Another recording that is going to be on my album of the year list.
Hal Galper (piano); John Scofield (guitar); Wayne Dockery (bass); Adam Nussbaum (drums)
Recorded Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg, Germany 31 October – 1 November 1979
The rise of the internet and streaming services like Spotify and YouTube has meant that many rare recordings are now available on tap, but for fans of physical media (and that includes this writer) there’s nothing quite like holding a disc in your hand and reading liner notes from an LP sleeve or CD booklet. This album was recorded in 1979, released in 1980, but until now, has long been out of print.
Thankfully Origin has re-released and remastered Ivory Coast (the Redux denotes the new version) on CD. The background to the album is interesting. Back in the late 70s, pianist Hal Galper and guitarist John Scofield joined forces, forming a very fruitful musical partnership and playing gigs together around New York City, touring Europe (twice) and recording two albums. The first, Rough House, was released in 1979 under John Scofield’s name. Ivory Forest arrived a year later and was originally planned as another Scofield album. However, by then the guitarist had signed with another label (Arista Novus), and so for contractual reasons, this officially became a Hal Galper release.
Hal Galper is now 84 years old and still going strong. At the time of the recording, he was 41. His long musical career includes stints with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Sam Rivers, Randy Brecker and Stan Getz, plus a two-year gig with Cannonball Adderley, from 1973-75, when Galper replaced George Duke. Looking back at his time with Adderley, Galper recalled what a great music education it was, as well as an entirely different era for jazz musicians, with the band on the road for 50 weeks a year, gigs often spanning five- or six-nights at each club, and the band playing three sets a night.
John Scofield was in his late twenties during this period and it would be almost three years before he joined Miles Davis’s band – a gig that gave him both international status and a springboard for a highly successful solo career. But even at this stage, it was evident what a talent Scofield was – by now, he had already played with Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Cobham, George Duke and Miroslav Vituous. Bassist Wayne Dockery (who died in 2018) replaced Stafford James from the Rough House recording and was 38 at the time. He had worked with George Benson and Sonny Fortune. Drummer Adam Nussbaum was only 24 and at the start of what would be a highly regarded musical career. He had played on the Rough House album, but in the liner notes, Galper describes how he pushed the young drummer during the recording sessions: ‘[He] had a great beat. He swung but there was a lot he didn’t know. I was kicking his ass. I was merciless. He’ll tell you that he thanks me for that forever. You can tell by the time we recorded Ivory Forest, he had gotten a lot better.”
The album consists of six songs, two covers and four composed by Galper. The shortest number – ‘Yellow Days’ – is a little under four minutes in length, while the longest – ‘Rapunzel’s Luncheonette’ is a shade under ten minutes. Most tracks are around the six/seven-minute mark. The opening title track is a midtempo piece, driven by Nussbaum’s incessant cross-stick beat, with Dockery’s bass forming a solid foundation. Guitar and piano double up in sections, and Scofield is given a long solo. The guitarist already had the foundations of what makes him such a special player – graceful, smooth, fluent lines and elegant phrasing, with a surprising chord or line thrown in here and there. Galper follows him, playing an exciting solo; his right hand pounding the high keys. Towards the coda, Nussbaum opens up with a series of exciting and explosive fills.
‘Continuity’ is a piece that required a three-handed pianist – Galper got Nussbaum to join him on piano and hit a low E every four bars. It’s a beautiful piece, beginning with guitar and piano playing a gentle vamp together, and Halper introducing a lovely six-note motif, which he builds on. It’s a sublime, delicate trio performance (no drums) and Scofield plays another fine solo. There’s a dramatic change of pace for ‘My Dog Spot’ an uptempo piece with a Latin vibe. The band is on fire and Scofield unleashes a solo with fast, flowing jagged lines and a near-quote from Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps.’ Halper follows with an equally fiery solo.
Thelonious Monk’s ‘Monk’s Mood’ is a superb six-minute solo guitar piece, which Scofield starts with a touch of reverb. It’s a masterclass in jazz guitar, with Scofield playing with great control and feeling – damping, bending and picking, all with a rich, vibrant tone. ‘Yellow Days’ was covered by Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra on the 1968 album Francis A and Edward K. Their version had a certain swing and swagger, but Galper (playing a duet with Dockery) offers up a more meditative interpretation, evoking the song’s yearning for a happier yesterday. It’s another standout performance.
The album’s closer, ‘Rapunzel’s Luncheonette’ sees the band going out with a sizzling hot number. Galper’s speed, power and articulation brings to mind the energetic playing of McCoy Tyner, and Dockery and Nussbaum play long, furious 16th note runs. Around the four-minute mark, Galper switches to play an avant garde solo, before the band picks up again, as Scofield fires off a run of notes at a blistering pace. What a way to end an album. Although this music was recorded more than forty years ago, it still sounds fresh, vibrant and exciting. Another recording that is going to be on my album of the year list.
Reviewed by George Cole