Kenny Dorham-Trompeta Toccato.

Label: Blue Note Records.

Format: Vinyl.

On December the ‘15th’ 1953, twenty-nine year old Texan trumpeter Kenny Dorham had already been a member of Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine and Lionel Hampton big bands and had joined Charlie Parker’s Quintet in December 1948. Less than five years later, and the sideman embarked upon a solo career when he signed the Debut label, which was founded by Charles Mingus and his wife Celia, with drummer Max Roach. This was a new chapter in Kenny Dorham’s career.

He journeyed to the Van Gelder Studio, at 25 Prospect Avenue, Hackensack, New Jersey, to record his debut album as leader, Kenny Dorham Quintet. It was well received upon its release in 1954, and this should’ve been the start of a long and illustrious career for the bandleader, composer and trumpeter.

By 1955, Kenny Dorham had signed to Blue Note Records, and in October released one of his finest albums for the label, Afro-Cuban. This was first of  start five albums that he released for Blue Note Records over a ten year period.

1956 was an important and sometimes frustrating year for Kenny Dorham. He was one of the charter members of The Jazz Crusaders, although his involvement was relatively short-lived. When drummer and fellow cofounder Art Blakey took over The Jazz Crusaders’ name he decided to found a new band The Jazz Prophets. They played on his second album for Blue Note Records.

This was ‘Round About Midnight At The Cafe Bohemia which was recorded on the ‘31st’ of May 1956. Later that year, the same lineup recorded another album together, and Kenny Dorham And The Jazz Prophets Volume 1 was released on ABC-Paramount. Still, Kenny Dorham found time tow work with two giants of jazz.

He had recorded with Sonny Rollins, and then joined the Max Roach Quintet after the death of Clifford Brown. 1956 was an important year in the career of Kenny Dorham. 

As 1957 dawned, ‘Round About Midnight At The Cafe Bohemia on. This sextet recording was released to plaudits and praise in January 1957. However, it would another four years before Kenny Dorham released another album on Blue Note

Over the next four years, he released albums on the Riverside, New Jazz and Time labels. Then on the ‘15th’ of January 1961 Kenny Dorham recorded Whistle Stop for Blue Note Records with an all-star band.

Five months later, Whistle Stop was released and hailed as his finest album Blue Note Records. Kenny Dorham was the comeback king, and “in 1975 five British critics picked Whistle Stop as one of 200 albums that belonged in a basic library of jazz recorded after World War II.” 

Buoyed by the response to Whistle Stop, Kenny Dorham released  the live album Inta Somethin’ on Pacific Jazz in March 1962. Reviews of the album were mixed, although Matador which was released by United Artists in April 1962 was a return to form from Kenny Dorham.

He returns to Blue Note Records and Una Mas (One More Time) on the ‘1st’ of April 1963. Little did any of the Quintet realise that this would be the penultimate album that Kenny Dorham would record. By then, he was frustrated that he still wasn’t well known within the jazz scene and that his music wasn’t receiving the recognition he deserved. 

In an interview for the album’s liner notes he said: “All I can say is that if it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. But it’s going to have to happen within a reasonable time. After all, I’ll soon be into my ‘25th’ year on the trumpet. Anyway, however it goes, I’ll just keep playing. That’s where the basic satisfaction is at”

When Una Mas (One More Time) was released in January 1964, the majority of the reviews were positive. However, just like his previous albums, it wasn’t a particularly successful release. Still his music was being heard by a small group of discerning jazz lovers. For Kenny Dorham it was a disappointing and frustrating time.

On September the ‘14th’ 1964, nearly eleven years after he made his debut as bandleader, Kenny Dorham journeyed to the Van Gelder Studio with his quintet. They were about to record Trompeta Toccat. It turned out that this was the last time he would make the journey as a bandleader.

That day, his band featured drummer Albert Heath, double bassist Richard Davis and pianist Tommy Flanagan. They were joined by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson who wrote Mamacita, while bandleader Kenny Dorham played trumpet and wrote the other three new compositions. Producing Trompeta Toccato was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and produced by Alfred Lion. Just like so many Blue Note Records’ sessions, the album was recorded in one day, but wasn’t released until 1965.  

By the time Trompeta Toccato was released in July 1965, Kenny Dorham was working as a sideman. It was also his swansong, and he would never record another album of new material. That was a great shame as Trompeta Toccato was one of the finest albums of his career. Sadly, it failed to find the wider audience it so richly deserved.

