There’s a ton of jazz albums with titles like ‘____Plays Cole Porter’, or ‘____ Does The Gershwin Songbook’. How many albums are dedicated to jazz musicians NOT named Duke Ellington? Not many. How many are dedicated to Horace Silver? Like two. This album is one of those two.
The Tune: “Moon Ray”
Recorded: 17 November, 1961 at Englewood Cliffs, NJ
- Shirley Scott- Organ
- Henry Grimes- Bass
- Otis Finch- Drums
I’ve been on a Shirley Scott kick lately, listening to her records more often and more closely. So when I found this record at the record store earlier this year, I grabbed it without hesitation. Well, there was slight hesitation, but more on that later.
On this album, Ms. Shirley is in a trio format, which isn’t all that unusual until you check out the instrumentation. No guitar or sax, but a bassist! In this regard, this is more of a piano trio format than an organ one, and you’d think it would make for an exposed organ, but not in Ms. Shirley’s case. She absolutely flourishes here, her unique style of organ playing shining throughout. And the material?
I mentioned at the beginning that there were like two jazz albums that were dedicated to Horace Silver’s tunes (not counting Silver’s albums, naturally), at least dating from the 1950’s and 60’s. One of those albums is a fantastic sleeper album by the West Coast group, The Mastersounds. The second is this Shirley Scott album. She chose some gems from Silver’s songbook while omitting some of the more obvious choices. For instance, “Senor Blues” and “Doodlin'” are solid picks, while “Strollin'” and “Moon Ray” are some of the more deep cuts from Silver’s library.
“Moon Ray” is easily the grooviest cut on the album, if not the best performance of the entire album (the name of this tune seems to change depending on who’s using it. Here, it’s called “Moon Ray”. On Silver’s album it was “Moon Rays”. It has appeared as “Moonrays” and “Moonray”, as well!). The Latin flavor is established from the jump by the bass, and the drums follow suit. The intro sets the low-key groove that carries through to the pause when Scott sails in with the melody. She plays it understatedly but fully. It only gets better from there as she continues to let the melody percolate over the simmering Latin groove, then cutting loose to solo as the rhythm section switches to a walking straight-ahead jazz feel. Chorus after chorus, Scott builds and builds until she’s swinging with full two-fisted chords on the organ, her already soul-drenched chord voicings made all the more bluesy and soulful from the organ’s natural timbre. Just as the music reaches a climatic peak, Scott leads the group out to the melody and back to the Latin groove.
The rest of the album is fantastic, but it was “Moon Rays” that caused me to realize that Shirley Scott is severely and criminally underrated, not to mention a rare example of a jazz musician with a highly individualistic approach to their instrument. Betraying her first love, the piano, Scott brings a minimalist touch to the organ, playing sparsely but meaningful lines while the use of an actual bassist frees her up to be even more lithe and nimble. Like a good pianist, she builds her solos from single lines to more involved passages to finally a thundering chordal climax. It’s an economical and completely unique approach to the organ, an instrument that invites overplaying and cliched licks. After playing this album through a few times after bringing it home, I had to reevaluate the stature of jazz organ in my mind and in my record collection. Shirley Scott is now my favorite jazz organist, and it’s not even close. Mercy.
A quick shout-out to the tune “Moon Rays”. Originally appearing on Horace Silver’s 1958 album ‘Further Explorations’, Silver has gone on record as saying that he was partly inspired by Cal Tjader (!!!) when he wrote and arranged this tune. It’s a beautiful tune and one that deserves to be heard more.
Raggy Waltz Rating: D
Like I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I’m all for record companies using photos of the actual artist on the cover, especially when they’re black. But that photograph needs to be a GOOD photograph, and this is not a good photograph at all. Like, they caught her mid-smoke (at least I think that’s a cigarette…), at dusk (which necessitated a bland and unflattering flash), and from an awkward angle. And what on earth does this photo have to do with Horace Silver?! It’s just all bad. So bad that I almost passed it up when I came across it in the record store. In fact, I did. I waited a week or two after I initially ran into it because the album art was so terrible. Yikes.
The liner notes are merely adequate. I do like the way they describe “Moon Rays”, which apparently was the writer’s favorite tune from the album, too, as more ink is dedicated to describing this track than the rest of the tracks. “Moon Ray is fantastic.” Yep.
There’s a few interesting features to this record. The classic mustard-yellow labels adorn the record, with the 203 South Washington address matching with the early-60’s pressing of this album. The first side is deep groove while the second side was pressed with the newer stamper that lacked the deep groove. By this point, Rudy Van Gelder was stamping his name into the wax instead of hand-writing it in. He was still scrawling the album’s catalog info into the wax, though, and while ‘VAN GELDER’ is stamped, his handwritten catalog number is there. Also there are the initials ‘Z.A.’ Any idea who that was? The biggest mystery of all though is the appearance of ‘STEREO’ stamped into the dead wax on the second side. This copy of the album is firmly in mono on both sides, so I don’t know who was asleep at the wheels when this record was stamped and pressed.
Speaking of mono, RVG did a fantastic job here mastering this album. The bass is full, the drums crisp, and the organ punchy and vivacious. The mono snaps and crackles with life and all the instruments are front and center. Speaking of snaps and crackles, this record plays through pretty quietly and almost perfectly, with the occasional delicious crackle. It’s almost brand new!
The Place of Acquisition
Despite not yet having a job, I accomplished the remarkable feat of visiting my local record store, Vertical House Records, every week this past January. It was then that I first found this album. As mentioned previously, I didn’t jump at this album immediately, mostly because of the bad cover, but also because I couldn’t find much info on this album online. Long out of print, this album didn’t make it onto CD, and while some of the cuts appear online on various bootleg digital albums, there hasn’t been an authorized reissue of this album on a format other than vinyl. In a way that makes this album somewhat rare. Perhaps uncommon is the right description, as it’s readily available online from Discogs and eBay. Personally, I like finding albums in the wild, especially when they’re new to me, as this title was. I paid $6 for this record, which seems unbelievably low for an original Prestige in such great shape. Then again, I guess that’s the great thing about being underrated- affordable records!