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My Blue Note Obsession

Stanley Jordan: Stanley Jordan: Standards Volume 1 – 1986

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Half of Magic Touch and half of Standards would make one outstanding, 5-star record.
Enter the album name hereIn my lust for Blue Note CDs, I've mostly focused on the label's classic period: the 1950s and '60s. That's where you'll find the very best hard bop and soul-jazz ever produced.

But nothing good lasts forever, and no particular musical style stays popular for long. As bop and soul faded, so did Blue Note. The label limped into the '70s, producing not much of interest. Finally, inevitably, the label died in the 1980s. It simply stopped producing new records.

But—surprise!—the funeral was short-lived. Blue Note sputtered back to life in the mid-'80s, searching for a new niche, and one of its most popular new artists was guitarist Stanley Jordan.

If you were a jazz fan in 1985, you probably bought the CD of Jordan's Magic Touch. It was a genuine phenomenon. Using an unusual two-handed technique, Jordan played the guitar like a piano—making it sound like two guitars. He was a freak of nature. He accompanied himself on one single instrument, and when it worked, it sounded great. The opening track, a frantic, bluesy, amazing rendition of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," was the undisputed highlight.

It was a shocking debut, but not perfect. "Freddie Freeloader" and "Round Midnight" were astonishing remakes of jazz classics. But the rest of the album was a mixed bag of gentle melodies and tunes that bordered on easy listening. One or two songs were pure schlock.

And so the world waited for the sophomore record. Where would he go with this phenomenal technique?

Not far, it turned out.

A year later, Jordan produced Standards Volume 1—an album of 10 completely unaccompanied guitar solos. It was ballsy, true, but also a mixed bag. It confirmed everything we already knew from Magic Touch. The opening and closing numbers were absolutely astonishing. "The Sound of Silence" was positively groovy. "My Favorite Things" was a version so far removed from John Coltrane, it was practically a new song. And the closer, "Silent Night," was the blues-iest version ever recorded—almost unrecognizable at first, but ultimately a great pleasure.

The rest? Not so much. For starters, the song choices were weird. Stevie Wonder's "Send One Your Love." Bread's "Guitar Man." The Fifth Dimension's "One Less Bell to Answer." The Beatles' "Because." Standards? Maybe in some bizarro universe.

And the treatments were just so-so. A corny rendering of "Moon River." A jaunty but predictable take on "Sunny." Again, as on Magic Touch, Jordan mixed great tunes with mediocre ones.

If you're unfamiliar with Stanley Jordan—and how is that even possible?—definitely try these two debut records. Better yet—take half of Magic Touch and half of Standards and throw the rest away. That would make one outstanding, 5-star record. It's the best way to listen to early Stanley Jordan.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Plenty of used copies on Amazon

Cost: Would you believe under $1 used?

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