This album may not enjoy the same status as Charlie Chaplin's revered movie of the same title, but it's a session that evokes similar feelings. Like the beloved Tramp, Lee Morgan wins our respect with a performance of warmth and dignity, grace and beauty, sprinkled with moments of gentle humor. His playing on this session anticipates, more than his immediately subsequent recordings, the composer of the sublimely poetic "Ceora" ("Cornbread," '65).
Also credit Benny Golson, who provided three of the five tunes and the arrangements for the sextet on this date. Beginning with "Lee Morgan Sextet" (Dec, '56) to "City Lights" (Aug, '57), Golson supplied four consecutive recordings' worth of material for the developing session leader--compositions and textures that would showcase the young artist while lending form and focus to his creative energies. After "City Lights," Morgan would continue his prolific recording output but increasingly shoulder the burden--as one of only two horns on "The Cooker" (Sept, '57) and the sole horn on "Candy" (Nov, '57). As much latitude as the gifted trumpeter is given on these last two dates, the formal constraints of "City Lights" prove no less rewarding--if anything, they serve as a luminous foil, setting off the artist's inventions and magnifying his unique talent.
The opening title track sounds like programmatic music for a movie before rapidly developing into a flag-waver for the leader. A mysterious two-note figure bowed by Chambers' bass complemented by Ray Bryant's Twilight Zone tick-tock motif leads to the 24-bar chorus unfolding with a rush, and suddenly George Coleman's tenor sax hits the ground running, the entire scene completed in a head-spinning thirty seconds! Although Coleman's is an auspicious entrance on his first jazz recording, it merely increases the stakes for Morgan, whose trumpet solo crackles with menacing fire, moving to the upper register and going an extra chorus.
Morgan's solo on the lovely, rarely-played ballad "You're Mine You" seems fully capable of standing on its own, especially since Van Gelder's mixing does little to flatter Golson's subtle voicings. The program regains its stride with Golson's "Just By Myself," a straightahead 36-bar medium-tempo piece featuring an extended, beautifully-shaped Morgan serenade. The closer, Gigi Gryce's "Kin Folks," is a lazy-tempo Bb blues that proves a perfect playing field for all soloists--but especially the leader, who squeezes his valves, makes the notes talk, and leaves us with some unmistakable Morgan "attitude."
1 City Lights
2 Tempo de Waltz
3 You're Mine, You
4 Just by Myself
5 Kin Folks
Lee Morgan - Trumpet
Curtis Fuller - Trombone
George Coleman - Sax (Alto), Sax (Tenor)
Ray Bryant - Piano
Paul Chambers - Bass
Art Taylor - Drums
Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at his studios
Indepth liner notes by Leonard Feather
Recorded on Blue Note Label 1957. This is the CD issue from 2006. Catalog Number 0944636267623.
A cornerstone of the Blue Note label roster prior to his tragic demise, Lee Morgan was one of hard bop's greatest trumpeters, and indeed one of the finest of the '60s. An all-around master of his instrument modeled after Clifford Brown, Morgan boasted an effortless, virtuosic technique and a full, supple, muscular tone that was just as powerful in the high register.
His playing was always emotionally charged, regardless of the specific mood: cocky and exuberant on up-tempo groovers, blistering on bop-oriented technical showcases, sweet and sensitive on ballads. In his early days as a teen prodigy, Morgan was a busy soloist with a taste for long, graceful lines, and honed his personal style while serving an apprenticeship in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. As his original compositions began to take in elements of blues and R&B, he made greater use of space and developed an infectiously funky rhythmic sense. He also found ways to mimic human vocal inflections by stuttering, slurring his articulations, and employing half-valved sound effects.
Toward the end of his career, Morgan was increasingly moving into modal music and free bop, hinting at the avant-garde but remaining grounded in tradition. He had already overcome a severe drug addiction, but sadly, he would not live to continue his musical growth; he was shot to death by his common-law wife in 1972.
Morgan's early sessions showed him to be a gifted technician who had his influences down pat, but subsequent dates found him coming into his own as a distinctive, original stylist.
That was most apparent on the Blue Note classic Candy, a warm standards album completed in 1958 and released to great acclaim. Still only 19, Morgan's playing was still imbued with youthful enthusiasm, but he was also synthesizing his influences into an original sound of his own. Also in 1958, Gillespie's big band broke up, and Morgan soon joined the third version of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, which debuted on the classic Moanin' album later that year. As a leader, Morgan recorded a pair of albums for Vee Jay in 1960, Here's Lee Morgan and Expoobident, and cut another for Blue Note that year, Leeway, with backing by many of the Jazz Messengers. None managed to measure up to Candy, and Morgan, grappling with heroin addiction, wound up leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1961. He returned to his hometown of Philadelphia to kick the habit, and spent most of the next two years away from music, working occasionally with saxophonist Jimmy Heath on a local basis. His replacement in the Jazz Messengers was Freddie Hubbard, who would also become one of the top hard bop trumpeters of the '60s.
For decades this Blue Note album by Lee Morgan was unavailable. A few years ago that changed when it was put to CD.
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