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Horace Silver: The Cape Verdean Blues

Greg Simmons By

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Any review of an XRCD extended resolution CD reissue of hard bop pianist Horace Silver's The Cape Verdean Blues is going to be as much about the success of the format as it is about the music.

The music on old recordings, re-released in expensive high-tech format by specialist Elusive Disc (in it's series of Blue Note album transfers from the original master tapes) is presumed to have artistic value, otherwise no one would bother with such an expensive, high-tech reissue. In this case the music is above reproach.

Silver's band in the 1960s was almost as much an incubator of new talent as Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, always featuring first-class up-and-coming musicians. The Cape Verdean Blues pairs trumpeter Woody Shaw with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, a dream-team front line for Silver's bold melodic statements. Everyone gets plenty of room to work out, with Shaw—only 21 at the time—turning in a notable solo on the slow blues, "African Queen," building it slowly, before blowing himself into a pitched, slightly abstracted shout, a harbinger of a sound that would emerge more forcefully later, on his own albums. Trombonist J.J. Johnson guests with the band on three tracks, adding some weighty brass to the melodies and some excellent soloing. Henderson is flawless throughout, and Silver, in addition to composing most of the tracks, always plays an impeccable blues line.

So, what about the XRCD format? At thirty dollars a pop, and with no bonus tracks, a buyer has the right to expect a darned fine sounding CD, and that's exactly what he gets. Compared with an original vinyl pressing, the XRCD is fuller sounding, with better bass definition. It's a very smooth presentation, with none of the CD glare that sometimes infects cheaper pressings. The soundstage is huge, and the instruments sound pretty close to life- sized.

But even the best pressing of an album—XRCD, SACD, vinyl or otherwise—can't mask original recording flaws. Like most Rudy Van Gelder recordings from the 1960s the piano sounds like it was recorded in a closet under a pile of moving blankets. A piano is a huge, dynamic instrument, and should not sound like it's been stacked in one small sliver of the stage. This is an unfortunate blemish (heard on most RVG catalogue titles) on what is otherwise a fine sounding album.

So, is thirty bucks for a great pressing of a great album with recording flaws a good value? For those who really love the music, understand the inherent issues with the piano, and have hi-fi capabilities to take advantage of the improved overall sound quality, it might well be. For someone without fancy equipment, a regular CD or download would still deliver the tunes and leave twenty bucks in the pocket. It's all just a matter of priorities.

Track Listing: The Cape Verdean Blues; The African Queen; Pretty Eyes; Nutville; Bonita; Mo' Joe.

Personnel: Horace Silver: piano; Woody Shaw: trumpet; J.J. Johnson: trombone (4-6); Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Bob Crenshaw: bass; Roger Humphries; drums.

Title: The Cape Verdean Blues | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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