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4 striking Lee Morgan covers

Joey DeFrancesco - Ceora (2002)

LP Title: Live: The Authorized Bootleg

Joey DeFrancesco (organ)

George Coleman (tenor sax)

Jake Langley (guitar)

Byron Landham (drums)

Late last year, I’d just picked out a Joey DeFrancesco album from a shop rack, when a man with a face that looked like a map of the Marrakesh medina decided to let me into a little secret: “Joey De Francesco is the greatest B3 Organ player of all time. He is. I would know”. “Well, he’s up there” said I. “Up where? He’s the best. Better than Smith, better than Charles” replied The Man with No Name . “Which Smith? Jimmy? Lonnie? Which Charles? Kynard? Earland? Doesn’t matter, I suppose, the man said best, so he must mean all of them” thought I, before nodding and walking away.

Since that chance meeting, I’ve bothered listening to most of JDF’s catalogue, and he is indeed very good. The GOAT good? Not sure, but still...he’s a hell of a player and covers are rarely more charming than this “Ceora”, which he recorded live at Yoshi’s in Oakland.

JDF plays Morgan’s composition with great imagination, although Memphis man George Coleman – he of the warm, understated tone in Miles’ early-sixties quintet -upstages him. Coleman’s hushed entrance reminds me a little of Bobby Wellins’ on “Starless & Bible Black”; a pleasant association, but one that gives little indication of the complete mastery he displays for the next five minutes. Hank Mobley doesn’t play much saxophone at all on Morgan’s original, so it’s nice to have that colour much more prominent here

Doug Carn - Search For The New Land (1972)

LP Title: Doug Carn - Spirit of the New Land

Doug Carn (keyboards)

Jean Carn (vocals)

George Harper (sop sax. , bass clarinet, flute)

Charles Tolliver (flugelhorn)

Garnett Brown (trombone)

Earl McIntire (tuba)

Henry Franklin (bass)

Alphonze Mouzon (drums)

Doug Carn’s recordings on Gene Russell’s Black Jazz Records label usually featured his wife Jean’s vocals harmonising around the main theme or the solo sections of the songs. Jean actually sounds not dissimilar to June Tyson (imagine June Tyson with some Sarah Vaughan showiness), though interestingly Doug Carn refutes any suggestion they were influenced by Sun Ra, citing Duke Ellington as the main inspiration behind the music.

Anyway, I must stress, “around” rather than necessarily “on” the notes, for this wasn’t exactly vocalase as Eddie Jefferson or Jon Hendricks would do it - as much a result of the more meditative, less be-bop material Doug Carn undertook, the music wasn’t about dropping words precisely on the notes at a mile a minute.

The Carns’ treatment of “Blue in Green” - on which Jean sang of Doug’s love affair with the Atlantic Ocean (yeah, I know...) - and Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” are Black Jazz classics and typical of their sound, but less known is their equally beautiful “Search for the New Land”. Now, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Carns’ lyrics feel genuinely connected to some vein that runs backwards to when Lee Morgan wrote the tune, I feel it is the composition that best lends itself to this sort of cosmic vocal style.

Doug and Jean divorced a few years after these releases, just shortly before she went on to become Gamble & Huff’s popular soul singer, Jean Carne (with an ‘e’), so it was a pleasant surprising to see them reunite in 2012 to perform their Black Jazz repertoire.

James Brown - The Sidewinder (1967)

Title: Live Paris concert

Waymon Reed (trumpet)

Joe Dupars (trumpet) Levi Rasbury (trombone) Alfred Ellis (alto sax) Maceo Parker (tenor sax) St. Clair Pinckney (tenor sax) Jimmy Nolen (guitar) Alphonso Kellum (guitar) Bernard Odum (bass) Clyde Stubblefield (drums)

Well, I hope Lee Morgan heard this. He died in 72, this was played in 67, so it’s there’s every chance he did. This “Sidewinder” was played as the opener to a set in Paris and it’s great. It wasn’t uncommon for a James Brown’s backing band to open live shows with a lengthy – often jazz based - instrumental.

It was something like a signature move, but more than that, it was JBs way of reminding the audience that his musicians could cut anyone else’s, and the lore surrounding these segments (he’d fine musicians for missing notes) went a long way towards creating JB’s reputation as the most demanding boss in the business.

So tight were the arrangements that for a band member to miss a note was easy, but dealing with the thermo-nuclear fallout that ensued was less easy. Too bad for JB’s pocket that - on this particular number, at least - they don’t miss a lick. Look out for a thumping great trumpet solo from future Mr Sarah Vaughan, Waymon Reed.

​Hilton Ruiz - Mr Kenyatta (1992)

LP Title: Hilton Ruiz - Live At Birdland

Hilton Ruiz (piano)

David Sanchez (tenor sax)

Peter Brainin (tenor sax)

Andy Gonzalez (double bass)

Steve Berrios (drums)

Giovanni Hidalgo (congas)

“Mr Kenyatta” is one from Lee Morgan’s “Search for the New Land” album, and refers to Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first post-colonial leader who reigned from 1963 to 1978. The tempo of the composition was meant to represent the heady atmosphere that comes with independence, yet Herbie’s Hancock’s chords, on the first repeat of Morgan’s original, sound ominous as hell, creating an appropriate tension. Hilton Ruiz’s “Mr Kenyatta” is just straight joyous and isn’t any the worse for it. Ruiz swings right from the beginning. Then he swings some more.

Of the many gifted musicians that passed through Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s groups, Ruiz’s star often shone brightest. He was a phenomenal pianist with a swinging sound that straddled the boundaries of Latin jazz and be-bop, who often saved his best for live dates. This one was recorded in New York’s Birdland and, together with the best cover of “Footprints” I’ve ever heard, is one of the standout tracks of a thrillingly good set. Ruiz’s solo is chop-for-chop as good as Herbie’s (a Herculean feat), and Giovanni Hidalgo’s percussion fills take this all the way out.

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