When Harold Land left the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet to attend to family matters back in California, he may have forfeited any chance at "stardom," but his recorded legacy is no less sterling. A slight man, whose horn almost seemed to dwarf him, Harold was easy to overlook on the bandstand (I recall how out of place he seemed at a "tough tenors" session matching him with Dexter, Jug, and Jaws). But listening to him carefully and repeatedly on virtually any of his recordings is to experience one of the most ceaselessly inventive, warmly intelligent voices this music has ever produced. No one plays with a cannier sense of logic--it's as if he sees the whole playing field before each of his solos. The destination is clear to him from the outset, and the marvel for the listener is in experiencing his opportunistic note choices and efficient phrases--forward-leaning lines that always reach their target without being predictable.
"The Fox" is not my favorite Land session. One wishes he had included a couple of standards, or that the competent but unexceptional Elmo Hope had been replaced by Carl Perkins or Victor Feldman. But the recording more than lives up to its reputation as a classic. If it's your first exposure to Land, it may be a good idea to begin in the middle of the program. Listen to his elegant, dynamically sensitive phrasing on the head of "Little Chris," then notice how he maintains that glowing, vibrant quality throughout his solo. Compared to a Sonny Rollins (who replaced him in the Max-Clifford group), Harold's is a quiet, unassuming voice, but it's also as purposeful, resourceful, and purely musical as any on record. It requires a certain amount of brilliance to impress an audience; it takes another form of genius to attend to the music exclusive of its effects. Harold Land never wasted a note--which is why his recordings remain priceless.