Kenny Dorham’s Matador can safely claim the all too common distinction of being a classic among jazz connoisseurs while virtually unknown to the casual listener.
Dorham is joined here by Jackie McLean, Bobby Timmons, Teddy Smith, and J.C. Moses, all of whom deliver outstanding performances. More than anything, this session is perhaps best known for including a stunning version of McLean’s composition “Melody for Melonae,” used less than a month earlier on his groundbreaking Blue Note LP Let Freedom Ring. For this session, though, the tune is renamed “Melanie” and, if not better, this version at least rivals the take under McLean’s leadership. For starters, the addition of another horn adds some tonal depth to the proceedings, a situation arguably lacking in the tune’s earlier recording.
Also of note is what has to be Bobby Timmons’ most intense moment on record. One rarely has the opportunity to hear Timmons dig and scrape as hard as he does during this solo, and his barely audible vocal accompaniment (à la Bud Powell) only helps to prove this point. This is a case where a performer not commonly associated with seriously stretching out goes at it with a life-affirming fervor, making “Melanie” a treat for listeners who revel in emotional performances.
Other highlights include the opener, “El Matador,” a 5/4 number that, frankly, fades out just when things were getting good, and the otherwise unaccompanied Dorham/Timmons duet, “Prelude.” A fantastic session by any standard.