SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder – Blue Note/EMI/Analogue Productions
Published on September 5, 2011
Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder – Blue Note/EMI/Analogue Productions – stereo-only SACD CBNJ 84157 SA (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) [9/13/11] *****:
(Lee Morgan, trumpet; Joe Henderson, tenor sax; Barry Harris, piano; Bob Cranshaw, doublebass; Billy Higgins, drums)
What a kick to have this super-classic 1964 Blue Note session in the utmost fidelity! I had a Japanese vinyl pressing, and a Japanese open reel ¼-track tape of it, and while they were good, this mastering job which involved Kevin Gray, Steve Hoffman, and Gus Skinas blows them away.
The lengthy notes are by Leonard Feather, and describe Morgan’s debut with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band at age 18, and his later work with Art Blakey and Jimmy Heath. Morgan—influenced by Clifford Brown as well as Gillespie—recorded prolifically up until his untimely death in 1972, when he was unfortunately shot by his wife. Joe Henderson, who died in 2001, was known during his long career for his versatility and adaptability. He even had a big band for awhile. Barry Harris, born in Toronto but still working in New York City, is known for his keyboard similarity to Bud Powell. He lived with Thelonious Monk and his family in the home of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter and appears in one of the Monk video documentaries, as well as in his own film: Barry Harris—Spirit of Bebop.
The big crossover hit of this session was undoubtedly the track The Sidewinder. At the time Morgan himself pointed out that the long-meter blues was not inspired by the snake, but by what Morgan called “the bad guy” on TV. Its rhythmic figure, established at the outset, is really catchy—with both a blues feeling and some Latin in it. Lee does a straightforward series of solos, and both Harris and Henderson pick up intensity as the tune goes along. (Chrysler used The Sidewinder on a TV commercial during the World Series, without the consent of either Morgan or Blue Note.) Blue Note tried to get its artists to do tunes with the “boogaloo” beat of The Sidewinder, and Morgan recorded some himself, but none ever equalled the success of The Sidewinder. (I got hooked on it when it was the theme music for a local TV show in San Francisco.)
All the tunes (there is an alternate take of one, making a total of six) are originals by Lee Morgan. He named Totem Pole due to his alternating measures with Joe Henderson. It’s the alternate take, so you can compare the quintet’s differing treatments of this Latin groove tune on the last track. Gary’s Notebook describes a musician friend he calls “a basic guy, but kind of deep.” It is played as a fast waltz, which also applies to Boy, What a Night—which adds a more funky feeling.
The Sidewinder, Totem Pole, Gary’s Notebook, Boy What a Night, Hocus-Pocus, Totem Pole (alt. take)
— John Henry