I don’t really know why it has taken me so long to write a post about this track. After all it is one of the most played pieces of music on my iPod. Better late than never, though, so here goes.
Recorded in New York City in 1963, and released on the Blue Note label a year later, The Sidewinder was the title track of an album that expanded trumpeter Lee Morgan’s place in Jazz from that of a musically respected artist to a higher and broader platform as a hit maker. The tune, an original composition by Morgan, is basically a long-meter blues, with 24 measures to each chorus instead of the usual 12. The chord sequence is close to that of a standard blues, but with an unexpected and highly effective minor chord subsitution at bars 17-18. It’s such a clever composition that it’s no surprise it has become a jazz standard. It even entered Billboard magazine’s top 100 chart for a while, which is unusual for an uncompromising piece of hard bop.
When I first heard the track many moons ago, I expected the intriguing rhythmic figure established during the opening ensembles to give way to a standard 4/4 beat to free up the soloists but it is kept up throughout the piece, showing that these musicians didn’t need to be freed up at all!
Lee Morgan was an amazing trumpeter, but he sometimes had a tendency to over-elaborate. Not here, though. He mixes simple phrases with long runs in a solo that must rank among his absolute best; the repeated B-flat in the last of his three choruses is a particularly fine example of the virtue of keeping it simple. Joe Henderson also delivers a fine and very propulsive solo on tenor saxophone, full of melodic variety and demonstrating his characteristic use of unusual intervals as well as that wonderful leathery sound. To my ears Barry Harris on piano struggles to keep the momentum going until the horns pick up a riff behind him to spur him on. Billy Higgins on drums keeps that complex but infectious beat going in superb style.
But for me the real star of the show is Bob Cranshaw whose funky bass lines in accompaniment demonstrate his rock-solid sense of time and his solo is one of the grooviest you’ll ever hear from a double-bass.
If this doesn’t rouse you from post New Year torpor then nothing will!Follow @telescoper