Bop goes Pop: Lee Morgan “Charisma” (1966)

Track selection: “Sweet Honey Bee”  I>

BST 84312 “Charisma” Lee Morgan Sextet: Lee Morgan (tp) Jackie McLean (as) Hank Mobley (ts) Cedar Walton (p) Paul Chambers (b) Billy Higgins (d)  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 29, 1966

Stellar front line, Morgan Mobley Mclean all having fun, stellar rhythm section Higgins and Chambers, with Cedar Walton gluein’ it all together with an infectious piano groove in best post-Sidewinder mode. The solos are a delight. The tune is Duke Pearson’s, (for a little “which twin has the Toni” moment his original is streamed at the end this post). It’s the sort of Bop-Pop that demands girls in shift dresses and bee-hive hair dancing the hand jive, watusi and the frug. Perfect Sixties Dance Party, but oh those Mobley and Mclean solos – icing on the cake.

The recording finds itself standing on the other side of the 1966 chasm that separates Blue Note Records from Liberty Records and its United Artists future owners. The gatefold by lines tell the story.

The Blue Note Records legacy dismantled by corporate and economic  forces, before your very eyes. “Produced by Francis Wolff”, Alfred Lion’s close friend and Blue Note’s photographer. Van Gelder still in the sound engineering seat (“VAN GELDER” in the run out) , no Reid Miles design, but “Ann Meisel”. Investor-owned Transamerica Corporation property, west coast LA United Artists division Liberty/UA release (Copyright date 1969 says the cover art) sporting Division of Liberty labels. The Gatefold back cover address is “New York 10019” – Liberty NY  transition address. The liner notes are written not by respected jazz critics  like Feather or Hentoff, but by Herbert Wong, a San Francisco radio-station DJ. The once-mighty  Blue Note Catalogue Number (in this case 4312) is relegated to the small print.

Division of Liberty (1st) Pressing:Gatefold Cover: Morgan’s photo insert pictures a new Lee Morgan. New black spectacles (“intellectual”) and ethnic hat, Rahasan Roland Kirk style (“intellectual”), and chunky knitted sweater (“intellectual”). A jazz bohemian image make-over, marketing to new audiences outside the narrow New York jazz aficionado circuit.

Not that there is anything wrong with commercialisation. Musicians need to eat, and competing  with emerging mass pop-culture and those massive revenue streams meant company survival. The days of Mobley BN 1568 and  pressings counted in hundreds, an aberration of quality over quantity, were well and truly over.

Duke Pearson led his own record, BLP 4252, “Sweet Honey Bee” which must be one of the very first 1966  Liberty-only original pressings. The title track kicks of with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and James Spaulding in the front line, but solo-ing strictly off-limits:

It’s cute, but another reason why 1956-66 remains “the gold age of modern jazz”. From here on, with a few detours, it was mostly down hill all the way.

14 thoughts on “Bop goes Pop: Lee Morgan “Charisma” (1966)

  1. I just picked up a “Made in Germany” pressing of this with Van Gelder in the dead wax. Sounds good.

    Anybody got any info?

  2. by far one of my top-favorite albums. your “bop goes pop” bit, i see where youre going. but theyre not covering freaking bacharach here- its awesome soul jazz originals. i was suprised when i learned it wasnt released until ’69. they held the release on this one, it was recorded sept. ’66. i love the cover. for me its always worked.

    • Cool. I know some of the guys go all knitted brow and think its cheesy, but I just played it through again and its an infectious little thing and I still like it. Interesting how much punchier the Lee Morgan version is over the original Duke Pearson one.

  3. personal opinion is all a listener needs.
    I’ll never like a musician following his success or positive criticism.
    that’s why, for example, I continue to like Free Jazz, never loved in the USA and no big money for the cats who believed and played it.
    one of my changing mind musician is Hank Mobley, 50’s Mobley.
    I didn’t like him when I was in my 20-30 years and I lost a train: I followed Trane and Rollins and Dolphy to name a few.
    but when you have listened and collected (almost) all you like, it’s time for something new and different: here you “discover” neglected artists and here is every Jazz fan’s fault.
    the input must come from inside you, not from public acclaim or critics.
    so my rule is: search, search, search: in this way we can find.

  4. nor in Free ones.
    light as a feather, too soft for me.
    as almost all soul jazz, this music follows the path of the hit album Sidewinder, the father of too many blood-diluted records, even played by big names.
    please listen to the couple of guys up here in Introducing Lee Morgan: Hank and Lee are astonishing.
    not here, but it’s only my personal opinion.

    • All opinions are welcome here Dott.
      I should say, I am not a believer in consistency. My opinions change constantly in response to my experience.
      The alternative is to run the process in reverse – reinterpret todays experience to conform to yesterdays opinions.
      I know people who live like this!

  5. The cover makes me “uneasy” somehow – really terrible in my opinion. The music however is actually quite charming and “real” jazz if you ask me. But then again my musical taste for jazz is quite broad and span from 30’s Swing to Smooth jazz so I have no problem to mix some pop in jazz if it’s nicely done 😉

    • Interesting reaction to the cover, I know what you mean. Ann Meisel was a book illustrator, well established 60’s and 70’s. Whatever her drawing skills, she has no sense of what jazz music is about. One of her books on google-search is about love signs in astrology – ie she was a west coast hippy stylist, a one trick pony, probably a “friend” of the commissioning art editor. No-one involved had a clue, they just made it up as they went along, following what they thought were current fashions.
      I stay focused on the music, which is delightful to me.

  6. thanks for reminding me of Charisma which is a good album !!!
    i love the way Billy Higgins play here and the R. section in general,
    it lets Morgan , Mobley and Mclean tell their story with no worries for the rhythm or the harmony 🙂

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