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From his first recordings with the Jazz Messengers in 1954, Horace Silver's values as pianist, bandleader and composer have been clearly evident: buoyant swing propelled by strong riffs and ensemble drive, along with expressive, edited-in-advance solos. There's a kind of controlled enthusiasm at the center of Silver's music, a slightly formal celebration that owes much to gospel music and the classic Basie band of the '30s.
Live recordings of the Silver Quintet at its peak in the late '50s and early '60s were once rare. Only Doin' the Thing (at the Village Gate) (Blue Note) from 1961 appeared in the band's prime, followed belatedly by the 2002 release of Paris Blues (Pablo). This recently-discovered performance presents the group in a transitional stage. Blue Mitchell hadn't yet joined and in the trumpet chair is Louis Smith, a fine, boppish player, only intermittently active, his moment in the jazz spotlight acknowledged recently with the reissue of his 1958 Blue Note debut, Here Comes Louis Smith. Drummer Louis Hayes combines with Silver to brew a churning, resilient backdrop, the whole circling bassist Gene Taylor's springy beat. Silver is also a forceful soloist, mixing up riffs and vamps and bluesy chords along with deft quotations. Tenor saxophonist Junior Cook plays with the force and focus the music requires and Smith is a deft trumpeter, his quick, thoughtful lines ricocheting off the themes.
Sets at the Newport Jazz Festival would often run a scant 20 minutes, but Silver's quintet gets 44 here, enough to turn in robust versions of four of Silver's taut anthems. The Silver band discipline was such that a live performance's mood didn't veer far from his studio sessions. Rhythms shift confidently from straight-ahead to Latin, with permutations and overlays; the theme of "Senor Blues" slides easily between understatement and brash declamation. This is classic hard bop, from the style's finest hour.
Track Listing: Introduction by Willis Conover; Tippin'; The Outlaw; Senor Blues; Cool Eyes.
Personnel: Horace Silver: piano; Louis Smith: trumpet; Junior Cook: tenor saxophone; Gene Taylor: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.