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Various: The Birth Of Hard Bop

AAJ Staff By

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Strangely enough, "The Birth Of Hard Bop" contains in its liner notes a polemic against the genesis and continuation of that term. Even more strangely, it seems that reissue producer Orrin Keepnews read Doug Ramsey's reasoned but disputatious discussion of hard bop's meaning and participants, but he let the draft stand as is without editing. Keepnews seems faintly embarrassed by Ramsey's straightforwardness, but then he joins in by endorsing Ramsey's point: that "hard bop" is a subgenre concocted by critics without any hard definition. Rather, "hard bop" consists of a cast of players—some at the core and some at the periphery—associated with the term.

Their point is well taken. Why, then, does Savoy name this two-CD reissue "The Birth Of Hard Bop" when even the producer claims that the term has no legitimacy?

No matter. What does matter, as both Ramsey and Keepnews agree, is that these mid-1950's sessions from which "The Birth Of Hard Bop" was compiled represent some innovative music in the relatively early careers of influential jazz musicians like Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan.

While Keepnews, who of course was present during this gestational period of jazz recording, mentions that Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan typify what was going on during the development of "hard bop," the true glue of both of the CD's is Hank Mobley. Long overlooked as an influential voice on the tenor saxophone, Mobley's presence and command of the sessions provide a high degree of consistency once he enters after the first few tracks. With a warm tone beguiling the listener into a comfort that overlooks his underlying body of ideas, Mobley unfailingly seems to provide flawless lessons in the construction of solos with class and a fertility of imagination.

That's not to slight the trumpeters or the rhythm sections, however. Donald Byrd's assertiveness nails the emotional center of each tune with brightness and clarity of thought. But then during the majority of the second disk, Lee Morgan raises the bar even higher with speed, precision and innovation. Actually, the rapidity with which Morgan creates and delivers ideas over fairly standard changes is astounding and deserves repeated listening.

While short-lived Doug Watkins handles all of the bass work on all but three tracks and while Kenny Clarke and Art Taylor alternate as drummers during the five recording sessions, the interesting choices in the rhythm section are those of pianists. Horace Silver contributes his signature style of precision and wit on the first three tracks; Ronnie Ball, with a more horizontal style, joins Byrd and Mobley on the next five; Barry Harris considers six tracks from his own personal perspective; and then the more stride-based Hank Jones completes the second CD in a more straightforward approach.

With the usual comprehensiveness of discographical information—including recording dates and personnel-"The Birth Of Hard Bop" provides five alternate takes as well. The revelation from listening to the issued and alternate recordings is that tunes like "Cattin'" and "Blues Number Two" were slowed down for the original albums, thus developing a more deliberate and a less free-spirited rhythm.

"The Birth Of Hard Bop" is a valuable addition for jazz completists as the early careers of some jazz legends are re-examined. And as Hank Mobley is justly re-appreciated.

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