Something Blue // Paul Horn, HiFi Jazz J615

West Coast jazz.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Californian, but I think some of the most stimulating, consistently interesting jazz was made near the Pacific Ocean.  The glory days of West Coast jazz were the early 1950’s, hitting their stride in the latter half of the 1950’s, and they ended around 1960.  The West Coast has always been more laid-back and relaxed than the rest of the country, and this relaxed vibe impacted the music, regardless of whether the musicians were actually born there or not.

Paul Horn, a native of New York, was a multi-reed player who became widely popular as a ‘world music’ musician in the late 1960’s.  He got his jazz start playing with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, another West Coast jazz combo.  Horn struck out on his own to be a leader of his own group in 1959, and recorded this album the following year.

The Music

  • Paul Horn:  Flute, Alto Sax, Clarinet
  • Emil Richards:  Vibraphone
  • Paul Moer:  Piano
  • Jimmy Bond:  Bass
  • Billy Higgins:  Drums

Recorded March, 1960

To quote the authoritative liner notes written by Gene Lees,

“The music is strongly impressionistic, and Paul points out that the influence is that of Maurice Ravel, though in the rhythms and the instrumentation used, a direct resemblance to Ravel will not be found.”

A pretty apt description of the music, I’d say.  The harmonies and chord progressions of the songs, all originals by the band, have a lush, reflective quality to them, not unlike some of the things the classical composer Ravel wrote.  Despite only one guy on this album actually hailing from California (the drummer), the music has all the hallmark signatures of a West Coast album.  Unusual instrumentation in the form of the use of flute and clarinet, intricate melodic lines and the use of secondary themes and arrangements, light, internal swinging, unusual bar-length compositions, and a racially-integrated band!  Ok, I added the last part, although it seems to me that many of the best West Coast jazz groups were integrated.

The two tunes featured here showcase Paul Horn’s flute work, an instrument heard too infrequently in jazz during the 1950’s and early 60’s.  Another infrequently heard sound was (and is) the combination of the flute with the vibes.  Together, they create a shimmering, invigorating sensation.  The only person I can immediately think of who utilized the same instrumentation is Herbie Mann.

The first tune and incidentally the first tune on the album is also the fastest tune on the album.  The Latin-tinged interlude that continues throughout the cut keeps things interesting.  The second track (and incidentally the second tune on the album) employs the time signature of 3/4.  Sorta.  Again, I yield the floor to the liner notes:

‘Tall Polynesian’… is written in 3/4 time.  It opens with a four-bar interlude.  The main melody is an eight-bar phrase repeated with a four-bar tag.  The blowing is in double time (really 3/2) and the interlude comes in 3/4 time between each chorus.

                                         – Gene Lees

There you have it.  I wonder if Dave Brubeck’s experiments in different time signatures from the year before (1959) influenced Horn’s group?  This track is also one of the more overtly ‘Ravel-like’ performances on the album.

The Cover

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College Jazz Collector Rating:  Meh

Not the most creative of album cover art.  Other than the gimmicky blue light and accompanying blue font, the artwork doesn’t really connect with the music on the inside.  Then again, the blue light and the shadows, along with the the out of focus instruments make for a mildly interesting image.  One can only imagine what’s going through Paul’s mind as he gazes into the camera from the floor.  Oh, and dig that sticker up at the top corner of the album cover proclaiming that ‘this is an INCOMPARABLE Hifi Stereo Disc’.  I suppose the budget must have been tight if the record company slapped stickers on the covers of the stereo copies instead of actually printing different covers with ‘stereo’ on them.  Either that or stereo was still a very new toy in 1960 and because much of the record-buying public didn’t have the proper equipment to enjoy this incomparable stereo disc, the company didn’t press enough stereo records to warrant printing separate covers.  Probably a combination of both.

The Back

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Hifi Jazz, an arm of HIFI Records, was a small independent record label based in Hollywood, California, yet they managed to get the great Gene Lees (famed music critic and editor of the great jazz magazine ‘Downbeat’) to do the notes.  And man are they involved, as indicated by his break-down of the different tunes.  While we get detailed analysis of the band members and the songs, we don’t get the date of the recording session.  I’d grade the album cover as VG, as the spine is torn in the middle.  There’s some ringwear, but nothing too terrible.  It looks mighty fine for 50-plus year old record jacket.

The Vinyl

I don’t know about incomparable, but the record does sound great.  It’s a quiet record, with almost no pops, crackles, or anything, and the fidelity is crisp.  Even the stereo positioning is pretty good.  If anything, the bass and the flute tend to get lost in the mix.  All in all, a clean, EX/VG++ deep groove first pressing on heavy vinyl.

The Place of Acquisition

eBay once again.  I rarely find myself bidding on records, finding what I need via the ‘Buy Now’ option, and I snagged this one in similar fashion for a cool $11.  This album isn’t in demand and probably never will, but it’s not exactly cheap either.  Well, for a college student with little to no funds like myself, that is.  A quick look at eBay yielded prices ranging from $14 up to almost $30.  Interestingly, there were only a few (9) vinyl copies, and none were in stereo.  Incomparable stereo? More like indiscernible stereo.  It looks like my observation about limited numbers of stereo copies of this title might have some validity.

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