Five New Blue Note vinyl re-masterings

Lee Morgan – Cornbread (1965) – Blue Note BST 84222, 38:50 – stereo vinyl ****½:

(Lee Morgan – trumpet; Jackie McLean – alto sax; Hank Mobley – tenor sax; Herbie Hancock – piano; Larry Ridley – bass; Bill Higgins – drums)

Issuing Cornbread in the Blue Note LP reissue series was an easy decision. After all, it includes an all-star line-up (a dream front line) and a few of Morgan’s most well known compositions (the title cut, “Ceora,” and “Our Man Higgins.”)

Opening with the title cut, with catchy hooks, Lee is at his sassiest best in an easygoing manner. Herbie Hancock supplies the funky theme, and Billy Higgins’ drum work is made to order. Mobley is next up and fits in like a supple driving glove. Never to be upstaged, Jackie McLean with his sharper edge astringent tone follows. Dig Hancock’s blues runs. A great way to get off to a hard bop session… “Our Man Higgins,” written by Lee for his drummer, has bop overtones that Jackie handles with ease, while Mobley and Higgins also are featured. Lee is in high gear here, raining down assertive choruses when he solos.

“Ceora,” a long serving staple for Lee, has a bossa nova beat laid down by Hancock, and its theme, so well known now, features fine ensemble playing by the front line. Such sweetness…

The standard, “Ill Wind” shows Morgan’s prowess on muted trumpet. Mobley’s locked in as well on this ballad. It’s the only track that Lee did not write for this session, and the group coalesces in a relaxed manner. The last bit of down home cornbread is “Most Like Lee.” It’s a mid-range swinger with most everyone getting a taste of solo time, including bassist Larry Ridley. Morgan is so self-assured, bringing to mind Clifford Brown in his brashness and power. It’s a fitting closure to a self-assured meeting of Blue Note elite. Bernie Grundman’s remastering brings out the group’s polish and sheen. If you’ve worn out your CD or previous LP issue, this would be an LP to pick up…

TrackList: 

Side 1: Cornbread, Our Man Higgins
Side 2: Ceora, Ill Wind, Most Like Lee

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AfroCubanIIKenny Dorham – Afro-Cuban (1955) – Blue Note 1535 – re-mastered mono vinyl ****:

(Kenny Dorham – trumpet; Jay Jay Johnson – trombone; Hank Mobley – tenor sax; Cecil Payne – baritone sax; Horace Silver – piano; Oscar Pettiford – bass; Art Blakey – drums; Carlos “Patato” Valdes – conga)

Side One of Kenny Dorham’s Afro-Cuban features a full octet of Blue Note’s finest playing in an Afro-Cuban style that was well ahead of its time in 1955. Only Dizzy Gillespie comes to mind then as an exponent of this style of jazz, using congas and multi-ethnic rhythms.

Dorham was a trumpeter who has never gotten his full due as a major influence with his horn. Though he played with Gillespie, Hampton, and briefly with Charlie Parker, and was a founding member of Horace Silver’s Jazz Messengers, Dorham has flown under the radar screen, largely because there were so many charismatic trumpeters during his prime, and Kenny was not a flashy player. He died before age 50, after having released over 25 albums. Recording for Blue Note, the OJC roster of labels, Black Lion, Bainbridge, and Steeplechase, Dorham was often content to share the limelight with his session-mates. His most famous Blue Note issue is most likely Whistle Stop, where he shared front line duties with Hank Mobley, and a dream team rhythm section of Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.

Afro-Cuban was only Dorham’s second release, but it could arguably be his most challenging. Side One features the Afro-Cuban octet tracks, whereas the flip side is more mainstream jazz of the day with blues being a major influence. Valdes sets the theme for “Afrodesia” with Blakey easily spurring on Carlos. Dorham locks into the Cuban groove, before Mobley is at his mid-register best in an easygoing light groove. Always a factor, J. J. Johnson, has several choruses of his smooth trombone tone before Valdes takes the tune out. “Lotus Flower” has a dreamy ensemble reading that would have got a ballroom audience out on the dance floor. Dorham’s articulation is superb.

“Minor’s Holiday” blends the best of Cuban melodies with the bop of the day. Dorham shows he can match the pace of bop trumpeters of the period, but with a bit lighter touch. “Basheer’s Dream” is an original, commissioned by Kenny, from Gigi Gryce, and each horn rises over the group’s musical stew with commanding solos.

Side Two was recorded with a sextet minus Johnson and Valdes, and Percy Heath stepping in for Oscar Pettiford. The two sessions were recorded two months apart in 1955. “The Villa” is fast paced hard bop, and Dorham shows his soulful side. The closer,  “Venita’s Dance,” gives Kenny lots of space to blow before Hank, Cecil, and Horace contribute.

For a 1955 mono session this LP has quite passable sound, superior to the 1987 Blue Note CD issue that included an alternate take and “K.D’s Cab Ride,” that are unfortunately not included on this LP. The improved sound is a fair trade-off argument for purchase of the LP issue.

TrackList:

Side One: Afrodesia, Lotus Flower, Minor’s Holiday, Basheer’s Dream
Side Two: K.D.’s Motion, The Villa, Venita’s Dance

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SmithChickenShackJimmy Smith – Back at the Chicken Shack (1960) – Blue Note ST-84117 stereo vinyl ****½:

(Jimmy Smith – Hammond B-3 organ; Stanley Turpentine – tenor sax; Kenny Burrell – guitar; Donald Bailey – drums)

It was inevitable that Blue Note would include this classic soul jazz session as part of their vinyl re-issue series. It was one of the earliest sessions in which Blue Note included Stanley Turrentine as a sideman. Kenny Burrell was a natural choice for a guitarist to back Jimmy Smith. The same could be said for Donald Bailey on drums.