Trompeta Toccato opens with the title-track which is played in 6/8 time. Just Kenny Dorham’s trumpet and then the piano play slowly leaving space on what seems like a melancholy sounding track. Then it’s all change as the rhythm section, piano and a blazing, braying horns that are like a tag team as they bobs and weave their way across the arrangement which has taken on an Afro-Latin feeling. Later, pianist Tommy Flanagan plays a lengthy ruminative solo that invites refection before passing the baton to Richard Davis’ slow deliberate and thoughtful bass. Latterly the band unite and Joe Henderson’s trumpet soars about the rest of arrangement to this ambitious and complex twelve minute modal epic.

“Night Watch is a bluesy, cinematic track with a strong and memorable hook, where the Quintet are at their tightest and paint vivid pictures. Kenny Dorham described the scene as: ”It’s very late at night, and the mood is what comes when you’re alone at that time”. That describes it perfectly and many people will have experienced that feeling and be able to relate to it. Again the horns are to the fore as the band play as one. Then when the solos come round bandleader and trumpeter Kenny Dorham blows hard but is always in control and his playing melodic as the rhythm section ensure the track swings. Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson then takes charge and plays his solo effortlessly. So does pianist Tommy Flanagan, who adds to the late night sound with one of his finest solos as the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Then the horns take charge and add a sense of melancholia that many people will have experienced when they find themselves along late at night.

Mamacita is a twelve bar Bossa Nova written by Joe Henderson that came to life during the recording at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio. The band knew they were on the right road when they got producer Alfred Lion and photographer Francis Wolff moving to the rhythm. That’s sure to be the case from the opening bars as the piano and drums combine and then the trumpet and tenor saxophone enter. By then, toes are sure to be tapping and hips are swaying. This is just the start as the solos are still to come. First up is tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson whose playing is flawless and he sets the bar high. Kenny Dorham matches him every step of the way and so does pianist Tommy Flanagan. Then when the band reunite, the horns take the lead as the track swings as this Bossa Nova transports the listener to the Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janeiro.

Closing Trompeta Toccato is The Fox which bursts into life and has a 12-8-12 bar structure. It’s driven along by the rhythm section as Kenny Dorham plays with speed, power, urgency and a fluidity putting his twenty-five years of experience to good use. Then he bass the baton to Joe Henderson and his braying, rasping tenor saxophone scampers along as if the hounds are on the heels of The Fox. Tommy Flanagan replicates that urgency on the piano as his fingers flit up and down the keyboard. Later the band become one and the urgency increases before reaching a crescendo and Kenny Dorham takes a bow.

Sadly, Trompeta Toccato was Texan trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s swansong as bandleader. However, he had saved one of his finest albums until last, and combines hard bop, Afro-Latin, modal jazz and Bossa Nova on Trompeta Toccato. That comes as no surprise.

He’s backed by a hugely talented and versatile Quintet, with pianist Tommy Flanagan and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson playing starring roles on the album. Just like Kenny Dorham they showcase their considerable skills when the solos come around their playing is variously tight, inventive, expressive, urgent and fluid as they feed off each other and drive each other to greater heights. They played their part in an album that should’ve been a turning point in Kenny Dorham’s career.

When Trompeta Toccato was released in July 1965 it failed to find the audience it deserved. This was a huge disappointment for Kenny Dorham. By then, he was already disillusioned as even  his finest albums, including Trompeta Toccato, weren’t selling well and he he wasn’t receiving the recognition from critics and the jazz establishment that he felt he deserved. That was why Kenny Dorham decided to call time on his solo career after Trompeta Toccato.

After that, he continued to work as a sideman, but latterly only sporadically. By then Kenny Dorham was writing for Downbeat magazine as he was suffering from kidney disease and was unable to make a living as a musician. Tragically, this truly talented and vastly underrated bandleader, composer and trumpeter passed away on December the ‘5th’ 1972 aged forty-eight in New York. Jazz was in mourning at the loss of Kenny Dorham.

While he may not have been as prolific as other artists or enjoyed such a lengthy career, Kenny Dorham released some vastly underrated albums that somewhat belatedly are starting to find a wider audience. This includes Trompeta Toccato, which  was one of his finest albums, and what was sadly his swansong, but along with Whistle Stop is the perfect introduction to the late, great Kenny Dorham.

Cult Classic: Kenny Dorham-Trompeta Toccato.

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