Horace-Scope // Horace Silver (Blue Note BST-84042)

The great Horace Silver. That’s it. That’s the intro. To the music.


The Music

The Tune: “Strollin'”

Recorded: 8-9 July, 1960 at Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Personnel:

  • Junior Cook – Tenor Sax
  • Blue Mitchell – Trumpet
  • Horace Silver – Piano
  • Eugene Taylor – Bass
  • Roy Brooks – Drums

By a happy coincidence, the day I finally got around to writing about this album just so happens to be Mr. Horace Silver’s birthday. Okay, so I planned this from the moment I bought this album. It’s a solid one, and one of my favorite Silver albums. The groove doesn’t stop from the moment the first track begins to the moment the last track ends. The material on the record is classic Horace Silver fare, with Latin-tinged cookers, church-infused bluesy numbers, and finger-popping hard bop all present and accounted for- complete with horns blazing.

This album is something of a ‘greatest hits’ affair, in that many of these tunes were or were to become popular Silver compositions. “Nica’s Dream”, the last tune on the album, had its debut in 1956 when Silver was in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Between 1956 and 1960 when this album was made, “Nica’s Dream” had become a hit with jazz musicians and fans alike. Two other tunes on the album, including the title track “Horace-Scope”, were first recorded by Silver in the early 1950’s as a trio. In all three of these tune’s cases, their inclusion on this album marked the first time Silver had recorded them on his own and/or with his quintet. One of the reasons why this album was on my wish list is because of the tunes on it. I love Horace Silver’s compositions, and many of favorites are on here, like “Strollin'”, “Yeah!”, “Horace-Scope”, and “Nica’s Dream”. Like wow.

The tune I highlighted made its first appearance on this album. “Strollin'” does just that, unfurling with a head-bobbing jauntiness that captures its title perfectly. One way I measure a tune’s greatness is something I call ‘whistlebility factor’. In other words, is it something that can be easily whistled as one strolls down the street? “Strollin'” has an extremely high whistlebility factor.

Listening to this record, one thing that’s readily apparent is the intricate melody lines and fleet speeds that these lines are executed at. If it sounds like unbelievably difficult music, your ears aren’t wrong. According to the liner notes, the tune “Where You At?” was so named because the guys in the group kept getting lost in the chord changes. In fact, each tune required numerous takes, with as little as 10 takes for “Where You At?” and as many as 38(!!!) takes for the bluesy (and seemingly most simple) number “Me And My Baby”. All of those takes paid off, as the group comes across as extremely composed and slick. And what a group! Horace Silver led many different quintets during his long career, but many people agree that the particular lineup that appears on this record was among Silver’s best. I’d have to agree.

Yesterday was Horace Silver’s birthday, making this something of a tribute to him. Born the 2nd day of September in 1928 (the same year as my grandpa!), Silver bucked the trend in jazz musicians to die young and lived into his 80’s, passing in 2014 at 85 years old. Silver was one of the first jazz musicians I knew by name, and I’ve admired him and his music as well as his lifestyle all my life. My admiration of him was so big that I delayed my own birth by a day so as not to interfere with his birthday celebrations. Happy birthday Horace Silver!


The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: C

It passes. I suppose it’s supposed to be a horoscope or something? I mean, it’s distinctive to say the least. Throughout Silver’s career, it was evident that he believed in vibes and energy and things like that and this album is an early example of that. It’s not one of Blue Note’s strongest covers, but it’s one of its most interesting.


The Back

It’s always nice to have pictures of the guys on the backs of albums, especially if Francis Wolff took them. The liner notes, written by Barbara J. Gardner, are excellent. I’m not familiar with her, but Ms. Gardner’s descriptions of the tunes, combined with her inclusion of her interview with Silver himself, make for a pleasant and informative read. She reveals that Silver was only recording two albums a year for Blue Note and preferred writing new material for each session. Her description of the tune “Yeah!” is evocative:

“Yeah is taken at a way-up tempo. The group generates a churning excitement and much tension behind Junior Cook as he rips into a whirlwind, building solo. Notice also here, Brooks takes a brief, electrifying, explosive solo.”

