Harold Land ‘A New Shade Of Blue’ (Wewantsounds) 4/5

From the late-1960’s onwards, Harold Land embarked upon one of the most productive periods in his musical career and a key elements in the equation was the close participation of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. The latter, then both a leader and frequent sideman on the illustrious Blue Note label, had been exposed to the more left-field side of jazz, whether that be with pianist Herbie Hancock, the more avant-garde recordings of altoist Jackie McLean, or the fine albums that Hutcherson himself laid down with musicians of the calibre of Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner, to name but just two. Consequently, and as a direct result of Hutcherson’s involvement, the musical universe of tenorist Land expanded significantly from perfectly respectable, if somewhat pedestrian 1950’s mainstream, to far more advanced and indeed exploratory works. Which is where this superb re-issue fits into the mix. No less than the Herbie Hancock Mwandishi rhythm section are featured and these include Buster Williams on bass, Billy Hart on drums and James Mtume on percussion. Bill Henderson provides some fine keyboard vibes, alternating between Fender Rhodes and acoustic modes, and the titles reveal a growing concern for socio-political issues at the time. The gentle tempo and lead tenor on ‘Ode to Angela’, is a useful device to encourage the listener to reflect on the contribution of civil rights leaders, but the tempo shifts up several gears into more active mode on the uptempo ‘De-Liberation’. Much of the album has a wonderful brooding atmosphere and no more so than on the modal-themed, ‘Mtume’, which is notable for the deployment of various world beats percussion instruments, and is by far the album’s longest piece. While some of the music is not immediate to the ears, with repeated listens one is more than repaid with an intensity of performance and a subtle lyricism that is admirable.

Full marks for the collection of black and white photos of the band individually in studio session work and collectively for a promotional photo take. Extremely informative new notes from Houston Texas jazz DJ, Sam Barbatano, help contextualise the recording and career of Harold Land. As a bonus, the number ‘Dark mood’ is added and this has only ever previously surfaced on a now long deleted 1974 compilation.

Tim Stenhouse