This is a special post for a couple of reasons. First, it’s Horace Silver. Any Horace Silver album is special. The other reason? Keep on reading. To the music!
The Tune: “Gregory Is Here”
Recorded: 10 November, 1972 at Englewood Cliffs, NJ
- Randy Brecker- Trumpet & Fluglehorn
- Michael Brecker- Tenor Sax
- Horace Silver- Piano
- Bob Cranshaw- Electric Bass
- Mickey Roker- Drums
One of the later albums from the other side of Blue Note’s great run, the music itself is standard Horace Silver fare. Well, almost. In what I find somewhat remarkable, this album is historic in that it represents Horace Silver’s first album with a vibraphone player. Since his early days as a sideman with Prestige and Blue Note, he always seemed to be a supporting character of lineups with horns. The vibist on this album, David Freidman, does an admirable job and it’s refreshing to hear Silver backing up a cool-toned instrument like the vibes for a change. Silver, however, doesn’t totally abandon his standard trumpet/sax combo format though, as almost half of the album’s material features this lineup. In 1972, his lineup included the explosive Brecker brothers. Predictably, the sides with this lineup has a more orthodox ‘Silver’ sound, which isn’t a bad thing. Rounding out the group are Blue Note stalwarts Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker on bass and drums respectfully. With 1972 firmly in place, Cranshaw has traded his upright acoustic bass for the electric bass, making for a lighter base of support (no pun intended, but I’ll take it).
The music itself ranges from groovy to corny. The first side is solidly groovy, with the opening track “Liberated Brother” grooving right out the gate. The following tune, “Kathy” is in a head-bobbing tempo and the solo of the vibist and the rhythmic comping of Silver are so good that you don’t even realize that they’re grooving in a Latin 5/4 time (shoutout to Brubeck and Desmond!!!). Speaking of which, most of the tunes are in the Latin flavor that Silver was famous for. Only one tune has some outright swinging in it, and that’s the small section of release of the title tune “In Pursuit of The 27th Man”, which again features the vibes. Like I said, the music has some great moments and some not so great moments. “The 27th Man” starts off great, but then moves into a vamp that lasts about 5 minutes too long in my opinion. The opening tune on the second side, “Nothin, Can Stop Me Now”, is downright corny. The less said about it the better, bless Silver’s heart. Very encouraging and upbeat lyrics though, penned by Silver himself.
Located on the first side is my favorite tune from the album, “Gregory Is Here”. Such a simple yet effective melody, over a beautifully simplistic set of chord changes. The harmonies are lovely, and the contrast between Michael’s fiery sax solo and his brother’s more silky smooth trumpet (or is it a flugel?) solo is delicious. Silver’s comping behind both is just as much a part of the song as the melody, and his solo is full of logic and taste. It’s a perfect little composition and one of the better and memorable tunes Silver wrote in his later years.
Silver wrote the tune in response to his son, Gregory, being born. In his words, because they named him 6 months before he showed up, when he finally was born, “there was nothing else to say but “Gregory is here””. Which brings me to why I chose this album for today. It’s my dad’s birthday, and since he’s the major reason why I’m a jazz head and Horace Silver fan in particular, I thought it appropriate to use this song by this artist as a salute to my pops. I guess you could say it’s a… song for my father…. So happy birthday, Dad!
Raggy Waltz Rating: C-
At first glance, this is some cool album artwork. A pitch-black background, cleanly and minimally printed words and symbols, and Silver smack in the middle in glorious color, running. It’s almost like a movie poster for a thriller movie. But then, once I examine Mr. Silver closely, I start to question his fashion sense. Of course, it was the 1970’s, so super short shorts was socially acceptable, but that doesn’t mean I want to look at him in them. If this album cover had been done a few years earlier, Silver might have been clad in a hip two-button suit with slim tie and even a hat. Who knows, instead of the cover above, it could’ve been something more like this:
Well, a less intense version of this, but you get the idea. Oh well.
