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Harold Land

Four Classic Albums

AVID Jazz AMSC 1332


 

CD1 :

1-7: Harold In The Land Of Jazz
1. Speak Low
2. Delerium
3. You Don’t Know What Love Is
4. Nieta
5. Grooveyard
6. Lydia’s Lament
7. Smack Up
8-13: The Fox
8. The Fox
9. Mirror-Mind Rose
10. One Second Please
11. Sims A-Plenty
12. Little Chris
13. One Down

[78:06]

CD2 :

1-6: West Coast Blues
1. Ursula
2. Klactoveedsedstene
3. Don’t Explain
4. West Coast Blues
5. Terrain
6. Compulsion
7-11: Eastward Ho! Harold Land In New York
7. So In Love
8. Triple Trouble
9. Slowly
10. On A Little Street In Singapore
11. Okay Blues

[81:18]

Harold in The Land of Jazz:

Harold Land (tenor sax), Rolf Ericson (trumpet), Carl Perkins (piano),

Leroy Vinnegar (bass), Frank Butler (drums); arrangements by Elmo Hope &

Harold Land. Rec. Contemporary Studios. Los Angeles. January 13-14, 1958.

The Fox :

Harold Land (tenor sax), Dupree Bolton (trumpet), Elmo Hope (piano).

Herbie Lewis (bass), Frank Butler (drums). Rec. Radio Recorders, Los Angeles,

August 1959.

West Coast Blues :

Harold Land (tenor sax), Joe Gordon (trumpet), Barry Harris (piano), Wes

Montgomery (guitar), Sam Jones (bass). Louis Hayes (drums). Rec. San Francisco,

May 17-18, 1960.

Eastward Ho! Harold Land in New York :

Harold Land (tenor sax), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Amos Trice (piano),

Clarence Jones (bass), Joe peters (drums). Rec. New York city, July 5 & 8, 1060.

The Texan Harold Land (1928-2001) was born in Houston and lived in San Diego from the age of five. He started playing the tenor saxophone at the age of 16, in part because he had heard and loved Coleman Hawkins’ famous recording of ‘Body and Soul’. From about 1946, after leaving high school, he started working as a musician around San Diego, playing a variety of music. In 1954 he moved to San Francisco. While there he was heard by Clifford Brown while playing in a jam session hosted by Eric Dolphy. As a result of this he became a member of the Clifford Brown–Max Roach Quintet, replacing tenorist Teddy Edwards. He left his young family in California and relocated to Philadelphia while working, for some two years, with the Brown-Roach group (he can be heard on such recordings asClifford Brown & Max Roach (1954-55) and Study in Brown (1955). For family reasons he left the band (to be replaced by no less a figure than Sonny Rollins) and returned to California, basing himself and his family in Los Angeles. There he led groups of his own and worked with artists such as Curtis Counce, Hampton Hawes, Bobby Hutcherson, Blue Mitchell and Billy Higgins. But work was often hard to find. In his sleeve-notes forHarold In The Land Of Jazz dated May 1958, Nat Hentoff reports being told by Vic Feldman that Land had said that he intended to take a job outside music, if things didn’t improve and adds that when he (Hentoff) asked Land what his advice to a young jazz musician would be, he promptly replied “Be a plumber”. Fortunately, for us, Land was given the opportunity to record the four albums (recorded between January 1958 and July 1960) reissued here. They constitute a valuable and enjoyable overview of how Land was playing at this stage of his career. Beyond that, they give us the chance to hear work by two distinctive and under-recorded pianists, Carl Perkins and Emo Hope (plus a session with the great Barry Harris), by two trumpeters less well-known than they should be Dupree Bolton and Joe Gordon (plus the better-known Kenny Dorham) and, on the first two albums some impressive work by bassists Leroy Vinnegar and Herbie Lewis, in company with the redoubtable drummer, Frank Butler. Add to all that an album-long appearance by Wes Montgomery and it is clear that there is much here to attract all admirers of hard bop.

