LP REVIEW: Lee Morgan - The Roulette Sides



Lee Morgan - The Roulette Sides
(Stateside LC30419. LP Review by Leonard Weinreich)


As this ten inch mono vinyl album was eased from its sleeve, I should have been awash with nostalgia. Instead, I was wallowing in noir. With menace aplenty.

Roulette, the original label, was controlled by a no-goodnik gonif, Mo Levy (a.k.a. ‘the Octopus’), well-connected to the Mob. Universally despised as ‘cruel’, ‘a creep’, ‘selfish’ and ‘sociopathic’, he’d earned his reputation by diverting $40 million-plus of artists’ royalties into his personal piggy bank.

A&R man Teddy Reig was a self-confessed jazz hustler. Having supervised Charlie Parker’s 1945 ‘Koko’ session at Savoy records, he helped detonate the world’s first explosion of bebop. Tipping the scales at over 300 pounds, Reig lumbered around Harlem’s demi-monde like a small mountain permanently enveloped in its own ganja mist.

And, finally, the leader Lee Morgan, a trumpet star soon to graduate from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with a significant monkey on his back. Morgan’s future would include sizeable successes (notably the boogaloo-inspired Sidewinder and Rumproller on Blue Note) but, unfortunately, his biggest hit was to be the bullet that terminated his gig at Slugs Saloon, fired by a jealous lover one snowy night in Manhattan’s East Village.

In a single album, you get a convicted felon hand in glove with the Mafia, a morbidly obese jazz hipster plus a gifted musician with a serious smack habit who was to meet fatal violence at a joint called Slugs. Sufficiently noir? Now try the music.

We’re firmly in hard bop territory. Confrontation, aggression, attitude and jagged themes seething urban angst and racial tension. In his original Suspended Sentence, young Wayne Shorter creates angular flourishes over barely-disguised Coltrane roots. Morgan runs long unpredictable lines (shades of Clifford?). Bobby Timmons’ fingers are fleet and lyrical. The rhythm section is magnificent throughout.

With sharply contrasting rhythms, A Bid For Sid vividly conjures Gotham City’s mean streets, bumpy ride versus limo glide. Morgan contributes rapid skittering phrases over Timmons’ confident comping before the pianist unleashes a loping solo, never far from blues.

The album’s longest track is Minor Strain, alternating a Latinate theme against swinging 4/4. Morgan’s statement is subtly crafted while Shorter demonstrates vigorous gymnastics and virtuoso rhythmic tricks.

The mono sound is fine, the remastering crisp. It would make a strikingly atmospheric soundtrack for a noir movie.

Tracks: Suspended Sentence; A Bid For Sid; Minor Strain

Personnel: Lee Morgan, trumpet; Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone; Bobby Timmons, piano; Jimmy Rowser, bass; Art Taylor, drums.
Recorded: Capitol Studios, New York June 1960 (though Tom Lord lists the date as ‘late 1959’)

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