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Trumpeter Lee Morgan channels Coltrane's splashy style in 'Live at the Lighthouse'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. In July 1970, jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan recorded for three nights at the Lighthouse jazz club in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Some of that music has been issued before. Now there's a box set with all of it, over seven hours of music. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it finds a great trumpet player in fine form with a band to match.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "ABSOLUTIONS (LIVE) [SUNDAY, JULY 12, 1970: SET 2])

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: One thing that comes through loud and clear on Lee Morgan's action-packed "The Complete Live At The Lighthouse" is how John Coltrane's splashy 1964 music still held sway over jazz six years later. Coltrane's fast saxophone runs didn't translate well to trumpet, but Lee Morgan found brass-specific ways to parallel Coltrane's trance-like or prayer-like repetitions, framing them in his own puckish, punchy style. I mean, Coltrane didn't quote Beatles songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "NOMMO (LIVE) [SUNDAY, JULY 12, 1970: SET 4])

WHITEHEAD: Lee Morgan slipping Eleanor Rigby into Jymie Merritt's tune "Nommo." Over three nights of live recording, Morgan's band played most of the tunes more than once. That lets us hear the soloists are really improvising, not playing variations on a potted solo, not usually, anyway. Here's Morgan at the same point on the same tune the night before - different night, different solo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "NOMMO (LIVE) [SATURDAY, JULY 11, 1970: SET 3])

WHITEHEAD: Lee Morgan was long on swagger. And the band he brought to Hermosa Beach's Lighthouse Cafe in 1970 was right on his cocky wavelength. Much like the boss, Bennie Maupin put his own roaring spin on John Coltrane's sweeping phrases and dramatic long tones.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "PEYOTE (LIVE)")

WHITEHEAD: Bennie Maupin on his tune "Peyote," allegedly written under the influence. He plays a little bass clarinet and flute on these sessions, too. The band's Coltrane-y swirling owes a lot to Harold Mabern, echoing McCoy Tyner's booming piano style. But Mabern has his blues-drenched Memphis thing, too. Ever-swinging drummer Mickey Roker is ever attentive, powerful, but not overbearing. Jymie Merritt's futuristic five-string electric upright bass sounds earthy as a log drum.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "THE SIDEWINDER (LIVE) [FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1970: SET 3]")

WHITEHEAD: Harold Mabern on Lee Morgan's all-time hit "The Sidewinder." Most of the material the quintet played at The Lighthouse was new. Morgan hadn't been composing lately, so he featured tunes by his sidemen. The publishing royalties made a nice perk for them. The repertoire ropes in blues and bop, as well as the Coltrane-y stuff. Bennie Maupin's "I Remember Britt" evokes Burt Bacharach's 1960s pop, with conjoined flute and flugelhorn, elegant melodic turns and a bouncy piano vamp.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "I REMEMBER BRITT (LIVE)")

WHITEHEAD: This lineup didn't last beyond The Lighthouse. Back in New York, Herbie Hancock hired Bennie Maupin away. The other guys stuck together between other engagements. Four months later, Harold Mabern was in Baltimore one Sunday playing even wilder post-Coltrane jazz with trumpeter Woody Shaw, as heard on a new twofer from drummer Roy Brooks, "Understanding." That set would make a good chaser should eight CDs of prime Lee Morgan leave anyone wanting more rollicking jazz from 1970.

OK, Lee, play us out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "THE SIDEWINDER (LIVE) [FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1970: SET 3]")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed "Lee Morgan - The Complete Live At The Lighthouse."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be Stanley Tucci, who's known for his roles in films like "The Devil Wears Prada," "Julie & Julia" and "The Lovely Bones." He's now focused on food. He hosted a series about Italian cooking on CNN. And he has a new memoir about culinary treasures in his life, from his mother's cooking to the food in his classic film "Big Night." I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering today from Adam Staniszewski. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE MORGAN'S "THE SIDEWINDER (LIVE) [FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1970: SET 3]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.