Blue Note Connoisseur Series: Something Old, Something New
The Complete Blue Note 45 Sessions
First getting exposure via a long unavailable Mosaic boxed set, The Complete Blue Note 45 Sessions (Blue Note 11441) gathers some of tenor saxophonist Ike Quebec's strongest work from the end of his career. 26 tracks on two discs explore a variety of soulful moods on brief performances originally released as singles for the jukebox market. Recorded over three sessions, Quebec is heard in small organ groups where his moving and deeply mature style is at the forefront. With a balance of swing numbers and smoky ballads, the music is rewarding on many levels and fans of big-toned tenors such as Hawkins and Webster will have much to sink their teeth into on this one.
One of the label's strongest leaders, Jackie McLean built a solid catalog for Blue Note where each album not only explored varying ensembles and moods, but also documented McLean's progression into freer territory. Consequence (Blue Note 11428), from 1965, comes somewhere in between his earlier bop-inflected dates and the more exploratory stance of his latter sessions. This is hard bop of the swinging kind, with Billy Higgins keeping the pots on and Lee Morgan matching the leader tit for tat in the fireworks department. Both "Tolypso and "Bluesanova explore that Latin tinge to great effect and Harold Mabern lends his soulful down-home approach to this iconic album that wasn't initially issued until 1979.
Where Is Brooklyn?
From Blue Note's cache of avant-garde artists, trumpeter Don Cherry brought a fresh new approach to the music that was at once bold but also swinging and somewhat accessible. His first two records, Complete Communion and Symphony For Improvisers, consisted of two side long suites, while 1966's Where Is Brooklyn? (Blue Note 11435) goes for shorter performances, although "Unite does clock in at just a tad over 17 minutes. The same key players from the first two albums are back on board, most notably Pharoah Sanders and Ed Blackwell. The former literally wails, while the latter keeps things moving along even during the most chaotic moments. Arguably his most dramatic Blue Note of the three, this set stills sounds progressive today.
As Blue Note continues their extensive and welcomed rehauling of pianist Andrew Hill's catalog, we get the latest set to join the lot. Andrew! (Blue Note 11437) is a quintet session from 1964 that includes a rare appearance from tenor man John Gilmore away from the Sun Ra fold. Bobby Hutcherson makes a return after his strong showing on Judgment and his sound seems particularly integral to Hill's writing. In fact, some of the pianist's most memorable lines are heard here, including "The Griots, "Black Monday, and "Le Serpent Qui Danse. A strong statement that belongs in any comprehensive Hill collection and one that will also be rewarding for followers of both Hutcherson and Gilmore.
Tex Book Tenor
Long overdue for reissue are the final sides Booker Ervin would record for Blue Note in the summer of 1968. Issued for the first time on a two-fer back in 1976, these recordings have been hard to track down over the years and their release here as Tex Book Tenor (Blue Note 11439) is nothing short of a major coup. While Ervin is in fine form, it could be argued that this set is even more valuable for the glimpse we get of Woody Shaw early in his career and for the fact that this was Kenny Barron's first recording. Pieces by Ervin and Barron make up a varied and well-paced program also marked by the appearance of Shaw's delightful waltz "In a Capricornian Way. Ervin fans will definitely want to pick up on this one.
Trio and Quintet
Finally, we come to a title that had previously come out on CD in 1991, but has since been out of print for some time. Gathering sessions led by pianist Elmo Hope from 1953, 1954, and 1957, Trio and Quintet (Blue Note 11498) is an aptly named disc that finds Hope at his most unfettered. The earliest set is trio date with Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones, while the 1954 date adds trumpeter Freeman Lee and saxophonist Frank Foster. The final three tracks on the disc come from a West Coast session with Harold Land and foreshadow subsequent projects with Hope and Land, a most compatible duo with similar musical personalities.