Long available on LP in the Fantasy Records catalog this reissue marks the first compact disc appearance of Ernie Henry’s auspicious debut as a leader. In the annals of jazz lore Henry has sometimes been discounted as merely a Charlie Parker imitator on alto saxophone. Based on his work on this inaugural album and the handful of others he fronted as a leader before his early demise at age 31 this once popular opinion appears something of an unfair assessment. In addition to possessing an adroit and diplomatic tone on his instrument that nods at Parker, but is clearly his own, Henry also has impeccable taste in associates as substantiated by the crew of hard bop heavyweights he assembled for this date. Dorham and Drew are both in particularly fine form and Ware and Taylor leave a memorable rhythmic stamp on the proceedings. The disc also serves as a chance for Henry to try out a cluster of his own compositions alongside a pair of standards and the quintet seizes the opportunity to play hard and with much gusto.
Commencing with a bop-flavored reading of “Gone With the Wind” the group cycles through a unison head before Henry, Dorham and Drew all take brief solo statements. Taylor is the focal point on the briskly rendered “Orient” and his series of volcanic press rolls that close the piece take things out in a heated finish. “Free Flight” is less overtly kinetic but follows basically the same succession of solos with Henry, Dorham, Drew, Taylor and even Ware turning in burners. Both “Checkmate” and “Active Ingredients” are cut from the same bop-textured cloth and Henry uses their inherent alacrity to turn the pace of the group up a notch. The cerulean smoothness of “I Should Care,” negotiated at ballad speed, stands in sharp contrast. Henry takes an initial solo chorus before Dorham moves to the fore and caresses one of his most successful solos of session from his horn. The shuffling blues groove of “Cleo’s Chant” serves as a fitting addendum. Henry preaches a persuasive pitch and Dorham and Drew answer with resoundingly unanimous agreement. The only glaring disappointment with this disc is the paucity of solos by Ware. One of the greatest bassists in the history of the instrument he often shied away from the solo spotlight on his numerous recordings as a sideman. On this session he exhibits his usual reticence and Henry’s arrangements offer little encouragement for him to step beyond a strictly rhythmic role. Overall though this is a fine slice of vintage hard bop with lots of high points and very few lows.
Gone With the Wind/ Orient/ Free Flight/ Checkmate/ Active Ingredients/ I Should Care/ Cleo