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Eric Dolphy: Music Matters and Blue Note's 75th: Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Those deep collectors of classic Blue Note titles are already well aware of Music Matters' impressive catalog of reissue titles going back to 2007. Aside from a vintage era release with Van Gelder in the dead wax, these reissues have been the gold standard for hearing Blue Note's iconic classics in their best light. Joe Harley and Ron Rambach, the masterminds behind Music Matters, both have a firm commitment to presenting this music in the best possible light.

Most recently, the label devoted their efforts to a series of 45 rpm reissues that eventually numbered well over a hundred Blue Note titles. For a major indicator as to the impact of this series, one need only look up the deleted titles on Ebay to see that many of them fetch prices well into the range of three digits. For this reviewer, my experience with these titles has been limited, as my previous turntable made switching to the faster speed a tedious task. Most recently, I acquired a new setup and grabbed a reasonably-priced 45 rpm version of Andrew Hill's Judgment that left me nearly speechless. In a nutshell, I had never heard every nuance of this familiar set until discovering this Music Matters masterpiece.

That brings us to Music Matters latest endeavor, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Blue Note. The twist here is that instead of the double LP 45 rpm format, Harley and Rambach have opted for a single disc at 33 1/3 rpm. The packaging has retained its integrity. The glossy gatefold cover features on the inside a full-size Francis Wolff photo on the left and four smaller shots on the right. Held in your hand, these hefty LPs exude boutique quality all the way.

With twenty releases planned over the next twelve months, I was able to obtain and spin a copy of the first release of the series, Eric Dolphy's iconic Out to Lunch. Without a doubt, the opening "Hat and Beard" threw me somewhat for a loop. Dolphy's horn speaks with a clarity that I have never heard before. In fact, as the main theme made its reprise towards the end of the tune, it first seemed like there might be a glitch with the pressing. Then it became clear that the clicking sound I was hearing was actually the tapping of the keys against the pads of Dolphy's bass clarinet.

On "Something Sweet, Something Tender," the unison lines featuring Dolphy and Richard Davis' bass have always sounded somewhat flat and muddled in previous editions. The three dimensional quality of the Music Matters disc helped to more clearly define each player's lines in a way that added a sense of depth to the music. This same sense of clarity could be heard with Dolphy's flute work on "Gazzelloni," the many textures of his organic approach more clearly delineated.

The musicians who most benefit from the Music Matters production are drummer Tony Williams and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. For Williams, the ride cymbal is key part of his creative muse and all the overtones can be heard here in a way that organically adds to the many textures of his drumming. His military snare beats on the title track have also never sounded so crisp and clean. As for Hutcherson, his vibes on pianoless dates can often sound brittle and cold. Not a trace of that to be found here. His solo entrance on "Straight Up and Down" is rendered with warmth and more of that three-dimensional transparency that is the hallmark of the entire set.

Although recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder is sometimes derided for his extreme panning and tendency for oversaturation, that argument is a null point here. Stereo separation sounded completely balanced, this new reissue becoming the reference for what modern technology can do with vintage material. Even though it probably goes without saying, this pressing was flat and dead quiet and without any anomalies whatsoever. Did I also mention that by cutting back to a single LP you cut the price by about 30% over the double LP 45s?

Duly impressed, this reviewer eagerly awaits further releases from this series. Some of the key Blue Note sides to get the Music Matters treatment in 2015 include Herbie Hancock's Empyrean Isles, Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, Larry Young's Unity, and Jackie McLean's Right Now.

UPDATED associated equipment used for evaluation:
VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Soundsmith Carmen cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner

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