Cult Classic: Harold Land-Choma (Burn).

Musically, Harold Land was a late developer. Growing up in Houston he never showed any interest in learning to play an instrument. Then in 1944, when he was sixteen, Harold heard Coleman Hawkins recording of Body and Soul. This was a life-changing experience. After this, Harold decided to learn how to play the tenor saxophone. Five years later, Harold Land made his professional debut on Savoy Records.

This was the start of a career that spanned six decades and saw Harold Land worked with the great and good of jazz. This included everyone from Wes Montgomery, Bobby Hutcherson, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Chico Hamilton, Donald Byrd and Curtis Counce. Anyone looking for a top tenor saxophonist had Harold Land’s phone number. However, there was more to Harold Land than collaborator and sideman. He also enjoyed a successful solo career.

During his solo career, Harold Land released a series of groundbreaking solo albums. This included Choma (Burn), which was released in 1971, on the Mainstream label. It showcased Harold Land’s legendary acoustic combo. They made their name in the late-sixties, and by 1971, when Choma (Burn) was released, they were at the peak of their considerable powers. That’s apparent on Choma (Burn, which is one of Harold Land’s greatest albums. 

Harold Land was born in Houston, in December 1928, and when he was five his family moved to San Diego. That’s where Harold grew up and went to school. It’s also where Harold first heard Coleman Hawkins recording of Body and Soul in 1944. This was a life-changing experience. 

After this, Harold decided to learn how to play the tenor saxophone. Harold had left it late to learn the tenor saxophone. However, he dedicated himself to mastering the tenor saxophone and remarkably, five years later, in 1949, he made his recording debut.

This was for a session for Savoy Records. For the next five years, Harold Land spent time doing what amounted to a musical apprenticeship. He played gigs and recording sessions whenever he could. All the time, he was honing his sound and style. By 1954, Harold was ready to move to Los Angeles.

Now based in L.A, Harold struggled for work. Then his luck changed. Clifford Brown asked Harold to join a band he was forming with drummer Max Roach. This was the break he needed. Between 1954 and 1955, he played on five albums featuring Clifford Brown and Max Roach. This included  the 1954 live album Jam Session and later in 1954, Harold played on Brown and Roach Incorporated and then Daahoud. Then in 1955, Harold played on Study In Brown. This was his swan-song for Clifford Brown and Max Roach’s band. After this, Harold joined Curtis Counce’s band.

Harold’s debut as a member of Curtis Counce’s band was 1956s You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce. Landslide followed in 1956, with Sonority following in 1957. A year later, Exploring The Future was released on Dooto in 1958. Harold’s last album was 1960s Carl’s Blues. Away from Curtis Counce’s band, Harold was in demand as a session player.

This included working with Elmo Hope on the 1957 album The Elmo Hope Quintet featuring Harold Land. Then in 1958, Harold played on Hampton Hawkes’ album For Real. However, by then, Harold’s solo career had began. 

Grooveyard was Harold’s debut album. It was released in 1958. His sophomore album Harold In The Land Of Jazz, released later in 1958. Then in 1959, Harold released the first in a series of collaborations.

This was The Fox. Released in 1959, it featured Elmo Hope, DuPree Bolton, Herbie Lewis and Frank Butler. The Fox was an album of hard bop which was released to critical acclaim. With every release, Harold’s reputation was growing.

As a new decade dawned, Harold Land released two albums. West Coast Blues and Eastward Ho! and Harold Land in New York were released in 1960. Both albums built on the three albums he had released during the late-fifties. As a result, Harold Land  was seen as one of jazz’s up-and-coming artists.

1961 saw Harold asked to collaborate with Red Mitchell, for an album that would be released on Atlantic Records. For Harold, this was the opportunity to be heard by a wider audience. So he agreed to the collaboration, and recorded  Hear Ye! It was  credited to Harold Land Quintet with Red Mitchell and released  to widespread critical acclaim in 1961. After this, Harold was asked to join Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra.

