Music Matters: The Blue Note Reissue Series
As a Van Gelder recording, Cliff Craft has one unusual feature. It was recorded in 1957, the first year stereo was widely employed. The date pushes both horns to the far left, instead of the more common split arrangement. The piano is nicely recessed into the stage, and is as fully realized as any in this catalog. The walking bass line on "Soul-Lo Blues" is forward in the mix with a terrific "thwack," and the cymbals have a widely dispersed ringing tone to them. Overall this is an excellent recording with smooth, detailed sound and terrific instrument definition.
Gil Melle's Patterns In Jazz warrants special attention on several levels. Melle himself, a bit of a renaissance man, had a relatively short tenure as a performing jazz musician during the 1950s, before moving on to film and television soundtracks. As a baritone saxophonist, he was cool and laid back, sounding more LA than NYC. The album features a quintet including the guitar of Bert Cinderella in place of the more common piano in the rhythm section. Melle shows his talent for arranging, with some unusual bass note harmonies. The record is rooted in bebop, but Melle also adds some notably advanced harmonic structures. "Weird Valley" features an awkward little melody and some ear-catching contrapuntal surprises. Even a warhorse like "Moonlight In Vermont" has been reworked into something truly original. Melle was not the most powerful saxophonist, but he played to his own strengths, focusing on mood and atmosphere over bombast. The album is utterly charming.
Patterns In Jazz also taps a long controversy between mono and stereo Blue Note records. The debate often focuses on the hard, left-right panning of the instruments on the stereo records, and whether the mono pressings just sound more natural. Rudy Van Gelder began recording in stereo in 1957, using both stereo and mono tapes in tandem for a short time before abandoning mono altogether. Doing its part to fuel the flames, the Music Matters gang discovered that beginning in mid 1957 all of the mono issues were down-mixed from stereo masters. Each box was in fact marked in Van Gelder's hand, "Mo(no) master made 50/50 from stereo."
As one of the few true mono recordings in the series, Patterns In Jazz certainly won't settle this controversy, but its sound is revelatory. Mono recordings can sometimes sound stacked, with all of the instruments arranged in a narrow vertical pile. By contrast, Patterns In Jazz might be described as "Big Mono." The image is large and unified, very much the way a combo on a small bandstand in a club might sound. The instruments are centered, but there are discernable depth and lateral cues. The bell chimes, for example, on "Nice Question," very clearly originate deep in the right side of the sound field. On the aforementioned "Moonlight In Vermont," Melle's horn stands clearly forward of the band in a way that even the best modern recordings have trouble capturing. The album delivers some serious ammunition to the one-track camp: an exceptional example of a well- engineered, high-quality mono recording. It is also one of the overall best recordings in the series: a true "must hear" pressing.
If that sounds like a favorable review, it is. But that's not to say there aren't a few downsides.
First, as 45rpm records, some of the sides have only one track on them. Expect to get up every five minutes or so to turn them over. No big deal.
Second, at $50, these are expensive records.