JOE HENDERSON Page One (Blue Note)
Surely this, saxophonist Henderson’s solo debut, should be great, with Kenny Dorham providing sleevenotes, two compositions and trumpet, and McCoy Tyner on piano. Unfortunately, it just slides politely past my ears, with no single indelible number, no “The Sidewinder”, “Song For My Father”, “Una Mas (One More Time)” or “This I Dig Of You” to draw me further in to an album that’s always pleasant but never invigorating; Blue Note on autopilot, perhaps. The diluted bossa nova rhythms of “Blue Bossa” and “Recorda-Me” veer dangerously close to Muzak, and though “Homestretch” ups the tempo there’s not a memorable tune here or elsewhere. Perhaps there’s a timidity, or lack of confidence, to Henderson on this first album, which might explain his frequent doubling with Dorham on melody lines. Certainly, some of his later work has grabbed me from first listen, so I can’t be totally immune to enjoying his style of saxophony. Here, though, I just don’t get it.
Because the world is scarcely in need of another Blue Note vinyl reissue series, here it is. Produced by EMI themselves, for once, the unique selling point of “The Treasures Of Blue Note” is that it’s “available on LP + CD in one package”. Yes, that’s right; one dry, uninvolving, grimy-sounding vinyl pressing that could probably be bettered by one of the more house-trained Scorpios, plus a version of same on a format that could surely be of only minority interest to any purchaser not heading for the much cheaper CD version from the first. Well, that’s the music industry saved, then. I’d gladly trade the bonus CD for a vinyl pressing that at least gave the impression that some of the people involved in its production actually had some interest in the quality of the end result – I’m not na´ve enough to expect the quality Acoustic Sounds and Music Matters are achieving with their 45 rpm Blue Note reissues at a fraction of the cost, but some more committed sonic action might, you never know, have improved my odds of enjoying this rather sleepy music.
JOE HENDERSON Inner Urge (Blue Note)
Having been underwhelmed by Joe Henderson’s debut solo album “Page One”, I’m surprised and delighted to report that this, his fourth, recorded just 18 months later, is a considerable improvement.
The title track’s floating, inventive hard bop is pleasantly reminiscent of John Coltrane circa “My Favorite Things”, perhaps unsurprisingly given that Henderson nabbed that album’s pianist (McCoy Tyner) and percussionist (Elvin Jones) for this date. It swings and intrigues at the same time, and McCoy’s solo is astonishingly distinctive; he stamps his personality on his playing in a way that Henderson is unable to. The perky “Isotope” is somewhat at odds with its atomic age title; it’s the sort of music that might have been found soundtracking an educational cartoon about nuclear power. “El Barrio” opens with a pungent squawking, honking sound from Henderson’s tenor sax, heralding a Spanish-influenced piece that’s much more “OlÚ Coltrane” than “Sketches Of Spain”. He brings a Latin flavour to Cole Porter’s “Night And Day”, similar in style to Dexter Gordon’s version of “Love For Sale”, whipped along by propulsive work by Tyner and Jones.
If “Inner Urge” has a failing it’s that, in typical Blue Note tradition, the album’s best track is pushed up front, the remainder being dogged by a slight sense of anti-climax. Nevertheless, it’s several orders of magnitude better than “Page One”, an album that I really tried but failed miserably to enjoy. Fans of John Coltrane’s Atlantic period should lap this up. Even the currently available vinyl pressing – a frill-free Scorpio – isn’t too bad at all.