Friday, October 21, 2016

Ralph Moore - "This I Dig Of You"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


I took a break from Jazz some time in the early 1970’s. I didn’t like where the music was going at the time so I decided to check out for awhile.

Many of the independent Jazz record labels were gone including Pacific Jazz [Dick Bock], Contemporary [Lester Koenig] on the Left Coast and Blue Note [without Alfred Lion] and Riverside [Orrin Keepnews] in The Big Apple.

The conglomerates hadn’t quite made their mark - Columbia was not as yet Sony, The Universal Music Group was still on the horizon, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic was still a decade or so away and EMI was still primarily a British recording and electronic corporation and not as yet a multinational amalgamation.

I got back into the music in the mid and late 1980s largely because of the recorded convenience of the compact disc and the huge LP reissue campaign that was characteristic of the nascent period of the digital music revolution. [Ironically, it was this very digitalization that brought into full swing the flurry of consolidations that resulted in the recorded music conglomerates.]

One day, while searching around a music store not too far from my office in San Francisco during a lunch hour break, I notice the name of an “old friend” on some discs released on the Landmark label.

Orrin Keepnews, the producer of so many legendary recordings for Riverside Records was back in business.

The discs in question were by Ralph Moore, a young tenor saxophone player, and they were entitled Images [Landmark LCD-1520-2] and Furthermore [Landmark 1526-2], respectively. [Perhaps “Furthermore” should have been titled “Further Moore” for those who enjoys puns?!]

Moore’s tenor sax was joined by Terence Blanchard’s trumpet on the former and Roy Hargrove’s trumpet on the latter and both are supported by a superb rhythm section of Benny Green on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums.

I knew hardly anything about any of these musicians at the time but my ears told me that they were the real deal.

Speaking of “ears” [and eyes], in order to better familiarize myself with both the musicians and the music on these recordings I relied heavily on the following insert notes for each of these recordings.

Images [Landmark LCD-1520-2] - Stuart Troup [New York Newsday]

“A great musician is distinguished by his ears as well as his chops. And Ralph Moore, at 32, has obviously heard, absorbed, and assimilated the rewarding grit of jazz— and embroidered it with singular intensity.

He has gained acceptance from such bandleaders as J.J.Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Haynes, and Horace Silver. But even more impressive than those credentials is the convincing evidence we have right here in these recordings.

Moore is London-born, where "my mother got me interested in playing, at the age of 14. I was playing trumpet at first, but my teacher had a tenor sax and I liked the way it looked. It turned me on." A year later, Ralph emigrated to central California to live with his American father. "The music program at the high school included a jazz band," he says. "And then I spent a couple of years at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Early on, I listened to Stanley Turrentine, Sonny Stitt, and Charlie Parker. Then all of a sudden it was Coltrane."

He needn't have confessed; the evidence is clear.

When Moore reached New York, he was quickly found and nurtured by Haynes, then Silver, and moved easily into the company of Hubbard, the Mingus Dynasty Band, and orchestras led by Dizzy Gillespie and Gene Harris. More recently he has taken part in J.J.Johnson's return to full-scale jazz activity.

What Ralph now brings to Images is exactly what all of the above found in him: a sense of adventure, understanding, and innovation. There is one important addition; as his own leader, he has been able to pick the repertoire and the sidemen of his choice. The compositions are divided between newer material and some unhackneyed, overlooked gems from the earlier years of the modern jazz tradition. In particular, his use of works by tenor players Hank Mobley and Joe Henderson, plus a personal tribute to John Coltrane, makes clear one meaning of the album title. And his accompanying musicians form a support system that provides a resilient cushion and complementary strengths.

The basic unit of pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Kenny Washington meshes solidly from the opener, a Moore original called Freeway.This is one of four cuts calling on Terence Blanchard, a supple, often poignant trumpeter who has earned his high visibility during the past few years. He and Ralph play unison passages on the head, a modal excursion through 16 bars, with a 12-measure bridge.

Moore gently nudges trombonist Johnson's haunting ballad, Enigma, with his melancholy tone, and caps it with the coda that Miles Davis played on the original record. "It's sort of my tribute to J.J., with whom I worked quite a bit during 1988," he says.

Episode from a Village Dance is a tune by Donald Brown, one of several impressive newer pianist/composers. It is underpinned by infectious Latin rhythms—including deft conga playing by Victor See-Yuen. Moore's tenor is warm; Blanchard's trumpet is searing. When producer Orrin Keepnews asked Brown to explain the unusual title, "he said he was trying to get the feeling of a carnival in a South American village, and this piece is just one aspect of what's going on there."

Ralph supplies a plaintive but tension-free edge to Morning Star, a medium-tempo tune by Rodgers Grant (who spent a number of years playing piano and writing solidly for Mongo Santamaria). Moore and Green solo with warmth over the impeccable foundation supplied by drummer Washington.

