[10 August 2007]
In his tragically short lifetime, jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was recruited (at age 15!) by Dizzy Gillespie, played in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and recorded many great albums as a small combo leader. His entry from Blue Note’s The Finest in Jazz series offers one song apiece from six of his excellent 1960s hard-boppin’ soul jazz albums. Along with Horace Silver, Morgan was key in injecting an R&B groove and hints of a fluid, Latin-feeling sway into the deep-swinging be-bop coming from Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in the mid-‘60s. The title track from 1963’s indispensable The Sidewinder kicks off this nice budget sampler. The lovely “Ceora” represents the equally essential Cornbread, Morgan’s 1965 classic. But what about 1964’s Search for the New Land? Aw, man, that’s a one-point deduction right there—among his sidemen on that album were Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock! Still, we are treated on this set to the exceptional tenor sax playing of both Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley, plus legendary pianist McCoy Tyner on “Nite Flite”, from 1966’s top-notch Delightfulee. Billy Higgins lays down the beat on every cut, bouncing both light and strong. The CD ends in 1968, with the pleasant “Soulita” from Caramba, marking the flagging of his high caliber studio output. Morgan was murdered in 1972 by his common-law wife. Fortunately (or, erm, fortunate-lee), he recorded a lot of great music in his 33 years on earth. Although a bit skimpy, The Finest in Jazz is a good place for new listeners to dive in. The album does a fine job of capturing the creative peak in Lee Morgan’s stellar career.