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Lee Morgan: City Lights

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This album may not enjoy the same status as Charlie Chaplin's revered movie of the same title, but it's a session that evokes similar feelings. Like the beloved Tramp, Lee Morgan wins our respect with a performance of exceptional warmth and dignity, grace and beauty, sprinkled with moments of gentle humor. His playing on this session anticipates, more than do his immediately subsequent recordings, the composer of the sublimely poetic "Ceora" (Cornbread, 1965).

Also credit Benny Golson, who provided three of the five tunes and the arrangements for the sextet on this date. Beginning with Lee Morgan Sextet (December, 1956) to City Lights (August, 1957), Golson supplied four consecutive recordings' worth of material for the developing session leader— compositions and textures that would showcase the young artist while lending form and focus to his creative energies. Clifford Brown had much the same in mind with a very "West Coast-sounding" eponymous septet date featuring the trumpet giant playing Jack Montrose arrangements (Pacific Jazz, 1954).

After City Lights, Morgan would continue his prolific recording output but increasingly shoulder the burden—as one of only two horns on The Cooker (September, 1957) and the sole horn on Candy (November, 1957). As much latitude as the gifted trumpeter is given on these last two dates, the formal constraints of City Lights prove no less rewarding—if anything, they serve as a luminous foil, setting off the artist's inventions and magnifying his unique talent.

The opening title track sounds like programmatic music for a movie before rapidly developing into a flag-waver for the leader. A mysterious two-note figure bowed by Chambers' bass is complemented by Ray Bryant's Twilight Zone tick-tock motif in the upper register, the horns join in with dramatic diminished chords synched with Art Taylor's cymbal accents, the 24-bar chorus unfolds with a vertiginous rush, and suddenly George Coleman's tenor sax hits the ground running, the entire scene completed in a head-spinning thirty seconds!

Although Coleman's is an auspicious entrance on his first jazz recording, it merely increases the stakes for Morgan, whose trumpet solo crackles with menacing fire, moving to the upper register and going an extra chorus on the momentum of Taylor's flame-throwing lasers. The trumpeter again takes honors on Golson's somewhat ponderous "Tempo de Waltz," though Coleman surprises with his fluid lines and Benny Carter-like tone on alto.

Morgan's solo on the lovely, rarely-played ballad "You're Mine You" seems fully capable of standing on its own, especially since Van Gelder's democratic mixing and flat aural canvas do little to flatter Golson's subtle voicings. The program regains its stride with Golson's "Just By Myself," a straight-ahead 36-bar medium-tempo piece featuring an extended, beautifully-shaped Morgan serenade and a clever Fuller solo (partially courtesy of Richard Rodgers).

The closer, Gigi Gryce's "Kin Folks," is a lazy-tempo Bb blues that isn't just another Bb blues. Golson's additions, Chambers' varied time feel, Bryant's reflection of the tradition, and Taylor's unobtrusive support create a perfect playing field for all soloists—but especially the leader, who squeezes his valves, makes the notes talk, and leaves us with some unmistakable Morgan "attitude."


Track Listing: City Lights; Tempo De Waltz; You're Mine You; Just By Myself; Kin Folks.

Personnel: Lee Morgan: trumpet; Curtis Fuller: trombone; George Coleman: tenor and alto sax; Ray Bryant: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Art Taylor: drums.

Title: City Lights | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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