Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Grant Green on Blue Note 45
Three great new offerings from Music Matters Jazz, the house that reissues Blue Note classics on gatefold-covered, double-disc vinyl 45rpm LPs: Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, Herbie Hancock's Empyrean Isles, and Grant Green's Street of Dreams. All were recorded in 1964: the first two are among the best titles in Blue Note's catalogs; the third is one of the more purely pleasurable.
Speak No Evil (recorded on Christmas Eve), though Shorter's third album for the label as a leader, was the first that set him apart as a major-league composer, a standing confirmed the following year, when, as the new tenor saxophonist in Miles Davis' quintet (replacing George Coleman), he wrote the title tune for E.S.P (still one of the greatest of Miles albums). Speak No Evil was recorded just two weeks before E.S.P. and includes Miles' pianist and bassist (Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter), with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Elvin Jones (rather than Tony Williams) on drums. It may be the headiest synthesis of hot and cool laid down on disc: casually complex rhythms, explosive dynamics, lyrical lines. And Rudy Van Gelder's sonics are just a notch or two below his most vivid: much fuller-bodied than his work on Shorter's first two (and very good) Blue Notes, Night Dreamer and JuJu.
Empyrean Isles, recorded in June, features much the same cast (Hancock, Hubbard, Carter, but with the Miles bandmate, Tony Williams, on drums, and no saxophonistColeman was supposed to show, but didn't, and it's just as well), but it's otherwise a very different album: spare, soulful, with melodies written to sound like improvisations, and, in "Cantaloupe Island," one of the headiest vamps in modern jazz. Hancock wrote all the tunes, and, as a pianist, unfurls the first taste of his soon-famous chromatic tone clusters; Tony Williams, just 18, dazzles from start to finish. Maiden Voyage, recorded a year later with the same group (plus Coleman), may be better, but just. Ditto for the sound quality.
Street of Dreams has a 1960s pop vibe; in lesser hands, it might have been jazz for cocktails on the patio, but with these guys, well, it could still pass, but it's more like rum on the stoop. Grant Green picks electric guitar in limber single-note lines; Larry Young takes the B-3 Hammond organ on unexpected paths; Bobby Hutcherson chimes rainbows of color on the vibes; and Elvin Jones does a surprisingly tasty turn on drums. The sound quality, again by Van Gelder, is spectacular: such fluty air piping out of that B-3, such ringing from the vibes.