Selection: Lester Left Town (Shorter)
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Lee Morgan, trumpet; Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; Walter Davis Jr., piano; Jymie Merritt, bass; Art Blakey, drums; Dizzy Reece, congas, recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, November 10, 1959.
In late 1958 The Jazz Messengers were a very hot item, recording film soundtracks in Paris, Disappearing Women, Dangerous Liasons, and an evolving Messenger line up: Walter Davis Jr taking Bobby Timmons seat at the piano, Benny Golson replaced by rising star Wayne Shorter on tenor. A week after recording the Africaine session at Englewood Cliffs, The Messengers would be back touring Europe: Paris, Stockholm, Berlin.
The previous year Blakey laid down a new benchmark for The Messengers: “Moanin’ “ (BLP 4003) with strong melodic compositions from Golson and fiery solos from Golson and Lee Morgan. In Spring 1959 came the two volume At The Jazz Corner of the World (BLP 4015 – 6). The Africaine session was positioned six months later into the year, November 1959, and a further six months before Blakey’s The Big Beat (BLP 4029) was recorded in March 1960, with the same line-up bar Timmons returning to the piano. There was a “Messenger Gap-Year”, and clearly intended to be a Blue Note release at the end of 1959, it was intended to be Africaine.
Four months after the move from Hackensack, the session was recorded for Blue Note at Englewood Cliffs, and gave us the debut of Wayne Shorter as a Messenger. Great compositions from Shorter and Walter Davis, who had just recorded the terrific BLP 4018 Davis Cup for Blue Note, and three Morgan compositions. All the signs were right! But for whatever reason it didn’t happen. No Van Gelder master, no Blue Note release, no Reid Miles cover.
It was not until 1981 that Michael Cuscuna gave us the 1959 Blue Note session that might have been something like BLP 402# : Africaine. Instead, we finally got Blue Note Classic series LT 1088.
There is a lot of great previously unreleased material in the Jazz Classic LT series, much of it early mid and late 60s, however this session is no ordinary overlooked surplus ’60s session, it is stone-cold 1959 Messengers main Blue Note title that never was, top quality 1959 Lee Morgan, bursting new talent Wayne Shorter, and the wonderfully expressive bluesy chordal sorties of Walter Davis Jr., plus the rest of the 1959 Messenger’s mojo full-on.
Walter Davis Jr. stands apart from the Wynton Kelly/Horace Silver school, more reminiscent of Freddie Redd, and hits the spot for me. He has a distinctive comping and chordal voice, often minor key, which gives the Messengers a different feel.
According to the liner notes, Alfred Lion initially did not take to the Shorter compositions, looking more for the churchy gospel-influences that worked so well in the earlier Moanin’ album. Shorter’s tune Lester Left Town went on to be revived the following year on the next Messenger’s album The Big Beat.
For anyone curious, here is The Big Beat version of Shorter’s Lester Left Town, Bobby Timmons jaunty piano replacing Walter Davis Jr. The other important differences are of course Blue Note Mono! rather than twenty years later Capitol Stereo, and original Van Gelder mastering rather than Tony Sestanovich remixing the original Van Gelder recording.
Selection: Lester Left Town (Shorter) from BLP 4029 The Big Beat (1960)
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Any observations on the two “takes” of Lester Left Town, feel free. Blue Note mono…yessss.
Vinyl: Liberty/Capitol LT 1088
To the record buying and selling world, it is just another of those late 70s blue label Blue Note reissues with the white framed art-photo cover, price tag barely in two figures, because they can not price the music, a gem, merely the artefact.
I invented album cover design that I imagine Reid Miles would have created in 1959, but by me, with a little help from Photoshop and the Blue Note Jazz Classics cover.
This is what you actually get:
What is interesting here is the new corporate rubric around the blue label, no longer United Artists Music and Record Group, nor Liberty/UA, but “Blue Note Records Mfd by Liberty Records Inc. a Subsidiary of Capitol Industries EMI USA“, and the copyright date P 1981. Blue Note Records was now in the hands of Capitol EMI. The mastering engineer left in the dead-wax the cryptic initials CX.
I had either not come across or more likely overlooked this Blakey title, until on a very recent shopping trip I snagged it out of passing interest. While struggling with Hubbard’s CTI legacy, which of the five albums next? I flipped the Messengers onto the turntable, and found myself coming back to it again and again, in preference to the CTI. Slowly, the quality of the song-writing and the bursting talent made itself more and more plain, sheer class. Intrigued by its early provenance, I decided that more research was warranted, peeling back the layers, to reveal its historical place.
What I found hidden beneath the bland white frame of a Jazz Classics LT series was a Missing Blue Note, worthy of its place on the Blue Note shelf. What Reid Miles would actually have designed in the way of a classic cover, no-one knows, but mine will do for the meantime.