Lee Morgan: Lee Morgan (1971) United Artists

Selection: Capra Black (B. Harper) 15:46

.  .  .

Tracklist

s1. Capra Black (13:46)  B. Harper
s2. In What Direction Are You Headed? (16:30) H. Mabern
s3. Angela (6:24) J. Merritt
    Croquet Ballet ( 15:46) B. Harper
s4. Inner Passions-Out (17:40) F. Waits

Artists

Lee Morgan, trumpet, flugelhorn; Grachan Moncur III, trombone; Bobbi Humphrey, flute; Billy Harper, tenor sax, alto flute; Harold Mabern, piano, electric piano; Reggie Workman, bass, percussion; Jymie Merritt, electric upright bass; Freddie Waits, drums, recorder; recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 17-18, 1971

Produced by George Butler, cover art direction and photography, Norman Seeff; graphic design, Joan Marker; hand lettering, Tim Clark.

Music

One of Lee’s last sessions, though not technically the very last recording , which was a date for Charles Earland,  February 17, 1972. Morgan died in the early hours of February 19, 1972 , five months after this “Lee Morgan” Englewood Cliffs session. Lee had been recording with this novel line up since after the Lighthouse sessions in mid-1971: Harper, Mabern, Merritt, and Waits – Live In NYC, January 28, 1972 (Fresh Sounds CD). Morgan also began appearing on Bobbi Humphrey albums.

It is the pairing with Harper that charts a new sound for Morgan: two of the four sides are long Harper compositions, Capra Black and Croquet Ballet, none are Morgan compositions. Harper leads with that dominant hard tenor burr, rapid-fire keys and characteristically lengthy solos. The album also introduces flautist Bobbi Humphrey, a rising star in the United Artists Blue Note roster. 

Producer George Butler took over the running of Blue Note for United Artists in 1972, with numerous commercially-minded jazz-soul crossover projects. He is credited as producer of this album, which pitches Lee Morgan into a very different Blue Note format. The tracks are long, one per side (apart from six-minutes of Merritt’s Angela) and you wonder whether this album was intended to be issued at all, or in this form. The session had been recorded and mastered by Van Gelder, and was then pulled. Possibly Lee’s death triggered a rapid re-evaluation, and United Artists retrieved the project. 

Lee Morgan’s presence overall is very muted, and unless you are a big fan of Billy Harper, which happily I am, this is probably not an album for Lee Morgan enthusiasts, who should stick to the Lighthouse sessions (which feature Bennie Maupin on reeds) from this late Morgan period. It does give you a recording of Capra Black, long before the Strata East edition.

Blue Note certainly took a new direction hereafter,  slogan: “Blue Note Hits a High Note” with contemporary funk and R&B, from Donald Byrd, Earl Klugh, Ronnie Laws and Bobbi Humphrey. Not a direction to my taste, but to Butler’s credit, United Artists also began to reissue large amounts of the Blue Note back catalogue on the Blue UA label, a gift to future collectors with less deep pockets.

Vinyl: Division of United Artists BST-8491 x2 LP Van Gelder stamp

Initially scheduled as Blue Note BST 84381, unissued at the time, pops up with the anomalous number 84901.  The highest BST number in the 4000 series, prior to the change to BN-LA (in 1972),  was BST 84435 Hank Mobley – Straight No Filter.

Each of the four sides of this album has a scratched out catalogue number, presumably the intended BST 84381 issue. So Van Gelder had already mastered it, but the metal-ware was updated with a new catalogue number 84901.

Despite its Van Gelder provenance, it sounds rather muddy, none of the usual clarity and dynamics of Englewood Cliffs. 

Gatefold

The Gatefold dates the issue as MCMLXXII – 1972. 

Art Director’s Tea Break

Welcome to the 1970’s! Often there are more artists credited with the artwork than playing in the band. Album self-titled “Lee Morgan”, obviously they couldn’t think of a title. His name   in large freehand script across the front cover  a “creative” font. The same portrait of Lee Morgan on the back as on the front, very economical, differentiated by superimposed stroboscopic light waves. Psychedelia? I guess light shows were hot.

Barely readable liner notes flow in a simulated wave-form, white-out-of-black, suspended over a larger magenta echo of the same. A divorce between form and function, in which form, appearance,  takes precedence over function, giving information. I don’t think the design has any connection with the musical content, or perhaps I have missed something. There’s a new wave coming? No, I’m being too kind, it’s just novelty for its own sake. Never mind, worse was still to come, the next generation of album covers, some of which featured no information whatsoever, nothing, not even the artists or title.

