Cecil McBee: Music From The Source (1977) Enja/ Pure Pleasure 2022

Selection: First Song In The Day (Hal Galper)

.  .  .

Composition by Hal Galper, “gifted bebop-rooted pianist with fluid and invigorating playing, solos distinguished by adventurousness and sophistication” (All Music) Recorded the same year by Galper with Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino, Cecil  McBee and Tony Williams). (Now Hear This, Enja 1977)

Track List

1. Agnez (With Respect To Roy Haynes)  (McBee) 19:13
2.1 God Spirit (McBee) 08:15
2.2 First Song in the Day (Hal Galper) 17:20

Artists: Cecil McBee Sextet

Chico Freeman, flute, tenor sax; Joe Gardner, flugelhorn, trumpet; Cecil McBee, bass; Dennis Moorman, piano; Steve McCall, drums; Don Moye, percussion, drums; recorded (“under difficult conditions”) live at Sweet Basil, New York City, August 2, 1977; Bob Cummins, recording engineer; David Barker, mixing; Horst Weber, Executive Producer.

Artist Spotlight: recording engineer Bob Cummins was no stranger to jazz recording. He ran the India Navigation record label, which documented much of the avant-garde loft-jazz scene that blossomed in Manhattan during the 70’s and 80’s. At a time when the majors were focusing on electric fusion, Cummins created an influential underground scene virtually from scratch. He favoured live recordings for their spontaneity, and set up his recording equipment in legendary jazz spots including Ladies’ Fort, and Sweet Basil, the sort of clubs I imagine consumed large quantities of  tourniquets and syringes during the intermission, or may be I’ve been listening too much to Music from The Connection.


First Song In The Day is one of those rare recordings in which the music takes on a life of its own.  A compelling, exciting modal composition, the sextet unite in live performance to keep you on your seat edge over seventeen minutes, during which, as always happens in moments of great music, time ceases to exist.

When music doesn’t work, time weighs heavily on your hands. During great music, time is suspended, both the musicians and the audience sense something special is happening. It’s a rare privilege to be there.

McBee powers below the surface, keeping everything driving forward. The drummers Don Moye and Steve McCall fastens onto McBee’s energy, embellishing it with asymmetrical strikes and accents.

Chico Freeman brought a fresh voice to the tenor. Often classed as a free jazz player because of the settings in which he often played, Chico spanned a wide range of styles from blues, bop tradition, and Coltranist-modern. (A search for Chico Freeman’s obituary drew a blank, because at age 73 he is still with us!) 

Cecil McBee, pushing age 87, the bass who has played with just about everyone in the history of Modern Jazz, waits patiently to see what his obit. has to say about Mr. McBee (still in draft).

After decades of familiar tenor voices from the giants, the 70s welcomed something a little more dangerous, adventurous, and original, without falling into the free-abyss.  All the soloists work seamlessly with the backcloth, Joe Gardner on trumpet, the professional but little-known pianist Denis Moorman, and drummer/ percussionists Steve McCall/ Famoudou Don Moye  play their hearts out.

I can listen to this album again and again, First Song In The Day sounds good at any time of day 

Vinyl: Enja 3019

Pure Pleasure (UK) remaster, pressed at Pallas, Germany 

Engineer Bob Cummins claimed some difficulty setting up the recording. The drums are a bit dominant in the mix, but overall the engineering is hot and fresh, plenty of air, a wide stage, and not the “live” shortcut of leaching off the pa – mixed so the audience hears the same wherever they sit – which spoils a lot of  so-called “live” recordings (like Montreux sessions)

Pure Pleasure fell in my estimation a few years ago, when they started reissuing Strata East and Nimbus titles on vinyl, with dead, wooden sonics.  However this recording sounds fresh and lively, mastered I read by “Cicely Baston”  at Air Mastering London (unverified).  As usual PP omit to mention the source material for the remaster. Cicely’s bio includes the following snippet: 

“Cicely started her career (2013) at Gearbox Records, using their all-analogue gear and vintage Scully lathe to master and cut releases for the Gearbox label.  

No claim to original tape sources, I would guess the usual 25-year old PCM-digital file, remastered for vinyl. The first CD of this title was released 1997, for which purpose the original tape or a copy tape would have been commandeered to create a CD-ready digital PCM file. That’s most likely source, not the CD itself, which passes through different mastering process.  Mastered quite dynamically, and cut loud, better than many I have heard. It sounds good to me, whatever the engineering technicalities. That is usually the sign of a good original recording in the first place, by Bob Cummins in 1977.  In the immortal words of Michael Cuscuna, on remastering an RVG recording, ” just have to make sure you don’t f### it up”. 

