Kenny Dorham: Matador

Kenny Dorham: Matador

Impex Records  IMP8321

Stereo Hybrid


Kenny Dorham

Sometimes in the course of our exploration of potential titles to reissue, we come across a true gem that somehow escaped mainstream popularity. Our new SACD of Matador by trumpeter Kenny Dorham and his quintet is the latest and perhaps most crystalline example of this. There has never been a single 180-gram pressing available. It has only been reissued (officially) once in 50 years. When you hear it, you’ll scratch your head raw that this under-appreciated gem has been missing for so long.

Working with a soulful Jackie McLean on alto, a loose and swinging Bobby Timmons on piano, and the locked-in rhythm section of Teddy Smith on bass and J.C. Moses on drums, the playing is spontaneous, energetic, and expressive. Check out the frenetic interplay between Timmons and Moses during the long trailing section of “Melanie.”

Recorded in a single day in 1962, Matador contains the sprawling epic McLean-penned “Melanie” (a suite in three parts), as well as Dorham’s smoldering “El Matador” and a stirring take on “Beautiful Love”. Throughout the session, Timmons, Smith, and Moses provide sublime support while Dorham and McLean trade sinewy solos. Emotional musical exploration ties to a readily approachable post-bop structure that makes for a snappy, yet heady, mix of tunes that put a tap in your foot while engaging your head and heart.

Chris Bellman cut Matador from the original analog master tape (one of the few that survived the Universal warehouse fire of 2008, lucky for us) and the sound is revelatory! Tight acoustics of the Soundmaker Studios provide tightened bass, crystal-clear drums, and beautifully rounded tones from Dorham’s and McLean’s horns. This is another fine example of Impex Records cutting through the fat of modern music-making to reveal the very essence of the music and the giant talents who created it. We are elated to bring this sadly-neglected classic back for true believers to add to their collection and (maybe more importantly) to a whole new generation to discover for the first time.

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Analogue recording
Comments (3)

Comment by Tony Reif - November 18, 2021 (1 of 3)

An interesting choice for Impex, who hit home runs for me with their Legrand Jazz and Joan Armatrading SACDs. Their publicity piles on the superlatives, but what we get here musically is a very good, varied record principally distinguished by a darkly beautiful Jackie McLean composition, titled “Melanie", which he’d recorded a month earlier for his quartet record Let Freedom Ring as “Melody for Melonae” (dedicated to his daughter Melonae). On Matador it gets an urgent, more concise and emotionally compelling treatment, including a more inside solo from McLean (no flirting with the avant-garde). It also really benefits from Dorham’s trumpet in the ensembles and from Timmons’ incisive piano. An indelible performance. The other pieces are Chaplin’s “Smile” and two more standards, “Beautiful Love” (1931) and “There Goes My Heart” (1934), as well as an arrangement for trumpet and piano of a Villa-Lobos prelude. Dorham’s “El Matador”, a propulsive tune in 5/4 composed after returning from a 3 week all-stars tour of South America in 1961, opens the record.

The sound is very enjoyable. Engineer Bill Schwartau did other recordings in New York for United Artists around this time such as the Bill Evans-Jim Hall classic Undercurrent, as well as Evans’ Moonbeams/How My Heart Sings session for Riverside. He was also Phil Ramone’s mentor – see Schwartau’s Wiki article, where Ramone is quoted: ”Bill Schwartau was one of the unsung heroes of our industry, and every recording professional on the East Coast admired him. His ability to hear 'through the microphone' was impeccable; and when Bill set up a session, what you heard in the studio matched what you heard in the control room. He used microphones and aural shading to convey subtlety and nuance in the same way a painter uses light and color." The SACD sound is quite rich and analog-sounding compared to the 1991 Blue Note remix, with notably truer timbres, and is more transparent and dynamic. (There’s a Japanese 24 bit remaster which I haven’t heard.) Everyone benefits, but McLean’s sound is especially vivid. That and his positioning near the centre of the soundstage make it almost seem more like his record than Dorham’s – perhaps also because the altoist's playing is generally more assertive and fluent. (One wonders what producer Alan Douglas’s influence on the session was.) Still, Dorham’s solos have some great moments, and his trumpet sound is beautiful. The weak link sonically (as so often in 50s/60s jazz) is the piano, which is kind of hard-sounding when loud, nearly piercing in the treble. Yet that’s preferable in terms of expression to Van Gelder’s covered, distant pianos. Also, Schwartau eschewed the sometimes overdone plate reverb Van Gelder favoured for a more subtle resonance that creates a rather credible sense of space (a good read on RVG’s approach:

A couple more quibbles: there’s a loud glitch at 4:17 of “El Matador” that should have been caught (btw Timmons’ solo was edited out on the original LP master, though included on the remixed CD - no great loss). And the piano and trumpet don’t sound like they’re in the same room on “Prelude”, which also has some pre-echo and hum.

Kudos to Impex for the elegant booklet and inlay design, very nicely printed on textured paper. Btw they’ve announced an LP release for next year, presumably based on the same Chris Bellman mastering.

Comment by Tony Reif - November 23, 2021 (2 of 3)

It was Intervention, not Impex, who produced the Joan Armatrading SACD. Apologies to both for my blunder.

Comment by Mark Werlin - November 23, 2021 (3 of 3)

Many thanks, Tony, for your informative and astute comments about the performances and the recorded sound. Relatively few classic-era jazz albums are being released on SACD at this point, especially lesser-known but deserving titles like "Matador" that have never been reissued in high resolution. Although Impex focuses primarily on producing LPs cut from original master tapes, their choice of jazz titles for SACD shows discernment.