Blue Note vinyl reissue series I
Blue Note Records is the most iconic label for jazz collectors. Although Columbia, Atlantic, Prestige and many other labels had a deep commitment to jazz, it has been Blue Note that has had an allure that has captured the devotion of jazz fans since at least the golden age of jazz (a period beginning in the 1950s and running through at least the 1960s). It has been a combination of factors, including the photographs used for album covers taken by co-founder Francis Wolff, the inimitable cover designs and graphics of Reid Miles, and the recording and mastering at the studios of Rudy Van Gelder. Unlike other labels, founder Alfred Lion both encouraged and paid for rehearsal time for his roster artists. He had an innate sense for either what would sell, or what interested him (recording Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell early in their careers knowing the talent that they possessed). There was a period in the late ‘70s running into the ‘80s when Blue Note had financing problems and the public turned away from jazz as rock, disco, and pop music had more of the country’s interest. But through the efforts of Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cuscuna, Blue Note rededicated itself in 1984 to continue to present the finest in jazz on the longest-running jazz label.
In 2014, the 75th anniversary of the label, Don Was, the new president of Blue Note, began a vinyl initiative to re-issue (at least) 100 remastered essential jazz albums at a rate of five per month. The goal was at least to attempt to replicate the quality of the original first pressings engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. Using the best modern techniques to bring out the warmth of well-recorded analog, Blue Note has employed top talent like Bernie Grundman and Alan Yoshida to remaster the original tapes. The goal is to attempt to recapture the “feel” of the original albums that collectors prize so much.
The first five albums were issued in March, 2014. We are proud to begin reviewing the May reissues that include albums from Grant Green, McCoy Tyner and Hank Mobley.
Grant Green – Idle Moments – Blue Note ST-84154 (1963) stereo vinyl *****:
(Grant Green – guitar; Joe Henderson – tenor sax; Bobby Hutcherson – vibes; Duke Pearson – piano; Bob Cranshaw – bass; Al Harewood – drums)
Many Grant Green lovers consider Idle Moments to be Grant’s finest album. He shares the stage with a larger contingent than his usual quartet sessions. Sidemen include Joe Henderson on tenor sax, and Bobby Hutcherson, on vibes, who were among the most adventurous Blue Note roster mates at that time. They sublimate their more “out” tendencies to support Green’s warm straight-ahead stylings.
Unlike the CD issue (which we reviewed here), the remastered LP features only the original four tracks of the first pressing. There are no alternate takes to fill out a CD. The title track is gentle with Green’s deliberate impeccable tone supported by Hutcherson’s backing. What is immediatly apparent after having listened to the prior CD issue – both the original and then followed by the RVG remaster – is how good of a job that Bernie Grundman has done with the remastering of this classic session. The acoustics are superb. Guitar notes and chords are sharp and penetrating, and Duke Pearson’s piano comping is spot perfect with echo and fingering of the piano keys flawless. You can taste Henderson’s husky vibrato, and experiencing this exquisite sound with a good pair of headphones will be pure bliss. I thought I had heard this track in what I considered high fidelity on the RVG issue. It does not come close to matching the remastered LP for warmth and realism. Simply fifteen plus minutes of aural bliss. “Jean De Fleur” follows and had to have a shortened take chosen due to the extended length of the title track. It still shines as Joe and Bobby take only a chorus each to allow the leader enough space for his ad-lib choruses.
Side 2 is devoted to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s signature, “Django” where bassist Cranshaw (thankfully still with us) and drummer, Harewood, provide the underpinning for the front line to explore the MJQ tune. Duke Pearson’s “Nomad” is a show piece for Joe Henderson, as he gently ventures into free expression exploring Pearson’s chart. A young Bobby Hutcherson makes his mallets dance on the vibes with cool precision. Grant then takes over and he works his magic.
Oh boy, if the others in the 75th anniversary series can come close to Idle Moments, life will be special.
