This is part three of our five-part exploration of saxophonist Joe Henderson‘s catalog. (Click here for Part 1; click here for Part 2.)

In late September 1970, Henderson and his band played the Lighthouse, a club in Hermosa Beach, CA where Lee Morgan and the Crusaders, among others, also recorded live albums. The lineup was almost the same as the one on Jazz PatternsWoody Shaw on trumpet; George Cables on electric piano; Ron McClure on bass; Lenny White on drums—but with Tony Waters added on congas. When the record was originally released in November 1970, it was called If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem, and had only six tracks. Two more performances from the same string of shows were included on Henderson’s next album, In Pursuit of Blackness. In 2004, though, If You’re Not… was reissued as At the Lighthouse, with one of the In Pursuit… tracks and two previously unreleased performances appended. Whatever you call it, it’s an absolutely mind-frying live album, with everyone at full strength from beginning to end. The onetime title track, “If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem,” is a nearly 12-minute deep funk jam with McClure’s bass locked into a groove like something Michael Henderson (no relation) would play with Miles Davis only a year or so later, and Henderson is just on fire. Frankly, if you were gonna listen to just one Henderson album from the 1970s, I’d tell you to make it this one.

In Pursuit of Blackness combined two live tracks from the Lighthouse (“Invitation” and “Gazelle”) with three studio tracks from May 1971. George Cables and Lenny White were back for the studio session, but Woody Shaw was gone. Curtis Fuller was on trombone, Pete Yellin was on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet, and Stanley Clarke was on bass. The opening “No Me Esqueca” was an amped-up reworking of “Recorda Me,” with a sophisticated three-horn head (played through lush ’70s reverb) and a powerful acoustic solo from Clarke. The band also re-records “Shade of Jade” from Mode for Joe, but the album’s final track is the real selling point. “Mind Over Matter” is a wild, exploratory jam with pounding, rockish drums, shimmering electric piano, and prominent bass clarinet from Yellin. Henderson’s solo is one of his free-est on record. Given the era, and the fact that Lenny White played on both records, it’s easy to imagine this as the sound of Henderson carving out his own piece of the territory mapped on Bitches Brew. The only person not totally on board is Fuller, whose solo is mournful and subdued, but by the end of the year he’d be in Herbie Hancock‘s Mwandishi band, heading just as far out, albeit in a different direction.

The following year, Henderson truly embraced Miles Davis‘s studio-as-canvas ideas on Black is the Color. The album began as a series of jams with little or no preconceived material. But after playback, multiple instruments were overdubbed, creating a densely interwoven sound somewhere between On the Corner and the gutbucket fusion of Frank Zappa‘s Hot Rats. The pool of personnel, which varied from track to track, included Cables on electric and acoustic piano; David Horowitz on synthesizer; George Wadenius on guitar; Dave Holland on bass; Ron Carter on electric bass; Jack DeJohnette on electric piano and drums; and Airto Moreira and Ralph MacDonald on congas and percussion. Henderson himself contributed tenor and soprano saxes, flute, alto flute, and percussion. There’s a lot of really wild stuff going on on this record; Henderson solos in a honking, bar-walking manner atop synth drones and layer upon layer of Moreira/MacDonald percussion, and DeJohnette’s drumming is thunderous.

The first five tracks below are In Pursuit of Blackness; the last five are Black is the Color.

In between those two albums, Henderson recorded In Japan, a live disc that came out in 1973. He showed up alone, rounded up a local rhythm section—Hideo Ichikawa on electric piano, Kunimitsu Inaba on bass, and Motohiko Hino on drums—and absolutely tore the walls down. He plays the first three minutes of “‘Round Midnight” solo, and when the band comes in behind him, he doesn’t let them slow him down or rein him in. For nearly 13 minutes, he heads down his own wailing, shrieking path, and they’re forced to match his energy or get left behind. A nine-minute “Out ‘n In” (a raucous reworking of “In ‘n Out”) and an eight-minute “Blue Bossa” are just as energetic, with the latter offering a particularly hard-swinging take on a Brazilian groove. The album concludes with “Junk Blues,” a tribute to the Junk Club, where the album was recorded. Presumably improvised on the spot, it’s an absolute rampage for its entire near-15-minute running time. All three of the Japanese musicians are clearly thrilled to be working with Henderson, and they’re also very much up to the challenge he sets. This was no sleepwalking gig; he pushed them, and they pushed right back.

In Japan was recorded on August 4. One day later, Henderson recorded another live album, the much harder-to-find In Concert, which came out in 1974, credited to Joe Henderson And Kikuchi, Hino. That would be keyboardist Masabumi Kikuchi and trumpeter Terumasa Hino; the rest of the band included alto and soprano saxophonist Kousuke Mine; bassist Yoshio Suzuki; and two drummers, Hiroshi Murakami and Yoshiyuki Nakamura. As far as I know, this album has never been released outside Japan, though it has been reissued on CD as recently as 2015. It contains three long tracks, each of which is very different from the others. The opening “Sunrise in Tokyo” is a heavy, swinging hard bop number. Henderson gets the first solo, as the honored foreign guest, but Hino is an absolute beast, too, heading skyward trailing long, Freddie Hubbard-like ribbons of notes. The second piece is a double- or maybe triple-time version of Miles Davis‘s “So What” that’s as much a showcase for the two drummers (even though they don’t solo) as the horns. The album ends with a nearly 20-minute free jazz eruption called “Get Magic Again.” (One other track from this concert, a version of Kikuchi’s composition “Dancing Mist,” can be found on the rare, never-reissued 1971 double LP All About Dancing Mist, which features five version of the same piece performed with different ensembles.)

That’s it for Part 3. Up next, five studio albums, including a collaboration with Alice Coltrane.

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