As the title indicates, this is the last session Lee Morgan recorded before his tragic death in 1972 -- he was shot by his common-law wife outside, ironically, the jazz club Slug's in New York. Lee Morgan was only 33 years old, yet he had already amassed acclaim in his short life that was more consistent with someone who had lived twice as many years. What kind of music would Lee have made, and what further popularity would he have enjoyed, had he lived to see the resurgence of jazz in the 80s with the popularity of the young lions? I mean, Lee Morgan was the original young lion!
Well, we can only speculate as to that success, but with "The Last Session" we can see the direction that Lee was taking his music in the new decade of the 70s. The band featured on this recording -- Grachan Moncur III, Billy Harper, Bobbi Humphrey, Harold Mabern, Jymie Merritt, Reggie Workman and Freddie Waits -- was not just assembled to cut this session, they were a working, touring band. Only someone as popular as Lee (or Miles, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul/Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock) could afford to keep a group of this size and talent together in 1971. And their musical understanding shows on these five extended, modern improvisations. While the material is all original, none of it was written by Morgan -- "Capra Black" and "Croquet Ballad" are by Harper, "Angela" is by Merritt, "Inner Passions Out" is by Waits, and "In What Direction Are You Headed?" is by Mabern.
One need look no further than this last aptly-titled track by Mabern to determine what course Morgan's "new" music was taking. The song is a classic Blue Note groove, reminiscent of the trademark 60s sound but more modern, thanks to the multi-textured horn parts, and the inclusion of two basses, and, for this tune, Mabern on electric piano. A cynic might say that his "new" sound is not that original, and largely drawn from "Filles De Kilimanjaro" and "Miles In The Sky" era Miles Davis. The same cynic would point to the fact that by 1971, Miles had moved on to the electric jazz-funk of "Black Beauty" and "Live Evil," and by comparison Lee was not nearly as hip. I would like to offer a different assessment. I think that by 1971, Lee had grown weary of trends, as he rode the apex of one with "The Sidewinder," and at this point in his career he instead decided to stay with his own vision of where jazz needed to go. In hindsight, he successfully melded the late 60s Blue Note sound, the post-Coltrane expressions and experiments of Archie Shepp and McCoy Tyner, and the electric groove of Miles and Herbie, without falling victim to the Fusion trappings, despite the use of flute and electric bass in his ensemble.
In all, this is a very enjoyable and successful recording, not just some trivia session from the vaults. "The Last Session" is a great last look at a master jazzman taken away from us far too soon.