Although Lee Morgan had already made a handful of albums by the age of 19, The Cook (1957) depicts his throwing of the gauntlet as successor to Clifford Brown’s vacant throne. It’s close to being a pure bebop session, reminiscent of a date like Reserved for musicians (Verve, 1956), on which Gillespie, Stitt and Getz set a kind of NPS (notes per second) record. At the same time, the precocious trumpet player, already full of confidence, is not about to become reckless: he fires a shot or two, especially on the opening “Night in Tunisia”.
Bebop was a musical language about comparisons, and Morgan was acutely aware of its predecessors. Charlie Parker’s incredible four-bar break at the end of the sixteen-bar tag of Gillespie’s seminal piece at the 1947 Carnegie Hall concert (Diz ‘N Bird at Carnegie HallBlue Note, 1997) had come to represent the gold standard of jazz improvisation, which Morgan had only begun to approach during his solo renditions of the melody with the big band Gillespie (Dizzy Gillespie in Newport, Verve, 1957). And although Clifford Brown’s version is both inspired by invention and astounding virtuosity (Art Blakey, A night in the land of birds, flight. 1, Blue Note, 1954), the bare four-bar break is given to Lou Donaldson’s alto saxophone, with arguably embarrassing results.
Morgan slyly dodges trouble but takes the listener by surprise when he omits all but the difficult four bars of the label, which he then “wastes” by simply having bass and drums mark time. The listener’s disappointment, however, is quickly offset by a searing trumpet solo beginning on the first beat of the main chorus, demonstrating why the rising star has chosen such a deliberate tempo: almost all of his two-choir solo is played in double time. As dazzling as his execution is, Morgan has one more deception up his sleeve. Both on the earlier Gillespie recording and on a later Art Blakey date (One night in TunisiaBlue Note, 1960), the trumpeter takes care to make his piece speak on the altered A7 chord of the air cadence: on this occasion, he makes a complete pass!
Morgan’s typically showy side is on full display on his “Heavy Dipper”, an infectious mid-tempo swinger. Anticipating trademark mannerisms – cut notes, upslurs, half-valves, triple tongues – his soloing is as fluid as it is playful.
The tempo of “Just One of These Things” breaks the sound barrier while exposing one of the weaknesses of the still maturing musician: if a turn of phrase sounds good once, playing it several more times certainly cannot. be a bad idea. Unfortunately, the effect of these accelerated “conveyor belt” moments can veer uncomfortably close to the territory of the centerpiece of “Carnival of Venice.” The tune’s alternate take proves more musically substantial, though the ballad’s number—the bebopper-required “Lover Man”—does little to further the newcomer’s cause.
Pepper Adams is a relentless date juggernaut, pushing the leader to meet every challenge. Bobby Timmons, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones provide all the heat for this cooking session, if not wisely avoiding the head chef, who offers cuisine likely to impress even the most discerning foodies.