Music

Joe Henderson: Inner Urge

James Beaudreau

Joe Henderson

Inner Urge

Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2007-02-27
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On November 30, 1964, nine days before John Coltrane would record A Love Supreme in the same room, late tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson brought two-thirds of Coltrane's rhythm section (and bassist Bob Cranshaw) into Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studio and recorded an under-recognized masterpiece. It would be his fourth record as a leader for Blue Note Records, and his first in the quartet setting of horn with rhythm section. In contrast to the religious nature of Coltrane's opus, which used the same format, Henderson's was particularly secular, drawing inspiration from the challenges of urban life, but with a comparable power and spiritual resonance.

Ohio native Henderson honed his skills playing R&B and jazz in Detroit, and arrived in New York in 1962 after serving in the U.S. Army. The influence of gutbucket blues never left his playing, though it was subsumed into a vast harmonic sophistication and a rhythmic flexibility that remains unparalleled on the instrument. And it was all delivered with a rich amber tone, recognizable, as all great musicians are, within the first few notes. Henderson was signed to Blue Note after his impressive debut as a sideman on Kenny Dorham's Una Mas.

Critics generally tend to favor the saxophonist's first and last '60s sessions for the label, Page One and >Mode for Joe. While both good records, Page One has the careful feel of a leader's first session, and Mode for Joe features the largest group of the five records, effectively diminishing the saxophone spots, and making the record the least spontaneous sounding of his early career. Henderson's second and third albums found him, as on Page One, in quintets with trumpeter Dorham, and they were progressively looser and more adventurous, and effectively set the stage for the peak of his early Blue Note career.

The thing that makes Inner Urge so remarkable is the interplay. With McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, Henderson had one of the most telepathic piano-drum teams in the business, constantly busy with Coltrane's commitments or freelance work. Both appeared on Henderson's previous album, In 'N Out, and were familiar with his style. On Inner Urge they shadow the saxophonist remarkably, reacting to each other and the leader in varying permutations, and subtly shifting the rhythmic focus in a kaleidoscopic fashion from second to second. Bassist Cranshaw fills his role beautifully, at times forming a center of gravity, and at others sliding forward and behind as the center is stolen by the others, only to dramatically retake it. His loose walking bass-line defines the sound of the session as much as the other more celebrated contributors.

The four musicians set up camp very near the outer reaches of post-bop harmonic playing, never abandoning chords, but stretching them with intoxicating ease. And from this region, Henderson and Tyner set up to deliver some of the most freely lyrical and exhilarating playing ever recorded.

Side one consisted of two Henderson originals, "Inner Urge" and "Isotope". The first features a three-note theme that is fitted through a series of angular harmonic changes over a thunderstorm of a rhythmic figure. It's contrasted by a "B" section that is the rainbow to the previous section's storm, with a saxophone melody that coasts along bright slopes back into the dark clouds of the first theme. When the downbeat falls at the beginning of the saxophone solo, the experience of the "sound of surprise", the description of jazz famously coined by Whitney Balliett, explodes into full bloom. Henderson said that he composed "Inner Urge" because he needed to channel his experience of moving to New York into something he could work with -- a form to pour his experience into. It is an urgent performance, with the saxophonist reaching for figures that get blurred by the rhythm section's illusion of perpetual acceleration.

The Monk-ish blues of "Isotope", the Spanish-tinged modal vamp "El Barrio" and the lush reading of Duke Pearson's beautiful "You Know I Care" lead up to the album's closer, the triumphant reading of Cole Porter's "Night and Day", one of the finest recorded quartet performances of the '60s.

Porter's song received its first public exposure in the musical "The Gay Divorce" in 1932, and Fred Astaire was its first singer. On Inner Urge, Henderson re-harmonizes the song, altering the chords that support the melody, giving it a fresh tilt that at once preserves the initial song and makes it sound new. "Night and Day" is taken at a brisk tempo, and Henderson's new chords fill the melody with bright light. The band rolls along at what seems to be a perfect clip, alternating the joyous swing of the "A" sections with a so-called "Latin feel" in the bridges. Henderson's tenor sings the melody and bursts into a solo of such fire and beauty that the music is lifted into a rarefied, blissful state, with the band on the very edge of empathy and split-second reaction. His first solo is like one long fireworks explosion. At its end he is met by pianist Tyner, who shifts into Henderson's wake within a few beats, and effectively extends the magic through his entire solo, echoing some of the saxophonist's phrasing within his own style.

At the end of Tyner's solo, Joe Henderson's re-entry into his second solo is one of the finest moments of '60s jazz. His opening phrase is so full of light and joy, amplifying all that came before and setting up the inevitable denouement of the performance, that it's a small miracle -- containing all the beauty and promise of music in microcosm.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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