This CD reissue has pianist Horace Silver's first sessions as a leader, trios with drummer Art Blakey and either Gene Ramey, Curly Russell or Percy Heath on bass. Silver already had his funky style pretty well together by 1952 (two years after being discovered by Stan Getz), and the program is most notable for introducing his compositions "Ecaroh" and "Opus De Funk." In addition, there are two percussion features: a drum solo by Blakey on "Nothing But Soul" and "Message From Kenya," a duet by the drummer with the percussion and vocals of Sabu Martinez.
The two enticingly swinging sessions brought together here find pianist Paul Smith in typically well-crafted form, with “The Big Men” a joyously engaging date in which he is heard performing solo or in a trio. Much skill, considerable feeling, and unceasingly ebullient energy transform this album into a thoroughly listenable program of modern jazz, throughout which his lines show strong classical influence and clear indication of his imposing compositional talent (Theme for Theda). The playing of the trio is crisp and knowing, and there are moments of brilliant musicianship by Smith with the fine support of Vinnegar and Levey, two swingers who keep the pulse vibrant.
Now this is more like it. In its Connoisseur Series, Blue Note is making available a completely unreleased Andrew Hill date from 1969. Passing Ships wasn't even included in the Mosaic box because the master tape wasn't found until 2001. The band Hill employed on this session was a nonet, featuring Woody Shaw and Dizzy Reece on trumpets, Joe Farrell on reeds, woodwinds, and English horn, Howard Johnson on tuba and bass clarinet, Ron Carter on bass, Lenny White (on only his second recording date) playing drums, trombonist Julian Priester, and French horn player Bob Northern. The music here is ambitious.