Lee Morgan

The Complete Live at the Lighthouse

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The Complete Live at the Lighthouse Review

by Matt Collar

The superb 2021 collection The Complete Live at the Lighthouse brings together all of the music trumpeter Lee Morgan recorded for his dynamic 1970 concert album recorded at the legendary Hermosa Beach, California jazz club. Initially issued as a double-LP, Live at the Lighthouse was Morgan's final album to be released while he was still alive; he died tragically at the age of 33 after being shot by his common-law wife Helen Morgan outside a club in 1972. Following a 1996 two-disc reissue, The Complete Live at the Lighthouse presents everything Morgan recorded during his three-day stint at the Lighthouse from July 10 to 12, 1970. Joining him was his stellar ensemble of the time featuring saxophonist Bennie Maupin, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Jymie Merritt, and drummer Mickey Roker. Also featured is drummer Jack DeJohnette, who sits in on a version of Morgan's classic "Speedball." An innovative firebrand with a blistering attack and unerring sense of rhythm, Morgan soared to career heights in the '60s, first as a member of the Jazz Messengers and then on his own with landmark albums like 1963's Sidewinder and 1966's Search for the New Land; bold hard bop dates that introduced his soulful, boogaloo jazz sound. By the time he stepped on-stage at the Lighthouse he had already begun to expand his sound, delving into expansive modal harmonies and flirting with edgier free jazz improvisations. All of this is on display here, especially on tracks like Maupin's dreamlike "Neophilia" and Merrit's roiling "Nommo," the latter of which plays like a spatter-paint tone-poem version of Morgan's "Sidewinder." We also get a swaggering, funky reading of that classic song that reveals just how much the growing fusion and soul-jazz movements of the era were informing Morgan's work. While 1972's The Last Session would arrive posthumously as Morgan's final creative statement, The Complete Live at the Lighthouse captures him at the raw transcendency of what should have been the second half of his career, giving brilliant flashes of the bold artistic directions he might have taken.

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