Yet again, the psychedelic 1970’s manifests itself, this time in some quasi-spiritual artwork, as well as a numeric relationship that gave the album its name. According to Horace Silver’s liner notes, the number 27 has special meaning. I’m not sure what that meaning is, and I was scared to look it up. The artwork of the 26 human figures looking towards a bigger, more perfect 27th man is kinda eerie, too. To borrow the name of the last tune of this album, I get a lot of “Strange Vibes” from the art. Despite the out-there artwork, the liners give the impression that Horace Silver was a real friendly, happy guy, which I hear he was.
Interestingly, while he had the number ‘1’ on the front of his shirt, Silver’s got a ‘9’ on the back. I don’t know if there was any intended significance with that, but I think it’s unbelievably significant because today is the 19th. Crazy!
I gave up trying to have perfectly neat pictures of the vinyl labels. Glare and a lack of patience all but made it futile.
Reading around London Jazz Collector’s site, I think there’s some significance surrounding Blue Note albums from the United Artists era, as well as with labels that do or don’t sport the black font, verses labels that have the blue font, verses labels that say 1972 to labels that read 1973. I tried to keep up, but my head started to hurt. All I know is Rudy Van Gelder was the engineer and his name is stamped into the deadwax. This is supposed to signify superior sound and an exciting listening experience. After listening to it, I was left feeling a bit disappointed. Why? The mix is just not right. Silver’s piano has that classic RVG sound (i.e. fuzzy, warm), but it’s way too overpowering. This is especially noticeable on the tracks with the horns. It’s almost like the sax and the trumpet got buried under Silver’s piano. That or they were playing out in the hallway. While Freidman’s vibes fare better, they’re still slightly under-recorded compared to the piano and drums.
Then, there’s the recording quality itself. RVG’s Blue Note work was distinguished for its attack, its bite, and its grit. This recording by and large has none of that. It largely sounds rather synthesized, sterile, and kind of flat. Almost like ginger ale left out the refrigerator for a day- still good, but lacking in body and bite. Perhaps with the changing of ownership, the old sound was thrown out for something new? Or maybe in RVG’s attempts to stay at the cusp of recording techniques, he switched up his style and sound to match the new equipment of the 70’s? I’m not sure what happened, but although the music is good, the recording quality is just not up to RVG Blue Note’s standards.
The Place of Acquisition
This was one of the many albums I bought at my local record store, Vertical House, during the beginning weeks of 2019. I was actually surprised to see how many Horace Silver albums the store had, all Blue Note and all from the 1970’s. Not BAD, but not GREAT either. Then again, who am I to complain? Who’s to say those 1970’s albums aren’t fantastic and worthy of being added to my collection? They weren’t expensive; I got this album for less than $20, which I think was worth it. Every few days I put on the first side of the album and groove out in my room, which makes it 10000% worth it. Oh, and happy birthday Dad!!!!!
2 thoughts on “In Pursuit of The 27th Man // Horace Silver (Blue Note BN-LA054-F)”
Well, as usual you did a fantastic job of articulating the music and meaning behind another of Horace Silver‘s many impeccable masterpieces.
And speaking of you, if I had the profound ability to design a son, that dude would be exactly like you. You inspire me as I continue to watch you grow and develop into an amazing man and a beautiful human being. It’s no surprise to me that your commitment, love and passion for this cerebral audio art, otherwise known as Jazz, is genuine and focused. As a musician, and as a writer, your “Raghu Waltz” prose continues to blossom while providing us – your – readers with a well-portioned level of intellect, arresting curiosity and appreciation for this amazing American classical music.
Please continue to write, play the music and listen. As your father, know that I love you immensely with humility, respect and honor, and thank you for the beautiful birthday wishes.
– Your father, Gregory 04/19/19
Great review Tarik – some fantastic writing as always – well done.
A cool Granddad and now a very cool Dad as well – some lovely heartfelt words Mr. Townsend for your very cool son – guess “being cool” just runs in the family.