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Record Store Day Vinyl Preview: Harold Land’s Westward Bound!

Mark Smotroff digs into an under appreciated jazz master’s archive…

Westward Bound! is a new release on the Reel-to-Real label being issued for Record Store Day later this week. The limited edition two-record set features under-appreciated saxophonist Harold Land leading a series of smoking jazz combos in live performances originally broadcast on KING-FM during the 1960’s in Seattle, Washington. 

Listening closely to the fire and intention on these recordings — made between 1962 and 1965 — you realize these weren’t just pick up groups behind Mr. Land. He had pulled together special assemblages which included the great Hampton Hawes on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums as well as Monk and Buddy Montgomery (Wes’ brothers!). 

Still, I suspect some of you might be asking: Just who is this Harold Land?  From the official press release we learn:

“Born in Houston and raised in San Diego, Harold Land established himself as a jazz star with four EmArcy albums in the tenor chair of trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach’s celebrated ‘50s quintet. Based in Los Angeles from the mid-‘50s on, he worked fruitfully as a leader, recorded regularly with big band leader-arranger Gerald Wilson, and played behind such giants as Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk, Les McCann, and Hampton Hawes. In later years he forged fruitful alliances with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and the Timeless All Stars.”

If that is not enough then consider what Sonny Rollins – who replaced Land in the Brown-Roach combo – has to say about him (also from that news release): “Harold Land was one of the premier saxophonists of the time. He was one of the best… He was a great player, one of my favorites.”  

Going back to that fire I mentioned, I hear echoes of classic be bop forms here on Westward Bound!, with tastes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker melded with that cool-West Coasting vibe ala Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers. 

The title of Westward Bound! isn’t totally lost on me as Land had an album out in 1960 called Eastward Ho! featuring sessions in New York. These performances were recorded for broadcast on the radio live from the opposite coast at Seattle’s legendary Penthouse

Thankfully, the original tapes have been preserved nicely over the years and this new special edition was mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio. These monaural recordings are remarkably full bodied with a nice balance to all the instruments yet also a good sense of room ambiance and three dimensionality. 

The vinyl pressings are excellent, dark, thick 180-gram vinyl, well centered and dead quiet which is important for a recording like this where there are moments of hushed quiet. There is a certain ambiance of the venue apparent on the recording which the LP captures nicely.  It is unsettling how small the crowd is there in the venue but the band plays its heart out, probably knowing they were being broadcast to a broader audience on the radio. 

You get one shot to make an impression when it comes to radio!

Some of my favorite tracks on Westward Bound! are the perky “Beepdurple” (form 1962) and the beautiful take on “My Romance.” I especially like the interplay of pianist Hampton Hawes and bassist Monk Montgomery in this 1964 performance. The song builds up from a hushed start of just piano and bass but escalating to quite a swinging epic with Land soaring over it all. Yet they bring it back down with Hawes gently supporting Montgomery’s soloing. There is a nice sense of group dynamics going on here. 

Land’s own “Trippin’ The Groove” is a fun swinging blues that launches off a zippy little sax run hook. The band manages to be playful without (no pun intended) tripping one another up on the signature change ups. 

Westward Bound!will be available at most independent record shops that carry jazz on Record Store Day.  This is a good one if you like Land’s playing and enjoy live recordings from that period. 

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