Howard McGhee “Maggies Back in Town” (1961)

Track Selection: “Demon Chase”

Artists

Howard McGhee (tp) Leroy Vinnegar (b) Shelly Manne (d) Phineas Newborn Jr.(p) Recorded June 26, 1961 at Contemporary Records in Los Angeles.

Music

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

Vinyl

Mono deep groove UK 1st pressing on Contemporary Vogue. Decca fine engineering. Nuff said.

Collectors corner

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.

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8 thoughts on “Howard McGhee “Maggies Back in Town” (1961)

  1. Amazon reviewer “Carter” wrote:

    “One of the great successes of this album goes not to the musicians (who do indeed all play well), but to the engineer: Roy DuNann. Still vastly undervalued in comparison to his direct contemporary, Rudy Van Gelder, DuNann often created much more natural sounding, and (I’ll say it) better sounding recordings than his East Coast counterpart. From the first note, there are virtually none of the drawbacks from recordings of this era — drums aren’t recessed, the piano sounds like it’s practically in your lap, and the bass isn’t relegated to near inaudibility (or, conversely, booming with each pluck of a string)…”

    I must admit (once again) I am not a collector. Of the 300-plus Blue Notes I own, about 80 percent are in CD format, and none of the LPs is an original pressing. So what I am going to say here does not reflect any acquaintance with “originals” except in the shape of LJC’s generous rips.

    Still, there’s more than a grain of truth in the statement made above. To my ears, Roy DuNann always sounds good, while RVG has disappointed me time and again, exactly the way Carter puts it.

    I know what I’m saying is blasphemy. Listening to original pressings might have taught me otherwise. Or would it?

  2. I know its been awhile, but did you happen to recall if the stereo and mono jackets were identical? I picked up an original stereo yesterday ($8!!!) and the title text is in Orange. Your copy has the title text in light brown. Just curious.

    • The amazing Marvo, miracle feats of memory, reaches back two and a half years and remembers … whether the liner notes were a different colour.. Sorry, I don’t recall. I know there is an important issue about coloured text with original Art Pepper meets the Rhythm Section, but I didn’t notice anything in this case, but I wasn’t looking at it with todays eyes. I’m just annoyed I sent back the stereo, I wouldn’t do that today, I’d have them both.

    • cuyahogabend: are the labels of your copy green or black? It would guess they are green, since the initial issues had a cover with a gold coloured title (or light brown, if you prefer). Second issues had an orange coloured title, which I would therefor expect to have a green label. Just curious.

      • Rudolf: Black labels, deep groove, original Contemporary inner sleeve dated 1961, minty fresh, sounds amazing

        • that is very interesting, I incorrectly thought the orange lettering was a later novelty. Your album then is very special. Enjoy it!

  3. I have a stereo original in Mint condition of this excellent LP. They will have to pry it from my dead cold hands……..;-)

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