25 September 2008

Under the Radar: In 'N Out

Joe Henderson
In 'n Out

Ask a group of jazz fans to name their favorite tenor saxophonist of the 1960s, and it is likely that no one in the group will mention Joe Henderson. He had the misfortune of coming of age as an improviser during the heyday of John Coltrane and the ascension of Wayne Shorter. This is unfortunate. Henderson recorded a number of stellar albums during the decade, in addition to appearing as a sideman on The Sidewinder, Song For My Father, Point of Departure, and a whole host of other classic albums. Even though I had listened to Henderson plenty of times as a sideman, I had not heard any of his own albums until I picked up a copy of In 'N Out at a used music shop my freshman year of college. Once I found out about his solo albums, though, they became a regular feature of my listening rotation.

Henderson surrounded himself with familiar coconspirators for his fourth album as a leader in 1964, including McCoy Tyner and Kenny Dorham, who originally discovered the tenorman for Blue Note Records. The album features three originals by Henderson and two by Dorham. What immediately drew me to this album (besides the great typography on the album cover), was the way Henderson's compositions featured melodies that were at the same time intricately structured and immediately singable (the bridge on "Punjab" is a perfect example). Henderson had an uncanny way of stretching out a phrase for an extra bar or two farther than the listener expects him to without making it sound like a runon. He displays this skill to the extreme on "Punjab," one of my favorite Henderson solos. He crafts a masterpiece of postbop improvisation behind Tyner and Jones, who push him at all the right moments. Dorham and Tyner also give enjoyable solos on the track before Henderson takes one more chorus and the entire quintet closes with the head.

The fluid phrasing and subtle swing of "Punjab are also highlighted on "Serenity," another Henderson original. Like the rest of the music on In 'N Out, this tune is solid, workmanlike jazz, and keeps the listener hanging on every phrase. Tyner puts forth the kind of solo that sounds familiar to modern listeners, but only because his phrasing and piano voicings were adopted by practically every pianist that came of age in the 1970s and 1980s.

When I think of the great albums produced by Blue Note during the 1960s, In 'N Out always comes up pretty quickly, with the likes of The Sidewinder and Maiden Voyage. Between the sophisticated harmony, understated swing, and complex melodicism, the album embodies the evolution of the "Blue Note" sound up to that point in time. In 'N Out serves as a perfect introduction to Henderson's work and the classic Blue Note albums of the midsixties.

Personnel: Joe Henderson, saxophone; Kenny Dorham, trumpet; McCoy Tyner, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
Track Listing: In 'N Out; Punjab; Serenity; Short Story; Brown's Town

Album cover photo via Vintage Vanguard

No comments: