Cal Massey ‘Blues To Coltrane’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

Cal Massey was an important figure within the jazz community during the 1950s and 1960s. Writing for many prominent jazz artists with such compositions as ‘Cry of My People’ by Archie Shepp, ‘Assunta’ by Freddie Hubbard, ‘Fiesta’ by Philly Jo Jones and ‘Bakai’ by John Coltrane are amongst his many reputable works. Artists who paid tribute to his invaluable contribution to the world of jazz include Clifford Jordan on ‘Glass Bead Games’, Stanley Cowell on ‘Illusion Suite’ and more recently Fred Ho and Quincy Saul with their tribute album ‘The Music of Cal Massey’ recorded in 2011.

After an early career playing in big bands, his choice to switch from trumpet towards writing compositions and arrangements seemed a natural transition, with many renowned jazz artists seeking his talent for their own recordings. His involvement with radical groups affiliated with the civil rights movement made for a contentious relationship with major recording companies during the highly politically charged period of American history, preventing him from releasing albums under his own name through their mediums.

In 1961 he recorded ‘Blues To Coltrane’, a solid straight-ahead jazz album, which was posthumously released in 1987 on the revived Candid record label. The music is deceptively unassuming with real depth, yet seemingly simplistic in its delivery. Throughout the album, subtle touches and a soulful sensitivity illuminate the compositions with restraint and understanding that portrays a message.

‘These Are Soulful Days’ is a swinging uptempo bop number featuring Jimmy Garrison [bass], Hugh Brodie [tenor Saxophone], Julius Watkins [French Horn], Patti Brown [piano] and G.T. Hogan [drums]. In the same year, Lee Morgan also included the composition on his esteemed album ‘Leeway’ for the Blue Note Label, alongside another composition of Cal’s titled ‘Nakatini Suite’, which was later recorded by pianist-composer and educator Horace Tapscott. ‘Blues To Coltrane’ is a strolling warm jazz-blues piece, emanating a slight nod to the classic ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve Seen’ featuring Julius Watkins on French horn. After playing the trumpet up until the late 1940s, Julius focused exclusively on the French horn of which he became one of the first exponents of the instrument in jazz. As well as playing with many of the greats throughout his career he also featured as part of the Jazz Contemporaries collective on Strata East during the early 1970s.

While it’s difficult to convey the deep spiritual yearnings that Archie Shepp managed to extract through his later recording of ‘Bakai’ off the 1974 Kwanza recording, the more restrained approach on this original allows space for Hugh Brodie’s sound which is lighter, more percussive and more lyrical, with pianist Patti Brown adding insightful support.

‘Blues To Coltrane’ is an important release showcasing the composer’s valuable contributions to the East Coast jazz scene and the changing political and social landscape of the 1960s in America. Candid Records folded back in 1961 after releasing over 30 albums and was revived in the late ’80s by Black Lion owner Alan Bates, who finally managed to release this album.

A welcome reissue and great move then from Pure Pleasure Records.

Mark Savva