Trumpeter Lee Morgan channels Coltrane’s splashy style in ‘Live at the Lighthouse’: NPR

In 1970 Morgan recorded three shows at the Lighthouse Jazz Club in Hermosa Beach, California. A new box set captures Morgan and his band giving their own spin on Coltrane’s trance rehearsals.



TERRY GROSS, HOST:

It’s FRESH AIR. In July 1970, jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan recorded for three nights at the Lighthouse Jazz Club in Hermosa Beach, California. Some of this music has already been released. Now there’s a box set with it all, over seven hours of music. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says he finds a great trumpeter in top form with a band to match.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM “LEE MORGAN’S ABSOLUTIONS (LIVE) [SUNDAY, JULY 12, 1970: SET 2])

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: One thing that comes through loud and clear in Lee Morgan’s “The Complete Live At The Lighthouse” is how John Coltrane’s blazing music from 1964 was still dominating jazz six years later. Coltrane’s fast saxophone runs didn’t translate well to the trumpet, but Lee Morgan found brass-specific ways to parallel Coltrane’s trance or prayer repetitions, framing them in his own puckish, punchy style. I mean, Coltrane didn’t quote the Beatles songs.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF LEE MORGAN “NOMMO (LIVE) [SUNDAY, JULY 12, 1970: SET 4])

WHITEHEAD: Lee Morgan slipping Eleanor Rigby in Jymie Merritt’s song ‘Nommo’. Over three nights of live recording, Morgan’s band played most tracks more than once. This suggests to us that the soloists are really improvising, not playing variations on a potted solo, not usually, anyway. Here’s Morgan at the same time on the same track the night before – different night, different solo.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF LEE MORGAN “NOMMO (LIVE) [SATURDAY, JULY 11, 1970: SET 3])

WHITEHEAD: Lee Morgan has long been a swagger. And the band he brought to the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach in 1970 were on his cocky wavelength. Much like the boss, Bennie Maupin put his own roaring spin on John Coltrane’s sweeping phrases and long dramatic tones.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF LEE MORGAN’S “PEYOTE (LIVE)”)

WHITEHEAD: Bennie Maupin on his track ‘Peyote’, allegedly written under the influence. He also plays a bit of bass clarinet and flute during these sessions. The band’s Coltrane-y whirlwind owes much to Harold Mabern, echoing McCoy Tyner’s booming piano style. But Mabern also has his blues-infused Memphis thing. Ever-swinging drummer Mickey Roker is ever attentive, powerful, but not overbearing. Jymie Merritt’s futuristic five-string electric double bass sounds as earthy as a log drum.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF “THE SIDEWINDER (LIVE) BY LEE MORGAN) [FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1970: SET 3]”)

WHITEHEAD: Harold Mabern on Lee Morgan’s hit “The Sidewinder”. Most of the material the quintet performed at the Lighthouse was new. Morgan hadn’t been composing lately, so he featured tracks from his sidemen. The publishing royalties have made a nice benefit for them. Repertoire strings in blues and bop, plus Coltrane-y stuff. Bennie Maupin’s “I Remember Britt” evokes Burt Bacharach’s 1960s pop, with conjoined flute and flugelhorn, elegant melodic bends and bouncy piano vamp.

(LEE MORGAN SOUNDBITE “I REMEMBER BRITT (LIVE)”)

WHITEHEAD: That lineup didn’t last beyond The Lighthouse. Back in New York, Herbie Hancock hired Bennie Maupin. The other guys stayed together between other engagements. Four months later, Harold Mabern was in Baltimore on a Sunday playing even wilder post-Coltrane jazz with trumpeter Woody Shaw, as heard on a new duet by drummer Roy Brooks, “Understanding.” This set would make a good hunter if eight CDs of the first Lee Morgan left anyone wanting more rambunctious jazz from 1970.

OK, Lee, play us.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF “THE SIDEWINDER (LIVE) BY LEE MORGAN) [FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1970: SET 3]”)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book “Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film.” He reviewed “Lee Morgan – The Complete Live At The Lighthouse”.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be Stanley Tucci, known for his roles in films like “The Devil Wears Prada”, “Julie & Julia” and “The Lovely Bones”. He now focuses on food. He hosted a series on Italian food on CNN. And he has a new memoir about his life’s culinary treasures, from his mother’s cooking to the food in his classic movie “Big Night.” I hope you will join us.

The executive producer of FRESH AIR is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with today additional engineering from Adam Staniszewski. Therese Madden conducted today’s show. I am Terry Gross.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF “THE SIDEWINDER (LIVE) BY LEE MORGAN) [FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1970: SET 3]”)

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