Harold in The Land of Jazz was Land’s first substantial recording as a leader. In April 1949 the 21 year old Land had recorded four tracks (‘Outlandish’, ‘Swingin’ on Savoy’, ‘San Diego Bounce’ and ‘I’ll Remember April’) leading a septet of little-known musicians (unless others are more familiar than I am with a trumpeter called Floegel Brigham or the alto-sax player William S. Doty). These tracks were reissued on LP as part of an anthology called Black California: The Savoy Sessions (SJL 2215). They are essentially in the bop idiom of the day (Land had first heard Charlie Parker the year before), though with very clear debts to rhythm and blues, too, and Land is very much the featured soloist. Land’s playing is competent but less than exciting and, even with the advantage of hindsight, these tracks don’t sound particularly promising. The years between 1949 and 1958 had given Land the experience of working with musicians of the quality of Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, Curtis Counce, Richie Powell, Elmo Hope and Max Roach and Harold in the Land of Jazz shows how much he had benefited from this. On the opening track, ‘Speak Low’, once Kurt Weill’s theme has been stated, one is immediately struck by the increased skill with which Land places his emphases in relation to the beat and the bar lines – ahead, across, behind. His tone has also become less monochromatic than it had previously been. ‘Delerium’ is the first of three compositions by Land on the album – the others being ‘Lydia’s Lament’ and ‘Smack Up’. . ‘Delerium’ is by no means as disturbed or frenzied as its title might suggest. Indeed, Land, Ericsen and Perkins all take very lucid solos. Perkins is one of the many sad stories in Jazz. His left arm and hand were badly affected by polio, but despite these difficulties, he became a well-regarded pianist of considerable ability. At the time of recording this album he had already appeared on sessions led by figures such as Chet Baker and Art Pepper (Playboys), Buddy DeFranco (e.g. Wholly Cats), Dexter Gordon (Dexter Blows Hot and Cool) and Frank Morgan (Frank Morgan). Perkins died a few months after this session (in May 1958) led by Land. I believe this was his last recording. Perkins takes a particularly fine solo on ‘Nieta’, a composition by pianist Elmo Hope who was responsible, along with Land, for the arrangements on Harold in the Land of Jazz. The album contains a good deal of interesting music, to the credit of all five musicians involved. Though Land had played well on recordings with Curtis Counce, such as You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce (recorded 1956-57), this first full album as a leader evidences a new maturity and stylistic integrity in Land’s work.

Recorded some 18 months later, The Fox is even better. Land’s own playing is yet more authoritative; the presence of the rarely recorded heard, but fiery trumpeter Dupree Bolton and of Elmo Hope as pianist rather than just as arranger seems to have pushed Land to new heights. The story of Bolton (1928-1993) has been told (and was to a large extent discovered) by Richard Williams in ‘Gifted’, a piece published in the magazine Granta (issue 69, 2000). Though I haven’t seen the book, I believe this piece is also included in Williams’s Long Distance Call: Writings on Music (2000). It is the story of a musician with a brilliant and powerful sound on his instrument, whose improvisations have great emotional intensity. But it is also a story of spells in prison (he had not long finished a spell of drug-related imprisonment when The Fox was recorded), and of self-destructiveness, along with spells as a street musician. Of The Fox, Williams observes (I quote from Granta) that though it “contained a mere thirty-six minutes of music […] these minutes were played by men operating at the maximum of invention and intensity”. That is a judgement both astute and well-put. The title-track (written by Land) is played at a fiercely rapid tempo, but all concerned handle it with remarkable clarity of thought and execution. It is followed by the much slower Hope composition, ‘Mirror-Mind Rose’ and the poignancy of the piece is very moving. There isn’t, indeed, a poor or disappointing track on The Fox; Elmo Hope’s work at the piano is intriguing and individual throughout (he is especially impressive on his own composition ‘One Down’, which closes both the album and the first disc of this set. Ever since I first heard it, back in the early 1960s, I have always regarded The Fox as one of the most rewarding albums of modern jazz from the 1950s and listening to it again now, I am not inclined to change my mind. It alone would make this 2-CD set worth purchasing.

