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Album Review

Harold Land: Westward Bound!

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Harold Land: Westward Bound!
One can't help but wonder how large the stage may have been for tenor saxophonist Harold Land had he not tethered himself to the west coast for the majority of his career.

In 1954 Land moved from Santa Monica to Los Angeles and quickly earned himself a place in the immensely popular Clifford Brown/Max Roach band, beginning with the aptly named Jam Session (EmArcy, 1954). Called back to Los Angeles in 1956 by the responsibilities of being a family man, Land would from then onward be a west coast musician. He remained active, recording numerous albums under his own name as well as collaborations with artists such as Blue Mitchell, Bobby Hutcherson, and Bill Evans.

The performances heard on Westward Bound! took place between 1962 and 1965 at The Penthouse in Seattle, Washington. Although bassist Monk Montgomery remained with Harold Land throughout, the album features three different bands; the first consists of Land and Montgomery with trumpeter Carmell Jones, pianist Buddy Montgomery, and drummer Jimmy Lovelace. The middle group sees them joined by pianist Hampton Hawes and drummer Mel Lee, whereas the final incarnation brought in John Houston on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

Westward Bound! does suffer from the same weakness as all cobbled-together live jazz albums, and that is the visibility of its seams. Transitioning through all three bands isn't jarring, but each set does have its differences. For instance, the first three tracks featuring Carmell Jones' trumpet offer a completely different dynamic than the later quartet numbers. Buddy Montgomery had a very traditional and somewhat light-handed approach to the piano, which swings well and certainly works for the band, but the real draw here are the two tracks featuring the legendary Hampton Hawes. During the pianist's lengthy solo on "My Romance," it is almost too easy to forget that this is another artist's album, so engrossing is his playing. Here, Hawes effortlessly executes a tonal change from grand elegance to jaunty swing, making obvious the talent which brings his name such reverence in the minds of some listeners.

What makes these different bands blend together relatively well is their lack of friction and mutual tendency to swing hard. The contributions of Carmell Jones practically define the west coast cool of the era, notably on "Beepdurple." The song is more of a showcase for the artists than a faithful rendition, as it begins with a lengthy soloing opportunity for the trumpeter before transitioning into the same for Land and Buddy Montgomery. As delightful as these tracks with Carmell are, the latter six offer listeners a better picture of Land as a tenor, as he carries them without another horn off of which to play. He blows beautifully romantic on "Who Can I Turn To," before churning out fat, heavy notes for the rollicking "Beau-Ty." As much as the performances on this release tend to swing, the former tune showcases how skilled the tenor was at balladry. "Autumn Leaves," the only widely known standard on the album, is a lengthy and impressive showcase for Monk Montgomery, whose bass provides an undercurrent of rhythmic tension for the quartet to dance around.

The effort that was clearly placed into the production of a physical edition of Westward Bound! is commendable; housed in a chunky cardboard sleeve adorned with all the requisite information—including the relevant dates and credits—are both a disc and a full-length booklet. Too few jazz albums are thrown out to the world properly in the digital age, and a packet of liner notes provides a feeling of value and material existence. Its cover and design clearly intend to harken back to a mid-20th century setting, and while artwork and jazz are often better lovers, this particular theme suits Westward Bound! just fine.

A lack of inter-song dialogue and sporadic applause keep this release from feeling too heavily like a live jazz recording. The set with Carmell Jones is especially polished, and so well-timed are the band's transitions that they lack the looser, jam-session styling of the rest of the album. For aficionados of traditional jazz and historical discoveries however, Westward Bound! is almost certainly guaranteed to be one of the most unexpected pleasures of 2021.

Track Listing

Vendetta; Beepdurple; Happily Dancing/ Deep Harmonies Falling; My Romance; Triplin' The Groove; Autumn Leaves; Who Can I Turn To?; Beau-TY; Blue N' Boogie.

Personnel

Harold Land: saxophone, tenor; Carmell Jones: trumpet; Hampton Hawes: piano; John Houston: piano; Buddy Montgomery: piano; Monk Montgomery: bass; Jimmy Lovelace: drums; Mel Lee: drums; Philly Joe Jones: drums.

Album information

Title: Westward Bound! | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Reel to Real


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