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: Something Smoky and Something Blue

C. Andrew Hovan By

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With Vincent Herring's alto providing the clarion call that ushers in the troops for a quicksilver performance entitled "Elation," it became clear that the analog warmth of this particular vinyl release possessed a tangible charm that was undeniable. So while this reviewer had previously reviewed Herring's The Uptown Shuffle as heard in the CD format and found the overall set quite enjoyable, there seemed to be a more visceral punch to the performance on vinyl that somehow managed to form a stronger connection.

This would hold true of the other performances contained on a very limited edition audiophile release entitled Smoke Sessions Vol.1. Hand picking a track each from the label's first four inaugural releases, this collection brings you in close and personal with the music as if you pulled up a seat at the bar. On David Hazeltine's performance of "My Ship," the tenor saxophone of Seamus Blake is rendered so well in the mix that you really get a sense of the room and the placement of each musician.

Javon Jackson explores the rich possibilities of the George Cables number "Think on Me." Well supported by drummer McClenty Hunter, both Jackson and pianist Orrin Evans deliver warm and definitive statements, the latter utilizing the entire range of the instrument.

Closing out the second side is a beautiful interpretation of the Thad Jones chestnut "To You" by Harold Mabern. It might be one of the highlights of the pianist's album Right on Time. The corker here and on three of the other tracks included on the LP is drummer Joe Farnsworth. A highly musical accompanist, Farnsworth knows the room well and this is evident in the way that he controls the volume and adapts to each situation.

As mentioned in the accompanying notes, all the recordings were produced using "vintage techniques and audio paths." The thick gatefold jacket houses a 200 gram disc done at QRP in Kansas. The pressing was dead quiet and extremely lively, making this one of the best sounding new jazz music releases this reviewer has heard on vinyl. So while you'll probably want to hear more of this music by grabbing the CDs or doing the downloads, this sampler offers a listening experience that is quite special in and of itself.

As many diehard fans know, the December 1938 concert Spirituals to Swing so excited young entrepreneur Alfred Lion that he decided to start his own record label a few weeks after hearing such talents as Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. Blue Note Records was then launched on January 6, 1939 when both Ammons and Lewis were recorded in solo and duo piano performances. As part of the label's 75th anniversary, Blue Note issued two limited edition vinyl reissues that would also coincide with Record Store Day in April.

Housed in a tan cardboard sleeve and sporting a pink and black label each of these titles replicates the appearance of the original 78 pressings. The two numbers by Lewis clock in at about four minutes each, one on each side of this standard 33 1/3 pressing. "Melancholy Blues" is a smoky performance that the pianist slowly builds by alternating right hand phrases with a looping bass line in the left hand. A gentle approach also accompanies "Solitude Blues," although some well-placed trills provide the necessary filigree.

Documenting the second Blue Note release, the Albert Ammons LP includes the tracks "Boogie Woogie Stomp" and "Boogie Woogie Blues." The first of these is a rollicking good time as Ammons interjects intricate fills into the framework of the basic shuffle beat. The second number is a bit slower in tempo, but still chugs on with the propulsion of the boogie woogie rhythm provided by Ammons's left hand. Taken together, these pieces are some of the finest examples of the genre.

Both pressings were found to be flat and free of any major flaws. The surface noise was also quite minimal and by comparing the sound with examples from actual 78s, it was clear that Blue Note has done a marvelous job of cleaning up the inherent noise of the medium while letting all the vibrancy of the originals shine through. And while these two albums made their debut for Record Store Day, a recent perusal online found several retailers who still have them available for purchase.

Associated equipment used for evaluation:
Rega P25 turntable fitted with Graham Robin tonearm and Soundsmith Carmen cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Acurus P10 phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner.

Track Listing

Smoke Sessions Vol.1
Elation; My Ship; Think on Me; To You.

Albert Ammons
Boogie Woogie Stomp; Boogie Woogie Blues.

Meade Lux Lewis
Melancholy Blues; Solitude Blues.


Smoke Sessions Vol.1
Vincent Herring: alto saxophone; Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone; Javon Jackson: tenor saxophone; Cyrus Chestnut: piano; David Hazeltine: piano; Orrin Evans: piano; Harold Mabern: piano; Brandi Disterheft: bass; David Williams: bass; Corcoran Holt: bass; John Webber: drums; Joe Farnsworth: drums; McClenty Hunter: drums.

Albert Ammons
Albert Ammons: piano.

Meade Lux Lewis
Meade "Lux" Lewis: piano.


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