Collector’s Corner

Many copies of this Lee Morgan for sale are Japanese reissues located in Japan, and very few copies of this 2LP original vinyl, which suggests it was not a great success for United Artists. I suspect intended as a Billy Harper album, hastily rebadged as a Lee Morgan album, issued in haste to capitalise on Morgan’s departure.

On the Horizon

What is I assume an AAA reissue of A Love Supreme, unhelpfully no mention of stereo or mono format, but hey, it’s on coloured vinyl – marbled orange. or marmalade.

Why do they choose coloured vinyl? I recall this being previously reissued on blue vinyl, and I have read that coloured vinyl is sonically inferior. Certainly it makes examination of the vinyl surface more difficult. I’ll stick with my own copies. I am not confident that  the Impulse/Verve reissue producers understand what the vinyl jazz audiophile market wants. It’s certainly not marmalade vinyl.

11 thoughts on “Lee Morgan: Lee Morgan (1971) United Artists

  1. I love this album, never been able to get it on vinyl. Billy Harper is amazing, no question. He was a key member of the Gil Evans Orchestra for a few years and Gil recorded a few of his pieces. Worth checking out.

    Im also not a fan of colored vinyl. I thought i needed to replace my stylus when i got the Kind Of Blue boxed set. Very disappointing.

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  2. I’m a bit surprised with all the shade thrown at this album here. It’s generally being hailed as a very solid session, and I agree. Lee Morgan wasn’t a stagnant artist, the Lighthouse sessions serve as evidence that by 1970 he was already looking toward a new direction, and he manifested it in his last album for Blue Note. It’s a shame that he wasn’t afforded more time, I’m pretty sure I genuinely would have enjoyed further explorations of this kind of sound. This album has been getting a lot of play at my house lately.

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  3. Yeah,I remember when this first came out. I picked it up but didn’t dig it,too much musical mush to my taste. I had only discovered “hard bop” the year before and was steady kickin’ myself for missing the chance to finally see Morgan in person that tragic,snowy weekend. Billy Harper would later become a much-loved saxophonist in my opinion(the quartet with Max Roach,Reggie Workman,Cecil Bridgewater was classic). Not a player I would ever describe as a “very unfavorite”!
    As for the marmalade, fruit loopy,grape-nuts colored Coltrane(you say your favorite color isn’t listed? It will be), look no further than the maroon pressings of 50’s Fantasy pressings for annoying memories of holding up lps,struggling to find scratches heard,yet unseen. I don’t need a magenta blue pressing of Blue Trane to love the recording,you know?
    Those kiddies who may disagree..get off my lawn!

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    • I have one of those magenta Fantasy pressings (Cal Tjader’s Mambo), and I concur that they are a pox. Looked just fine in the store, but nothing but noise on the turntable. Live and learn.

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    • The idea that colored vinyl would be inferior is bullshit. Black vinyl includes carbon black for coloring, the only sonic advantage of that is less static, maybe. I like colored vinyl, and the clear vinyl used in earlier audiophile records from Classic (I think but not sure who it was…) was touted for its sonic qualities (if any). Dyes would, by definition, be less an issue than carbon black, which is a filler. The problem enumerated above is that for the older albums, like the Fantasy issues, it’s hard to see groove wear than on black vinyl, the only thing you can sort of go by is the spider webs in the label near the spindle opening.

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  4. In 1971, flutist Bobbi Humphrey was 21 years old and two weeks after participating in this Morgan session, she got a session for herself and recorded “Flute In”, a soul-jazz session in the broad sense of the term. Lee Morgan returned her favor by playing on a few pieces and less than six months after her, Helen Morgan made her lover a myth one tragic night at Slug’s Saloon. At the beginning of 1972 there was already evidence that Blue Note was going through a transition period and this session proves it. Alfred and Lion were adjusting to the times that were to come…

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    • Billy Harper was a new voice at the time, I wonder if he was being groomed as an addition to the UA/ Blue Note artists roster when by chance Morgan was killed, and UA quickly repositioned the recording as a Morgan title – a commercial opportunity.

      Harper’s debut album is widely quoted as Capra Black for Strata East in 1973. I suspect “Lee Morgan” session was a dry run for what followed. I happen to be a big fan of Harper’s “hard as nails” playing, but he sounds better on many of the later Denon Japan issues. I find the UA Lee Morgan album a strange concoction, posted as a curiosity, not a recommendation.

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