RVG Editions: Spring 2004 Part 2-2
Well it looks like Blue Note is having a good run with its Rudy Van Gelder editions of Blue Note classics as they just seem to keep coming. While a good deal of the catalog has been available for some time in Japan, this reviewer never thought that the U.S. market would pick up so quickly on the idea. This year alone, a dozen new titles hit the stores (six of the twelve being reviewed here in the second of a two part review) with at least two more batches coming along later this summer and fall. So without further ado, we take a look at a half dozen new goodies added to the RVG series.
Before the end of the ‘60s when he started to dramatically alter his form of expression, Horace Silver led an excellent quintet that boasted Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson (later Tyrone Washington), Bob Cranshaw, and Roger Humphries. The pinnacle of their efforts would be the 1965 release The Cape Verdean Blues now sounding better than ever in this RVG edition. This might be Silver at his most intense, swinging hard and gaining a propulsive swing thanks to the underrated drumming of Humphries. “The African Queen” is an expansive number that simmers on a low boil but fires up here and there thanks to the combustible solo work of Shaw and Henderson. On three tracks J.J. Johnson sits in to fill out the front line, most effectively on the bristling “Nutville.” No fluff to be found on this one, just pure genius all the way around.
While his Riverside, Contemporary, and RCA sides have received the most press in regards to the early highlights of Sonny Rollins’ long career, his Blue Note records should in no way take a back seat. Arguably the strongest of the four albums (counting the Vanguard sets as one title) he cut for the label, Newk’s Time is nothing short of a tour-de-force for the resourceful tenor man. Van Gelder’s fine early stereo work makes it sound as though Rollins and his crew are right there with you in your living room. It’s also at this point that his knack for picking unlikely pop ditties comes to the fore with the inclusion of “Wonderful! Wonderful!” and “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” the latter being a rare duet between Rollins and drummer Philly Joe Jones.
For a time, Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott were a husband and wife team churning out some great organ combo jazz for Prestige, Impulse, and Blue Note. One of their most sublime efforts was 1963’s Never Let Me Go. In fact, the pair found Lloyd Price’s “Trouble” so much to their liking that they would cut it again on another Turrentine Blue Note. Another gem here is brother Tommy Turrentine’s “Sara’s Dance” which makes the most of a Latinized head and the addition of Ray Barretto’s congas. As soulful a blues shouter as Turrentine was, his husky tone is perfect for the ballads “God Bless the Child” and “Never Let Me Know” as well. Nothing dramatic occurs here, but as far as soulful organ jazz goes it doesn’t get much better than this.
A heavyweight from the classic Blue Note roster and an innovator on B3 organ, Jimmy Smith had a good run of albums for the label beginning in the mid ‘50s. However, by 1963 he was lured to greener pastures at Verve Records and in the spring of that year fulfilled his Blue Note contract by recording several jam sessions. From those dates came the albums Rockin’ the Boat and Prayer Meetin’, the former adding Lou Donaldson to the Smith trio and the latter adding Stanley Turrentine to the mix. No need to discuss specific selections here as this is standard fare that boasts the blues as a base of standard expression. Of the two, Meetin’ might get slightly higher marks as Turrentine hits his mark on “Red Top” and “Stone Cold Dead In the Marker.” Not as revolutionary as Smith’s earlier work for the label, there’s still much to like about these no nonsense works.
Finally, we come to dramatic music that hinted at producer Alfred Lion’s willingness to document more than just hard bop. Bringing on board Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry pales in comparison with the risks Lion took in recording Cecil Taylor. The second of two landmark records that Taylor cut for Blue Note, Conquistador! ranks among Taylor’s most realized works due in no small part to the cast of musicians he was able to assemble including Bill Dixon, Jimmy Lyons, Henry Grimes, and Andrew Cyrille. Two lengthy compositions, one of which is heard in an alternate take, offer up collective improvisations that move through different moods that do not swing in any kind of conventional manner. Difficult music that nonetheless holds its own rewards to those willing to meet it half way.