Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Horace Parlan - Happy Frame of Mind

Here's a reasonably straight-ahead but still adventurous and forward-looking Blue Note album led by the criminally underrated pianist Horace Parlan, who is perhaps best known for playing on the masterpiece Mingus Ah-Um. When he was young, Parlan was stricken with polio, which left his right hand crippled; but this did not deter him from striving for a career in jazz piano. On the contrary, Parlan's weakened right hand caused him to develop a particularly strong and unique left hand style, featuring highly percussive attacks from big blocky extended chords. His right hand ultimately ended up more than up to par as well, contributing agreeably loose and buoyant melodic ideas. On this album, Parlan teams up with the always cool guitarist Grant Green, veteran drummer Billy Higgins, Mingus-associates Johnny Coles (trumpet) and Booker Ervin (tenor sax), and the bassist and rock solid sideman Butch Warren, who's played with Miles, Monk, Herbie, Dexter Gordon, and many others. In other words, a first-rate band.

This is the type of bebop I love most - all the players are in tight form, hitting the bluesy and soulful chord changes accurately, but still playing with loads of character and taking their solos into daring territory. Most of all, they just sound cool as all hell and like they're having a great time. This is a perfect lemonade-on-your-porch-in-the-summertime type of album, and it's a must have for any fan of the classic Blue Note sound. For me it's easily on the level of albums as lauded as Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder and Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil (actually, I like it more than both), though for whatever reason it's far less well known. Mellow, playful, and just brilliant all around.


1 comment:

Andrew said...

Good post! Definitely one of the more understated gems in the Blue Note catalogue... Also, Reid Miles cover art gives me a typography boner.