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My Blue Note Obsession

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Sabu Martinez: Palo Congo – 1957

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1957 was a banner year for hard bop and Blue Note. In one year, the label released 40 albums, including classics from John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin and eight by Jimmy Smith alone. In the midst of all that hard bop, Blue Note released two percussion-based albums that were way off the beaten path. Art Blakey's Orgy in Rhythm was a drum-fest of epic proportions. Sabu Martinez's Palo Congo was a ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra: Consummation – 1970

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Blue Note was never home to many big bands, but the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra recorded four albums for the label from 1967-70, and one is a certified classic. Consummation is the musical equivalent of Neapolitan ice cream--three flavors packed into one large container. The album contains three moods: soft and contemplative, sprightly and upbeat, and soulful and funky. Each gets two or three songs, and together they make a tasty treat. The record begins with ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil – 1964

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It's hard to imagine a jazz musician who has had more success with more bands than Wayne Shorter. His tenor sax was an essential part of three landmark combos: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (1959-1964), Miles Davis' classic quintet (1964-70) and Weather Report (1971-86)--27 consecutive years of uninterrupted magnificence. In other words, if Shorter had never recorded a single album as a bandleader, he still would be among the greats on jazz's Mount Olympus. But ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Javon Jackson: Pleasant Valley – 1999

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If the iconic sound of Blue Note Records could be summed up in just one band, it would surely be Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. For 35 years--1955 to 1990--the Messengers were the heart and soul of hard bop, on Blue Note and other labels. But what happened when Blakey died in 1990? Where did the music and the musicians go after that? For decades, Blakey trained a Who's Who of young jazz royalty. Many became legends. ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Leo Parker: Rollin' With Leo – 1961

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What if I told you there's a saxman who was there at the birth of bebop--literally, he played on the very first bebop recording--and you've never heard of him? And what if I told you his life story is the very archetype of the tragic, drug-addicted jazz musician? Would you still want to hear his music? Listen anyway. Rollin' With Leo by baritone saxman Leo Parker is an obscure pleasure. Lately, I've been listening to it ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Newport Jazz Festival 1959

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The collector asks: When is it OK to say, “I have enough, thanks. I don't need the live version, too." Consider the dilemma of Wolfgang's Vault, a musical treasure trove of old jazz and rock performances. If you've never been there, go now. The site is stunning. It is an enormous collection of long-lost jazz shows, mostly from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. For the fan and collector, it's a must see. But is it also ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark – 1961-62

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Imagine if someone discovered a stash of unreleased Beatles records 15 years after they broke up. Then imagine Apple Records released all that music in a 2-CD set. That's what Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark is like. I exaggerate, but not by much. Grant Green wasn't the Beatles of jazz. But for about five years in the early-to mid-1960s, he was arguably the best jazz guitarist around. He was in the same class ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Louis Smith: Here Comes Louis Smith – 1957

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I'm not a musical snob. I'm not a guy to drop obscure musical names to impress friends and hipsters. But when I come across a name that is undeservedly obscure, I don't mind shouting it out the window. So here's my shout for today: Louis Smith! Chances are you've never heard of Louis Smith. You should. He put out exactly two albums as a Blue Note bandleader, in 1957 and 1958, then disappeared for the next ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Horace Silver: The United States of Mind – Revisited

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At what point did Blue Note Records jump the shark? Is there a single moment when Blue Note stopped being the world's greatest purveyor of jazz and instead became an irrelevant producer of schlock? Truth is, it was a long, slow slide. In the 1950s, Blue Note was the greatest source of hard bop. In the 1960s, it produced the best soul-jazz on earth. And then, one day in the 1970s--poof! It was all gone. Where did it ...


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