Morgan Rewind: A Tribute To Lee Morgan Vol 1.
Tribute recordings have been common in jazz at least since Fletcher Henderson’s 1931 version of “Singing the Blues,” which had cornetist Rex Stewart paying homage to Bix Beiderbecke. One can play note-for-note re-creations, be creative within the format of the original recording (changing solos but keeping similar arrangements), play someone else’s repertoire in one’s own style or radically deconstruct a work. Recent tributes exercise all but the first option.
The Blue Note recordings of Lee Morgan are revisited on the Roberto Magris Quintet‘s [i]Morgan Rewind: A Tribute To Lee Morgan Vol. 1[i] (J-Mood). Pianist Magris joins trumpeter Brandon Lee, altoist Logan Richardson, bassist Elisa Pruett and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath to perform six Morgan originals. The group also essays Billy Harper’s “Croquet Ballet” and two Magris originals that sound like tracks from the Blue Note-era. Lee does an excellent job evoking Morgan’s spirit. Richardson’s hesitant style belongs somewhere between Sonny Red’s and Jackie McLean’s. And Magris’ more-modern approach fits into the setting quite well, even though the original versions remain unrivaled. The final track is a 12-minute interview with Heath that provides revealing insights into the late Morgan.
An 11-piece band that often performs in Hoboken, New Jersey, Swingadelic pays tribute to another Blue Note touchstone, pianist-composer Duke Pearson, on [i]The Other Duke[i] (Zoho). Offering a set of catchy boogaloos, hard-bop romps and shuffles, they perform seven Pearson originals, including his two main hits (“Jeannine” and “Cristo Redentor”), plus three songs that he enjoyed playing. These excellent musicians — none of whom are marquee names — truly understand the music of that time period, and they do justice to Pearson’s legacy.
The NY Jazz Initiative is a hard-bop octet led by tenor and soprano-saxophonist Rob Derke that features trumpeter David Smith; saxophonists Steve Wilson on alto and Ralph Lalama on tenor; and Sam Burtis on trombone and tuba. [i]Mad About Thad[i] (Jazzheads) resurrects a set of Thad Jones songs through the inventive arrangements of Derke, Jason Flynn and Toby Wine. Although few revelations occur, the music swings and the musicians clearly enjoyed digging into the material, much of which is fairly obscure.
Terell Stafford‘s [i]This Side of Strayhorn[i] (MaxJazz) is a blowing session that provides an opportunity for the trumpeter, lyrical tenor and soprano saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall to jam on nine Billy Strayhorn compositions. Barth’s arrangements hold subtle surprises and leave plenty of room for solos. Stafford is in spectacular form throughout, displaying a warm tone, a wide range and a versatile style that extends from swing to hard bop. He explodes on “Raincheck” and emulates Cootie Williams on “Multicolored Blue.” The quintet offer definitive reads of Strayhorn gems such as “Smada,” “My Little Brown Book” and “Lana Turner.”
On [i]Tribute to Bird and Monk[i] (Labor), a reissue from 1978, arranger-conductor Heiner Stadler chose three songs by Charlie Parker and three by Thelonious Monk, kept the melodies, did away with the chord changes and invented new pieces. He employed the talents of cornetist Thad Jones (replaced by Cecil Bridgewater on one piece); trombonist George Lewis; tenorist and flutist George Adams; pianist Stanley Cowell; bassist Reggie Workman; and drummer Lenny White, with Warren Smith playing timpani on two selections.
The intriguing results are not bebop, and traditionalists were probably dismayed when the album was originally released. Adams’ ferocious tenor and Lewis’ explorative flights could be predicted, but Cowell’s acute playing and Jones’ flexibility are a bit of a surprise. Some of the themes are played in several keys at once. The ensembles are intense, the solos dramatic. Would Bird and Monk have enjoyed these versions? Difficult to say. But listeners who have their ears open to freer sounds will find this colorful and passionate set compelling.
-by Scott Yanow