Thursday, June 4, 2015

Harold Land's Invitation

Harold Land: various liner note transcriptions and an exclusive video

"The evolution of Harold Land as a jazzmaker has brought to focus certain facts about this perennial master of the tenor saxophone. Aside from his unique inflections, personalized expressions, there is his engaging capacity to bring out in a performance extremely rich and rewarding moments of creativity and innovations." -- Leroy Robinson

"A soft-spoken man whose personality rarely suggests the incandescence of his instrumental sound, Land was born December 18, 1928 in Houston, Texas. The family moved to San Diego when he was five; it was during his high school years there he became interested in music and in 1945 was presented with his first saxophone. His early influences were the big, warm tones of Coleman Hawkins and Lucky Thompson; later Charlie Parker's new concepts helped determine his direction. He was just out of high school when a bass player named Ralph Houston helped him join the Musicians' Union. After working in Houston's band, he spent a long while soaking up experience at the Creole Palace where a small combo, usually five or six pieces, was led by Froebel Brigham, a trumpeter. "During both these jobs my closest friend and musical colleague was the drummer, Leon Petties," Harold remembers. "We played the floor show and jazz sets too. Sometimes men like Hampton Hawes, Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss came down from Los Angeles and worked with us—this provided a great stimulus." Later, Land and Petties went on the road for about a year, first with a group led by guitarist Jimmy Liggins, and then in the band of his celebrated brother, Joe 'Honeydripper' Liggins. Harold recalls this rhythm-and-blues experience as valuable in rounding out his musical education. After putting in additional time back at the Creole Palace, Harold decided in 1954 to try his luck in Los Angeles. For several months there were various odd jobs, none very rewarding. The turning point came one night when Clifford Brown took his combo-leading partner, Max Roach, to hear Harold play in a session at Eric Dolphy's house. "Eric had known me since the San Diego days, and after I moved to L.A. we became good friends," Harold says. "He was beautiful. Eric loved to play anywhere, any hour, of the day or night. So did I. In fact, I still do." The unofficial audition led to Harold's being hired by Brown and Roach. As jazz night club audiences around the country were exposed to the freshness and vitality of Land's playing, he seemed to be well on his way; but in 1956 he had to leave the quintet and return to Los Angeles because of illness in the family. If, during the balance of the 1950s, he had continued to tour with name groups, there is little doubt that his reputation would have been established sooner and much more firmly on an international level." -- Leonard Feather

"In the view of the current vogue among musicians  of such terms as 'earthy' and 'roots' when appraising the authenticity of a jazzman, I cannot resist noting the aptness of Harold Land's name in this alfresco context. His playing is as deeply rooted in jazz tradition as anyone's now in jazz. His capacity for communicating the blues, his wholeness of pulsation and his insistence on "keeping the emotion free" when he plays — all these elements make him a modernist whose language would not be alien to Sidney Bechet or Tommy Ladnier or Speckled Red. His [playing] indicates his continuing search for what he terms "a freer way of playing tenor, one that's more emotionally stimulating and more adventurous than, let's say, the 'four brothers' approach." -- Nat Hentoff

"It sometimes seems as though all the tenor saxophonists who have made major contributions to jazz can be divided into two eras: BC and AC - before and after Coltrane. Of course, it isn't that simple. Before Trane there were such widely diverse influences as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins; since his time we have had Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and David Murray among countless others. But one musician can claim to have bridged the BC-AC gap by combining the best of both worlds. Harold Land, while retaining the characteristics that established him as a giant of the hard bop generation, has continued to develop, incorporating challenging ideas that suggest a suggestive absorption of certain Coltranian elements without the loss of his own personality." -- Leonard Feather

A great example of the existence of "certain Coltranian elements" in Land's approach to tenor saxophone "without the loss of his own personality" is a performance of Invitation (composed by Bronislaw Kaper), played in Köln, 1986. This is a period in which Land's career was revived as a member of The Timeless All Stars, featuring Cedar Walton (piano), Buster Williams (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums).

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