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Joe Henderson: In Pursuit of Blackness / Black is the Color

Robert Spencer By

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Rather famously, Joe Henderson released a series of albums for Milestone in the early Seventies that courted popular acceptance in a variety of ways: most notably, he played modal proto-world music with Alice Coltrane and added an electric piano and other frou-frou to his ensembles in order to catch the fusion crowd. Nothing worked, and these albums are generally regarded as inferior both to the series of Blue Notes that preceded them and the Grand-Old-Man Verve releases of the present day.

Those assessments may be true, but it's also true that on the Milestone albums, including and perhaps particularly the two gathered on this disc, Joe's playing has lost none of its forthrightness and strength. The tracks have considerable bite: on "Invitation" Henderson dives into a walloping, charging solo such as he has always been capable of delivering, and that's not the only one. "A Shade of Jade," reprised from the Blue Note years, has if anything more insistent energy here.

Woody Shaw, who joins Joe on two live tracks of the first album here, In Pursuit of Blackness, is in tremendous form as well, as is Curtis Fuller, the great trombonist whose mercurial energy graces the other three selections. This album is a great jazz recording, with electric piano, sure - otherwise it could have come out on Blue Note in 1964.

The second album, Black is the Color, was recorded a year later and is more given over to the electric jazz fusion sound of the day. It, however, lacks the dynamic soloing partners Joe has on the first album, and is rather more percussion-heavy, with Jack DeJohnette joined by Airto Moreira and Ralph McDonald. The standout tracks here are the title track and the opening "Terra Firma," which establishes a heavy Milesian electric groove over which Henderson solos with as much imagination and sheer power as ever, and a surprising tendency to multiphonic extremes.

All in all, great playing by Joe Henderson, on two unjustly overlooked albums. Thanks to Fantasy for filling out the program by putting them together.

Track listing: No Me Esqueca / Invitation / A Shade of Jade / Gazelle / Mind Over Matter / Terra Firma / Vis-à-vis / Foregone Conclusion / Black is the Color (of My True Love's Mind) / Current Events

Personnel:

Joe Henderson, ts, ss, al flt; George Cables, el p;1, 3, 5:: Pete Yellin, as, flt, b cl; Curtis Fuller, tbn; Stanley Clarke, b; Lenny White, d;2, 4:Woody Shaw, tpt; Ron McClure, b; Lenny White, d; Tony Waters, perc;6-10:George Wadenius, g; Dave Holland, b; Ron Carter, el b; David Horowitz, synth; Ralph McDonald, perc; Airto Moreira, perc; Jack DeJohnette, d, el p.

Title: In Pursuit of Blackness / Black is the Color | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

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