While the critical jury is still out on his overall contribution to the form, the indisputable fact remains that until the arrival of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in California, Howard McGhee was the West Coast trail-blazing bebopper in residence. These early sides show him in top form, straddling a bridge between Roy Eldridge and the new sound that was in the wind. Kicking off with a four-side 1945 date for Philo/Aladdin, Howard's bravura tone is well represented and his stratospheric runs on "Mop Mop" sit comfortably alongside his more reflective work on "Stardust." McGhee was also the trumpeter on the ill-fated "Bird" session that produced "Lover Man." After Parker left the studio, McGhee jammed two tunes with the remaining personnel, "Thermodynamics" and the title cut, his inspired improvisation on the chord changes to "Indiana." The first actual Dial label date with Howard as leader featured Dodo Marmarosa on piano, producing four classics of the idiom: "Midnight at Minton's," "High Wind in Hollywood," "Dialated Pupils," and "Up in Dodo's Room," alternates of which can be found on the companion Dodo Marmarosa collection, Up in Dodo's Room. But the bop mother lode comes with the inclusion of 11 tracks (two alternates) from McGhee's final date for the label, held in New York and featuring James Moody on tenor sax, Milt Jackson on vibes, Ray Brown on bass, Hank Jones on piano, and J.C. Heard on drums, a classic lineup indeed. Although McGhee's later work could vacillate between brilliant and banal, the potency of these recordings in indisputable.
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AllMusic Review by Cub Koda