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Music Matters: The Blue Note Reissue Series

Music Matters: The Blue Note Reissue Series
Greg Simmons By

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Music Matters has been reissuing classic Blue Note jazz records since 2007. It has dug deep into the catalog, remastering lesser known, infrequently heard titles, and done so with passionate attention to presenting the highest possible sound quality. Offering an analog solution in a digital age, this exceptional series is available on 45rpm vinyl records only. It is an extraordinary collection of music.

With some of the Blue Note recordings now pushing 60 years old, it's wholly appropriate to release a first-rate reissue series, but to do it right requires people who are fanatics about these titles and who bleed enthusiasm for the music. It also helps to have folks with the attention to detail necessary to worry about the weight of the vinyl and the type of ink used in the jackets. It requires folks who are a little crazy about making the best possible pressings, and are willing to go to any length to make it happen. Ron Rambach (far left above), owner of Music Matters, and his friend and co-conspirator, Joe Harley (second left, with Steve Hoffman, second right, Kevin Gray, far right), have personally overseen every element of the reissue series since its inception. They're both a little nuts about classic Blue Note records, and they've channeled their madness into an exceptional collection.

Rambach and Harley are music fans first and foremost, and they approached reissuing the Blue Note catalog as an extension of their dedication to the label. Original 33rpm Blue Note albums are scarce and outrageously expensive. Many collectors have at least one original Blue Note that they just had to buy, even though the vinyl had clearly been used for target practice. The label has so much cache that some folks will pay a premium for a scratchy, damaged Blue Note record just to have it, even when a CD of the same performance may be readily available. Rambach, a long time dealer in collectible vinyl, was concerned that people would only ever hear poor quality copies, and that they'd overlook lesser known titles: "I didn't know how the next generation was going to hear this music. It's the music that needs to be discovered. It's about bringing these guys back." Both men had a deep knowledge of the label's catalog through their own collections and felt strongly that, handled properly, a reissue could offer something new to enthusiasts.

Blue Note—under its original ownership— wasn't just any jazz record label, and therefore its recording history merits the special attention. Alfred Lion cut his first tracks in 1939 with some 78rpms of pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. Those sides became the first releases of the fledgling Blue Note label, which went on to become synonymous with some of the highest quality and most innovative jazz of the 20th century. The label really hit its stride in the post-war years, first by embracing bebop and the new long-playing records, and then by continually searching out and recording fresh talent. Lion recorded many important musicians who later became legends when they were coming up in the mid 1950s and 1960s, as well as a few older artists for good measure. The label's A&R men, first Ike Quebec, and then Duke Pearson, were accomplished musicians themselves who were able to spot and attract first-rate talent to the label. Towering giants such as pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins all made records for Lions; as did lesser-known greats like saxophonist J.R. Monterose and pianists Sonny Clark and Herbie Nichols. Lion gave a voice to many innovative, often young jazz musicians, whose forward-thinking compositions, bold interpretations and extraordinary performances became instant classics. Quite simply: he recorded the best artists he could find and gave them the freedom to make their own music. In the process he built what is arguably the most important catalog of recordings in jazz.

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