Friday, March 5, 2010
Tubby HAYES - Mexican Green 1967
2006 Issue. UCJU-9051
UK vinyl record LP - Fontana SFJL911
Recorded in February and March 1967 and released in the following year when in the USA the tectonic plates of jazz had already started to shift, Mexican Green was a tour de force recording for Edward Brian 'Tubby' Hayes. Actually it was a remarkable album for anyone to have made. Tubby Hayes was at that time the premier tenor player in the UK as was signalled by the polls he regularly topped in the (now sadly defunct) weekly Melody Maker. He had also gained something of an international reputation having recorded with the likes of Clark Terry, Roland Kirk, James Moody, Benny Golson and Paul Gonsalves and even deputising for an indisposed Gonsalves on one of Duke Ellington's UK concerts.
Whilst Coltrane had introduced the world to A Love Supreme and Miles was and on the road to Filles de Kilimanjaro and In a Silent Way, Tubby Hayes produced Mexican Green. This album was very far ahead in the evolution of jazz for a number of reasons. Hayes had a reputation as a hard bopper and fast player particularly on tenor, in which context he not merely excelled but was undoubtedly one of the world's leading musicians. He also was a virtuoso on flute and vibes. Born in 1935, Hayes had been a player of unprecedented ability since his teens when he had begun leading his own bands and his precocity had famously endeared him to the already well- established Ronnie Scott. Mexican Green had been preceded by several other albums recorded for the Fontana label in the 1960s that signalled true greatness; the best of which were Tubbs Tours, a big band album of original material and vibrant arrangements and a follow-up album 100% Proof which was simply stunning because although only the title track was a Hayes composition, the big band arrangements of predominantly standards such as "A Night in Tunisia leapt out of the speakers in a colourful, inventive and torrential arrangement of sound. The third major Hayes album of the 1960s was Mexican Green.
On the face of it, as a quartet album, a much more modest proposal. But this was not the case. This album was a quantum leap for Hayes in many ways. All the seven titles on the album were self-penned by Hayes, something he had not achieved before. Also, the album was reaching forward, progressing and moving in a way he had not gone before. The title track, the last one on the second side, was a conscious effort to embrace the free jazz movement, but without relinquishing his modern jazz roots. Although much of it was improvised it was sandwiched between a carefully constructed layer of 'tune'. It never waded far out into the sea of free, but kept a close eye on the coastline.
Nevertheless it was effective and not least because the three other musicians on the album were by this stage in their careers, superlative practitioners of their craft. Tony Levin on drums, Ron Matthewson on bass and Mike Pyne piano were all more than merely fine musicians. Sadly, Pyne, like Hayes, is no longer alive, but his piano phrasing was almost Tyner-esque in its resourcefulness. Levin's drumming was obviously influenced by Elvin Jones but had its own unique sound that incorporated considerable use of cymbals in a more Tony Williams style. But Levin was certainly no copyist and his style remains today as imaginative and powerful as ever. If more proof were ever need of this, listen to his playing on a slightly later album entitled cryptically, TCB, recorded in 1970 by one of Hayes' friends, the great tenorist Alan Skidmore. Ron Matthewson has always been a skilled bassist of great refinement characterised by rich sonority and inventiveness. He was later snatched up by the late Ronnie Scott and employed in many of his groups.
By Roger Farbey.
Poor old Tubbs. One of the greatest Jazz instrumentalists of all time. A master capable of almost inhuman levels of speed and dexterity. Able to stand up to pretty much any tenor sax player who ever lived and cut them to ribbons. So incredible was his technique that he was actually criticised in certain corners for being too good. His unfortunate fate was that his genius was trapped in the body of a fat, white, English bloke.
Too in thrall to the American masters to carve out his own sound (as those British jazzers who came in his wake would do), and too far removed from the American masters to be accepted along side them on the world stage (never mind the fact that the first stop most of them made when they came to Britain was to go see Tubbs). Outside Britain he's been left as little more than a footnote.
Mexican Green was the only all originals set that Tubbs made, and to my mind its a stone cold masterpiece. Compositionally its his best showing by far, but this is all about the performances. Pared back to a stellar quartet and sticking to tenor and flute (he often played vibes as well), Hayes plays like he's marking his place in the history books, like this is the studio performance he's going to be remembered for. Its not all pyrotechnics though. Anyone believing the oft quoted view that Tubbs was all technique and no feeling should head straight for the ballads 'Trenton Place' and 'A Dedication to Joy', both beautifully conceived and performed.
For all the talk of him being a dyed-in-the-wool bopper, Mexican Green also sees Tubbs at his most forward thinking. The evolution in his style from previous recordings is unmistakable, and the title track in particular sees him taking on the advances of the avant-garde and moulding them to his own style. Really, I can't say enough about how great this record is. If there's one album that deserves to be heard beyond the British Jazz ghetto, this is surely it.
Bass - Ron Mathewson
Drums - Tony Levin (2)
Piano - Mike Pyne
Saxophone - Tubby Hayes
A1. Dear Johnny B 7:15
A2. Off The Wagon 8:35
A3. Trenton Place 5:21
A4. The Second City Steamer 5:29
B1. Blues In Orbit 3:27
B2. A Dedication To Joy 7:10
B3. Mexican Green 13:42