Blue Note's series of reissues remastered by the legendary recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder continues to come hot and heavy, although how they choose which titles to include is something of a puzzle. Some of the albums have been done to death already, while on rarer occasions we get something that has until now evaded rediscovery altogether. This latest set goes for a diverse mix, hitting on several important titles that have been long overdue for an update.
Although a strong record overall, there's not much really to say about Introducing Johnny Griffin (Blue Note 74218). The 1956 quartet date has been widely available on compact disc since the late 1980s and like many of the early Van Gelder sessions, the sound is so straightforward that there's not much tweaking that needed to be done. Technical considerations aside, the saxophonist roars his way through a mix of standards and originals in the company of pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Curly Russell, and drummer Max Roach. Even at this early stage in his career, Griffin's technical proficiency is nothing short of staggering.
The real surprise of this bundle, pianist Horace Silver's You Gotta Take A Little Love (Blue Note 74222) has never previously been available on CD and it completes the catalog in terms of Silver's Blue Note recordings from the 1960s. Trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist/flautist Bennie Maupin form a particularly pungent front line, with drummer Billy Cobham affording the suitable propulsion for a distinguished set of Silver originals. As is often the case, Silver's melodies here have a strong lyrical element (he will frequently write words for a tune even if they are not sung). Still, you can almost hear someone like Andy Bey singing the chorus to "You Gotta Take A Little Love. Maupin adds some nice textural variety with his flute work and Brecker's trumpet bristles with youthful exuberance. Deserving of wider recognition, this is one of Silver's lesser-known gems.
There's a marked dichotomy in the work of alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson during the two distinct periods of time he spent at Blue Note. During the 1950s, his output was largely in a bebop vein and his albums sat squarely beside other sets that could safely be defined as blowing sessions. Then when he returned to the label in 1967, he dove into the organ combo sound that would make a big splash over the next decade. Oddly enough, his first date upon return was the large ensemble ballad package assembled as Lush Life (Blue Note 74214). Arranger Duke Pearson goes for some colorful backgrounds to support Donaldson's simple and heartfelt improvisations. Unfortunately, the master tapes for this date have been lost and Van Gelder had to use a vinyl test pressing for this project. Nonetheless, the sound is vastly improved from previous incarnations.
Although he made more than his share of appearances as a sideman during the heydays of the hard bop movement, pianist Kenny Drew's legacy is often seen as a mere footnote in the history of the music, in some part due to his relocation to Europe in the late 1960s. Undoubtedly, Drew's major claim to fame has always been Undercurrent (Blue Note 74216), a spectacular recital for the pianist's gifts as a composer and improviser. Both trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Hank Mobley are at the top of their respective games and Drew's tunes provide absorbing structures for extended blowing. This 1960 trinket also has the honor of being one of the best sounding Blue Notes of the period and the warmth and presence of the original are further enhanced by Van Gelder's updating.
In some ways, pianist and composer Duke Person's musical journey was a parallel to Oliver Nelson's. Both men's playing skills were somewhat overshadowed by their distinctive writing and they both left this world far too early. Over the course of his tenure with Blue Note Pearson gave us a number of memorable albums, but the pick of the litter easily goes to 1967's The Right Touch (Blue Note 74220). With a marvellous octet including Hubbard, drummer Grady Tate, and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, Pearson goes for broke and offers up his most disparate and substantial set of originals. Numbers like "Chili Peppers and "Los Malos Hombres borrow something from the Latin tinge that clearly fascinated Pearson, while "My Love Waits is a beautiful ballad that has continued to live in several current incarnations including a remake by trumpeter Jim Rotondi. This is one not to be missed and easily one of the best Blue Notes in the catalog.
Pearson would also play a key role in the large ensemble charts assembled for The Spoiler (Blue Note 74224), Stanley Turrentine's 1966 opus. As the end of the decade approached, the saxophonist participated in several of these large group projects, but this one is arguably the best of the lot. With that big and juicy tone, Turrentine sinks his teeth into pop numbers like "Sunny and "Maybe September and proves that you can be accessible and creative at the same time. Solo space is also provided for other members of the crew, including trumpeter Blue Mitchell, saxophonist Pepper Adams, and pianist McCoy Tyner. Van Gelder gets a larger than life sound from the group, hinting more at a big band than a small ensemble.
Tracks and Personnel
Introducing Johnny Griffin
Tracks: MilDew; Chicago Calling; These Foolish Things; The Boy Next Door; Nice And Easy; It's Alright With Me; Lover Man; The Way You Look Tonight.
Personnel: Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone; Wyton Kelly: piano; Curly Russell: bass; Max Roach: drums.
You Gotta Take A Little Love
Tracks: You Gotta Take a Little Love; The Risin' Sun; It's Time; Lovely's Daughter; Down And Out; The Belly Dancer; Brain Wave.
Personnel: Horace Silver: piano; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Bennie Maupin: saxophone and flute; John Williams: bass; Billy Cobham: drums.
Tracks: Sweet Slumber; You've Changed; The Good Life; Star Dust; What Will I Tell My Heart; It Might As Well Be Spring; Sweet and Lovely.
Personnel: Lou Donaldson: alto saxophone; Jerry Dodgion: alto saxophone and flute; Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Garnett Brown: trombone; McCoy Tyner: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Al Harewood: drums.
Tracks: Undercurrent; Funk-Cosity; Lion's Den; The Pot's On; Groovin' The Blues; Ballade.
Personnel: Kenny Drew: piano; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Hank Mobley: tenor saxophone; Sam Jones: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.
The Right Touch
Tracks: Chili Peppers; Make It Good; My Love Waits; Los Malos Hombres; Scrap Iron; Rotary; Los Malos Hombres (alternate).
Personnel: Duke Pearson: piano; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Garnett Brown: trombone; James Spaulding: alto saxophone; Jerry Dodgion: alto saxophone and flute; Stanley Turrentine: tenor saxophone; Gene Taylor: bass; Grady Tate: drums.
Tracks: The Magilla, When the Sun Comes Out; La Fiesta; Sunny; Maybe September; You're Gonna Hear From Me; Lonesome Lover.
Personnel: Stanley Turrentine: tenor saxophone; Blue Mitchell: trumpet; Julian Preister: trombone; James Spaulding: alto saxophone and flute; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; McCoy Tyner: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Mickey Roker: drums; Joseph Rivera: percussion.