Harold Land might be best known as the tenor saxophonist who preceded Sonny Rollins in the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet of the mid-’50s, although his career continued for several more decades. It’s no faint praise when Rollins, interviewed in the notes to this set, says he never heard Land make a mistake. These live performances, from three separate dates at Seattle’s Penthouse club, speak legions about Land’s mastery of hard bop.
Although Land was a consummate improviser, the company he kept helped elevate him even further. The first three tracks, from 1962, capture the saxophonist in tandem with trumpeter Carmell Jones, his partner on several recordings. These originals, two by Land and one by Jones, find both in astounding form. The saxophonist digs into the changes of the complex “Vendetta” and the 6/8 lope of “Happily Dancing/Deep Harmonies Falling.”
The album’s other two sessions feature quartets and a looser setup. (An onstage announcement by bassist Monk Montgomery, who plays on the whole album, implies that Land might not have even been the leader.) But the more casual arrangements still result in some strong performances. Pianist Hampton Hawes appears on two 1964 tracks, pushing Land higher in a version of “My Romance” and the blues of “Triplin’ the Groove,” with help from drummer Mel Lee. The final four tracks put Philly Joe Jones behind the drum kit. Highlights include Land sounding low and smoky on “Who Can I Turn To?” and Jones nearly chewing up the scenery on his own “Beau-Ty.” The clarity of the album’s sound quality helps to document some top-tier players who clearly enjoy each other’s company.