The title track drips with soul sauce. The recognizable theme puts the group’s strengths on full display. Smith was at his peak, and he lays down some funky grooves, with repeating phrases, and holding the greasy notes to full effect. Burrell is a master of subtle swinging blues, never heavy electric like Chicago bluesman, but laid back, and just as effective. Once Stanley blows his relaxed down home soul-laden choruses all is well. This group sets the standard for future Hammond B-3 & horn groups to emulate.

“When I Grow Too Old to Dream” is old fare, but this group wrings out enough emotion to turn it on its head. Stanley’s muscular tone with breathy vibrato is what puts it over the top. On vinyl you have the natural warm authenticity to bring you into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio for a front row seat.

Turrentine’s “Minor Chant” was first recorded on Stanley’s album, Look Out. Its 32-bar pattern benefits from Smith’s Hammond, and Donald Bailey makes his presence felt here prodding along Stan and Jimmy. “Messie Bessie” the longest track here at over 10 minutes, is based on the changes to Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” The extended length gives Turrentine time to dig in and wring out the full emotion aided by Burrell and Smith.

This is easily one of Jimmy Smith’s best Blue Note sessions, and it truly belongs in this re-issue series. The classic front cover photo taken by Blue Note co-owner, Francis Wolff, just adds to its “cool factor.”

TrackList:

Side One: Back at the Chicken Shack, When I Grow Too Old to Dream
Side Two: Minor Chant, Messie Bessie

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DonaldsonLushLifeLou Donaldson – Lush Life (1967) – Blue Note BST 84254  stereo vinyl ****:

(Lou Donaldson – alto sax; Jerry Dodgion – alto sax, flute; Wayne Shorter – tenor sax; Pepper Adams – baritone sax; Freddie Hubbard – trumpet; Garnett Brown – trombone ; McCoy Tyner – piano; Ron Carter – bass; Al Harewood – drums)

I believe that at nearly 78 years old, that Lou Donaldson is the oldest living active Blue Note artist around today. Whereas Donaldson’s shows lately rely on a set list (and funny stories) that seldom vary, the issuance of Lush Life in 1967 was a major departure from both past and future albums. It set apart soul jazz, blues, and hard bop (all Donaldson staples) for romantic standards done as straight- ahead love songs. Lou was supplied with a full nonet of upper echelon backing musicians, and the arrangements of Duke Pearson, was a sure recipe for success. As this was a project to show Lou’s talents, the only thing left off was the services of a vocalist, as was the lack of strings. (Both were smart decisions.)

As “Sweet Slumber” demonstrates you can’t really separate LD from the blues, and Freddie Hubbard and McCoy Tyner each have blues-driven solos as well. “You’ve Changed” is full of emotion and wistfulness. Most every track has at least one other musician who is featured behind Lou, such as Jerry Dodgion on flute on “The Good Life,” and  Hubbard and Tyner on several tracks.

For late night listening, or unwinding after a particularly rough day, you can’t go wrong with the songs on this gorgeous LP, and the sensuous tone of Lou Donaldson. Only a lyrical altoist of the stature of Johnny Hodges could be compared to the mood set by Lush Life. In remastered sound by Bernie Grundman, you’ll never find a better version of this Lou Donaldson unique project.

TrackList:

Side One: Sweet Slumber, You’ve Changed, The Good Life, Stardust
Side Two: What Will I Tell My Heart, It Might as Well Be Spring, Sweet and Lovely

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DexterGoLPDexter Gordon – Go (1962) – Blue Note ST-84112 – stereo vinyl ****1/2:

(Dexter Gordon – tenor sax; Sonny Clark – piano; Butch Warren – bass; Billy Higgins – drums)

You’d get spirited debate among Dexter Gordon aficionados on what his greatest album might be. After all he recorded for over five decades. You could further debate whether his finest period was when he recorded in the US for Blue Note, or whether it was during his period in Europe when he put out quite a few issues for Steeplechase. I do believe it is true, however, that if you’d expand the discussion outward to his best ten albums, then the inclusion of Go, recorded in 1962 for Blue Note, would be a natural choice.

It was a quartet album in which Dexter was backed by Sonny Clark, whose piano flame blew hard, but was extinguished early by his passing at the young age of 31 in 1963, just a year after the initial issuance of this album.

To me, it’s the joyousness of this album, and the blend of Clark and Gordon that recommend its purchase. They were so in synch with each other. Helped by the crisp cymbal work of Billy Higgins, Dexter and Sonny were locked in, whether it be on burners like “Cheese Cake,” or on lyrical ballads like “I Guess I’ll Hang Out My Tears to Dry.” Dexter was a master of both idioms, particularly at wringing out the emotion emblematic on ballad standards. He had few peers at this skill with only Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Stan Getz coming to mind.

“Second Balcony Jump” has a jauntiness about it that brings out a smile. Effortless choruses flow from Gordon as does fine wine at dinner party among good friends with a taste for the finer things in life. “Love for Sale” has been done to death, but here the Latin beat brings out some new elements. “Where are You” is another ballad that Dex makes his own. His tone is full-bodied and majestic.

Go benefits from Bernie Grundman’s remastering. This is such a special release that it deserves the first class treatment that Bernie provides on vinyl.

TrackList: 

Side One: Chesse Cake, I Guess I’ll Hang Out My Tears to Dry, Second Balcony Jump
Side Two: Love for Sale, Where Are You, Three O’Clock in the Morning

—Above reviews by Jeff Krow

 

 

 

 

 

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