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Harold Land: A New Shade Of Blue

Chris May By

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If Harold Land had left nothing else behind him other than the 1960 Contemporary Records album The Fox, a place in jazz history would be secure. The disc not only featured some of the finest mid-period hard-bop tenor saxophone to come out of the West Coast, but in Land's frontline partner, Dupree Bolton, it showcased a trumpet soloist of outsize talent, one, tragically, who was cut down by heroin addiction and psychiatric problems almost as soon as the recording session was over. Bolton made a return to the studio in 1962 under the leadership of another West Coast tenor player, Curtis Amy, but The Fox was his chef (and almost only) d'oeuvre.

Fortunately for us, Land's recorded legacy is considerably more extensive than that, both pre-The Fox, through his work with the Max Roach / Clifford Brown Quintet in the mid 1950s, and after it, most notably through his collaborative work with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, which began in 1967 and continued for almost twenty years.

A New Shade Of Blue is the first of three albums Land and Hutcherson recorded for Bob Shad's Mainstream label in 1971 and 1972. According to the liner notes, it was cut a couple of months after a club performance about which critic Leonard Feather wrote in The Los Angeles Times that if the group could be recorded just the way it sounded that night, the result would be "one of the monster jazz LPs of the year."

And that is precisely what Bob Shad did, whether prompted by Feather's review or off his own bat. The sound on A New Shade Of Blue is raw going on rough. It sounds like a club date recorded with one microphone suspended over the band (though the liner photographs from the session show this was not in fact the case) and run through a mixing desk on which the input indicator on practically every dial is permanently in the red. There is minimal separation between the instruments, no discernible edits or drop-ins and definitely no compression. Shad knew precisely what he was doing and the result is the absolute coyote's cojones.

Like Ray Charles' masterpiece Ray Charles In Person (Atlantic, 1960), which was recorded live with just one microphone suspended over the band, the sense of excitement is palpable. Key soloists Land, Hutcherson, keyboard player Bill Henderson and bassist Buster Williams are each luminously foregrounded. Billy Hart's drums are subdued during ensemble passages but in your face during breaks. Only James Mtume's congas are at times a little under-recorded.

The result is jazz at its most thrilling and deliciously overwhelming. "A New Shade Of Blue" is a steaming blues. "Mtume" and "De-Liberation" are spiritual jazz at its most compelling. "Short Subject" and bonus track "Dark Mood" cook gloriously hard. "Ode To Angela," dedicated to Angela Davis, is a muscular near-ballad. The album is a 53-minute whirlwind.

WeWantSounds' vinyl and CD editions are A New Shade Of Blues' first ever reissues and, boy, are they good news.

Track Listing: A New Shade Of Blue; Mtume; Ode To Angela; De-Liberation; Short Subject; Dark Mood.

Personnel: Harold Land: tenor saxophone; Bobby Hutcherson: vibraphone; Bill Henderson: piano, electric piano; Buster Williams: bass; Billy Hart: drums: Mtume: congas.

Title: A New Shade Of Blue | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: We Want Sounds


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