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Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Greg Simmons By

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Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder
Legend tells us that 1964's The Sidewinder was the album, and indeed the song, which saved Blue Note Records at a time when the label was struggling financially. Dashed off to fill some tape, at the end of the recording session, it peaked at number 25 on the Billboard charts—almost unheard of for a hard-bop record—stabilizing the label's finances as well as providing Lee Morgan with steady royalties for the remainder of his tragically abbreviated life.

Although the title track is by far the best known, every song on this record is a masterpiece. "Gary's Notebook," named for a friend of Morgan, is a hard bop master class: an intricate blues with a tight opening vamp, called by Morgan and tenor deity Joe Henderson. Henderson opens his workout with a series of angular triplets before going into his runs. Morgan starts his own workout by reaffirming Henderson's motif before making his own statement. Perhaps the most amazing thing is how much both musicians have to say and how completely relaxed they sound saying it, as though they were merely having a casual conversation.

Barry Harris' piano work throughout the album is a special blend of technical proficiency with a dollop of gut blues. On "Boy, What A Night," his solo draws inspiration from way back, with echoes of the barrelhouse keyboards of James P. Johnson or Jimmy Yancey, while remaining au courant of the early sixties. His playing catches modernism with noteworthy respect for his predecessors.

Of course, "The Sidewinder"—the song—is the star of the show; at once worthy of popular attention, jazz appreciation, and even (heaven forbid!) the dance floor. Bob Cranshaw's opening bass line is so simple and propulsive, and the melody so catchy, that it could only have had 'Big Hit' written all over it the second it hit the microphone. But Morgan, of course, was no lightweight bubblegum songsmith. Within the tune, his soloing is greased perfection, initially slurring notes together before breaking out into an improvisation bearing all of his stylistic hallmarks. This track goes down as a perfect jazz statement: simple, catchy, technical, perfect.

Music Matters has re-released Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder on its premium SRX vinyl formulation. Significantly more expensive to produce than regular black vinyl, the SRX material, which is translucent and eliminates carbon as a raw material, offers audibly greater resolution as well as significantly less surface noise. Short of a pristine original copy—good luck finding one—this is by far the best pressing of this album this writer has ever listened to. Expensive vinyl reissues are plagued with audiophile hyperbole about transcendent new listening experiences. This SRX stuff is the real deal.

Track Listing

The Sidewinder; Totem Pole; Gary's Notebook; Boy, What A Night; Hocus-Pocus.

Personnel

Lee Morgan, Trumpet; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Barry Harris: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Billy Higgins: drums.

Album information

Title: The Sidewinder | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Music Matters

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