"The Tokyo Blues", a quintessential mid-'60s Blue Note session, is Horace Silver's tribute to the Japanese people who have long supported his funky, Latin-flavored modern jazz. American jazz has always been wildly popular in Japan, and this album is Silver's homage to the many fans that he has encountered on various triumphant tours of the island nation. While Silver's trademark funky Latin/swing is at the forefront, the inspiration of eastern delights is clearly evident in all aspects of this grooving date.
Fans of Kurt Elling have long known that his recordings, as clever and well-orchestrated as they might be, don't quite match up to the power and charm of his live performances. Years of holding court at the Green Mill and other Chicago clubs are what really have brought Elling his most devoted followers, so it is exciting to see that Blue Note's new Elling album is a document of three special nights spent recording at the legendary Uptown jazz club. And indeed, with a few small exceptions, the album shows off Elling at his best – loose, uninhibited, creative, and solid. His standard backing trio has never been tighter and more balanced, and the performance of pianist (and Elling collaborator) Lawrence Hobgood really shines.
Grant Green, being known mainly as a soul-jazz guitarist, eventually gravitated into the popular boogaloo sound, a derivation of Latin music. The Latin Bit is the natural bridge to that next phase, though a bit premature for most in 1961-1963, even relative to the subsequent bossa nova craze. Pianist Johnny Acea, long an underrated jazzman, is the nucleus of this session, grounding it with witty chops, chordal comping, and rhythmic meat. The Latino rhythm section of drummer Willie Bobo and conga player Carlos "Patato" Valdes personify authentic, seasoned spice, while at times the chekere sound of Garvin Masseaux makes the soup too thick. At its collective best, the group presents a steady, serene, and steamy "Besame Mucho" and the patient, slow, slinky, sultry "Tico Tico.".
Drummer Art Blakey led many great editions of the Jazz Messengers from the inaugural mid-'50s sessions until his death in the '90s. While arguments rage regarding which was his best, there is no doubt that the 1960-1961 unit figures in the debate. This wonderful six-disc set, notated with care and painstaking detail by Bob Blumenthal, covers studio and live sessions from March 6, 1960, to May 27, 1961, with the same personnel on all but two songs. Producer Michael Cuscuna used only first issue dates, and while he included some alternate takes, he did not litter the discs with second-rate vault material. They smoothly detail the band's evolution, cohesion, and maturation. This set, as with all Mosaic boxes, goes beyond essential. Get it post haste.