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Tippin’ the Scales

Most musicians don’t look much different on the bandstand than at ease. In the throes of creation, their cheeks may be distended or flushed and their eyes squeezed or closed, but they don’t undergo a complete transformation. Horace Silver is not most musicians. Look at the photos: When he isn’t playing, he smiles a dimpled smile or gazes with boyish serenity-Dr. Jekyll at your service. But in action, the bottled imp is uncorked as his spine snaps taut as a bow; his shoulders rise, the better to leverage his arms; his neatly combed hair flies forward with Cab Calloway defiance; and his eyes intensify into obsidian points of concentration. This is no Hyde, however: His ecstasy is as tempered as it is catching. He plays few notes, but makes you feel them all.

Come September, Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silver-pianist, composer, lyricist, godfather of hard-bop, spiritualist, memoirist and phrasemaker who originated the name Jazz Messengers and established funk as a musical term-will celebrate his 80th birthday. No need to wait until then to celebrate. Silver hasn’t recorded in a decade, yet he has a new album. Blue Note, the label that documented his greatest years and now has as much luck trolling the Library of Congress as jazz clubs, has come up with another forgotten blast: Silver’s Live at Newport ’58. Having found a tape in the LOC and remembering that George Avakian recorded that year’s NJF for Columbia Records, Blue Note producer Michael Cuscuna went to Columbia’s vaults and found a three-track master. Had they released it half a century ago, it would already be in your collection.

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