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Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder
Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder
Firebrand Lee Morgan's distinctive trumpet, bold and self assured, was evident when he made his debut at 17, with Dizzy's Big Band. Then came Blakey's Jazz Messengers and his own groups, where his conception, tone and phrasing truly dazzled. A leading figure of the hard bop style, his soulful lyricism and superb compositions made him a popular favorite. In this edition, George Lane looks back at the record that made him a star, The Sidewinder.

Prior to the release of The Sidewinder, Lee Morgan was respected as an excellent straight ahead trumpet player from his own Blue Note recordings and a long stint (with Wayne Shorter) in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. This record made him a star - and a highly influential figure in the new movement of contemporary Jazz, combining hard bop, funk Jazz and modality into a very potent brew that helped push Blue Note Records into the legendary status it now enjoys today.

The title track was a hit single, played on many R&B and soul stations and reaching Number 1 on the R&B charts. And it's easy to see why. Built on bassist Bob Cranshaw's deep, vibrant groove and the bluesy vamp of Barry Harris' piano; and stoked by Billy Higgins' sizzling drums, heavy on the backbeat, the basic, straightforward tune is catchy and very funky. As is Lee's brilliant solo. Lyrical, inventive and highly articulate could describe all of Morgan's work, but in this context it all comes together in a way that established his enormous popularity on its own special level. But this was only one aspect of his musicianship, as the rest of this CD will testify.

Joined by the great Joe Henderson on tenor sax, the band digs into five excellent Morgan compositions. In addition to the title track, there's the syncopated boppish swinger 'Hocus Pocus;' the driving, edgy 'Gary's Notebook' (with a terrific solo by Henderson); 'Totem Pole,' which adeptly alternates between Latin-tinged and straight-ahead rhythms; and 'Boy, What a Night,' a down-home gospel-ly waltz reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley's funkier tunes.

The rhythm section cooks mightily all through this recording and Joe Henderson's playing is typical of the powerful and surging style of this fertile period in his career. But Lee's the man here, offering beautifully developed, exciting and swinging solos on every cut.

The Sidewinder is a sparkling gem from the tragically short career of this legendary musician.


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