Artist: Lee Morgan.
Title: The Gigolo.
Label and catalogue Number: Blue Note/Liberty BST 84212.
Personnel: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Harold Mabern Jr (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Billy Higgins (drums).
Side 1: Yes I Can, No You Can’t; Trapped; Speed Ball.
Side 2: The Gigolo; You Go To My Head.
Recording Date: 25 June 1965 and 1 July 1965 at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA.
Selection: Yes I Can, No You Can’t
I recently made one of my infrequent visits to London and it was too good an opportunity to miss the chance to do some good old fashioned crate digging. With limited time available, I opted to target one shop “South of The River” as they used to say on The Sweeney. My mission bore fruit with the assistance of the very congenial staff at the shop in question and I came away with a bag full of goodies including three Liberty-era Blue Note stereo first pressings, a Blue Note Plastylite mono first pressing and a Prestige stereo purple label (first?) pressing. The Liberty covers are in far from mint condition but the vinyl itself is in terrific shape for all three apart from a little storage dust. So much so that I suspect that they have hardly been played in their 40+ years since leaving the pressing plant. The first one out of the bag for my listening pleasure is this Lee Morgan record (in future posts I’ll discuss the others from this score).
This date shares three performers with Hank Mobley’s Dippin’ and, despite the catalogue number jump from 84209 to 84212, it is in fact the next record in the Blue Note catalogue and compiled from the next two Blue Note recording sessions (the missing catalogue numbers were used later for a pair Ornette Coleman records). And, even allowing for the funkier nature of the Side 1 opener Yes I Can, No You Can’t, the lineage is all too clear.
The premise that most Morgan LPs post-The Sidewinder led out with a funky number is an over-used cliche. It’s almost become a device to deride those tunes when, in my opinion, many of them stand up as great performances in their own right. Yes I Can, No You Can’t springs to mind as a case in point and the comparison with The Sidewinder is especially apposite considering that both are propelled along by Cranshaw’s sinuous bass work (not to mention Higgins on drums). I dare you to resist the urge to nod your head, tap your toes and involuntarily move other parts of your anatomy along with this groover.
It’s not all about the bass though. Throughout the LP, particularly on his opening solo, Shorter is full of vigour. Mabern is once again the unsung hero with a combination of fleet fingered soloing and consummate comping. Higgins is, well, Higgins with his trademark sizzling cymbals. His sideman appearances on Blue Note dates seem to have given him the ideal environment to develop a clear and readily identifiable style and attack. It seems odd to me that several other regular drummers at Blue Note eventually got their own leadership opportunities yet Higgins’ number never came up.
Let’s not forget, though, that this is a Morgan date with three out of the five tunes being his compositions (the original sleeve notes mis-attribute Trapped to Morgan but Bob Blumenthal’s notes for the 2005 RVG remastered release correct this to being a Shorter composition). Up next is the aforementioned Trapped, the only cut from the first session to make it to the record (takes of The Gigolo, A Stitch in Time and Yes I Can, No You Can’t didn’t get past Lion, Wolff and Van Gelder quality control that day). Perhaps it’s just me, but the piano sounds different on this track – almost like an electric piano, with which Mabern was known to dabble on some recording dates. Maybe the piano tone is one of the reasons why so much of the first session was rejected? No such speculation is required for the final track on Side 1: Speed Ball lives up to it’s name as it cracks along at a hiply swinging pace. There’s so much to enjoy here: not least the quickfire exchanges with Higgins towards the end. Little wonder that it subsequently became one of Morgan’s preferred vehicles on live dates.
And so to Side 2 and the LP’s title track. It’s fresh, intense and modern from the outset and wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if you told me that it came from a 2015 recording let alone one cut fifty years ago. All five musicians build up the fervour on this one before the tension is eventually resolved in the final round. After that, You Go To My Head comes as gentler stress relief with its slower melody and lilting feel. Morgan opts for a fat juicy tone here that shows he was capable of just as much authority on ballads as he was on upbeat numbers. Shorter takes his cue from Morgan’s lead with a breathier, reedier sound that allows a warming touch of vibrato to seep into tune. All in all, that brings the record to a deeply satisfying conclusion.
For Collectors Only
Side 1 is non-deep groove, bears a “VAN GELDER” stamp and has a hand etched matrix number “BNST 84212 A” with a Division of Liberty Records, Inc. label. Side 2 is non-deep groove, bears a “VAN GELDER” stamp and has a hand etched matrix number “BNST 84212 B” with a Division of Liberty Records, Inc. label. The cover is non-laminated and has the “1776 Broadway, New York, N.Y./6920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif.″ address. I’ve recorded the vinyl weight as 141g.
So why do I consider this a stereo first pressing rather than a later Liberty pressing? Firstly, all the identifying features are consistent with a first pressing. Secondly, the quality of the pressing (and the vinyl weight) tally with this being an early rather than later pressing. Finally, the label printing is of high quality as witnessed by the clear rendering of the ring around the R registered trademark.
An interesting diversion for collectors is that this is one of 17 Blue Note/Liberty records that were also issued in limited numbers as mono promotional pressings for US radio stations. Such pressings bore a sticker reading “AUDITION MONO LP NOT FOR SALE” that obscured the word “STEREO” on the front cover. Over time, these stickers often fell off, so watch out! Conventional wisdom is that these mono promotional copies command a price premium, so I chose to carry out a little analysis of Popsike auction data to test this theory. There were ten Liberty mono promo copies of The Gigolo to analyse, with an average selling price of £81.60. Compare this with the average price of £24.89 for the 56 Liberty stereo pressings that I could confidently identify. This clearly shows that the mono premium extends into the Liberty era though I suspect that this must have more to do with rarity than audio quality. I’ve graphed this data below for your enjoyment.
I’m perfectly happy with my stereo copy but I wouldn’t turn down a mono copy – just for the purpose of scientific comparison, you understand 🙂
The observant among you may have noticed a change (hopefully, improvement) in the photography. A tip of the beret here to Andy over at London Jazz Collector. His record photography school was the inspiration for me to dust off the digital SLR camera and tripod in place of the previously used hand-held mobile phone. Time permitting, I’ll go back over older postings and re-do the photography for them too.
Still plenty work to do before I can match the master’s deadwax imagery though!