Various Artists: Blue Note Connoisseur Series: The Lost Sessions
When it came to the music that he put out on record, Blue Note producer Alfred Lion was a stickler for tight ensembles, inspired performances, and musically appealing content. This sometimes meant, added to the sheer prolific nature of the label, that many decent sessions ended up accumulating in the vaults over the years. Of course, Blue Note began mining these resources back in the late '70s and early '80s, carrying on in some degree through the label's resurrection in 1985 and up to present day. Some of these unissued articles are genuine lost masterpieces, while others possess minor flaws that hint at possible reasons as to why they were never issued in the first place.
Unearthing more previously unissued sides, Blue Note's new set of 7 Connoisseur discs are largely a success in terms of providing more music from several of the label's most important artists. None of these recordings contain any startling revelations or are destined to become belated classics (such as, let's say, Wayne Shorter's Et Cetera or Hank Mobley's Slice of the Top ), yet each one has its own set of rewards that will perk the ears of anyone familiar with a particular musician's work.
Probably the most fascinating disc of the lot, a various artist compilation entitled The Lost Sessions (Blue Note 21484), is worth the price of admission if for nothing else than for the roughly 20 minutes of music that comes from a much-renowned 1961 date led by pianist and composer Tadd Dameron. Knowledge of this one among the jazz cognoscenti has created quite a stir for its release over the years and what a joy to finally see it have its day. The eight-piece group assembled includes Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Julius Watkins, and Sam Rivers, and while the ensembles are rough in spots, the quality of the writing (much of it not documented by Dameron anywhere else) and solo work is such that one can't help but revel in the idea of what a great record this would have been if finished and released.
The same thought comes to mind after hearing the three tracks put forth by the much-lamented tenor saxophonist Ike Quebec backed by a trio of Duke Pearson, Isreal Crosby, and Vernel Fournier. Quebec's rich golden tone, touched with a hint of melancholia, was never more apropos then when exploring a ballad and we get three choice ones here to savor. Rounding out this tasteful potpourri, we get another cut by Quebec with Gene Harris on organ (as part of the Three Sound), a fun ditty from Tenor man Fred Jackson called "Cowbell Boogie," and one cut apiece from rejected dates by Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, Herbie Hancock, and Charlie Rouse, the latter being a real cooker that belies the fact that the rest of the session it comes from was deemed undesirable. A highly-desirable artifact that nicely fills in some pieces, every Blue Note fan will want this disc.
Adding to his considerably meager catalog, Dizzy Reece's Comin' On! (Blue Note 22019) is probably the next most desirable item in this new series. A bristling trumpeter with an incendiary approach, the Jamaican-born Reece was raised in London where he was active on its thriving jazz scene of the '50s. By the end of the decade he headed for the States and a Blue Note contract found him with two albums under his belt before recording the first sessions in April of 1960 that make up half of this disc. Five previously unheard sides feature tenor man Stanley Turrentine's first recordings for Blue Note and a decidedly "Jazz Messengers" flavor which is reinforced by the rhythm section of Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt, and Art Blakey.
The four tracks that round out this disc come from a July 1960 date that again finds Turrentine on board, but with a rhythm section that includes Duke Jordan, Sam Jones, and Al Harewood. All of the music heard here is of very high quality, making its obscurity a bit bewildering. Reece must have been tired of waiting for their release too because a couple of the tunes he would redo two years later for his quintessential Prestige release, Asia Minor.
A month after producing the incandescent Idle Moments in November of 1963, Alfred Lion decided to assemble the same crew for Bobby Hutcherson's first date as a leader, an effort that has sat in the vaults for the past 36 years. The Kicker (Blue Note 21437) probably never came out initially, reissue producer Michael Cuscuna speculates, because it is clearly a more conventional affair than the other undertakings Hutcherson was involved in at the time, such as work with Andrew Hill, Archie Shepp, and Jackie McLean. But it would be a foolish mistake to conclude that this one's a lesser light because that's just not the case. There is much to savor here, namely in the solo work of Hutch, Joe Henderson, and Grant Green. In addition, an insightful comparison activity can be conducted by comparing some of the classic Blue Note tunes heard here with other more familiar versions. For instance, a take on "Joe Chambers' "Mirrors" is more pensive and wistful than the hard bopping conception we get on Hubbard's Breaking Point LP. An agreeable and lengthy "Step Lightly" also compares favorably with subsequent renderings by Blue Mitchell. Clocking in at almost an hour, this one's a delight and a real bargain despite its postponed release.
