Philadelphia horn blower Lee Morgan had been with Blue note folders for nearly nine years when he recorded corn breadhis 12th album for the label, in a single session held on Saturday September 18, 1965.
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Originally from Philadelphia, Morgan was a precociously talented trumpet prodigy who made his recording debut at the age of 18 for Alfred Lion’s famed label. While pursuing a solo recording career, he also joined the ranks of drummer Art Blakey’s famous band, The Jazz Messengers, in 1958, appearing on the band’s classic album. Moanin’, released the same year. He remained with The Messengers until 1961, by which time he had established himself as a notable songwriter, and then in 1963 recorded an album titled The Sidewinder for Blue Note whose title track, with its upbeat backbeat and catchy horn motif, would put the 25-year-old trumpet player on the US pop charts the following year.
Just under two years and five albums later, Lee Morgan returned with producer Alfred Lion to Studio Van Gelderin Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record what became corn bread. For the session, Morgan led a stellar studio band which was a sextet consisting of two saxophonists – Hank Mobley (tenor) and Jackie McLean (alto) – plus the pianist Herbie Hancockbassist Larry Ridley and drummer Billy Higgins.
A dazzling trumpeter
At 35, Hank Mobley – an ex-Jazz Messenger who had also played with Miles Davis – was the oldest musician in the session, while at 27, Morgan was the youngest. But between them, they had bags of experience. Indeed, Herbie Hancock, who was then currently employed in Miles Davis’ groundbreaking post-bop quintet, had also made his mark as a Blue Note frontman with five albums, including the very recent then-released Inauguration trip.
corn breadThe nine-minute title track was the first of four songs composed by the trumpeter on the album. It was driven by a boogaloo-style groove created by Ridley, Higgins and Hancock that had been the main feature of “The Sidewinder”. Rendered in a finger-clicking soul-jazz vein, the tune also had a catchy harmonized horn line and featured a blazing trumpet improvisation by Morgan. Hank Mobley takes the second solo, Jackie McLean the third, followed by Herbie Hancock with an inventive passage of charged improvisation.
With the commercial track out of the way (“Cornbread” was released as Morgan’s follow-up single to “The Sidewinder”), the trumpeter showcases a more progressive approach on “Our Man Higgins,” a musical portrait of the session stickman. . It is characterized by rising and falling chromatic lines before evolving into a slice of advanced hard bop where soloists can show off their virtuosity.
A sweet bossa nova the feel defines the charming “Ceora,” which begins with Hancock’s piano gliding to a shuddering beat before the horns announce an elegant harmonized theme. The solos of all the horn players are sublime, and Hancock’s turn in the spotlight stands out with some scintillating improvisations.
A formidable composer
On the slow, romantic ballad “Ill Wind,” a Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler piece from 1934 that was recorded by the two Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in the 1950s, Morgan played his horn with a mute, creating a slightly prickly but desperate sound. Mobley and McLean frame the trumpeter’s solo with cool saxophone harmonies while Hancock provides sparkling piano accompaniment.
corn breadThe fifth and final track on “Most Like Lee” is a light-hearted swinger with a swaggering horn theme led by Larry Ridley’s double bass and crackling drum work from Billy Higgins. McLean shows his class with a graceful solo, followed by Morgan (this time unmuted), then Mobley, in whose wake comes the impressive Hancock, with cascading notes from his piano. The band drops out to allow Larry Ridley a moment in the spotlight, though Higgins keeps the rhythmic pulse in the background before a brief reprise of the main theme.
Although it sat on the shelf for two years before its release, corn bread did not look stale when it hit the shelves in 1967. Although after the commercial success of The Sidewinder (1964) and the artistic depth of search for the new earth (1966), arguably his two greatest albums, the album showed that in addition to being a dazzling trumpeter, Lee Morgan had become a formidable composer.
to listen corn bread now.