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The Latest View of the Blue

It’s been several years now since Blue Note’s Japanese counterpart Toshiba-EMI enlisted the services of master recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder in order to reissue classic items from the catalog in new 24-bit remasters handled by the man himself. Albeit with more modest aspirations in terms of mere quantity, it wasn’t long before the folks at Blue Note here in the United States decided to launch their own series of Van Gelder mastered reissues. At summer’s end, we saw another half dozen titles making their bow as RVG titles, all of which get their due in the following few paragraphs.

A staple of the Blue Note roster of recording artists, staying with the company well into its swansong in the late ‘70s, Horace Silver offers up some prototypical bop as heard in the 1957 release The Stylings of Silver (Blue Note 40034). The line-up heard here was a short-lived one (Art Farmer, Hank Mobley, Teddy Kotick, Louis Hayes), but one that had potential and could have gone on to even bigger and better things had they stayed together. None of the themes really caught one, aside from "Home Cookin’," but there’s more than enough variety in the writing and in the solo work to make this one of Silver’s minor gems.

Although it has already come and gone as a Connoisseur reissue, Green Street (Blue Note 40032) makes a return appearance in the guise of a RVG edition. Guitarist Grant Green’s 1961 masterpiece puts him in the scant company of just bass and drums and it’s a credit to his melodic genius that he carries it off with such creativity and élan. Bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Dave Bailey provide just the right support on a program of originals and standards, most of which clock in at over seven or eight minutes. "’Round Midnight" ranks among the best versions ever recorded, but really nothing here is less than captivating, making this one of Green’s finest recorded moments. In addition, the new remastering gives things a warmer and more precise soundstage that is highly attractive.

For the first time in the United States, we find Lee Morgan’s 1960 session Lee-Way (Blue Note 40031) taking a bow on compact disc. With four tracks ranging in length from eight to twelve minutes, the emphasis is definitely more on a "jam session" type mentality than was usually the norm for Blue Note. Morgan, who had just returned to the New York scene after an absence of several years, is inconsistent in his playing and none of the tunes are really all that striking. This is surprising too, considering that Jackie McLean, Bobby Timmons, Paul Chambers, and Art Blakey are on hand. Nonetheless, Morgan completists will want to add this to their lists, but neophytes would do better by starting off their collections with such gems as Cornbread or The Sidewinder.

Another artist who flourished in the green pastures provided by Alfred Lion and the Blue Note mode of production, Stanley Turrentine recorded a slew of records and seemed to be very conscious of varying the line-ups and concept for each of his projects. On the surface, 1964’s Hustlin’ (Blue Note 40036) appears to be just another organ record, but in actuality is one of the better efforts to pair the tenor man with then wife and organist Shirley Scott. Kenny Burrell completes a crack rhythm team that energetically struts through a half dozen well-chosen pieces. "Trouble No. 2," "Ladyfingers," and "Goin’ Home" are just three highlights from a program that finds Turrentine’s fervent tenor providing ideal counterpoint to Scott’s feathery tone.

Beginning with the release of Capuchin Swing (Blue Note 40033) in 1960, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean set off on a course to document his most ardent expressions on a blistering series of Blue Note albums that pushed things to the brink of the avant garde by the end of the decade. What makes this record so interesting is not only its place as an initial step in McLean’s quest, but the maturity it demonstrates in terms of his writing. "Francisco" is a scorching tour-de-force based on a catchy two-chord vamp that sets up each solo section. Even within the limits of a basic blues, McLean manages to conjure up something different via "Condition Blue." Somewhat of a forgotten early masterpiece, Capuchin Swing belongs in any comprehensive McLean collection.

Finally, we take a look at an acknowledged classic that has previously come and gone in several compact disc incarnations. Along with Soul Station and Workout, the 1960 session Roll Call ranks among tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley’s finest works. Of course, it would be hard to lose with Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Art Blakey as part of your starting line-up. Still, it seems that Mobley was in his element performing five of his original tunes and one standard. Even as our leading man waxes poetic with a gentle tone, Hubbard is his most ebullient, both brassy and brash in his incendiary solo spots. Not much more need be said, except that this one is a must-have and it sounds even better in its new packaging.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
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