Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression Part 2: The Music

It is a testament to the power of the Blue Note label that a five disc set can barely scratch the surface with the depth of music and talent running so deep. But rather than trying to tell the entire Blue Note story (that would take one hundred discs plus) the selectors follow the format of the book, breaking the music into the following sections - Disc One: From Boogie to Bop, 1939-1953; Disc Two: Messengers, Preachers and Hard Bop, 1953-1958; Disc Three: Struttin', Moaning', and Somethin' Else, 1958-1960; Disc Four: Bossa, Blues and Hits 1961-1965; and Disc Five: Can You Dig It? 1953-2014. The disc breaks are somewhat arbitrary, but they work well enough to move the story along and highlight major stylistic changes in the music. Disc One is quite interesting from a historical perspective as it shows the label moving from the "hot jazz" of Sidney Bechet, and sticking a tentative toe into bebop as the nature of jazz as a whole moved relentlessly forward in the post-war era. Disc Two covers the first part of the hard-bop era and the label's glory years, featuring prime cuts from Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith and Art Blakey, musicians who really put Blue Note on the map, along with progressive seekers like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Disc Three digs more deeply into the soulful, testifying jazz of this legendary era featuring deep, soulful tracks like Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers "Moaning'" and "True Blue" by the underrated saxophonist Tina Brooks. Looking for a popular record that could help keep them afloat, Blue Note tried some subtle experiments that are showcased on Disc Four. They didn't stray too far from their bread and butter as can be seen by the inclusion of three songs by the great organist Jimmy Smith along with bluesy tracks from guitarists Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. They were still pumping out high quality hard/post bop from the likes of Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard, but it was in the groove that they found what they were seeking. Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" climbed the jazz and even pop charts, sustaining the label for a few more years. Finally on Disc Five, the Blue Note label (the brand) began its free-fall through corporate America, first to Liberty Records, then to Capitol and then finally to Universal. The music suffers through this period with very dated attempts at funk-jazz, vocals and other doomed projects. So it's a deal with the devil that keeps Blue Note afloat today, they must have enough money makers like singer Gregory Porter to subsidize the forward thinking jazz of musicians like trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. But all in all it is a good set and takes you on a good (if nostalgic) ride through the label's amazing history. Uncompromising Expression: Singles Collection -

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