Side One: Idle Moments, Jean De Fleur
Side Two: Django, Nomad
McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy – Blue Note BLP 4264 (1967) stereo vinyl ****:
(McCoy Tyner – piano; Joe Henderson – tenor sax; Ron Carter – bass; Elvin Jones – drums)
Unlike many other Blue Note artists, McCoy Tyner’s output for Blue Note (though it included periodic issues until the 1990s) is not the label for which he is most known. That would be his tenure with Impulse, as well as the OJC/Fantasy/Milestone period, which alone covered approximately 20 albums and several decades. As a much younger man, Tyner’s fame came from being John Coltrane’s pianist, and after leaving John, Tyner has established a long and varied career both as a soloist, trio leader and for a period recording as a big band leader. In his mid ’70s Tyner remains prolific and a masterful pianist known for his chordal playing and modal expertise.
McCoy’s first Blue Note album was recorded in 1967, and featured Joe Henderson and a dream rhythm section of Ron Carter and Tyner’s recording mate with Coltrane, Elvin Jones on drums. For this album the opening side has two extended tunes with side 2 featuring three compositions, each in excess of six minutes. All five compositions were written by McCoy.
“Passion Dance” was written for improvisation in one key-F – as Tyner felt it provided for “freer melodic invention.” It’s an intense tune with Elvin setting a frenetic pace that allows Joe to free blow and McCoy to bring his Coltrane influences to the forefront. As the title would indicate, “Contemplation” is more reflective in a spiritual sense and its theme has a searching vibe that would have moved Coltrane. (Coincidentally, John Coltrane died just a few months after this composition was recorded.)
Side 2 has two of my favorite tracks, the gentle “Search for Peace” which Tyner describes as “man’s submission to God, with the giving over of the self to the universe.” “Blues On the Corner” finds Tyner in a lighter swinging mood, a contrast to the other more intense tracks on this album.
I found the acoustics on this remastered album to be exemplary with no harshness. The analog warmth is still there, just not as evident as on the Grant Green issue, probably due to the source material not revealing the vinyl analog “sweetness” as found on Idle Moments.
Side 1: Passion Dance, Contemplation
Side 2: Four By Five, Search for Peace, Blues on the Corner
(Hank Mobley – tenor sax; Wynton Kelly – piano; Paul Chambers – bass; Art Blakey)
Soul Station was Hank Mobley’s first album, since he was first recorded in 1955, to feature him as the sole horn in the session. Recorded in 1960, it began a series of the most popular recordings in Mobley’s career, all for Blue Note, and most with the exception of Workout, including a companion trumpeter, either Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan.
Mobley was already clearly in his prime by 1960, and his compositions were full of catchy hooks and funky titles (like “Dig Dis”). Mobley was a favorite of Alfred Lion, and here he is given a primo rhythm section of Kelly, Chambers, and Blakey. Mobley wrote all the tunes with the exception of the opener and closer, both standard ballads.
Hank is clearly in control here, effortlessly swinging in his flawless mid-register strength. Kelly is the consummate accompanist, comping ably behind the leader but ready and able with sparkling, bluesy choruses when solo time arrives. Who better than Blakey to be in the drum chair with his steady pulse and cymbal mastery. You can set your watch to PC, Paul Chambers, and any chance to hear him solo is a treat.
“This I Dig of You” is evidence of hard bop at its best – soulful piano, catchy hooks from Hank, and rock solid underpinning from bass and drums, almost effortless but not without great skill in mastery of the hard bop idiom. Funkiness is personified on “Dig Dis,” where Wynton Kelly shines setting the table for Hank to blow. The title track is icing on the cake, taken at a bluesy stroll. If you are not nodding your head in time to its beat, you should be ashamed.
Soul Station is the epitome of a hard bop sole horn quartet session. Bernie Grundman’s remastering makes this the definitive version of this classic album. It’s easy to see why Blue Note is issuing this album early on in its 75th Anniversary series. Give your other issues of this album to deserving friends, and buy this LP for your front-shelf-treasured albums.
Side One: Remember, This I Dig of You, Dig Dis
Side Two: Split Feelins’, Soul Station, If I Should Lose You