Joe Turner – The Boss Of The Blues – Atlantic Records (1956) /Pure Pleasure (2015)

by | Feb 25, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Joe Turner – The Boss Of The Blues – Atlantic Records (1956)/Pure Pleasure PPAN 1234 (2015), 44:49 mono vinyl *****:

This is a perfect mixture of blues and jazz!

(Joe Turner – vocals; Joe Newman – trumpet; Lawrence Brown – trombone; Pete Brown – alto saxophone; Frank Weiss – tenor saxophone; Pete Johnson – piano; Freddie Green – guitar; Walter Page – bass; Cliff Leeman – drums; Jimmy Nottingham – trumpet; Sheldon Powell – tenor saxophone)

The genesis of rock and roll can be traced to converted R&B players like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. They amalgamated blues, gospel and jazz to form a populist, rollicking free-for-all genre that has lasted six decades. Quintessential rockers have paid tribute to the early pioneers, especially blues artists. Notable performers like The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt did their best to sustain this legacy, often recording and touring with their heroes. But even the rock and roll legends have a common thread to the past.  A lot of blues and jump swing artists learned their craft from jazz, and in particular big band jazz.

Possibly the greatest link between jazz/blues and rock and roll is Big Joe turner. A Kansas City native, Turner gained acclaim with Count Basie in New York. He collaborated with pianist Pete Johnson developing the boogie-woogie genre. Turner continued to play with jazz greats like Art Tatum. His exchanges or shouting at instrumentalists generated an indelible trademark. When he signed with Atlantic Records in the early ‘50s, a legend was born. Many people consider Turner’s “Shake Rattle And Roll” to be the song that launched rock and roll (despite more popular versions from Bill Haley and Elvis Presley). He has been inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

The Boss Of The Blues represents Turner’s debut with Atlantic Records in 1956. The title description is Joe Turner Sings Kansas City Jazz. That is exactly what the crux of this album is….the connection between blues and the singer’s Kansas City jazz roots. With a stellar ensemble (including piano, trombone, saxophones and trumpet) Turner deftly executes singing prowess and agility, with brilliant arrangements by Ernie Wilkins. The opening track, “Cherry Red” (one of several original compositions) begins with a dynamic piano intro by Pete Johnson. Widely regarded as one of the greatest boogie-woogie players ever, Johnson hands the song off to “The Kansas City Shouter”. While Turner’s style is dynamic, he is an accomplished singer who brings a compelling elegance to low-down blues singing. The fuller arrangement is complementary and trombonist Lawrence Brown shines on a glowing solo. “Roll ‘Em Pete” has sublime boogie woogie piano riffs (and a fabulous solo) as Turner’s muscular voice (with catchy first line repeat) carries the tune.  Switching gears, “I Want A Little Girl” is slow and nasty. Jimmy Nottingham (trumpet) and Seldon Powell both solo. The sustain blending of horn and reeds is reminiscent of Ellington.

Getting back to some hot licks, “Low Down Dog” is a potent big band homage. “Wee Baby Blues” is intriguing and down tempo. Again Johnson’s rhythmic, graceful piano (especially in a dialogue with Brown’s trombone) is terrific. Turner is a consummate showman (with the effervescence of Cab Calloway) and has an emotive voice. Side 2 gets off to a raucous start with a big band swing cover of “You’re Driving Me Crazy”. Unlike most of the pop renditions of the song, Turner frames it with toughness. The bandstand jam features solos from Brown (trombone), Nottingham (trumpet), and Seldon Powell (tenor saxophone). This is followed by a pair of traditional songs. On “How Long Blues” the band emulates old school blues with muted trumpet set against a tinkling piano. Turner eases into the tune with back porch charm that would please Hoagy Carmichael. In contrast, “Morning Glories” is all very jazzy and up tempo. Turner’s vocal phrasing is impeccable.

Turner transforms the W.C. Handy standard, “St. Louis Blues”. The eternal blues masterpiece is complex with a decidedly perky rhythm. Also there are a couple of inspired “tango-like” transitions that elevate the song. There is a sophisticated trumpet solo that is unexpected. More importantly, the listener can get a sense of change and of the impending arrival of the rock and roll sound. Each track has an expanded, instrumental framework. The finale showcases trumpet (Joe Newman), alto saxophone (Pete brown) and tenor saxophone (Frank Weiss).

Pure Pleasure has dome a superior re-mastering of this album to 180-gram vinyl. The stark mono crispness is intact and the instruments all sound great. But they have excelled at capturing Turner’s husky voice with diverse tonality. The mix maintains the baritone’s fluid and resonant tone. The underlying smoky elements of Turner are consistently present. The original liner notes by Whitney Balliett are a virtual symposium of blues. The album cover and back are nostalgic and full of period technical jargon (Full Dynamic Frequency Spectrum, RIAA High Frequency Roll-Off). The Boss Of The Blues is an important part of American musical history.


Side 1: Cherry Red; Roll ‘Em Pete; I Want A Little Girl; Low Down Dog; Wee Baby Blues

Side 2: You’re Driving Me Crazy; How Long Blues; Morning Glories; St. Louis Blues; Piney Brown Blues

—Robbie Gerson

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