He jumped at the opportunity and  spent the next six years touring and recording with Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra. Then in 1967, Harold left Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra.

That was when Harold met twenty-six year old Bobby Hutcherson who was one of jazz’s rising star. Just like Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy, Tony Williams and Graham Moncur III,  Bobby Hutcherson was regarded as the future of jazz. These musicians were innovators, who were determined to push jazz in a new direction. Harold would play on all of Bobby’s albums for Blue Note. Before that, Harold and Bobby collaborated on an album for Cadet, a subsidiary of Chess Records. The Peace-Maker was released in 1967, and showcased the Hutcherson-Land partnership. This wouldn’t be that last time this partnership was heard.

It was heard on Bobby Hutcherson’s 1968 album Total Eclipse. Harold played tenor saxophone on what was hailed an inventive album. The following year, Harold was signed to Blue Note Records. Harold released Take Aim in 1969. It’s come to be regarded as a Blue Note classic. On Take Aim, Bobby Hutcherson was one of Harold’s band. Harold returned the favor on the two albums Bobby Bobby released in 1969, Blow Up and Now! That year, Harold also played on Ella Fitzgerald’s album Things Ain’t What They Used to Be. Harold Land was rubbing shoulders with the great and good of jazz.

That continued into the seventies. Harold played on Bobby Hutcherson’s next two albums. San Francisco was released in 1970 and Head On in 1971. Donald Byrd also released Ethiopian Knights in 1971. Harold and Bobby were part of a band featuring some of the best jazz musicians. This included Joe Sample and Wilson Felder. Harold Land was, it seemed, the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a tenor saxophonist. This would be the case for much of the seventies. 

During this period, Harold Land was splitting his time between session work and his solo career. He’d signed Bob Shad’s Mainstream label and released A New Shade of Blue in 1971. Later in 1971, Harold released the followup to A New Shade of Blue, which was Choma (Burn). 

Choma (Burn) features just four lengthy tracks. Three of them, Choma (Burn), Black Caucus and Up and Down were written by Harold. Bill Henderson wrote Our Home. These four tracks were recorded by a band featuring some top jazz musicians.

For the recording of Choma (Burn), the rhythm section included drummers Leon Ndugu Chancler and Woody Theus and bassist Reggie Johnson. Bill Henderson played piano, and Bobby Hutcherson vibes and marimba. Harold Land played piano and tenor saxophone. Producing Choma (Burn), was Bob Shad, who owned the Mainstream label. Choma (Burn) was released later in 1971.

On the release of Choma (Burn) in 1971, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Despite its undoubted quality, Choma (Burn) failed to chart. Choma (Burn) seemed to pass both critics and music lovers by. Considering Choma (Burn) is one of the finest albums Harold Land released since the late-fifties, the album deserved to fare better.

Opening Choma (Burn) is the title-track. It has a melancholy, understated sound. This comes courtesy of Harold’s flute and Bobby’s vibes. After that, Reggie Johnson’s bass powers the arrangement along. Thunderous drums, stabs of piano, franatic flute and marimba combine. The arrangement charges along, powered by the rhythm section. Everyone else is swept along. By then, the track is heading in the direction of free jazz.  Each of the band enjoy their moment in the sun, when the solos arrive. Bill Henderson unleashes a spellbinding solo. He’s matched every step of the way by the drums.  It’s as if they’re trying to outdo each other. They drive each other to greater heights, combining drama with power to create a captivating track.

Our Home has a much more thoughtful sound. That’s down to Harold’s tenor saxophone. It takes centre-stage. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, while Bill Henderson’s piano matches Harold every step of the way. He stabs at his piano while Harold unleashes a blistering, rasping solo. It’s a combination of power and control. Meanwhile, the rest of the band lock into the tightest of grooves. Seamlessly, they fuse funk and jazz. Importantly, they leave space, allowing the arrangement to breath. Later, Bill Henderson’s piano ensures things get funky, while Bobby’s vibes add a contrast to the drama of the rhythm section. The result is an innovative fusion which hinted at the direction jazz was heading during the seventies.

