Lee Morgan: Cornbread (1965) Blue Note Liberty/NY

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Selection: Most Like Lee (Morgan)

Many great tracks, impossible to choose between them, but I must, so I choose the up-tempo bopper, Most Like Lee.

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Artists

Lee Morgan (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto sax) Hank Mobley (tenor sax) Herbie Hancock (piano) Larry Ridley (bass) Billy Higgins (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 18, 1965

Artists of Note: all-star line up, a triple brass treat, all filed under the letter “M”: Morgan, Mobley and McLean. You can not have too much Mobley (but might just need to send out for some stronger shelves). A Blue Note classic, which for some reason I had overlooked to review, and not the only one, all in good time.

Music:

All-Music awarded Cornbread a coveted five out of five stars, like Michelin stars, a signal of excellence. The three-horn sextet format bursting with talent like Mobley, McLean  and Hancock absolutely guarantees an exciting hard-bop ride. Morgan’s solos are inventive and sparkling and the ensemble bristles with energy and enthusiasm. Billy Higgins drums maintains tremendous propulsion behind the music, anchored by Larry Ridley’s bass.

The compositions are memorable and demand repeated play. Bonus,  Hancock at his best,  at the start of his Miles stint, rhythmically complex and listening acutely to everyone. Hank Mobley’s solo’s are particularly fine,  controlled with “unfolding beauty from the first to last note“.  Enough that it’s a Morgan album, it’s also a Mobley album, and a Hancock album, throw in Jackie, musically absolutely essential.

From the collector viewpoint, the only thing against Cornbread is that it isn’t rare, and it isn’t expensive, certainly not compared with Morgan’s most sought after records. For Morgan’s most sought after titles, those in the Blue Note 1500 series, the Top 25 auctions span from an eye-watering  $7,800 ( for a copy of BN 1538 Lee Morgan Indeed!) to $2,350. The Top 25 auctions for Cornbread range  between $350 to $125, which I calculate to be around one twentieth. This is more than partly due to Cornbread  being a fairly big seller in its day, reaching peak position No. 7 in the Billboard Jazz Chart in 1967.

LJC-Michael-Caine- Professor Jazz fastshow30Why released in 1967, not 1965 or 1966? Some musings follow. It’s been a slow Sunday, there is a story here.

Morgan’s 1963 album The Sidewinder had been a huge commercial and financial success, which almost single-handedly helped keep Blue Note solvent, for a while at least. Blue Note then hedged their bets. While Sidewinder continued to sell, Blue Note then  released Morgan’s most musically advanced title (in my opinion), In Search Of The New Land in 1964,  while hoping that his boogaloo-continuity title, The Rumproller (1965), would recreate the success of Sidewinder.  Lightening, however, failed to strike twice, and The Rumproller didn’t make the tills roll.

In the mean time, Cornbread and other more mainstream Morgan recordings for Blue Note remained unreleased, piling up in the Blue Note vaults.  This hiatus left behind a  rich seam of Lee Morgan-led  material recorded between 1963 and 1967, which would be mined first by Liberty, and later, curated by Michael Cuscuna for United Artists for the  Blue Note Classics LT series, with many rarely seen alternative cover issues in Japan (more on which anon).

Cornbread was first released by Liberty in January 1967,  suffering as a result another “collectability” blow: not seemingly “authentic Blue Note”, no Plastylite ear, as well as not being “insanely rare™”.

19671967, the music industry  trade paper The Billboard saw jazz at a crossroads, between “more commercial jazz music”  and “a small true jazz audience of hard-driving modernists and the avant-garde”. (I think they mean you)

In an industry driven by anticipating changing tastes and fashion, The Billboard took time to muse over shifting musical tides – where was jazz going in 1967? Fifty years into the future, where I sit, never mind which is the way forward, my  options include reverse, and even sideways. But taking the industry pulse, The Billboard opined:

billboard-january-28-1967-jazz-releases1

The golden years of the late ’50s and early ’60s  had been and gone, it was now 1967 and the industry had to move forward, but pulled in many possible directions.  From its vantage point, The Billboard saw the growing presence of light “commercial jazz”, from artists like Charles Lloyd, Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, Jack McDuff,  and the increasingly hard-edged work from modernists, new work from artists like Coltrane and Andrew Hill.

I count on my shelf six of the seven Blue Notes released in January 1967, purchased not inexpensively, but too late to help the industry out financially . In the end, commercial jazz proved more popular, but ephemeral; the harder-edge work proved less popular, but more enduring. Not that any of this is any consolation to Lee Morgan, whose light was extinguished in 1972 by the unfortunately accurate pistol-aim of his partner, Helen. After that, there was no more new Morgan, but there was still a wealth of old Morgan, waiting to see the light of day. All originating from a time before Billboard started worrying over the future direction of jazz: jazz knew very well where it was going then: full speed ahead.

Vinyl: BLP 4222 mono.

NY labels, VAN GELDER, Liberty pressing – no ear.

A Blue Note/ Liberty transitional release pressed by All Disc. “Monaural” was a term in use for a limited time, before the final ascendancy of Stereo as the de facto format of choice. The liner notes promote The Sidewinder and The Rumproller  along side The Search For The New Land.  No time for argument, just get all three.

