This brilliant remastering of saxophonist Joe Henderson's most emotionally urgent album also raises the possibity that it is the ultimate showcase of his distinguished career. The deference to Coltrane is obvious: pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones are on board on every selection, although shifting their styles to mesh with Henderson. The deference to Getz is more subtle, coming clear on Henderson's stingingly lyric ballad feature, "You Know I Care," and his melodic recasting of Cole Porter's "Night and Day."
Weaving a path between Coltrane's fiery sermonizing and Getz's singable romanticism, Henderson displays a wholly individual sense of phrasing that alternates molten passionate engagement with cool reflection. The title track is an eleven minute tour de force of musical storytelling, comprising an evocation of Henderson's scuffling for work and recognition in the Big Apple, the tenor man's frustrating rite of passage. You hear plenty of hoarse cries, moans, and barbaric yelps, but you can hear episodes of great restraint within a loose blues structure.
"El Barrio" digs as deeply into the Latin mode as Henderson ever went, again emphasizing a nearly stragulated, gruff sax sound interrupted by beautifully full tones. The empathy with Tyner and Jones is palable throughout the album. They're egging him on, but oh so gently, giving Henderson tons of space to sink or swim in. Henderson thrives in their presence, their hyper-kinetic backing, and bassist Bob Cranshaw, while not as flashy as Jones, definitely keeps the rhythm lines lively.
The album seems like an apotheosis of hard bop, a ruthlessly probing amplication of a typical, hard-blowing, Blue Note bop session, pushing bop formulas as far as they could be pushed. As such, I consider it not only one of the best dozen Blue Note sessions ever released, I hear it as one of the major statements of jazz in the '60s, actually recreating the political, economic, and social realities of the turbulent times more precisely than most recorded music of the '60s in any style. An absolutely essential listen and a major masterpiece.
Personnel: Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Bob Cranshaw, Elvin Jones.