Matador

Kenny Dorham

Impex IMP6042/United Artists 150067

180g LP or Hybrid SACD

By Dennis Davis

This is one of those albums that flew so far below the radar at the time of its release that after decades of searching jazz bins at record stores across the globe, I have yet to see an original. And let’s face it, that cover art is hard to miss. United Artists Records produced dozens of jazz albums beginning around 1960, featuring top artists, including this 1962 release. They reissued the LP in 1972 with cheesy cover art substituted for the original. The 1972 reissue turns up occasionally, and there has also been the odd reissue on Japanese labels, but all versions remain elusive. That is hard to digest, as the LP features both a world-class line up and outstanding performances.

On April 15, 1962, Dorham went into the Sound Masters Studio in New York with recording engineer Bill Schwartau and laid down eight tracks in a single day. Jackie McLean (playing Alto) joined him on the front line, with Bobby Timmons (piano), Teddy Smith (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums). Side one is taken up with two compositions from band members. Dorham’s ‘El Matador’and McLean’s ‘Melanie’. Both feature an intensely driven rhythm and some of the best solo work by Dorham, McLean, and Bobby Timmons to be found anywhere. The four cuts on side two are all covers, mostly popular songs from the 1930s, the kind of thing that Miles Davis’ Prestige albums were filled with. It opens with Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’ from the movie Modern Times and the song selection maintains that cool, sophisticated tone throughout the side. There is nothing here to scare off jazz newbies, with McLean bringing his softer side to the session. But while side two makes for an entirely satisfying listen, side one is a truly remarkable achievement. It is hard to think of another McLean album that is more enjoyable, and it is among Dorham’s best. If Timmons ever played better, I have yet to hear that record.