It’s unlikely that we’ll ever again see the kind of concentrated intensity and sheer amount of music amassed as that which entered the jazz lexicon during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Not only does there seem to be less of an interest in the music by fans and musicians alike, but also the precipitous nature of the current financial economy would simply preclude small independent labels from producing such an immense output. So, let us go back to those times and consider the number of active jazz labels on the scene. A partial listing would have to include Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, Impulse, Savoy, Atlantic, and Columbia. Then on the fringes, you have West Coast concerns like Contemporary and Pacific Jazz and Chicago mainstays like Argo/Cadet and Vee Jay. It is the efforts of the last named label that come to fore with the boxed set at hand. With its jazz series produced by radio personality Sid McCoy, Vee Jay built a small, but substantial catalog that included recordings by Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Eddie Harris, Louis Hayes, Eddie Higgins, and a few more artists.
The Vee Jay material of Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan has been configured in various packages over the years, most recently in the form of two previous compact disc reissues and Japanese issues to boot. So why bother picking up this set, which basically includes items that have been available before? The answer to that question simply lies in the fact that never has this material been presented in such a definitive manner, including documentation and remastered sound quality that is undoubtedly superior to any previous issue of this material.
Here’s Lee Morgan and Expoobident
Now that the obvious has been discussed, let’s put this important music into context. Lee Morgan, who already had a solid series of Blue Note releases under his belt, joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1958. This gig would keep him busy and it would be about two years before the trumpeter would record another Blue Note session as a leader, a March 1960 date that would produce Leeway. One month prior to that, he would cut his first set for Vee Jay, Here’s Lee Morgan. With boss Blakey at the drums, Morgan’s quintet includes the stout tenor stylings of Clifford Jordan and the in sync rhythm team of Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. Highlights include Milt Jackson’s quirky “Off Spring,” which Kelly introduces ever so tastily, “Bess,” a medium shuffle with Morgan muted, and “Running Brook,” which incorporates some of Morgan’s delicious half-valve effects.
Eight months after his first Vee Jay sessions and a bit over a year before Morgan’s lone Jazzland date, Take Twelve, we get the second Morgan Vee Jay album, Expoobident. Clifford Jordan and Blakey are again on hand, but this time the studio is in Chicago and so local legend Eddie Higgins and Art Davis round out the rhythm team. We get a few standards and some well-penned originals by Clifford Jordan (“Lost and Found” and “The Hearing”), Wayne Shorter (“Fire”), Eddie Higgins’ title track, and Morgan’s own “Triple Track.” The mood continues to be animated and Morgan’s horn crackles with enthusiasm.
Introducing Wayne Shorter, Second Genesis, and Wayning Moments
Whereas Lee Morgan had already documented his work on that previously mentioned series of Blue Note sides; tenor man Wayne Shorter’s recording career would begin with work at Vee Jay. He participated in Kelly Great, a 1959 Vee Jay date for pianist Wynton Kelly. Then, in the span of two days in November of 1959, Shorter would cut his own record for Vee Jay and make his first recorded appearance with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (the Blue Note set Africaine ). Including a nod to Shorter’s present employer and a taste of Miles Davis’ current backing group, the saxophonist shares the front line with Morgan, with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb in support. All the tunes are by Shorter and even at this early stage his writing genius is apparent. The longest track, “Down in the Depths,” also makes clear what a distinctive and individualistic improviser Shorter evidently was.
Following more Blakey sessions for Blue Note, including The Big Beat, Night in Tunisia, and Meet You At the Jazz Corner of the World, Wayne would cut his next Vee Jay date in October of 1960, although it would not be released for over a decade. Done in Chicago, Second Genesis finds Shorter fronting a quartet with Blakey, Cedar Walton, and Bob Cranshaw. Aside from three standards, the program again consists of originals and Shorter’s tenor voice continues to speak volumes in a way that marks him as one of the true innovators.
With a constant schedule of recording and touring activity with Art Blakey and the beginning of a soon to be budding relationship with Blue Note, it’s surprising that Shorter would have time to return to Chicago to cut one last album for Vee Jay. Returning the favor of guesting on Freddie Hubbard’s Ready For Freddie, Wayne would feature Hubbard on the front line for Wayning Moments, which also includes the rather odd rhythm team of Eddie Higgins, Jymie Merritt, and Marshall Thompson. This seems to be Shorter’s least interesting of the three Vee Jay sides, possibly because of the smaller number of Wayne originals and the aforementioned backing ensemble. Still, many fine moments can be found.
The Young Lions
Closing out this package, we get an all-star date that happens to feature Morgan and Shorter along with the tart and underrated alto saxophone of Frank Strozier. It’s interesting to note that our two main stars, along with pianist Bobby Timmons, were with Blakey at the time, Strozier and bassist Bob Cranshaw were members of the Chicago cooperative MJT+3, Louis Hayes was from Cannonball Adderley’s band, and Albert “Tootie” Heath was stoking the fires for J.J. Johnson. This is a superb meeting that highlights some groovy writing by Shorter and Timmons. “Scourin’” is especially choice, with its ascending line and a Shorter solo that includes low register honks and a rare quote from “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”
Like all Mosaic compilations, this one is a limited edition and after the initial 5,000 sets are gone they will never again be made available. The 12 x 12 box includes six compact discs and a 16-page booklet. Inside, you’ll find session photos by Chuck Stewart, additional shots from the lens of Frank Wolff, and session-by-session commentary from Bob Blumenthal. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT; 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.