Search for the New Land was recorded in 1964, just one year after Lee Morgan’s most commercially successful record Sidewinder, but the album was shelved for two years. It might be easy to overlook it amidst the string of mediocre Lee Morgan records which were churned out by Blue Note at this time as they attempted to recapture the magic of Sidewinder, but Search for the New Land is a more sophisticated album, offering the listener more substance than for example, The Gigolo and Cornbread.
The title track of Search for the New Land is atypical for a jazz album, firmly breaking the format established by Sidewinder, that of following a funky blues tune with a collection of more standard hard bop numbers. The tune takes a radical step away from tradition altogether, dispensing almost completely with the accepted jazz compositional framework of head, solos, head. Instead, a couple of motifs are established which return throughout the piece between solos played over an insistent rhythmic accompaniment. The model nature of the chords allows the soloists as much freedom to explore as the title suggests and Morgan pushes the envelope further by under and over-blowing the horn, introducing the polarity of tender breathiness and ugly distortion into his trumpet sound. Each of the instrumentalists adds something different to the landscape and each is given as much importance as the last. Shorter rips up and down the full range of the tenor with ferocious pentatonic lines while Green ceaselessly states and restates the melody with sparkling motives. It’s very democratic.
After a striking opening, which took up most of the first side of the original LP, the following tunes don’t disappoint. The Joker is a bluesy number that swings hard in the vein of Clifford Brown. Morgan makes plenty of use of a Clifford-like doodle tongue and angular quaver lines in contrast to Shorter’s bluesier playing style.
Fairly typical of the mid 60s hard bop era, Mr. Kenyatta features alternating straight and swung sections. Save for Search for the New Land, this is the longest track on the album and features long solos from tenor, guitar, piano and trumpet, giving the players enough time to really dig their heels in. The result is some impressive fireworks on a tune that could have blended into the background with a lesser band.
The plaintive ballad Melancholee shows off the power of interaction within the ensemble. The guitar dances on top of the tune while tenor sax and piano flirt together. Ballads can sometimes drag but the short solos keep this tune fresh throughout and expert communication between the players makes up for Herbie and Shorter only taking half a chorus each. Morgan the Pirate moves along at quite a driving pace. Its 3/4 melody is lighthearted and playful and provides the perfect contrast to end the album.
Overall, Search for the New Land is excellent. It stands out as one of the best Lee Morgan albums for the originality of the compositions and quality of playing as well as stretching the confinements of the hard bop genre.
Lee Morgan- Trumpet
Wayne Shorter- Tenor Sax
Herbie Hancock- Piano
Grant Green- Guitar
Reggie Workman- Bass
Billy Higgins- Drums