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Lee Morgan's Most Dynamic Band is Revealed in Full on a Staggering New Boxed Set

Lee Morgan
Joel Franklin
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Lee Morgan in 1971, shortly after recording 'Live at The Lighthouse' for Blue Note Records.

Lee Morgan, the incandescent trumpeter, led one of the greatest bands of the early 1970s — a short-lived but multifaceted quintet, expansive in both attitude and approach.

Lee Morgan in Hermosa Beach, 1970
Joel Franklin

Featuring multi-reedist Bennie Maupin, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Jymie Merritt and drummer Mickey Roker, this ensemble spent a productive weekend in Hermosa Beach, Calif, in the summer of 1970 — with Blue Note Records rolling tape. The resulting album, Live at the Lighthouse, spread four extended cuts across a double LP, opening a portal to the outer reaches of post-bop.

An expanded reissue of the set, issued on 3 CDs in 1996, gave some indication of how truly comprehensive Morgan and his cohort truly were. This quintet could do just about anything — and as the marketplace welcomed reissues of classic material from Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans, some fans wondered if Blue Note would ever release the complete recordings: three nights and 12 sets of music. The acclaimed 2016 documentary I Called Him Morgan sharpened interest in this historic run, raising the question anew.

The Complete Live at the Lighthouse

And now that moment has arrived. As we noted a couple of months ago, the label is preparing to drop The Complete Live at the Lighthouse — a boxed set available on either 8 CDs or 12 LPs. Our pick for the most important archival release of the year, this release shows the band cultivating its language throughout a dozen expansive original songs, like Mabern’s “The Beehive” and Merritt’s “Absolution.” The deluxe package includes an illuminating collection of interviews, with sources including Bennie Maupin and, in his final interview, Jymie Merritt. (It’s sobering to realize that within the last two years, we’ve lost Merritt, Roker and Mabern.)

We at Jazz United are truly united in our admiration for this band. In this episode, you’ll hear us discuss what makes Lee at The Lighthouse such a watershed. In the juggling of multiple meters, the development of melody over a minimalist chordal palette, and the tension-and-release created through shrewd dynamic shifts, these live recordings prefigure the sound of progressive acoustic music over the next 40 years.

The Complete Live at the Lighthouse releases on Aug. 20; preorder here.

Jazz United is produced by Trevor Smith for WBGO Studios.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.