A Blue Note mainstay throughout the '60s and early '70s, guitarist Grant Green did not record in the conventional trio format with organ and drums but on a few occasions, but when he did (like on Grant's First Stand with Baby Face Willette and Talkin' About with Larry Young) the results were always something special. This is no less the case with the newly-found Blues for Lou (Blue Note 21438), made in the company of organist John Patton and drummer Ben Dixon. These three were briefly part of Lou Donaldson'd band and also appeared as rhythm section for a few Blue Note dates, thus their complimentary styles had become aligned over time. The blues and tunes with a gospel/shuffle feel make up the repertoire for this entertaining set, highlighted by an attractive ballad statement from Green on "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and an ebullient "This Little Girl of Mine" buoyed by Dixon's jangling tambourine.
Grant Green shows up again on Lou Donaldson's A Man with a Horn (Blue Note 21436), suggesting how important this set of reissues is if for nothing else then the substantive amount of Green material that is added to his recorded legacy as a result. Two sessions are actually combined here, a strictly ballads affair from 1961 that includes Jack McDuff, Green, and drummer Joe Dukes and a more straight forward endeavor from 1963 with trumpeter Irvin Stokes added to the Green/Patton/Dixon rhythm section. Alternating tunes from each session was a sagacious decision in terms of programming, although there's still too much ballad material to hold one's interest over the long haul. As sweetly as Donaldson blows throughout, the 1963 sides prove more rewarding and could serve as an ample set when programmed on your disc player by themselves.
Drummer Art Blakey had a penchant for gathering his drumming cohorts together in the studio for extended percussion displays. He had done this as early as 1957 with Drum Suite for Columbia. These occasional undertakings would then continue with such Blue Notes as Orgy in Rhythm, Holiday for Skins, and The African Beat. Somewhere in the midst of all of these, Blakey would also put on tape the performances collected on Drums Around the Corner (Blue Note 21455), a disc which drummer and jazz historian Kenny Washington suggests in his liners may be the best of Blakey's many like-minded projects. They are certainly the most cohesive and less Afro-Cuban sounding of the lot with a truncated version of the Jazz Messengers on hand in the guise of Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt.
Blakey shares the drumming chores with Philly Joe Jones and Roy Haynes and the contrasting styles of these three makes for fascinating listening. Amidst Blakey's thunderous press rolls and signature tom-tom fills, Jones cuts through with his technically impressive interjections, while Haynes can be clearly identified by his tight snare drum and chattering cross-talk between snare and bass drum. None of the drummers dominate or wear out their welcome and there is plenty of solo space for Morgan, Timmons and conga player Ray Barretto too, although a slightly more then ten minute "Drums in the Rain" is purely an all-drums piece. Closing out the disc are two cuts from 1959 featuring just the duo of Blakey and bassist Paul Chambers, both oddities that are surprisingly substantial.
Last but not least, we get a strong dose of Jimmy Smith and the blues with Six Views of the Blues (Blue Note 21435). These 1958 sides catch Smith at the peak of his early genius and at a time when he often sounded like he had so many ideas in his mind that he wanted to express that he just couldn't get them all out at the same time, a tendency that gave way to a more lean conception during his tenure with Verve. Interestingly enough, the slower tempos employed here actually give Smith more of an opportunity to develop his solos, with Kenny Burrell's guitar backing nothing short of brilliant. What seems like an odd pairing at first, turns out to be fortuitous one with baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne added to the mix. His be-bop sensibilities are a perfect match for Smith's similar leanings, making this a worthy addition to Smith's classic Blue Note catalog.
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