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Collector’s Corner: and your Lee Morgan favourites are… ?

Complete-lee Morgan Blue Note Collection, with generous ten-vote poll

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In addition to the above albums Blue Note released during Lee Morgan’s lifetime (recordings 1956-71), a lot of material went on to be released posthumously, in the 70’s and beyond, and some cases in alternative covers in Japan. Contrast the United Artists  “Blue Note Classics” LT series,  white-framed arty landscape photos, previously unreleased recordings 1964-7, with their Japanese release equivalent, Lee Morgan-in-performance alternative covers. If the LT series covers look unexciting, the vinyl inside is a lot better than I initially thought.

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Some alternative covers have themselves other alternative covers too, like our friend The Procrastinator, found in an extraordinary high quality 70’s United Artists two-fer (bottom left) and in a variety of guises since (including CD alt-covers).

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For the layout of the poll choices  I am going to include his full Blue Note album discography as leader, including posthumously released titles, in chronological order of recording, not date of release.  To give you a spread over his many albums, I am going to allow not three, not five, but a full ten votes. Choose up to ten favourite vinyl titles from the twenty five listed. I am disregarding some recent CD-only issues, and other label releases. On past experience I’ve missed out someone’s personal favourite. No doubt you will let me know…it’s The Internet.

Be sure to vote, poll open for only one week, check back frequently to see how your favourites are doing.

Japan’s  Alternative Lee Morgan Cover Industry

How many lives does a tom cat have? No one knows, but I can vouch for the sonics of the LT Classics series Tom Cat – cracking sound, great music.

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Just when you think you had it all figured out, our friends in Japan reissue their alternative cover using the”original”  American LT Classics cover. I need to go lie down.

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Several upticks for our friend, TokyoJazzCollector!

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23 thoughts on “Lee Morgan: Cornbread (1965) Blue Note Liberty/NY

  1. So, I was in my local s/h record store this morning to have another look at a rather thin Newk’s Time Liberty stereo no RGV o circled R etc and spotted Cornbread Liberty stereo in VG+ condition Inc cover. Van Gelder machine stamp and R circled. Being new to jazz but having heard of him from reading copiously online I took a £15 (down from £25, I likes a deal me!) punt!
    Now I read this post it seems I did well? Shall give it a spin later when I swap back to a stereo cartridge.

      • Thanks, it sounds bloody awesome, plays almost mint; my 1st RVG pressing! I now get it, and technically a 1st pressing according to your Liberty guide. I’ve not heard the album before TBH but what a treat. I’ve a bunch of MM33s which sound great but not the true RVG sound which until today I’d not experienced. Now, there’s a copy of Mobley’s The Turnarond Liberty VAN GELDER of the same vintage for £25, should I? Damn this could get addictive but being more interested in the sound than ‘1st issue syndrome’ I won’t be laying down heavy wad.
        Thanks again LJC
        Simon

  2. For fans of the headier side of late 60s jazz, the Last Session is a must have, along with Live at the Lighthouse. Harper’s “Capra Black” makes the Last Session worth the cost alone.

  3. Nobody for Caramba!?

    I think its an oft-underrated album, albeit with some of the worst mastering I’ve heard from a BN. A shame, because “Suicide City” has to be one the of best tunes he put out.

    • Caramba? Not really. The first side is a real letdown. Cedar Walton’s playing is so weak! He must have been very ill. It’s so uninspired I couldn’t believe it. Really disappointing.

  4. This posting did exactly what all such writing about a classic jazz LP should do: it had me scurrying straight to my shelves to dig out my copy to listen to and enjoy. In my case, it’s a stereo first pressing rather than your mono but by this stage, RVG had got the stereo mastering sorted out to a tee. When I was searching for a worthwhile copy of Cornbread, the biggest problem I faced wasn’t availability or price but condition, especially that of the cover. I started to suspect that there must be something about that red ink that made it particularly susceptible to ring wear. Maybe it’s just that so many copies spent time at parties!

    Voting in the poll was a bit of a challenge. I could easily tick off my top seven but choosing three more to make up a round ten proved too tough. Most of my favourites seem to match everybody else’s voting. My only outlyer was The Sixth Sense, which I really like but it didn’t fair quite so well with the rest of you.

  5. “Ceora” is not only Lee’s greatest composition ever, it’s one of the greatest jazz compositions ever. This entire record is a must-have, but Side 2 is pure gold. Amazing.

  6. Another Blue Note that went under my radar, thanks LJC !
    Just cast my vote, no Sidewinder for me as i never manage to enjoy this session, guess i might be the only jazz fan who doesn’t rate this album…

  7. I killed The Sidewinder by playing it too often, so haven’t listened to it for a few years now. I must dig it out and see if I’ve recovered.

  8. Because I live in a cultural backwater, namely Queensland, Australia (no jazz, but the weather is nice), I was only recently made aware of the new documentary about Lee Morgan titled “I Called Him Morgan” which I suspect you and your many readers are already familiar with, if not here is a great review from The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/a-documentary-about-the-life-and-tragic-death-of-the-great-jazz-trumpeter-lee-morgan
    Cornbread is one of his best and that line-up is pure gold just as the golden era was coming to an end.

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