Joe Henderson – Mirror, Mirror
(MPS 0210998MSW. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
Anyone who’s listened to records like Ron Carter’s All Blues (reviewed) is likely to end up asking why the tremendous tenorist Joe Henderson hasn’t had more exposure as a leader. Cue this timely reissue from the MPS back catalogue, headlined by the man himself. It was originally released in 1980 and so falls roughly halfway between his heyday as a sideman at Blue Note and his Grammy winning comeback with the album Lush Life. Mirror, Mirror consists of an all-star quartet with Henderson supported by Chick Corea piano, Billy Higgins drums and Ron Carter himself on bass.
The opener Mirror, Mirror is a playful, lilting waltz, its swiftly swinging form colourfully clothed by Henderson’s richly melodic tenor with Higgins’s dashing cymbals providing an iridescent backdrop for the sax. As elsewhere on this album, Chick Corea plays with canny discretion and taste. His presence is nicely judged, shifting from comping to a delicate solo which is a model of restraint, considering he wrote this piece. It’s bracing, and a little startling, to hear Corea playing such clean, melodic and straight-up acoustic piano after a decade of full-on electronic fusion with his band Return to Forever. Perhaps he found it as refreshing as this listener does.
Candlelight is a Ron Carter composition which features Henderson playing softly over a bed of assertive piano chords by Corea with Higgins gently chugging on the drums and Carter’s bass unobtrusively playing at the edge of attention, as if shrouded in shadow cast by the candlelight of the title. On Keystone, another Carter original, Henderson is firm, thrusting and exploratory, moving inexorably forward with a sense of resolutely overturning the details of the tune to find things in it, as if he’s digging through hard dirt in search of gold coins. Corea’s piano provides neat, glinting detail, never over-elaborate or slowing down the relentless advance of the piece. The drummer and bassist really drive this number forward. Higgins plays an extended, tight tattoo and Carter weaves long, intoxicating lines around him. It’s startling how much musical pleasure can be derived from just bass and drums, when it’s this bass and these drums.
Joe’s Bolero which is Henderson’s own composition, is the most out-there piece of the session, recalling the mood of prime Blue Note, and works like Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (one of the seminal recordings Joe Henderson didn’t play on). Carter and Higgins work together in a tight, staccato, minimalist pulse which is tensely exciting. In quite another vein, the standard What’s New receives a lush, lazy and funky treatment with the broadening of Henderson’s tone suggesting a big band sax section, a feeling only enhanced by the dense but dexterous playing of the rhythm section. This is a solid slab of melodic jazz played to perfection by a flawless combo.
MPS is a distinguished German jazz label renowned for their shrewd selection of jazz artists and the quality of their recordings - such as this one. It’s good news that they’ve launched a major program of reissues on vinyl. This new incarnation of Mirror, Mirror features the original cover art, but additionally includes a new insert containing notes on the music and the remastering (nothing digital in the recording chain). It also features a photo of “the original master tape box” — the sort of thing to accelerate the heartbeat of the true devotee. As nice as they are, all these trappings are secondary to the music, which is exemplary, and the quality of the recording, which is first rate. Pressed in Germany, this is a precision piece of 180gram audiophile vinyl with a clean, natural sound. The prospect of more from the MPS vaults is very welcome.