HORACE SILVER: Retrospective (Blue Note)

Looking back over time from the late '90s, there are few musicians who have made a greater impact on jazz than Horace Silver. The hard bop style he helped pioneer in the '50s became a major force in jazz; not only among jazz veterans, but also by younger musicians as well. Blue Note's new 4CD Retrospective covers most of the pianist's output for the label, and there are few tracks to be found that don't measure up. The 45 tracks run in roughly chronological order, covering the years from 1952 to 1978.

Disc one begins with three tracks from the Horace Silver Trio album, all featuring the master, Art Blakey on drums. It's a shame they didn't include more of these early tracks. Even after all these years, they sound fabulous. In 1953, Silver and Blakey formed the Jazz Messengers. Their first album, Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers, was one of the true cornerstones in the development of hard bop. Several of the tunes penned by Silver for that record, such as "Doodlin'" and the band's first hit, "The Preacher" became jazz classics. Silver's next big hit came with "Senor Blues," appearing here in both instrumental and vocal versions.

Of the four CDs, disc two is the best. There aren't any bad tracks here at all. It kicks off with three in a row from 1959's Blowin' the Blues Away--the joyous "Sister Sadie," the dulcet "Peace" (arguably Silver's finest melody), and the album's brisk title track. "Strollin'," with its loping melody, remains one of his most attractive themes; while "Nica's Dream" combines a minor Latin feel with straight ahead swing. Both tracks are standards now. "Filthy McNasty" combines funky blues with a great beat in a live setting. The tracks on disc two truly exemplify one of the finest bands of the era.

"Song for My Father" starts off disc three. Possibly Silver's best-known work, the song features an impressive tenor solo by Joe Henderson. As always, Silver turns in some wonderful solos, but it's his outstanding compositions that shine the most during this period. "The Cape Verdean Blues" is a perfect example. Silver's ability to combine catchy melodies with understated grooves is second to none. One of the best tracks on disc three is the rousing "Psychedelic Sally," which features superb playing by all. Stanley Turrentine's solo is brilliant, and Bob Cranshaw's bass line is all over the place.

The last three tracks on disc three and the first two on disc four are the low points of the collection. Taken from Silver's United States of Mind trilogy, these tracks are definitely the lull in what is otherwise a stellar collection. Musically, the songs aren't bad. It's Andy Bey's vocals that kill the mood, especially on "Peace." This is such a beautiful song; you can't help but wonder what Silver was thinking when he had Bey do the vocals.

All of the selections on the last CD are making their debut on compact disc; and aside from the ones mentioned above and maybe the schmaltzy "All in Time," there are no duds to be found. The collection's last six tracks disc come from the Silver 'N series, where he augmented the basic quintet with brass, woodwinds, vocals & strings. "In Pursuit of the 27th Man" is a bit more eclectic than most of the material presented here, and features an extended vibe solo by David Friedman. "Barbara" is a medium paced waltz, and one of Silver's more poignant melodies. "Assimilation" is fast & furious, propelled by Al Foster's drumming. Disc four comes to a close with the two-part suite, "The Soul and Its Expression." The first part, "The Search for Direction" is a moody, unaccompanied piano piece that segues into the unusually structured "Direction Discovered."

This compilation also comes with a 52-page booklet, containing informative liner notes and a wealth of rare Francis Wolff photographs from the recording sessions. Horace Silver took vintage R&B, bebop, gospel, blues and Caribbean elements and blended it into jazz. What set him apart from the rest was his ability to keep things simple and compelling at the same time. The best thing of all is that he's still around. Retrospective is an excellent overview of one of the most important jazz musicians of our time. Whether you're already a fan, or just starting out, you can't go wrong with this boxed set.


DISC 1 - Safari * Ecaroh * Opus De Funk * Doodlin' * The Preacher * Cool Eyes * Senor Blues * Home Cookin' * Soulville * The Outlaw * Senor Blues (vocal version) * Swingin' The Samba * Cookin' At The Continental * Juicy Lucy

DISC 2 - Sister Sadie * Peace * Blowin' The Blues Away * Strollin' * Nica's Dream * Filthy McNasty * The Tokyo Blues * Sayonara Blues * Silver's Serenade

DISC 3 - Song For My Father * Que Pasa * The Cape Verdean Blues * Nutville * The Jody Grind * Mexican Hip Dance * Serenade To A Soul Sister * Psychedelic Sally * It's Time * The Happy Medium * Peace * Old Mother Nature Calls

DISC 4 - How Much Does Matter Really Matter * All * In The Pursuit Of The 27th Man * Gregory Is Here * Barbara * Adjustment * The Tranquilizer Suite Part 2: Slow Down * The Process Of Creation Suite, Part 2: Assimilation * All In Time * The Soul And Its Expression - Part 1: The Search For Direction * The Soul And Its Expression - Part 2: Direction Discovered

© 1999 Steve Marshall

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