This I Dig of You, a Hank Mobley original, evokes the spirit of hard bop.The piece has remained undeservedly ignored since the late saxophonist recorded it on Blue Note years ago. "Kenny and Peter really hooked up well throughout, but especially on this one," notes Moore. "Kenny doesn't just play drums, he plays music. He breathes." Keepnews had a comment of his own to add about these two players: "I told them that unrelated bass and drum teams with the same last name was an important jazz tradition"—the reference, of course, is to Sam Jones and Philly Joe.

Blues for John, as indicated, is dedicated to Coltrane. "When I was writing the head," the young tenor player says, "I was thinking about Trane." It's a fine example of Ralph's adventurousness. And, as he points out: "Benny plays his brains out."

Moore thoroughly explores Joe Henderson's Punjab, stamping the punchy, percussive melody with his own imprimatur. "We played it a little faster than Joe did" — but with no less imagination.

Elmo Hope, the great bop pianist who died in 1967 at age 43, was responsible for the closer, One Second, Please, an unusual, even arch, piece on which Ralph displays a forceful, almost swaggering attack.

It's all powerful evidence that those of us concerned by the passing, in recent years, of such heavyweights as Sonny Stitt, Budd Johnson, Lockjaw Davis, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and Charlie Rouse, can at least feel confident about the future of jazz tenor.”

Furthermore [Landmark 1526-2] - Orrin Keepnews

“One of the greatest satisfactions in my line of work has come from observing that magic sequence I sometimes think of as "crossing the line." Occasionally it is swift, but more often it sneaks up gradually but inevitably, as a musician you're working with breaks through the invisible, intangible (but quite real) barrier tha distinguishes the merely "promising" from the accepted, the interesting from the important. Calendar age has nothing to do with it: some achieve this status quite early, while others may spend a lifetime waiting. Musical maturity is very relevant; the event is best described — if you'll forgive the cliche — as separating the men from the boys.

By the middle of the year in which these numbers were recorded, RALPH MOORE had crossed the line. There was no single blinding flash to mark the occasion, but there were many signposts along the way:

Still in his early 30s, Moore has worked with a dazzling array of leaders: Horace Silver, Roy Haynes, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, J. J. Johnson—which sounds like (and is) great training, but led one critic to wonder if he weren't destined to be "a sideman for everyone." But that same writer, Peter Watrous, reviewing Ralph's previous Landmark album in Musician magazine, pronounced it "a stunning leap forward" and called him "an individual voice."

On the first Sunday in 1990, the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times devoted a page to five acoustic jazz artists "most likely to have an impact. . . in the coming decade" and included Moore, citing his Landmark debut as "one of the most rewarding and listenable jazz releases in recent memory."

Last fall's Phillip Morris-sponsored "Superband" world tour, by an almost entirely veteran orchestra with only three young players, had Ralph as one of two tenors, affording him the honor and pleasure of teaming with all-timer James Moody.

When teenage trumpeter Roy Hargrove (who plays an important role on this album) made an early sideman appearance at New York's legendary Village Vanguard, it was in a quintet led by Moore: Roy's management were looking to Ralph as the comparative veteran to introduce the newcomer — an unaccustomed task, but one he might as well get used to.

Following these and other examples, it was hardly any kind of surprise when the 1990 critics polls of both Down Beat and JazzTimes magazines agreed on him as tenor saxophone winner in the category known, respectively, as "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" and "Emerging Talent." No surprise, but a very fitting pair of exclamation points for a sentence such as: Ralph Moore has arrived!!

A good deal of documentation for all this is to be heard on the seven selections here: the power and imagination, the swiftly-growing command and assurance. Ralph has now taken steps to assemble a regular working group of his own, and this could well be its permanent rhythm section (with either drummer).  Up to now, he has worked with them as often as possible. When a schedule conflict made Kenny Washington (who had combined superbly with Peter Washington and Benny Green on Ralph's previous Landmark recording) miss the Vanguard week, Victor Lewis had been called in. When Victor was unavailable for the first of these two sessions, Kenny stepped in! There clearly was no problem either way in achieving a fully-meshed unit.

On four selections, the addition of Roy Hargrove makes it the familiar post-bop trumpet/tenor front line, but actually Roy makes it anything but routine. There is much empathy between the two horns, and the younger man has a whole lot to add here. To be strictly accurate, Hargrove can no longer be called a teenager, since he has by now turned 20, but he is very likely to be recognized as part of the great tradition of early-blooming trumpet players.

A well-balanced repertoire combines three examples of Ralph's writing with contributions from Hargrove and Green and adds a soulful version of Neal Hefti's Girl Talk and an impressive quartet treatment of Thelonious Monk's seldom-attempted Monk's Dream. Altogether a proper celebration of the solid status of Ralph Moore.”

I put together the following video tribute to Ralph and “the boys in the band” using the Hank Mobley This I Dig of You because I have always dug the tune and because the harmony that Terence Blanchard plays is in the lower register which is sadly not often heard on the instrument.


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