Kenny Cox, Frank Foster, Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine: Blue Note Connoisseurs Tap Obscure Gems

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Since revitalizing itself back in 1985, the Blue Note label has led the charge with a heady stream of reissues that have brought the majority of the catalog's titles back into circulation. Then at the end of the 1990s, the RVG series began to revamp titles under the steady ears and guidance of master engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Just prior to this, Blue Note launched its Connoisseur series as an effort to bring to the market those titles that may have a limited appeal but nonetheless were deserving of a reevaluation. This program continues to survive with a recent set of releases confirming the importance of just such an exercise.

Frank Foster
Manhattan Fever
Blue Note

Although best remembered for his tenure with the Count Basie band, composer and saxophonist Frank Foster has also led some mighty fine sessions of his own over the years, including two prime sets for Prestige and later work for the Mainstream imprimatur. The rarest of his own sets, the 1968 session Manhattan Fever has been a valuable collectors item for a good time now and its appearance, finally, on CD is nothing short of a major coup. On a program of all originals save for Bill English's "Seventh Avenue Bill, Foster's writing chops enable him to make this three-horn front line sound much larger than it actually is. With an able rhythm section including pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and drummer Mickey Roker, Foster and company delve into such hard bop chestnuts as "Little Miss No Nose and "Stammpede with zeal characteristic of the best Blue Note sessions of this era. Particularly impressive is a strong showing from trumpeter Marvin Stamm just prior to his start at making a name for himself. As if the original package wasn't reward enough, throw in five bonus tracks from a previously unreleased session from 1969 and you've got one of the best reissues of the year.

Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet
Introducing Kenny Cox And The Contemporary Jazz Quintet
Blue Note

Like the Foster set, the two albums compiled together featuring pianist Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet can arguably be considered the rarest of the rare in terms of the Blue Note catalog, and they come at a time when Cox is back on the scene and being rediscovered by a new generation of listeners in his native Detroit. Bringing together all the titles from the group's two releases for the label, Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet (Blue Note, 1968) and Multidirection (Blue Note, 1969), this disc perfectly captures the melding of hard bop styles at the end of the decade with a more adventuresome spirit inspired by latest innovations of Miles Davis. This is not to suggest that this music is far out or avant-garde, but it is definitely more exploratory than your typical hard bop fare, as best heard on the lengthy tracks "Number Four and "Multidirection. Although not much is known on the whereabouts of trumpeter Charles Moore or saxophonist Leon Henderson, bassist Ron Brooks and drummer Danny Spencer are Michiganites still active in their home environs.

Stanley Turrentine
A Bluish Bag
Blue Note

Although Blue Note could boast a roster second to none in its heydays, there were certain artists on the label that were led down more interesting paths than others as their careers progressed. One of these was tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. At first, he would be featured in typical quartet formats or with his brother Tommy as part of a tenor and trumpet front line. Then came time in front of an organ combo, typically with his wife Shirley Scott. As the late 1960s progressed, Turrentine would launch into a new period marked by large ensemble backings first heard on the iconic Joyride (Blue Note, 1965). Other gems to follow would include The Spoiler (Blue Note, 1966) and Rough and Tumble (Blue Note, 1966), both under the direction of arranger Duke Pearson. In a similar vein are the dozen cuts that make up A Bluish Bag, some of which were first released in the 1970s on vinyl. The line-ups on the two sessions featured here are first rate and include such names as saxophonist/flautist Joe Farrell, saxophonist Pepper Adams, trombonist Julian Preister, and pianists Kenny Barron and McCoy Tyner. First up is a 1967 date focused on bossa-tinged numbers and the results are just marvelous, with Turrentine adding just a bit of breathiness to his husky tone. The second outing from 1969 includes several Henry Mancini trinkets and more superb playing by all on hand. The former obscurity of these recordings can surely not be based on any degree of deficiency as they are of the highest order and belong right alongside Turrentine's other highpoints.

Jimmy Smith
Straight Life
Blue Note

As hard as it might be to fathom, Blue Note has managed to dig up yet one more previously unreleased session from Jimmy Smith that can be heard on Straight Life. A trio affair with long-time associates guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Donald Bailey, this disc features music recorded in 1961, just a year before Smith made a big splash with Bashin' (Verve, 1962) and two years before he would record his final work for Blue Note. In many ways it's a consolidation of his previous efforts up to that time, marked by a program consisting of a 50/50 mix of ballads and medium-tempo swingers. The most interesting pieces are Smith's own originals, namely the title track (not to be confused with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's number of the same title) and "Minor Fare. Although a strong set, this one will most likely be for completists only.

Tracks and Personnel

Manhattan Fever

Tracks: Little Miss No Nose: Manhattan Fever; Loneliness; Stammpede; You Gotta Be Kiddin'; Seventh Avenue Bill; Slug's Bag; What's New From the Monster Mill; Hip Shakin'; The House That Love Built; Fly By Night.

Personnel: Frank Foster: tenor saxophone and alto clarinet; Marvin Stamm, Burt Collins: trumpet; Garnett Browm, Jimmy Cleveland: trombone; Ed Pazant: alto saxophone and flute; Richard Wyands, George Cables: piano; Bob Cranshaw, Buster Williams: bass; Mickey Roker: drums.

Introducing Kenny Cox And The Contemporary Jazz Quintet

Tracks: Mystique; You; Trance Dance; Eclipse; Number Four; Diahnn; Spellbound; Snuck In; Sojourn; Multidirection; What Other One; Gravity Point.

Personnel: Kenny Cox: piano; Charles Moore: trumpet; Leon Henderson: tenor saxophone; Ron Brooks: bass; Danny Spencer: drums.

A Bluish Bag

Tracks: Blues For Del; She's A Carioca; Manha Da Carnaval; Here's That Rainy Day; What Now My Love; Samba De Aviao; Night Song; Days Of Wine and Roses; Come Back To Me; Silver Tears; A Bluish Bag; With This Ring.

Personnel: Stanley Turrentine: tenor saxophone; Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell, Tommy Turrentine: trumpet; Jerry Dodgion: alto saxophone and flute; Julian Preister: trombone; Joe Farrell: saxophone and flute; Al Gibbons: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli: guitar; Ron Carter, Walter Booker: bass; Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner: piano; Mickey Roker: drums.

Straight Life

Tracks: Straight Life; Stuffy; Star Dust; Sweet Sue; Minor Fare; Swanee; Jimmy's Blues; Yes Sir, That's My Baby; Here's To My Lady; Minor Fare (alternate take).

Personnel: Jimmy Smith: organ; Quentin Warren: guitar; Donald Bailey: drums.

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