Track of the Week – “Joe’s Bolero” by Joe Henderson, 1980

mirror mirror

This 1980 recording comes from an album, “Mirror, Mirror,” which has three loft veterans on it: saxophonist Henderson, who lived in the loft in the fall of 1961, drummer Billy Higgins, and pianist Chick Corea.  Ron Carter is on bass to round out the quartet.

I was introduced to Henderson in the summer of 1992 when I was living in Washington, D.C.  One hot afternoon he joined Wynton Marsalis’ band under a broiling tent on the Mall.  The gig was part of the Library of Congress Folklife Festival.  I was new to jazz, having been steeped in blues for the previous few years, and it was the Marsalis name that drew me out to this event, but I left with Henderson’s image and sound permanently imprinted.  Henderson was a small man (a couple of Wynton’s sidemen were enormous) and his stage demeanor was peaceful and kind, like your favorite school principal, or like the traditional farmer who goes to church every Sunday and sits on the back row and never says a word, gently smiling at everyone who walks by.  Henderson sported a gray beard, glasses, and a pressed shirt, tucked in.  You might say his stage presence was light, even wispy.  But when he blew air through his horn the sounds that came out were among the heaviest I’d ever heard.  Some of this impression came from his contrast with Wynton and his band, young and outwardly strong willed.

A year or so later I found the CD “Mirror, Mirror.”  I love the whole album but the band’s performance on “Joe’s Bolero” is stunning.  Higgins sounds like a popcorn popper, Corea sounds like Corea – controlled in an almost manic manner.  Henderson’s first notes on the track are a quick, strained wail before a simple, dry one-up one-down pattern emerges.  For the next eight minutes there is melodic pandemonium.  The band seems to drive itself up against a wall, motor still churning in place, then they turn the wheel, break free, and move toward another wall made of different material.


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