Tuesday, December 17, 2013

5 Awesome Tracks from the Late Horace Silver

Posted By on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 11:29 AM

horace silver and the jazz messengers album cover blue note 1955
When I was in college and first getting interested in jazz, the cover of Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers was for me the epitome of cool: the shirt sleeves, the angular composition, the bold color, the shadows, and the hands—by god, the hands. But what was cooler was the music therein. The hard-bop pianist has died—he was 85—but rather than let that get us down, let's instead celebrate his musical legacy by listening to a few of his best cuts. After all—if you don't know Horace Silver, you don't know jazz.

UPDATE: Horace Silver is not dead. This affords us the rare opportunity to appreciate someone while they're still alive!


Song for My Father
Silver's most enduring composition might be this title cut from 1965. It's the simple, bossa-nova bass line that makes the track, but there's also the funky melody that the horn section keeps returning to. Silver's cool piano holds it together, including a tight solo to finish it off.


Preacher
From that first album, "Preacher" has an old-timey sound that initially turned off the LP's producer. But Silver and drummer Art Blakey—the great Art Blakey—insisted it be included, and it went on to become one of the man's defining tracks, a joyous New Orleans-style swing.


Safari
But you know what? None of these tracks so far really show off the man's piano chops like this track does, recorded with Blakey on drums and Gene Ramey on bass. While it's easy to focus on Blakey's hot beats, it's Silver's dark, wild piano in challenging time that make the piece a true jaw-dropper.


Quicksilver
Presumably named because he was so fast on the keys, Silver's tune was originally recorded by his trio, but, man, you ought to hear it arranged for a larger band: the cut was included on the Jazz Messenger's seminal album A Night at Birdland Vol. 1. And while it doesn't spotlight Silver so much as provide a backdrop that Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson tear the shit out of, it still highlights the pianist's compositional skills—it's no coincidence that more than half of the tunes on that album are Silver's.


Senor Blues
Six Pieces of Silver is not only a terrific album title—it also has a cover almost as cool as that original Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. This 1957 track was a big break for Silver; while not as hard-driving as a lot of the other tunes on this list, it has a quiet cool and a dark edge that presages much of the work to follow. RIP.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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