As the old saying goes, the hits just keep coming as master engineer Rudy Van Gelder continues to wade his way through the legendary Blue Note catalog. While some might balk at the idea of replacing discs they already own with these new beefed up models, there is a definite improvement in sound quality for the vast majority of these titles and their budget price makes them an attractive proposition. These recent releases include albums that have been available before on disc and a few that have not.
The Sounds of Jimmy Smith
1957 was a big year for organist Jimmy Smith, as he was in full flight with a regular schedule of recording activity for Blue Note. The Sounds of Jimmy Smith (Blue Note 11426) has never been available as a domestic disc, although a previous two-fer did reissue the album for the first time in the digital age. In the company of regular trio mates Eddie McFadden on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums, Smith rips and roars through a collection of standards while revealing the talents that made him an instant favorite with scores of jazz fans. While the sound of Manhattan Towers nowhere near rivals that of Van Gelder's own studio, the remastering job here does the music justice and three bonus tracks complete an essential early document from Smith.
Fast forward to 1969 and another organist by the name of Smith and you'll have the first time US release of Turning Point (Blue Note 11423). This one may just be Lonnie Smith's best record ever, with solid support from Lee Morgan, Julian Priester, Bennie Maupin, Melvin Sparks, and Idris Muhammad. Far removed from the typical greasy organ records that were being released in droves at the time, Smith's muse is far more subtle and piano-like, playing with different textures and dynamics. He turns soul classics like "Seesaw and "People Sure Act Funny into serious jazz interpretations and his own title track is an infectious two-chord vamp that stirs up quite a froth. This one comes highly recommended.
Although many fans look to Hank Mobley's early recordings as a high mark in his career, his last great spate of activity during the late '60s also yielded a good share of classic albums such as A Caddy For Daddy and Thinking of Home. Reach Out (Blue Note 11496) from 1968 is somewhat of a mixed bag that suffers in part due to commercial concessions. The pop hits "Reach Out and "Goin' Out Of My Head are sub par for Mobley's standards and an obvious try for some airplay. Nonetheless, Mobley's original material is what makes this set still worthwhile, especially the loping "Up, Over, and Out. Also making this one worth a listen are the contributions of Woody Shaw and George Benson.
Down With It
Trumpeter Blue Mitchell first started turning heads while a member of Horace Silver's quintet, but his own series of Blue Note dates during the mid-'60s really brought home the attraction of his understated brilliance as a supremely lyrical player. Briefly he led a superb quintet with Chick Corea and Junior Cook and each and every album they recorded is filled with trinkets of inspiration. Down With It (Blue Note 11492) is arguably the pick of the lot, thanks to strong solos and a sagacious set of originals by both Blue and William Boone. While "Hi-Heel Sneakers is an obvious nod to the success of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder, the integrity of the performance prevents it from sounding like just another knockoff. The highlight of the album though is the ballad feature "Alone, Alone, and Alone, a warm and amber-hued statement that finds Mitchell at his lyrical best.
That's Where It's At
Both coming from a soulful mode of expression, the pairing of Les McCann and Stanley Turrentine was a logical choice and That's Where It's At (Blue Note 11494) is one the best records that either artist has ever made. "Smile, Stacey opens the date with an infectious groove that puts Turrentine into a good mood, with his famous cries and hollers raising the goose bump factor. "Soft Pedal Blues is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a precious ballad that Turrentine milks to its fullest potential. McCann also sounds good throughout, but without a doubt this one belongs to Turrentine and the dependable rhythm section of Herbie Lewis and Otis Finch never lets our leading men down.
Let Me Tell You 'Bout It
Very much like Ike Quebec, baritone saxophonist Leo Parker had already had a full career coming up in the be bop era when he returned to the scene in the early '60s, recording two brilliant Blue Notes sessions that would sadly constitute his swansong. Let Me Tell You 'Bout It (Blue Note 11490) brought together a sextet of elder statesmen who have long been forgotten but who had vital things to say on this recital of swing-inflected goodies. With a heftier sound than Gerry Mulligan but a lighter approach than Pepper Adams, Parker stuck a perfect balance between swing sensibilities and bop histrionics.