We’re back with the second day of our exploration of saxophonist Joe Henderson‘s catalog. (Click here for Part 1.)
In 1967, Henderson left Blue Note after five years and five albums as a leader, and signed with the newly founded Milestone label. His debut for them, The Kicker, was recorded in August and September 1967, and released in January 1968. It features Kenny Barron on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums throughout, with Mike Lawrence on trumpet and Grachan Moncur III on trombone on seven of its eight tracks. Yes, eight tracks; the tunes here are much shorter than they generally were on his Blue Note albums, with the opening “Mamacita” lasting a mere 3:24. In addition to four originals, the group performs Miles Davis‘s “Nardis,” the standard “Without a Song,” Billy Strayhorn‘s “Chelsea Bridge,” and the Antônio Carlos Jobim/Vinícius de Moraes composition “O Amor Em Paz.” Honestly, this music is very much in the vein of what Henderson had been doing at Blue Note, and it’s not even as adventurous as the material on Mode for Joe, his final album for them. It’s hard-driving hard bop, with a ballad and a Brazilian piece to shift the mood. It’s a good record, but blasting through eight tracks in 38 minutes like it does, it’s hard to shake the impression of a somewhat perfunctory effort.
Tetragon, released later in the year, also took two sessions to assemble. Three tracks came from the same September 1967 date that had produced “O Amor Em Paz,” and four more were recorded in May 1968. On those, Henderson and Ron Carter were joined by pianist Don Friedman and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The saxophonist only wrote one and a half tunes; “The Bead Game” was a co-write with Lee Konitz. Carter contributed two, one of them a version of “R.J.”, first recorded on Miles Davis‘s E.S.P. three years earlier. The album ends with a version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” When he doesn’t have another horn to play off, Henderson becomes a much more muscular saxophonist, and his tone on Tetragon is sharp and harsh, almost as aggressive as it was on Inner Urge four years earlier. He’s playing fast, with less discipline than in the past, emitting hoarse cries in a free jazz vein. Even on a tune like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” he’s going way off the melody into speedy, complex phrases. Barron’s extremely McCoy Tyner-ish piano keeps the music under control, but Henderson is clearly looking for opportunities to break free at all times.
In April 1968, Henderson played a gig in Baltimore with pianist Wynton Kelly‘s trio, featuring bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. That group had been together since 1959; they’d met at the session for Miles Davis‘s Kind of Blue and also played on 1961’s Someday My Prince Will Come, as well as several live albums. By 1968, they were a tight unit with their own collective language. The Detroit performance was recorded, and yielded two albums: Four!, released in 1994, and Straight, No Chaser, issued two years later. A lot of the tunes heard on these two discs were ones that Kelly and company had performed with Davis—”Autumn Leaves,” “Four,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Straight, No Chaser,” and “Pfrancin'”—and the versions here are excellent examples of bluesy, swinging hard bop. Fully half the pieces, across both discs, run well past the ten-minute mark (most of the really long ones are on Four!), but they always stay in the groove. Henderson’s solos are far-ranging, but relatively restrained.
Back on his own again, Henderson stretched out on Power to the People, recorded in May 1969 and released later that year. The band included trumpeter Mike Lawrence, Herbie Hancock on piano and electric piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. It opens with “Black Narcissus,” a ballad he’d revisit (and name a whole album after) a few years later, and also includes a re-recording of “Isotope,” his Thelonious Monk tribute from 1964’s Inner Urge. Hancock is key to both pieces. On the former, his Fender Rhodes is a shimmering, reverberant cloud, while on the latter, his piano clanks and clangs, but his style is so different from Monk’s, and DeJohnette is such a busy, hard-swinging drummer, that the Monk-ish lurching groove (and thus the piece’s status as a tribute to the pianist/composer) is completely swept away on a tide of cymbals and frantic, Elvin Jones-ian drum battery. Lawrence only plays on two tracks, “Black Narcissus” and the title piece, but he’s an excellent foil for Henderson. The album ends with “Foresight and Afterthought,” a totally improvised but introspective piece that’s structured like a three-part suite.
In 1970, Henderson recorded a live album in collaboration with trumpeter Woody Shaw. The two had been working together off and on for several years, beginning in Horace Silver‘s band in 1965 and continuing on Larry Young‘s Unity that same year. On Jazz Patterns, they were backed by George Cables on Fender Rhodes, Ron McClure on bass, and Lenny White on drums. It was released on the small, cumbersomely named Everest Records Archive of Folk & Jazz Music label, and it’s hard to find these days, having never been reissued on CD or made available for streaming. It contains just three tracks: the 15-minute “Invitation,” the nine-minute “Lofty,” and a 17-minute track called “What’s Mine is Yours” which is really a version of “Power to the People.” All the performances are high-energy, but somewhat sprawling, obviously. Henderson and Shaw were a great team, and they played together in numerous contexts all the way through the 1980s and 1990s. Someone’s uploaded the LP to YouTube, so check it out below.
That’s it for Part 2; come back tomorrow for three very different live albums and two adventurous studio albums.