By Steve Provizer
Saxophonist Harold Land has been a major contributor to the rich tapestry of jazz. Check it out.
Land of Harold To the west ! Available on CD and digitally as well as in 33-1 / 3 RPM Two-LP Set on 180 gram vinyl. The Deluxe package includes new interviews with tenor giants Sonny Rollins and Joe Lovano, and essays by Michael Cuscuna and pianist Eric Reed. (Reel to Real Recordings).
The history of jazz is a dense and richly woven tapestry. Many listeners are familiar with the stars shining on the surface, but a closer look at the fiber will reveal additional rewards. The truth is, without the contributions of a lesser-known group of musicians, the fabric would look pretty threadbare.
In terms of tenor saxophonists for example, most will know Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. But what about big names like Benny Golson, James Moody, Hank Mobley, Frank Foster, Lockjaw Davis, Teddy Edwards or George Coleman? All of these players have established long and successful careers, both as sidemen and as leaders. They might not have spawned a large group of acolytes, but they were widely respected, made dozens of recordings, and each developed a unique sound – the sine qua non of jazz.
Harold Land, leader of the three groups featured in Land of Harold To the west ! is a player in this category. Although it is not particularly well known outside the infra jazz world, Land is as esteemed as any of his saxophone cohorts. If you do not know his game, it is with pleasure that I present it to you.
And, as a bonus on this set, several songs feature Carmell Jones, a formidable trumpeter who also falls into the category I’m talking about. Jones’ status among trumpeters was analogous to that of Land in the tenor saxophone world. Most will know the names Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Freddy Hubbard. But the work of Blue Mitchell, Kenny Dorham, Idrees Sulieman, Bill Hardman and Carmell Jones was also respected. Jones’ most publicized gig was perhaps his time with Horace Silver in 1964-65, including his performance on Silver’s album. Song for my father.
Land started making a name for himself in the late 1940s, and by that time he was heavily influenced by Lester Young. In the early 1950s he continued to develop his voice and in 1954 the great trumpeter Clifford Brown invited Land to join his quintet. This group became one of the most important of the time – it remains a benchmark of jazz. In order to take care of family matters, Land decided to leave the group and return to Los Angeles in 1955. He was replaced by Sonny Rollins.
The land remained on the West Coast and continued in a stylistically similar vein throughout the rest of the 1950s. However, he listened intently to John Coltrane and others who stretch music in new ways. He started to move in a new direction. Beginning in the late 1960s, working with vibe player Bobby Hutcherson, drummer Billy Higgins and pianist Stanley Cowell, among others, his playing demonstrated that he understood the new sounds. He completely integrated the modal approach into his earlier aesthetic, as well as other musical elements. Land did not jump willy-nilly into the vanguard. He broadened his musical horizons, while retaining his own voice.
It is especially interesting to hear Land’s playing during one stage of the process, between 1962 and 1965, when these recordings were made, live at the Penthouse in Seattle, Washington. I’ll go into the details of his transition as I watch each track on To the west !
The opening tune, “Vendetta”, is a complex, rhythmic bop-type head written by Land. It’s based on rhythm changes but there are some small Ornette touches in the melody. Harmony reigns here, and Land’s solo is consistent with his playing in the ’50s – he’s generally smooth and knowledgeable about changes. Carmell is also fluid and agile. Its articulation is clear and it alludes to some chord substitutions. In some of the solo bridges, the rhythm section moves in a pedal sound for a few bars in order to vary things. Jimmy Lovelace, on drums, keeps it all together. This frolic is in everyone’s wheelhouse.
The middle tune “Beep Durple”, based on “Deep Purple”, was written by Jones. This is the kind of melody Land and Clifford Brown could have played together. It’s hard not to hear the influence of Clifford in Carmell’s solo, especially in terms of vibrato. Jones is showing he is a player of the highest caliber, and Land’s solo is not far behind in the quality of those he played with Brown. Land shows here that he took in some of the 32sd note the scalar approaches launched by Coltrane. Buddy Montgomery on the piano takes some nice choruses, then drummer Jimmy Lovelace skillfully trades 8’s with the brass and bassist Monk Montgomery.
“Happily Dancing / Deep Harmonies Falling” is a Land composition – a waltz with an unusually insistent quality in the A section that changes to a smoother feel in the bridge. Although Land, Jones, and Montgomery at the piano negotiate the changes, no solo ventures so deeply. Maybe it was a new tune for the band.
Rodgers and Hart’s standard “My Romance” follows. The pianist on this track is Hampton Hawes, another mainstay of the West Coast. Hawes and Montgomery on bass shape an intro that easily slips into a melody statement. The latter is rephrased – quite simply – in a medium tempo by Land, who then switches to his solo. I think there is a subtle influence of Wayne Shorter here. Shorter was still and re-translator of Coltrane and, at this point, to a lesser extent, Land as well. Beautiful Hawes piano and Montgomery bass solos. Land trades 8s with drummer Mel Lee, who cranks up the energy until Land pulls him out.
“Triplin ‘The Groove,” written by Land, is a medium blues. The piano, sax, and drums all play the riff, sequentially, which probably explains the title. So far, Land’s tone had nestled in the neighborhood of Hank Mobley and Teddy Edwards. But on this track we notice him adopting the harsher tone which reflects the omnipresent influence of Coltrane. It’s not as difficult as it ends up being, but it’s on the right track. Land’s treatment of the melody is recognizable, but it takes a different approach to phrase repetition. What emerges is a snapshot of a tenor in transition. It is an organic process; nothing nailed for effect. Hawes on the piano has the ability to stretch and he displays a full range of techniques.
“Autumn Leaves” uses an opening bass / piano lick that sounds like it’s adapted from that of the 1958 Cannonball Adderley record Something else. Other rhythmic section bends add some nice variations before Land’s solos. The tempo is perfect for Land, who doubles and triples the beat several times during his solo. John Houston is in the piano chair and is more adept than Hawes at taking off on fancy right flights. Philly Joe Jones is on drums and plays 8s and then 4s with the others before the chorus.
L’air Bricusse / Newley “Who can I turn to?” is the only ballad of the shoot. Houston on the piano has the intro and Land delivers the melody in a breathy undertone, adding variations as he goes along. He hands over to Houston, who spins a few effective sentences. Land ends the chorus and closes the melody with an abbreviated solo tag ending – not a new idea in jazz, but Coltrane had made it a more widely adopted practice.
“Beau-ty” is a composition by Carmell Jones. Philly Joe Jones begins with a drum solo, leading the group to a repeated riff with “Night in Tunisia” accents. This moves in a Latin line in a minor key. The bridge swings before the air returns to Latin and the soloists are supported by the rhythm section. Philly Joe uses a lot of low tom, which gives the look an Afro-Latin undertone. The track becomes a trait for drummer Jones and then there’s a return to the lead and a frenzied finale.
The drums set up Gillespie’s tune “Blue ‘N Boogie”, and the band go all out on an original intro before giving a clever spin to a tune made famous by Diz and Bird. It is surprising that the last piece of the set does not have a tenor solo.
Land’s work on this album is self-sufficient. However, if you want the added pleasure of being able to put these sessions into perspective, I suggest you listen to Land’s early works, influenced by Lester Young. Then watch his formidable performances in the group with Clifford Brown. Finally, listen to the saxophonist’s late work on an album like Mapenzi or Xocia’s dance. The land has been a major contributor to the rich tapestry of jazz. Check it out.
Steve provizer written on a range of subjects, most often the arts. He’s a musician and jazz blogger here.