I have a couple of original Bob Cummins India Navigation  live recordings (David Murray, and Chico Freeman). They are sonically much softer and more veiled than this Sweet Basil session. Whatever the “adverse circumstances” of this recording session, they haven’t done the recording any harm, on the contrary, it smokes. Maybe Cicely has given it some extra wellie.

Collector’s Corner

Aside from the original 1977 Enja, a current (German) reissue likely twin of the 2022 Pure Pleasure reissue,  two vintage reissues pop up: Japan and the USA

Vintage copies of the above tend to be found only in their own territories, Germany and Japan, and they all tend to be scarce, if only because so few people seem to have registered what a great album this is. The bootleggers don’t seem to know about it, which is the benchmark for being  “under-rated”: NEB, Not Even Bootlegged.  The Pure Pleasure reissue was not easy to source, but worth the effort.

Great music, great sonics, on new vinyl, for little over £25. The answer to the Cost of Listening Crisis is here, now what exactly was the question? 

“KOB Sharp-Shooter” New LJC Award





Andrew W shares this KoB score, a 1A/1B matrix six-eye DG mono rarity (Side 2 track error uncorrected) with a jacket Code 2 (Imperial Paper Box Corp., Inc. of Brooklyn, NY). You can smell the 1959 air in the jacket  (cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and hair-spray . . cough.. splutter… .  Beautiful.Laser-precision shooting accuracy with the humble assistance of the LJC KOB Matrix Code Case Study Great stuff, Andrew W., well done.

Now, about your search for an original  Blue Train….

If you have made a rare and exciting score, and you would like the Vinyl Jazz Collector Community to know about it, shoot me a line, but it had better be good. 




7 thoughts on “Cecil McBee: Music From The Source (1977) Enja/ Pure Pleasure 2022

  1. As I recall Sweet Basil was a tiny, expensive jazz venue on a fairly affluent Manhattan block in the lower West side. High cover price, two-drink minimum.


  2. Cecil McBee’s COMPASSION is the companion piece, or Volume 2, to MUSIC FROM THE SOURCE. It is the same band recorded by Cummins at the Sweet Basil Jazz Club, but on the next night, August 3, 1977. I agree with your assessment of the band, and you might also enjoy this program of three tunes, one by Freeman (“Pepi’s Samba” and two by McBee, “Undercurrent” and the side-long “Compassion”). Freeman is especially iispired on his composition. I have ithe album as the original Inner City release, licenced by Enja. The recording quality is good, with the leader’s bass being perhaps a bit too prominently recorded, somewhat to the detriment of the horns, which at times seem a bit distant in the mix.

    Your mention of Hal Galper prompted me to re-listen to some of the work by this fine, nearly forgotten, pianist who was a frequent denizen of the NY jazz clubs in the 70s and 80s especially Sweet Basil and the Brecker brother’s 7th Avenue South. He first came to prominence with the brothers and plays a major role in trumpeter Randy’s first recording as leader, SCORE, a 1969 release on Solid State which also featured Larry Coryell and Eddie Gomez on guitar and bass and was one of the first, and probably best, “jazz-rock” albums. Galper’s own REACH OUT! on Inner City, licensed by SteepleChase, is also worth seeking out. Here were Randy and Michael, on trumpet and tenor, in straight-ahead jazz mode, supported by Wayne Dockery and Billy Hart on bass and drums – an awesome performance.

    Your fantasy of the Sweet Basil Jazz Club, something like a shooting gallery or opium den, couldn’t be further from reality. It was very nice place to spend an evening and have a wonderful meal in the company of a crowd which was a mix of Village art types and what, in the 80s, became known as Yuppies (young urban professionals) – in a word, an early version of a (U.S.) “fern bar.” (Go to Google Images to see what it looked like.)

    Many excellent albums were recorded at Sweet Basil. I think my favorite is the guitar/bass duo album by Jim Hall and Red Michell, on the Artist House label. Here was music that, to my mind and ear, fit perfectly into the ambience and size of Sweet Basil. It astonished me that they were also able to fit, and record, the Dave Murray and Gil Evans big bands in this same little club.


    • I quite agree with your Sweet Basil comments, DG, and that Jim Hall/Red Mitchell LP is on my list for today. We attended a Jazz Brunch in the mid-90s, There, Doc Cheatham’s Legacy. Local people sat in as the afternoon waned, and an elderly gentleman in a sky blue gabardine suit and matching turban sang “I Cover the Waterfront”, and darned well. He was Charles Linton, Singer with Chick Webb, who insisted upon the hiring of Ella Fitzgerald, lest he resign.


    • Well spotted Neville! The net is burgeoning with reviews of tenor player “Mr Freeman”, unfortunately in this case, Chico’s dad Mr Von Freeman, who has passed away, not his son Chico, who is still with us at age 73. Seems Chico has not been active for some time, hence the paucity of references. Text corrected, thank you.


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