Under-appreciated labels: Concord Jazz; Under-appreciated artists: Harold Land and Blue Mitchell; Under-appreciated decade: the 70’s (though in many cases, rightly so)
Selection: Habiba (Kirk Lightsey)
Artists: Harold Land Blue Mitchell Quintet
Harold Land (tenor saxophone) Reggie Johnson (bass), Al “Tootie” Heath (drums), Kirk Lightsey (keyboards), Blue Mitchell, (trumpet, flugelhorn), Engineer Phil Edwards
Concord Jazz, yesterday and today.
Carl Jefferson, jazz record producer, and founder of Concord Records, which he ran until his death in 1995. The label was named after the city of Concord, a suburb of San Francisco, where in 1972 local businessman and entrepreneur Jefferson founded both the label and the city’s jazz festival. A great fan of swinging mainstream jazz, he said he started the label because he felt so few of the artists who he enjoyed were being recorded, and produced over 500 sessions for his label.
The successor organisation, Concord Music Group, continues today, featuring “jazz artists of tomorrow” such as Kris Bowers (keyboards) and Christian Scott (trumpet), both of whom I have had the good fortune to see live.
The jazz portfolio of Concord Music’s master catalogue includes all the vintage recordings of Prestige, Riverside, Fantasy, Milestone and VeeJay. Concord Music Group describe Concord Jazz as a label “ renowned for its consistency in both musical and sound quality, and rated by critics as one of the finest jazz imprints in the world“. I say, no false modesty, you go ahead, blow your own trumpet.
Many jazzers in the ’70s donned shell-suits, gold lame pants, powered up the synthesisers and crossed over to fusion or soul-jazz. It’s never wrong to just try earn a living. Land continued to demonstrate his deserved place as one of the best tenors of the period, keeping alive the legacy of hard/post bop updated with contemporary influences. It is a living genre.
Latin-influenced and afro-centric melodies and harmonies stretch out in this hugely listenable album, which Land and Mitchell populate with intricate arrangements. Blue Mitchell, once mainstay of Horace Silver Quintet, partners Land’s tenor perfectly, whether in unison or harmony. Mitchell recorded widely with Junior Cook, my favourite Mobley-soundalike, so the empathy here between trumpet and tenor as all the more telling.
The selection Habiba has a beautiful languid pace, Lightsey’s choppy comping underscores the melodic brass harmonies in a dreamy floating vibe, Tootie Heath works the lower drum register hard, sprayed with bright cymbal accents, Johnson provides a supple bass floor. The style is a generation beyond post-bop, this is cinematic jazz, a large canvas soundtrack anticipating world influences.
This album gets repeated plays since landing on the turntable, always a good sign, every track is a delight. It also proves me wrong, modern jazz didn’t end in the ’60s. There is more good stuff to be found, if you know where to look.
Vinyl: Concord Jazz CJ-44
White label design not specifically designated as promo. Nice engineering (Phil Edwards), just a tad thin, but more than made up for by the excellent playing and stirring compositions. Cover design: 70’s formulaic typography, would get it overlooked in a record store rack, were it not for the names of the artists. Covers may not be Concord’s strength, but the vinyl pressing is good by 1970s standards, though no clues by whom.
Though not especially a follower of today’s jazz artists, I happen to have seen both the two above-mentioned Concord artists in recent years.
Piano prodigy Kris Bowers was guest artist at one of the London “Jazz at Metropolis” series of TV programmes, at which LJC was interviewed on camera the other year. I chatted briefly with him, nice guy and fearsomely inventive keyboard player. He had an interesting line in keyboard licks, but the electronics weren’t co-operating and several retakes were called for. Live but edited.
Christian Scott was a mixed experience at the Nice Jazz Festival, France, a few years back. Scott regaled the mainly French audience with a lengthy story in English about his experience of police racism in New Orleans. During the performance he had continuing arguments with the engineers at the mixing desk, and eventually stormed off the stage in a huff, leaving his band-mates in the lurch to carry the conclusion of his set, and the audience confused and perplexed, including me.
The definition of “concord” is “agreement or harmony between people or groups”. Ah, live performance, a bit different to the well-ordered world of the vinyl disk.
An excellent NPR session of the talented Christian Scott can be seen here.
Or how about “tomorrow’s jazz artists”? Any you would pick out?
Jazz-talent-spotter Compare the Music wants to know. Comparing insurance policies just isn’t working out as interesting as he hoped.