By Devon Wendell
It’s still hard to believe that Kenny Dorham is not mentioned alongside such fellow trumpet masters as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard. Dorham was one of the most extraordinarily unique musical thinkers to pick up the trumpet in the entire history of jazz. He not only had a highly personal approach to playing, he was also a composer of the highest level.
On Blue Note’s Whistle Stop, recorded on January 15, 1961, Dorham is joined by tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, his longtime partner from his days in the original Jazz Messengers. It would always swing when these two would get together. To quote Horace Silver: “Their work together was so hip you know, it was super hip.” Accompanying Dorham and Mobley are Kenny Drew on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
The opening track “Philly Twist” is a cooking up-tempo hard-bop staple. Of course the title is a play on words, referring mostly to drummer Philly Joe Jones whose groove behind the complex rhythm changes of this piece makes everyone swing beautifully. Dorham and Mobley’s solos compliment each other perfectly. Kenny Drew’s blues-flavored piano back-up dances around Dorham and the entire band with taste and soul. Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones both take brief but brilliant solos.
“Buffalo” is a pure blues. The thoughtful lyricism in Dorham’s solo makes this one of my all-time favorite solos by this master. And nobody can make the blues swing like Hank Mobley. Every note of his solo on this composition is sweet, honest, and hard at the same time.
“Sunset” is a Dorham masterpiece. Dorham’s muted trumpet solo is thematic and beautifully melodic. Mobley too solos without losing sight of the composition’s theme. Like most of Dorham’s compositions, a unique mood is established from the first four bars on.
The title track and “Windmill” swing like a tornado. If one was to present two examples of why Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley were true pioneers of the hard-bop genre, “Whistle Stop” and “Windmill” would exemplify this perfectly. Dorham’s distinct knowledge of the bebop language combined with some swinging blues is what helped to define this sub-genre. And Mobley plays some of the finest solos of his career here in a style that is just as unique and timeless as Dorham’s. The rhythm section is relentless. Jones and Chambers are so in sync with each other and they make every nuance burn with love and dedication.
“Sunrise In Mexico” features some of the most delightfully syncopated trumpet lines ever played by Dorham. This modal style ballad gives Dorham, Mobley and Drew plenty of space to stretch out.
The album closes with the soft and elegant “Dorham’s Epitaph.” Dorham stated that he wrote it to be just that. It’s a very brief piece but it cements all of the compositions together perfectly.
Whistle Stop is one of the most potent and timeless releases on the Blue Note label.
It just doesn’t get much better than this. This is a must for all music lovers.