Pressing Issues: The Horace Silver Quintet, Song for My Father (1966 Blue Note Liberty pressing)

Original pressing: Blue Note Records, BLP 4185 (1965)
This one: BLP 4185 (1966, “A Division Of Liberty Records”)

Musicians

Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5
Horace Silver (p), Joe Henderson (ts), Carmell Jones (t), Teddy Smith (b), Roger Humphries (d)

Tracks 3 & 6
Horace Silver (p), Junior Cook (ts; track 3 only), Blue Mitchell (t; track 3 only), Gene Taylor (b), Roy Brooks (d)

Cover design: Reid Miles; Liner notes: Leonard Feather

Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 31, 1963; January 28 and October 26, 1964

Originally released January 1965


Song for My Father. Ooooh…such a bold choice!

Well, this selection probably does lack a little in originality (it was a very popular title in its day), but it has meant a lot to me personally for a long time. My introduction to Horace Silver was when my high school jazz band played the title track back in the 80s. I’d been a Steely Dan fan since hearing “FM” in 1978, and I thought it was pretty cool to hear that they’d stolen the opening riff to “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” from this record’s title song. But it was nearly 10 years later until I finally got around to purchasing the album (on CD). It soon became an all-time favorite.

Song is not a “challenging” record to listen to by any means, at least not by Blue Note’s 1964 standards. On the contrary, I think it would be a great entry to jazz for many people. But accessibility was never a problem for Horace Silver. He seemed to be able to churn out album after album of sophisticated jazz that could please both diehard fans and jazz newcomers. That’s got to be extremely difficult to pull off, but he did it for at least a decade.

There are actually two entirely different quintets on this record. The “first” group (playing on the last track on each side, although “Lonely Woman” is just the rhythm section) was with Silver from the late ’50s to early ’60s, featuring a front line of Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook. The second fivesome (all other tracks) was his new quintet, with Carmell Jones and Joe Henderson taking over on horns. Despite the different line-ups, there is musical and sonic continuity throughout, a tribute to both the musicians and to Rudy Van Gelder, the engineer.

As I see it, there are two things about this album that are striking. First, it works as a complete musical experience, from start to finish. There are no weak songs and the pacing of the tracks is as close to perfect as things get. Side 1 opens with the Latin stylings of the title track, followed by the smoking minor blues workout, “The Natives Are restless Tonight,” and ends with the contemplative “Calcutta Cutie.” On side 2, “Que Pasa” picks up almost exactly where we left off on side 1, albeit at a slightly quicker tempo. “The Kicker” exhilaratingly reminds us that we’re listening to a hard bop record, and the beautiful ballad “Lonely Woman” takes us out. I’m kind of surprised more records didn’t copy this “formula”, as it works so well.

The second immediately noticeable aspect of the record is that the solos are just ridiculous. Carmell Jones’ solos are logical, melodically crafted lines that leave me wondering why he didn’t record more…anybody know? And Joe Henderson, as usual, is monstrous without being obtrusive. I read somewhere the opinion that “S.F.M.F.” is his best solo. I don’t necessarily agree, but a case could be made. If you were a beginning jazz musician, you could do a lot worse than making that solo one of your first transcriptions, so full great ideas it is.

Joe never had the name recognition of Sonny or Trane, but he made every session he was on better. And serious jazz fans know how highly he ranks historically, name recognition be damned. (When listening to jazz, I’ll often wonder how so-and-so would have handled a solo on a particular set of changes. Example: The alternating “in and out” tonalities of the choruses on Lee Morgan’s “Our Man Higgins” would have been ideal for Joe Henderson’s sound.)

My personal favorite tune here is Joe’s “The Kicker.” It was recorded around the same time by fellow Blue Note artists Bobby Hutcherson and Grant Green in sessions they led, but this is the definitive version, and one of the all-time great hard bop compositions. The tempo is right, the band is tight, and Henderson, Jones, and Silver kick serious tail in their solos.

Collecting Notes

  • 1966 Liberty pressing, mono
  • VAN GELDER stamp in run-out
  • EX/VG+

On a given day, an eBay-er is likely to find several hundred thousand original copies of Song for My Father on auction. OK, I exaggerate. But you get my drift. There is no shortage of these. So why would anyone choose a Liberty repress when an original mono copy could be had for relatively short money? I think the relative abundance of these probably makes getting it seem slightly less urgent. For probably a quarter of the price of an original, I found this EX/VG+ mono copy. If I eventually have an urge to replace this with an original, I know that Liberty pressings keep their value, especially those from 1966.

 

Do you have a favorite Horace Silver record? A favorite quintet line-up? Any Steely Dan fans? Comment away…

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