on the alternate take is better than that on the master; I wonder why no-one thought to splice the two together. Whenever I listen to Moanin', I wonder why the still-living Golson doesn't get more props. Sure, "Whisper Not" and "I Remember Clifford" have become standards, but no-one really talks about Golson the player. Listening to him here, he seems only a few steps behind pack-leaders Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and combines tumbling notes with an earthy vigour. Maybe he simply didn't evolve much afterwards? Not having any later of his records, I can only speculate.

To return to Moanin', Golson was the Jazz Messengers' main composer at the time, and the four tunes of his on the album are excellent: the pop song-ish "Are You Real," the delicately funky "Along Came Betty," the stomping "Blues March." While Blakey may be the central focus of the "Drum Thunder Suite," the parts Golson wrote are quite dramatic and more than note-worthy.