Various Artists – Spiritual Jazz 9: Blue Notes Parts 1 & 2 [Jazzman Records]
Following Don Rendell & Ian Carr Quintet’s incredibly well-received 5xLP boxset, Jazzman continue their 20th anniversary celebrations with the return of their renowned Spiritual Jazz series, which sees the label assemble a soaring collection of early modal and progressive jazz cuts, straight from the vaults of Blue Note Records.
Little more can be said about the enduring legacy and standing of Blue Note Records which in 2019 has its own reason to celebrate – it was 80 years since their debut release by Meade “Lux” Lewis. The label’s landmark catalogue of trailblazing and cutting-edge jazz has enjoyed legendary status for decades, yet on this 2CD/twin set of double LPs, London-based, crate-digging specialists Jazzman explore a less-acquainted side of this most historic record company.
Blue Note is nothing short of an institution. From the label’s impeccably crisp recording output to its unique and innovative approach to cover art, Blue Note still sounds and looks just as cool and as fresh as we all felt during the moment we held our first Blue Note record. The label was the brainchild of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff; the combination of Lion’s visionary approach to record production and Wolff’s photographic talents and shrewd business sense led to a whole host of soon to be jazz luminaries debuting on the label including Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and Horace Silver. With the arrival of now legendary sound engineer, Rudy Van Gelder and record designer Reid Miles in the mid-1950s, Blue Note soon became an icon of ‘cool’ for late 20th century culture and modernism.
Whilst Blue Note’s history is acutely entwined with the evolution of bebop and hard bop, the label’s paving of early modal and progressive styles is often down sold. On Spiritual Jazz Vol. 9: Blue Notes, Jazzman compile nineteen strikingly deep recordings excavated from the vast Blue Note catalogue that chart early yet significant points on the route toward the avant-garde sounds that would emerge in the latter half of the 1960s. Mostly recorded between 1964-66 at Van Gelder’s self-built Englewood Cliffs recording studio in New Jersey, this compilation sees Blue Note staples Bobby Hutcherson, Wayne Shorter, Jackie McClean and the like, rub shoulders with then label newcomers Pete La Roca and Eddie Gale, in an attempt to thread the rich seam of independent black jazz music emanating from a nation at a crossroads of great change.
Virtuoso vibraphonist and label stalwart Bobby Hutcherson opens side A, part 1 with the wandering and bluesy ‘Verse’, before Steve Swallow’s hypnotic double bass intro to Pete La Roca’s celestial groover ‘Basra’ (the title track off the drummer’s only date as a leader for Blue Note), draws Joe Henderson’s eastern-facing tenor to life. Henderson returns for the absorbing, Spanish-themed ‘El Barrio’, whilst label A&R man (1963-70), gifted arranger and pianist, Duke Pearson contributes three numbers including the evangelical choral piece, ‘Cristo Redentor’ taken from 1969’s ‘How Insensitive’ album, alongside wondrous appearances from jazz titans, Wayne Shorter, Jackie McClean and Hank Mobley who provide masterpieces from ‘Adam’s Apple’, ‘Action’ and ‘A Caddy For Daddy’ respectively. Eddie Gale’s ‘Ghetto Music’ might be as far as out as Blue Note ever travelled. The radical Brooklyn-born trumpeter fell in with Sun Ra in the mid-1960s and remained an irregular member of the Arkestra up until the late ‘70s. His acoustic folk-soul jam featuring eleven-piece vocal ensemble, ‘The Rain’, is a real standout. Signing us out in commanding fashion is a track off Solomon Ilori’s first and last LP ‘African High Life’. The bandleader and percussionist’s ‘Igbesi Aiye (Song Of Praise To God)’ channels a deep and psychedelic synthesis of Afro-jazz.
In 1966, Blue Note was bought by Liberty Records and its existence as an independent label, came to an end. Following Lion, Van Gelder and Reid Miles’ departure, Blue Note was left in the capable but wearing hands of Francis Wolff. By 1971, the year Wolff passed away, the heavyweight jazz label had lost all immediate ties to its golden days. The days of Lion, Wolff, Van Gelder and Miles might be long gone, but what Blue Note achieved leading up to 1966, is nothing short of extraordinary. In short, Blue Note established an entirely new language of jazz, that re-defined and shaped its very being for decades to follow. Multifarious trumpeter, Freddie Hubbard’s winding and meditative ‘Blue Spirits’ feels an appropriate cadence to leave on. Hubbard expertly fuses the classic Blue Note sound with the musical dynamism of the spiritual jazz years to come, to create an illuminating and far-reaching excursion of time and place. Blue Notes for Blue Spirits indeed.
A1. Bobby Hutcherson – Verse
A2. Pete La Roca – Basra
B1. Wayne Shorter – Footprints
B2. Elvin Jones – At This Point in Time
B3. Andrew Hill – Poinsettia
C1. Eddie Gale -The Rain
C2. Duke Pearson – Empathy
C3. Bobby Hutcherson – Searchin’ the Trane
D1. Duke Pearson – The Phantom
D2. Freddie Hubbard – Assunta
A1. Joe Henderson – El Barrio
A2. Jackie McLean – Plight
A3. Duke Pearson – Cristo Redentor
B1. Wayne Shorter – Indian Song
B2. Hank Mobley – The Morning After
C1. Pete La Roca – Malaguena
C2. Freddie Hubbard – Blue Spirits
D1. Booker Ervin – Gichi
D2. Solomon Ilori – Igbesi Aiye (Song Of Praise To God)