Kenny Dorham: Una Mas (2011)
Trumpeter Kenny Dorham's Una Mas was one of 1963's best records. The thought of hearing it reissued on ultra-high quality vinyl by the good folks at Music Matters should make jazz heads swoon. With its melding of hard-bop, bossa nova, and the blues, Una Mas is a prime example of the memorable vamps that Blue Note favored at the time, finding ultimate success later that year with Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder.
Dorham was a prolific recording artist for almost a decade before Una Masboth under his own name and as a sideman for some of jazz's most notable leaders. He wasn't the flashiest or most aggressive player, but he had impeccably good taste as a soloist, and his compositions have enjoyed consistent attention from musicians ever since.
With Una Mas, Dorham takes a few risks. Not every jazz musician that tries to infuse Latin rhythms is successful, and in retrospect, some efforts sound contrived. By contrast, Una Mas manages the fusion seamlessly, leaving a record notable for its insistent but not overpowering rhythm, and simple, powerful melodies.
Una Mas is also notable as the first recorded appearance of the great tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Fresh out of the Army, Henderson's debut is unusually self-assured. A disciple of Charlie Parker, his playing here doesn't betray any copycat licks; instead, he turns in a solid performance of beautifully constructed solos. In many respects his playing here is more adventurous than Dorham's, a hint of great things yet to come.
The catchy and suave title track is one of the most recognizable tunes in the Blue Note catalog, built on brilliant economy and using a simple two-note bounce with a tight, blue chorus. Herbie Hancock contributes a particularly sophisticated handling of the two-note theme by modifying the chords almost continuously, even as he remains tightly within the rhythmic framework. The lineup, rounded out by bassist Butch Warren and drummer Tony Williams (only 17 at the time) is as tight and swinging as they come.
Music Matters' series of classic Blue Note re-pressings include two 45 RPM discs that have been remastered directly from the original two-track analog tapes to capture as much of the original session detail as possible. Now pushing 100 titles, this series delivers the highest possible sound quality in beautifully produced packaging. But even by Music Matters' high standards, Una Mas stands out for its sonic excellenceno small compliment. The entire record enjoys an unusually spacious three-dimensional quality that defies the physical boundaries of the loudspeakers. In the interest of full disclosure, the review sample is a test pressing, but given Music Matters track record with this series, there's every reason to think that the final production version will sound just as good.
A classic and essential recording, the perfectionist sonic qualities of Music Matters' reissue of Una Mas just makes it that much more compelling.
Track Listing: Una Mas; Straight Ahead; Sao Paolo; If Ever I Would Leave You.
Personnel: Kenny Dorham: trumpet; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Butch Warren: bass; Tony Williams: drums.