Larry Young: Unity (2011)
Larry Young's best known record, Unity (Blue Note, 1966), addresses the Hammond B3's more challenging sonic tendencies first by good management of the instrumentblending volumes and stops to add subtlety and variation to the electrified soundand then by adding some of the best sidemen available.
Now reissued by Music Matters on 45 RPM vinyl, the record reveals more about the recording than has likely been heard on previous issues. Remastered from the original session tapes, Music Matters strives to deliver the most musical information, and in the case of Unity, the result adds some heretofore-unheard subtlety.
The Hammond B3 is not an instrument for everyone. People who love it think it's divine, and the people who don't are just as passionate. Middle ground is hard to find. Part of this conflict of opinion may be due to the very nature of the instrument itself. In its early jazz applications in the 1960s, the B3 made a big electric noise in what had been essentially acoustic music. It can also deliver a massive wall-of-sound that, if not applied with care, can overwhelm a recording or live venue. Misapplied, it can be an aural sledgehammer.
It is, therefore, a little disconcerting to hear Thelonious Monk's "Monk's Dream" played on an organ. Anything Monk played was so intertwined with his own playing style that using a different keyboard, especially such a powerful one, seems at first almost sacrilegious. But here, the quality of the Music Matters pressing makes a real difference. On CD, the sound of the organ is uniform and invasive, with few significant gradations. By contrast, the vinyl reveals a wealth of shadings, tonal adjustments and audible room acoustics that add nuance to the instrument and the performance. Young plays the song with just Elvin Jones' drums as accompaniment, taking full advantage of his solo moment. It's a fascinating, musically satisfying interpretation.
Young also has the good sense to let his side men shine, using the organ to comp saxophonist Joe Henderson and trumpeter Woody Shaw in a very conventional manner. Not only does this provide the frontline players significant time in the spotlight, it also breaks up the soundscape, periodically moving the organ to the back of the mix so the acoustic elements can reassert themselves.
Of course, the playing is first-rate. Henderson rarely played a bad note in his life, and his work on Unity is no exception. His playing is hot and fiery aggressive but, as always, just right. Shaw is still a young man here, not yet fully matured musically, but he is well on his way and his contributions are excellent. Perhaps more important than his improvisation, Shaw also contributes three of the compositions on the date, including what would quickly become a jazz standard, "The Moontrane." Jones, of course, keeps time like a locomotive.
Unity may not dispel lingering passions about the Hammond B3, but the high quality Music Matters pressing adds enough new information that it might cause a partisan to reevaluate his/her position. This is great music in a compelling package.
Track Listing: Zoltan; Monk's Dream; If; The Moontrane; Softly As A Morning Sunrise; Beyond All Limits.
Personnel: Larry Young; organ; Woody Shaw: trumpet; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Elvin Jones: drums.