Blue Note continues to bless fans with hidden gems from deep in its vaults with Live at Newport '58, a previously unreleased set catching Horace Silver in the midst of his ascent as a major creative force. Featuring a transitional line-up of the pianist's revolving quintet as they headline the famed festival, the band can be heard drawing the hard bop blueprint that would be emulated for generations after.
The four extended tunes are all Silver originals: an unusually structured composition ("The Outlaw") from what was then Silver's most recent album (Further Explorations, Blue Note, 1958), a little-known b-side ("Tippin'"), the quintet's recurring theme song ("Cool Eyes") and Silver's best known hit ("Seïor Blues"). The band is in top form, playing with fire on tunes that are crisply defined and enjoyably accessible.
Silver's signature blues and gospel flavorings are infectious and joyous. Thoughtful poise, elegant inventiveness and tasteful restraint mark the fluid expression found in each successive chorus of Silver's solos and accompaniment. The keyboardist's dramatic single-note runs, with a keen sense of rhythmic placement and space, reveal the influence of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington as well as a supremely original concept.
Silver's band sparkles with the sleek drive of Detroit-based players Louis Hayes, Gene Taylor and the underrated Louis Smith, whose blazing solos reach an intensity worthy of the great lineage of Silver Quintet trumpeters that includes Donald Byrd and Blue Mitchell. Taylor's elastic yet steady bass support is felt throughout, his sturdy lines often knotted closely in tandem with Silver's left-hand patterns.
As with saxophonist Junior Cook's tactful, refined choice of notes, the musicians are notable for their desire to eschew flashy techniques in favor of a sizzling, interlocked group sound. Surprise comes in the subtle details that abound, such as the uniquely accented head arrangement on "Cool Eyes," or the conversational interaction between Cook and Hayes during the former's fierce solo on the same tune.
Hayes stirs up much of the excitement while maintaining a minimalist approach to the drums. His particular innovation of the hybrid Afro-Latin beat characterizing "The Outlaw" and "Seïor Blues" helped spawn countless imitators, and his shimmering ride cymbal feel is as personal as the man's own fingerprints.
"Seïor Blues" is, of course, a highlight of the album. Hearing this live rendition before an animated audience makes one realize how a classic jazz composition could also be a bona fide pop hit. The tune is a perfect encapsulation of the era, and it oozes with Silver's idiosyncratic style. The tempo is held to a perfect medium simmer, slinking along with a greasy bounce, propelled by Hayes' steady cymbal-bell pattern, Silver's chunky chords and the familiar horn blasts of the melodic hook.
Kudos go to producer Michael Cuscuna for an album that is sharply recorded, remastered and packaged, with informative liner notes and eye-catching artwork. It's enough to leave fans wondering what Blue Note will dig out of its vaults next.
Personnel: Horace Silver: piano; Louis Smith: trumpet; Junior Cook: tenor saxophone; Gene Taylor: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.