March 5, 2015

Kenny Dorham - Afro-Cuban (1955)

It's hard for me to talk about Una Mas without mentioning Afro-Cuban. These albums were recorded nearly 10 years apart, but they serve as good bookends when discussing hard bop on Blue Note. For those of you who are unclear with the term, hard bop is a follow up to bebop (quick paced 4/4 rhythm designed for each member of a small band to show off their soloing virtuosity) that incorporated more swing, soul, r&b, latin, and afro elements into its music. Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and their band The Jazz Messengers are often considered the most important hard bop pioneers. Kenny Dorham found his way into an early lineup of the ever-changing group, and is actually credited as the group's arranger by Blakey on the live Cafe Bohemia recording.

Dorham recorded an aptly titled Afro-Cuban with an almost full Jazz Messengers squad alongside him. With a lineup and style this fresh and groovy, the album is quintessentially hard bop, but also features a big band resonance. The deep horns--tenor, baritone, and trombone--provide a much needed swinging and almost sexual sounding support of Dorham's soft touch. That's not to say Dorham can't play, but a feel like his needs to be thoroughly backed up on the quicker tracks. On the ballads, however, Dorham is free to roam and he makes the calmer rhythm section his canvas on which to illustrate pictures of romance, women, and comfort. It should also be made clear that six out of the seven songs are Dorham compositions, wow! This was years before he composed his legendary standard Blue Bossa and proved that he was a natural in crafting danceable fusions of jazz and Caribbean music.

A quick note. When it was recorded, Afro-Cuban was in an awkward point in the recording technology timeline since 12" LP's had just been introduced. While the most defining tracks were featured on the 1955 10" record, some more were added to a 1957 LP reissue, and that's become the standard track listing for the album.