A+ to these notes. Amen and amen.


The Vinyl

This is the first time I’ve seen vinyl labels differ widely in color. Side one is a light blue while the second side is much darker. Both sides are sexy, however. The curve of the deep groove, the presence of the 47 West 63rd address… mercy. I wonder if people buying these records 50 and 60 years ago appreciated how beautiful these were. Whenever I pay a lot for a record, I scrutinize it more, and I was extremely disappointed to hear groove wear on it, especially on the title track. Interestingly, “Nica’s Dream”, located in the inner grooves, sounds fine. The occupational hazards of collecting half-century old slabs of vinyl are many.

This is one of those early stereo Blue Note albums, made when engineer Rudy Van Gelder was still becoming acquainted with the new medium. Listening to the record on my hifi setup, it sounds fine. Throw some headphones on and suddenly RVG’s severe separation of the instruments in each channel becomes apparent. The trumpet is on its own in the corner of the left channel, the piano and bass are firmly (and only) in the middle, and the drums and sax are in the right channel. When everyone is playing, it’s not that bad; it’s when one horn is soloing or the piano is soloing that it gets weird. Now I know why the seasoned collectors prefer the mono copies over the stereo…


The Place of Acquisition

This is one of the crazy expensive records I bought while in Orlando, Florida back in July. Uncle Tony’s Donut Shoppe, to be exact. It was behind the counter on display, which told me it was at least going to cost $50. It did, and then some. And then some more. The store owner told me it was worth the $250 price tag because of it’s near mint crisp album jacket (“you JUST don’t SEE 50-plus year old covers this pris-TINE, man!”). As for the vinyl, he played “Strollin'” and “Nica’s Dream” for me on the store’s system, and I had to admit it sounded pretty fantastic. A couple minutes of negotiations later, I took the record back home with me. I wasn’t smiling as much as I was in the picture above on my way out.

3 thoughts on “Horace-Scope // Horace Silver (Blue Note BST-84042)

  1. Hi,

    I suppose what you consider groove wear on the title track (inner track on Side A) is Blue’s trumpet bleeding all over from the left to the right channel (quite aggressively) at the beginning of the track, right?

    “”and I was extremely disappointed to hear groove wear on it, especially on the title track.”

    Well, I hope it’ll comfort you to know that your copy has no such groove wear, it’s RVG who cut the album (or the track, respectively) way too hot, considering it was going to occupy the inner grooves of this side of the record. RVG had a tendency to introduce distortion when recording, but not to the point where it becomes bothersome. It’s his mastering that (sometimes) made things worse, and this record is a prime example. In fact, you’re the third owner of a stereo copy of this album I know of who was shocked (as I was, initially) this “blaring” trumpet.

    Keep up the posts and pics,

    Milan

    1. That’s exactly what I was talking about. I’ve read about RVG’s hot mastering, but this is the first time I actually experienced it. I suppose it makes sense why he did it, but yikes. It does make me feel better that it’s a mastering issue and not a groove wear issue, because I paid a lot for this record. Is this issue not as apparent on mono copies of this album?

      1. My father has a mono copy of this album (in worse shape than my stereo copy) and as far as I remember, the distortion didn’t occur. The RVG CD also didn’t suffer from it. So it must be in the mastering. As I said in my earlier comment, I was just as shocked as you were when I first heard it, but a little research revealed that several owners of the stereo copy on the internet have the exact same problem, but none had greyish, worn out grooves in the respective area – I don’t believe in such coincidences.

        Do you happen to have a mono button on your pre-amp / integrated / phono pre-amp? If so, I imagine the distortion would be much less irritating on this track listened to in mono, as the most bothering aspect is the sudden bleed through to the right channel – that’d be kind of cancelled out, at least.

        Enjoy this album and keep up the good work,

        Milan

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