Harold unleashes a blistering tenor saxophone solo on the fantastically funky Black Caucus. Drawing inspiration from Harold, the rest of the band provide a funky, cinematic backdrop. Drums try to match Harold, as he unleashes a spellbinding solo. It’s a tantalising taste of what Harold Land was capable of. He blows his saxophone as if his very life depends upon it. The rest of the band raise their game. Thunderous drums, a funky bass and Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes combines with Bill Henderson’s electric piano. It’s as if they’re determined to match Harold’s virtuoso performance. They don’t let him down on this genre-hopping track. Sometimes, the track heads in the direction of free jazz. Other times, it veers between funk and jazz. It veers between cinematic, dramatic and joyous, and is best described as a lost jazz Magnus Opus.

A lone sultry sounding tenor saxophone Up and Down closes Choma (Burn). It’s soon joined by a melancholy electric piano. Then, before long, it’s all change. The drums threaten to drive the arrangement along. They’re only teasing. Instead, the bass powers the arrangement along. Joining in the fun are the drums. They help propel the swinging arrangement along. Despite that, it’s Harold’s growling saxophone steals the show. He unleashes another spellbinding solo. Hardly pausing for breath, his saxophone soars above the arrangement. Then when he takes a break, the rest of the band get their chance to shine. This includes Bill Henderson on electric piano and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. They try to match the quality of Harold’s solos. So, do the rhythm section. However, it’s close but no cigar. Harold steals the show. Later on, the arrangement takes on an understated, slinky late-night sound, before everyone kicks loose one more time, ensuring Choma (Burn) closes on a high.

When Harold Land recorded Choma (Burn), it was twenty-two years since he made his recording debut. That was in 1949, for Savoy. Since then, Harold had constantly sought to reinvent his music and stay relevant. Harold had watched as jazz constantly evolved.  

When Harold Land’s career began, the swing era was all but over. Bebop was about to become the most popular musical genre. Then it was all change. The West Coast sound became where it was at. Suddenly, everyone wanted to go to the Cool School. It surpassed bebop and hard bop in popularity. Harold Land survived all this and more. His career started in 1949 and he made his name in the second half of the fifties. By 1961, he’d established a reputation as a pioneering musician. That’s why he was asked to join Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra. Then when he left Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra in 1967, he befriended Bobby Hutcherson. 

Bobby and Harold become good friends and enjoyed a success. For the next few years, they played on each other’s albums. They also played on other people’s albums. This includes Donald Byrd’s 1971 album Ethiopian Nights. However, by 1971, their partnership was about to end. Choma (Burn) was the last album they recorded together. They certainly went out on a high.

Although Choma (Burn) features just four tracks, they ooze quality. Harold Land and his all-star band burn their way through a quartet of tracks. They pull out the stops, combining elements of free jazz, funk, fusion and jazz. The music on Choma (Burn) is innovative and inventive. It also hints at the direction music was about to take. As the seventies unfolded, fusion grew in popularity. Jazz and funk melted into one. This would provide the soundtrack to part of the seventies. Sadly, Harold Land wasn’t one of the artists doing this. After Choma (Burn)  Harold and Bobby Hutcherson went their separate ways. He only released one more album for Mainstream, which maybe, was the wrong label for Harold?

If Harold Land had been signed to a major label, his music might have been heard by a wider audience?  Who knows what heights Harold Land might have reached? Maybe, Harold Land would’ve enjoyed the critical acclaim and commercial success his music deserved. Sadly, that never happened. Instead, Harold only released a few more albums. His last great album was Choma (Burn), which features a fusion of groundbreaking, innovative music from one of the most underrated jazz musicians of his generation, Harold Land.

Cult Classic: Harold Land-Choma (Burn).





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