Jazz in 1959 and 1960 was so crowded with extraordinary talent that you can spend years discovering albums and artists from these years who are completely new to you. It's like looking for fossils in Utah—move the sand with your foot, and you're likely to uncover a dinosaur bone. One hidden-gem album from these magnificent years is Lenny McBrowne's Eastern Lights.
Recorded in 1960 for Riverside, the album featured Don Sleet (tp) [pictured], Daniel Jackson (ts) Terry Trotter (p) Jimmy Bond (b) and Lenny McBrowne (d). The pure delight of this tight-knit quintet is rooted in the upbeat and melodic originals by Daniel Jackson and the tasteful playing of soloists Sleet, Jackson, Trotter and McBrowne.
McBrowne had a delicate touch on the drums and recorded with Billie Holiday, Tony Scott and Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Fred Katz, Harold Land and Sonny Stitt before forming this quintet. It's puzzling that this fine group recorded only two albums (the other was Lenny McBrowne and the Four Souls for Pacific Jazz in the fall of 1959). These were McBrowne's only leadership sessions, and his last known recording came in 1976.
What's special about Eastern Lights is that the music sounds like a West Coast group's interpretation of hard bop. There's a sunny optimism here without an over-saturation of drums or extended solos. At the same time, there isn't a West Coast cliche to be found. All of the horn lines are smartly framed and the soloists retain a tight grip on intensity. [Pictured: Recent photo of Daniel Jackson]
Interestingly, four of the five musicians were from the West Coast (Bond was from Philadelphia), and all but one of the compositions were by tenor saxophonist Daniel Jackson, a brilliant composer whose name is little-known today. Jackson's harmonic touch was perhaps closest to Elmo Hope's.
Also a delight is pianist Terry Trotter, whose playing is gentle-handed and on time. Dig his gorgeous solo on Like Someone in Love. In later years, Trotter became a studio musician and wrote the Everybody Loves Raymond theme.
Bond went on to become a Wrecking Crew bassist. As for McBrowne, catch his solo on I Don't Know the Melody.
JazzWax tracks: Both Lenny McBrowne and the Four Souls and Eastern Lights are available on one CD—Lenny McBrowne: Complete Recordings (Fresh Sound). Go here.
To hear the album Eastern Lights, go here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Lenny McBrowne and the Four Souls playing Dearly Beloved from the Pacific Jazz release, featuring the same group, except Herbie Lewis is on bass, and Elmo Hope arranged this one...