Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Birth for the New Land: Lee Morgan 80

I'm sorry about yesterday's disaster, but that Kraftwerk show was posted with the wrong date, so you'll have to wait until September 7th. Today, however, we plow on with this milestone birthday tribute to the man who, note for note, is likely my all-time personal favorite musician.
That's a bold statement from someone who lives in a room alongside fully 20 TB of recorded music, almost half of it unissued. But I stand by it, absolutely.
I get that most people, when they think of trumpets and their players, think of other titanic giants of the sacred horn. Trumpets are special, for some reason; perhaps due to their presence at the mythical Gates of Heaven.
This underrated aspect might be due to the way that today's hero and his crazy life story -- one of the most tragic in the history of American music -- and how he died tend to overshadow what he did with the trumpet in his mouth.
Everyone has their deeply personal music that they play and revere in the inner sanctum of their lives, and which is almost their own specific oasis of bliss in this often barren, always harsh and all-too-inhospitable high desert of a life. This man's music is that for me, and I'd suspect that I am in no way the only one.
Maybe it's because we're both outsiders, weirdos with too many questions. Maybe the way he wore his flaws as a person resonates with me in some sort of way that opens up the stories he told with his solos in a very direct, clear way of seeing. I don't know I'm even sure why he speaks to me like he does, but he does.
Did I mention he was one of the first guys to put a lit cigarette in his axe as he played? Guitar players stole that move, I guess. But he helped start it, and just as a point of style it signals the incendiary-yet-accessible way in which he approached what he played.
For me, it boils down to the question of what it means to construct a solo as an instrumentalist. To my ears, this guy achieved the most powerful synthesis of shredding, hyperspeed technique and emotional eloquence -- the ability to never deviate from the meat of the story he wanted to tell, even in a maelstrom of supernova 64th notes -- of any player, of any instrument, to whom I have ever been exposed.
That his life was, two years ago, turned into one of the greatest music documentary films ever made, speaks yet more volumes. But this is someone who, if there's any justice in this world, ought to have his own, feature-length dramatic biopic... not just for the riveting, destructive madness of his backstory, but for his place in the pantheon of the true deities of the music of our world and times.
The backstory is hairy and full of extremes, this cannot be denied. A student of the great (and also tragically short-lived) Clifford Brown. First chair in Dizzy's orchestra at 18. Art Blakey's most mesmerizing Messenger at 19.
Saved the idiom of Jazz -- and its most revered record label, even to this day -- with one revolutionary track he wrote as a mere afterthought to fill out an LP, but which somehow kicked off a craze that transmogrified, over the next few years, into the Funk music to which the world still grooves more than any other.
Hopelessly addicted to heroin by age 25. Found sleeping in the park in the snow with no shoes on by a lady benefactor who singlehandedly rehabilitated him back to life... only to brutally murder him in full view of his fans when he drifted from her imperious control.
Through it all there is the music: the completely immersive sound of his horn and the way he drove it around a tune like a Formula One racecar, outpacing the competition with a combination of style, chops and feeling that knows nearly no analog, at least for me.
All that really must be said is that in 1957, at age 19, he played on Blue Train -- itself considered one of the all-time cornerstones of this music -- and was clearly the superior soloist on the record. Which would be no big deal... if the leader of the session had not been some guy named John Coltrane.
His peers -- some of them as beloved and significant as any musicians ever to have lived -- knew the score. My only wish in posting this is that the reader of this screed might discover what made Edward Lee Morgan as inspiring a player as anyone ever to pick up an instrument. This, so that Lee might at last garner the highest accolades possible in the firmament, of which no one could possibly be more deserving.
I'm in tears now, just from the psychic weight of what this man means to me, and how much I wish he had not met such an ignominious and unnecessary end at such a young age. So I should probably STFU and get to today's share, which is my reconstruction of trumpet guru Randy Brecker's most preferred Lee Morgan solos, as given in the 2011 Jazz Times magazine article to be found right here.
Lee Morgan
The Brecker Selection+

01 Blue Train (w/John Coltrane)
02 Moanin' (w/Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers)
03 The Sidewinder
04 Expoobident
05 You Go to My Head
06 A Night In Tunisia
07 This Here (w/Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers)
08 Chicken an' Dumplings (w/Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers)
09 Can't Buy Me Love (w/Stanley Turrentine)
10 Like Someone In Love (w/Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers)
11 Johnny's Blue (w/Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers)
12 Ceora
13 Lover Man
14 Locomotion (w/John Coltrane)
15 I Remember Clifford
16 Search for the New Land (edit)

Total time: 2:07:56
disc break can follow Track 08

EN reconstruction of a never-before-executed compilation of Randy Brecker's favorite Lee Morgan cuts, with additional bonus tracks from other "Best Lee Solos" internet mentions
The final track on this tape is a special edit I created (in Sound Forge 11) of perhaps Lee's finest hour, the epic Search for the New Land. This originally clocked in at almost 16 minutes, but I boiled it down to a "single version" containing just the heads and Lee's mind-shatteringly beautiful solo, just because such a thing never existed and I felt it should.
I will be back as July unspools with mucho musica for all, but today is the day to remember one of the finest and most skillfully eloquent players who'll ever be in this or any other world. And for me to show my appreciation for the music of Lee Morgan, who gave us all so much in the way of what makes this occasionally impossible life truly worth enduring.--J.
7.10.1938 - 2.19.1972
lee morgan forever