As Blue Note continues to mine its classic catalog, handing over the masters to engineer Rudy Van Gelder, certain key artists have seen a large amount of their oeuvre getting the RVG re-mastering treatment. This is the second of three parts covering the most recent set of reissues from the series, and looks at albums by saxophonists.
The quality of many of his records for Prestige, SteepleChase, and Columbia notwithstanding, most people would agree that Dexter Gordon's best performances were done for Blue Note during a brief period in the early '60s. Along with Go!, Gordon's 1962 set A Swingin' Affair just might be the cream of the crop, thanks in no small part to a rhythm section that includes pianist Sonny Clark, bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins. As Dexter bellows "Soy Califa, Higgins sets up the Afro-Cuban beat that gets this one runnin' at full throttle. Butch Warren's "The Backbeat is another original that became somewhat of a favorite. A master of the ballad, Gordon also left us two lasting statements in that arena, namely "Don't Explain and "Until The Real Thing Comes Along.
Following his first short spate of recording for Blue Note, Gordon moved to Europe, not returning to the Van Gelder studios again until the May 1965 sessions collected on Getting' Around. This time Barry Harris has spelled the now deceased Clark and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson is sagaciously added to the mix for a neglected set worthy of wider recognition. Standards are pretty much the fodder for the date, although the treatments are anything but standard. Gordon's own "Le Coiffeur is a particular favorite that puts the mix of vibes and tenor in a fine light. Adding to an already significant release are two bonus tracks that didn't fit on the original album.
A gentleman who benefited from a particularly long run on Blue Note, Stanley Turrentine could be found in a variety of settings throughout his tenure. The label that always made the most of his fat and soulful sound. One of his most ambitious projects, Joyride, finds Turrentine fronting a big band led by Oliver Nelson. This would be one of many similar situations that producer Alfred Lion would engage in at the time, a bold and expensive move considering the logistics and available finances of a small independent label. It all pays off big with a great selection of tunes, superlative charts, and an enthused Turrentine telling some fine stories in his own dialect. What more could you ask for?
Another saxophonist with a long term stay at Blue Note that lead to a number of catalog favorites, Hank Mobley never made a bad record and often came up with some terrific ones. Dippin' is a personal favorite as it's prototypical hard bop at its finest. Mobley and trumpeter Lee Morgan form a front line without peer, supported with equal aplomb by pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Billy Higgins. Arguably this is the best jazz version of "Recado Bossa Nova, and Mobley contributes his own share of original trinkets including "The Breakthrough and "Ballin.' Sound quality is razor sharp here, while previous incarnations have sounded a bit muddy.
Finally, we revisit one of two Blue Note albums by the long forgotten baritone saxophonist Leo Parker. A veteran of the bebop era, Parker played with a gutsy timbre not unlike that of Pepper Adams but with a lighter overall approach in terms of improvisation. Like many other musicians of his age during the early '60s, he benefited from that time's renewed label interest in some of the older styles of jazz. Part of a sextet of obscure but talented musicians, Parker gives us the strongest recording of his career with Let Me Tell You 'Bout It. A joyful set that hits on many moods, the writing is strong and these veterans seem to be inspired. Too bad that this would be among Parker's final recorded moments, cut not too long before his untimely death.
Tracks and Personnel
A Swingin' Affair
Tracks: Soy Califa; Don't Explain; You Stepped Out of a Dream; The Backbone; Until the Real Thing Comes Along; McSplivens.