Blue Note / Music Matters
Tom Cat continues Music Matter’s program of re-releasing generally unavailable Blue Note sessions from the 1950s and 1960s on double 45 rpm vinyl albums. As Michael Cuscuna explains in the liner notes of the original 1980 release, Tom Cat fell victim to trumpeter Lee Morgan’s unexpected crossover hit with The Sidewinder (Blue Note, 1964), which made the pop 100 charts. Following this success, Tom Catrecorded August 1964, was scrapped in favor of returning to the studio in hopes of reproducing The Sidewinderthe popular formula tinged with soul and blues. As often with Blue Note, Tom Cat did not see the light of day until almost two decades later.
The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD Labels Tom Cat and many more postThe Sidewinder Morgan’s efforts were little more than knockoffs—formal productions intended only to score another pop hit. The fact that this album was recorded before The SidewinderThe unanticipated success of is enough to render this review somewhat believable. But if in doubt, jazz lovers just have to listen to the music. Because not only can we say that Tom Cat beats its more famous older brother to his own game of groove (“Twice Around”, the album’s third track, is as powerful a blower of hard bop as anything Morgan has ever recorded), but it’s also more varied , notably in the inclusion of pianist
1938 – 2020
“data-original-title=”” title=””>McCoy Tynerthe ballad “Twilight Mist”. For all his glory, The Sidewinder only has one blowing mode.
Tom Cat kicks off with the title track, a masculine musical ballad laid out in deep register by Tyner. Its insistent stair-stepping motif could serve as the foundation for a collegiate fight song, which it almost becomes when Tyner is joined by a chorus of horns. Morgan then takes the lead, blowing a typically spirited trumpet that takes the cat out of its stride and leaves it more playful, never losing the testosterone strength. And with each new soloist, the creature moves its strut, then takes it to a new open playing field. Alto saxophonist
1932 – 2006
“data-original-title=”” title=””>Jackie McLean swells Tyner’s footsteps with a dark, nocturnal melee. Its lines are less sharp than Morgan’s, chirping in haphazard, abrasive tones where the trumpeter might trill in a searing, but more controlled upper register. trombonist
1934 – 2021
“data-original-title=”” title=””>Curtis Fuller darkens further, stretching the natural timbre of his instrument into a stem. When Tyner himself plays solo, relegating the wandering beat to bassist
1932 – 2016
“data-original-title=”” title=””>Bob Cranshaw, the blues is so frenetic yet clever, sly and humorous that it signals an exploration of the cat’s mind. The animal then returns in full with the horns resuming their refrain. The cat turns in a dark alley and blends into the night.
“Exotic” begins as a soulful dirge. But after stretching the theme for a minute, the melody stops briefly before returning with a more upbeat anthemic quality. Morgan and McLean take the opening solos, blowing aggressive, if unremarkable, bop statements. But they favor the technical gems of Foster and Tyner: the trombonist trills and dips his bone in dashing sax-like lines and the pianist displays the mastery of left-hand/right-hand separation that has kept him at the top of his craft for half a century. When Morgan returns for a final blow, the renewed energy of his attack is palpable.
Yet, as stated, this is all just preparation for the “Twice Around” album. Built around a standard looping hard bop theme, the track is elevated way above the norm with explosive group dynamics that don’t let up.
Rudy Van Gelder
1924 – 2016
“data-original-title=”” title=””>Rudy Van Gelder I had to serve a hell of a pot of Joe before recording this track. Each soloist is chomping at the bit to get into the action, running on the heels of his predecessor to get his crack. Fuller has the first try and, as with “Exotic,” seems to be the special fire that ignites the rest. McLean jumps with a melodic rush that lifts the drummer
1919 – 1990
“data-original-title=”” title=””>Art Blakey in its strongest and most varied accompaniment of the whole. By the time Morgan takes over (a switch that’s more metamorphic than serial), Blakey has long worked his kit in thunderous fury, and Morgan doesn’t hesitate to ride the wild, rushing waves deftly. Even when the horns die out, the rhythm section pushes the melody full throttle. Morgan picks it up in stride, but goes off again for a Blakey solo that just won’t be denied. The band slows down for a dramatic finale that heightens the listener’s desire for time to turn around and repeat itself.
The fourth and final side of the album (as always, the 45 rpm format of these reissues requires two discs) opens promisingly with Tyner’s “Twilight Mist”, the only non-Morgan track included. This pensive and sultry ballad works particularly well after the brash and cheerful beat of “Twice Around”. Highly orchestrated, with Morgan’s strong, bittersweet trumpet and Tyner’s tender, brooding piano often overlaid by swaying blue harmonies from sax and trombone, the piece enters darkness,
1937 – 2007
“data-original-title=”” title=””>Andrew Hill territory. Unfortunately, Morgan doesn’t leave us there to drift off the record and think. Instead, it ends with “Riggarmortes”, a formulaic vehicle that, aside from its inventive spelling, is largely dead when it arrives. Each of the horn solos gives the impression of being a workman – a passage through the stages to conclude. Tyner and Blakey add a bit of frills, but the track as a whole puts a damper on what is otherwise a fantastic record.
Adding to the splendor of this reissue is its freshly designed cover art. Since the initial release of albums like Tom Cat was so long delayed, none had an “original” Blue Note cover per se. So, with full access to all of Francis Wolff’s photos from those sessions, Music Matters’ Patrick Roques created his own boldly expressive covers, inspired by the look of those classic Blue Note covers. The orange-tinged trumpet player adorning the front of this album gives a good warning of the musical warmth contained within.
Tracks: Disc 1: Tom Cat; Exotic. Disc two: twice; Twilight mist; Riggarmortes.
Staff: Lee Morgan, trumpet; Jackie McLean, alto saxophone; Curtis Fuller, trombone; McCoy Tyner, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Art Blakey, drums.
Lee Morgan: trumpet.
Title: Tom Cat | Release year: 2009 | Label: Blue Note Records