Lee Morgan’s recorded output was so prodigious in the 1960’s that it’s easy for a record such as Charisma to fall through the cracks. That would be a shame because Charisma, recorded in 1966, is a hard bop gem. Morgan is joined on this one by some familiar faces which may account for the relaxed and joyful spirit of the album. Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean – a frequent Morgan ally – is on board along with tenor Hank Mobley (another longtime collaborator), pianist Cedar Walton, who contributes a lovely ballad, and a rhythm section of drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Paul Chambers. McLean, Mobley and Walton, like Morgan, all served apprenticeships in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Morgan by this time had established himself as a leading exponent of the hard bop sound. He had also enjoyed crossover success in the pop/R&B markets. The title tune from his 1963 album The Sidewinder spent time on the pop charts in 1964, a rarity for a jazz record. The sound on Charisma doesn’t stray far from the winning formula found on earlier Morgan albums like The Sidewinder and Cornbread (which featured his ballad masterpiece “Ceora”). But though the formula may be familiar the sound on Charisma is always fresh, swinging and soulful.
Morgan pulled from a number of influences including Latin, boogaloo, blues and R&B to create songs that were catchy and often danceable. All of those ingredients are in full play on Charisma starting with the funky lead-off track “Hey Chico” which gives way to the propulsive bop grind of “Somethin’ Cute.” Duke Pearson contributed two songs and his rollicking “Sweet Honey Bee” is a further highlight. Unlike so many jazz reissues these days, Charisma contains no “alternate takes” or “bonus material”; no filler here, just pure and joyous hard bop from a master at the top of his game.
Chris Darkins, Host of The Bridge on Monday mornings.