Lee Morgan: The Gigolo

Samuel Chell By

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Lee Morgan
The Gigolo
Blue Note Records

As we observe the 35th anniversary (Feb. 19) of the death of the talented trumpeter who would also become the major player in one of American music's more noteworthy Frankie and Johnny stories, the title of this Lee Morgan session and several others (The Tom Cat, The Rajah, The Procrastinator) take on a note of eponymous self-characterization, if not ghoulishly ironic subtext. Regrettable or not, the self-referential titles add to the legend, which in turn appears to continually attract a new generation of fans to the music of the prodigy who seemed one part wunderkind, the other enfant terrible. The Gigolo (June 25, 1965) showcases Morgan at his representative best on a program offering something for practically everyone.

At the same time, like the personality type suggested by the session title, The Gigolo is capable of producing both devotion and disillusion—a somewhat uneven session perhaps best serving the needs of selective downloaders. It's only after hearing numerous inferior copycats (with the notable exception of Kenny Dorham's still-fresh Una Mas) that I've come to view The Sidewinder (1963) as more than a period piece. It clearly rises above Gigolo's "Yes I Can, No You Can't," which as another "Sidewinder" wannabe is more ambitious but less mesmerizing.

On the earlier, popular and seminal date, Morgan's solo embraces the middle register and is played with restraint while simply riding the rhythmic groove. On "Yes I Can" the trumpeter, following Shorter's dramatic lead, immediately goes to the upper register, articulating rapid-fire repeated notes. The effect is thunder and lighting over a boogaloo pattern resistant to meaningful emotive improvisation, yet no longer as seductively "in the groove" as the commercially successful original. The exaggerated boosting of bass and drums on this RVG remaster only increases the sense of forced and gratuitous Sturm und Drang.

Besides Sidewinder, it's instructive to compare Gigolo with Hank Mobley's Dippin', recorded a week earlier (June 18) and, with the exception of the tenor player, featuring the identical lineup. Mobley's own attempt to come up with a "Sidewinder" answer, "The Dip" scarcely fares better than "Yes I Can." But Morgan's solo on the Mobley date reveals more of the relaxed, restrained quality that characterized his work on the original "Sidewinder," suggesting that Shorter's influence on the trumpeter may have been a double-edged sword, pushing him to take risks disproportionate to potential creative rewards within the material itself.

Although Gigolo likely holds fascination for followers of the paradoxical Morgan persona, iPod-ers may be forgiven if they extract the session's two essential numbers: the trumpeter's "Speedball" and the ballad "You Go to My Head." The former is a coasting blues, reminiscent of Joe Zawinul's effervescent "Scotch and Water," with a logically constructed, beautifully contoured solo by the trumpeter, and the latter a mysterious and alluring facelift of the familiar standard with a tasteful Morgan solo that anticipates the maturing artist who would next compose and record the haunting "Ceora" (Cornbread, Sept. 8, '65).

As for the remaining tunes, Shorter's "Trapped" is a driving, minor-key blues with an extended, fiery Morgan solo followed by an equally heated exchange of fours between the two horn players. Mabern and Higgins are at their busiest on this track, insuring the flame remains sufficiently high to ignite and sustain combustion by the soloists. The title tune, the longest track at over ten minutes in both the master and alternate versions, is a triple-meter Morgan original based on an AABA form, with the B section providing walking-bass and conventional harmonic relief from the rhythmic firepower and repeated modal scales of the intense A sections. Both horn players submit solid and structured solos, but it's their tight coordination during the ensemble passages—suggestive of a single instrument doubling itself—that proves the highlight on either recorded version of the song.

Late Morgan clearly reveals his responsiveness to changes both in the marketplace as well as the language of the music itself. But there will always remain some of us for whom hearing the trumpeter at his very best requires returning to his pre-Sidewinder dates, especially to a performance like the one pairing him with Mobley on Art Blakey's At the Jazz Corner of the World, Vol. 1 (Blue Note, 1959). However unkindly the gods treated him in his personal/social life, his daring and brilliant solo on Monk's "Justice" suggests that history's fair verdict will ensure him a permanent place among the muses.

Tracks: Yes I Can, No You Can't; Trapped; Speedball; The Gigolo; You Got to My Head; The Gigolo [alternate take].

Personnel: Lee Morgan: trumpet; Wayne Shorter: tenor sax; Harold Mabern, Jr: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Billy Higgins: drums.

Track Listing: Yes I Can, No You Can't; Trapped; Speedball; The Gigolo; You Go to My Head; The Gigolo [alternate take].

Personnel: Lee Morgan: trumpet; Wayne Shorter: tenor sax; Harold Mabern, Jr: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Billy Higgins: drums.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Blue Note Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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