Track Selection: “Demon Chase”
Howard McGhee (tp) Leroy Vinnegar (b) Shelly Manne (d) Phineas Newborn Jr.(p) Recorded June 26, 1961 at Contemporary Records in Los Angeles.
AllMusic’s take: “After spending much of the 1950s only partly active in music due to drug problems, Howard McGhee made a full-fledged comeback in the early ’60s only to find his bop-oriented music out of fashion. This Contemporary set was McGhee’s finest recording of the period”
My take: McGhee is an excellent jazz trumpeter, probably best known for his rare Felsted alternate score to Freddie Redd’s Music from the Connection featuring Tina Brooks (bow down and worship at merest mention of “Tina”). His equally rare Bethlehem album “Dusty Blues” (paired with The Connection score on a recent CD release) is an astonishing album too. McGhee is under-appreciated and under-recorded, some of which is probably down to spells on narcotics charges due to a fault in the Criminal Justice system of the day, which put away addicts instead of criminals.
Phineas Newborn is also “something else” His dense clusters and rapid flow of cascading notes that tells you you are not listening to any ordinary pianist out of the Horace Silver School of Bop. Critics rounded on Newborn at the time for being too clever for his own good, too academic. Perhaps they were looking for something else, as I find his style is satisfyingly complex. I have three records with Phineas as leader, so it is interesting to hear him comping away supporting the rhythm section role, but you sense itching for his own space to let rip. And he brings an additional level of interest to what might be just another trumpet voluntary.
Leroy Vinnegar and Shelley Manne – rock solid, as you might wish. All together a great record
Mono deep groove UK 1st pressing on Contemporary Vogue. Decca fine engineering. Nuff said.
The Mono or Stereo dilemma! The seller had both mono and stereo copies for sale, and perhaps predictably posted me the stereo in response to my purchasing the mono. This gave me a good opportunity to confront my preferences, or perhaps prejudices, by sitting down and listening to the stereo in order to decide whether to send it back to exchange for the mono, with all the hassle of waiting at the Post Office counter
I have to admit, the stereo press sounded very good, perfect Roy Dunnan I reckoned, and Goldmine even valued the stereo more than the mono, a foolhardy opinion that is not backed up by even a cursory inspection of Popsike. The soundstage was typical early Stereo extreme – Newborn exclusively on the left, rhythm section together on the far right, and McGhee bang in the centre. Which was fine as long as McGhee is playing. On the extended piano solos of the brilliant Phineas Newborn, sound from each corner, but nothing in between for five or more minutes. If there had been a centre speaker you would have kept walking up to it and tapping it to check it was working. You begin to appreciate how modern stereo engineering gives you more a more evenly-balanced overall presentation.
After great heartsearching the Stereo went back, and the mono duly arrived. Big fat centre-stage filling the room, no consideration about who is where, because positioning doesn’t matter or add anything to the music. As is so often the case, the mono experience beats stereo. With early stereo, the separation needs to have a musical rationale, like Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz with its simultaneous double quartet, one on each side. Or opt for the rich man’s strategy – “I can’t decide. I’ll take them both”
The best case for Stereo seems to me the sound effects programmed into a piece like Jean Michel Jarre’s Ethnicolour on the Aero album. You need to keep your head down as it is not unlike the infamous Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, where the first five rows of the audience have to be stretchered out with shrapnel wounds. Or at least thats my idea of stereo.For music, I prefer mono, except for the times I don’t.