I don’t find West Coast Blues quite so satisfying or exciting, even though the group includes one of my favourite pianists, Barry Harris. Land plays pretty well, his dark tone apt enough for some blues-soaked material, but neither Wes Montgomery nor Joe Gordon, a trumpeter whose work I usually like, seem to be the best of form, and even to my well-disposed ears Harris sounds more reliable (especially accompanying other soloists) than inspired. The result is a worthwhile but unexceptional album. The opening track (‘Ursula’) an original by Land, never gets off the ground, though a properly upbeat version of Charlie Parker’s ‘Klactiveedsedstene’ does raise the temperature several degrees higher. Land here takes a very fluent and purposeful solo. In his solo Joe Gordon still seems to lack the fire that characterized his best work and the tension and tempo drop, until Montgomery takes over. Harris takes a solo of typical lucidity and harmonic sophistication. Gordon goes some way towards redeeming himself with an attractive solo on ‘Don’t Explain’, where Land also plays with a rich blues sense. So, to be fair, West Coast Blues has its good moments (another comes with Land’s solo on his own ‘Terrain’), while the whole falls short of the level of achievement and intensity evident on The Fox.

The New York sessions which make up Eastward Ho! came about when Land came to the city as part of a quintet led by Californian trumpeter Shorty Rogers. The rhythm section of the quintet – made up of pianist Amos Trice, bassist Clarence Jones and drummer Joe Peters – came from Land’s regular quartet of the time. Like West Coast Blues!, Eastward Ho! was recorded for Riverside/Jazzland under the auspices of Orrin Keepnews (to whom ‘Okay Blues’ is dedicated). Keepnews had also recorded another album on which Harold Land and Joe Gordon had appeared – Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk, recorded at the famous San Francisco club, when the two Californians joined the Thelonious Monk quartet (made up of Monk, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Jon Ore and drummer Billy Higgins). This Monk-led album belongs alongside the four reissued here by Avid, as representing Land’s work at this period (to my mind the saxophonist’s fines years). Eastward Ho! benefits from the presence of Kenny Dorham and both he and Land take some attractive solos, though the two interact less than one might hope. The pianist Amos Trice is a figure of whom little seems to be known. Though he is no forgotten great he does sometimes come up with some unexpected turns of phrase. He seems to have been born, in 1928, in New Orleans; between 1952 and 1962 he made some recordings with figures such as Sonny Stitt, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards and Shorty Rogers (and he turns up on one live recording by Charlie Parker). He seems to have disappeared after 1962. The rhythm section he forms with Jones and Peters is no more than adequate. The album as a whole is perhaps the weakest (despite the presence of Dorham) of the four making up this 2 CD set. ‘Okay Blues’ is, for me, the most interesting of its 5 tracks, though the album as a whole sounds a little underprepared. The Fox, it seems to me was indisputably Land’s masterpiece.

Land was never a great innovator, but on records such as these his thorough grounding in the jazz tradition enabled him to produce a personal synthesis of a range of influences – such as Coleman Hawkins, the best of the rhythm and blues tenorists, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thomson and the work of his near-contemporaries John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins in the mid-1950s. It was a synthesis which he turned into a ‘voice’ of his own, which allowed him to play inventively and with emotional impact. However, as the sixties went on Land’s playing seemed more and more to reflect a single influence almost exclusively – that of the kind of harmonic explorations and modal structures which John Coltrane developed on recordings such as Giant Steps (1959), Coltrane Jazz (1959) and My Favourite Things (1960). Instead of sounding like himself, Land began to sound like an inferior version, a shadow, of Coltrane. There were some good recordings – a good selection of these – made early in the 1970s – can be heard on the expanded version of Damisi, issued (by Mainstream, MDCD 714) in 1991. Every now and then in later years – as on his album Xocia’s Dance, recorded in 1981 – there was evidence of Land’s real ability and individuality, but it was in the years at the end of the 1950s – as represented on this reissue – that was consistently at his best.

Glyn Pursglove


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