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Blue Note Tone Poet Series and 80 Series

12-09-2019 | By Andy Goldenberg | Issue 106

Blue Note Tone Poet Series

  • Donald Byrd, Chant. Blue Note Stereo LT-991
  • Stanley Turrentine With Shirley Scott, Hustlin'. Blue Note Stereo 84162

Blue Note 80 Series

  • Lonnie Smith, Think! Blue Note 80 Stereo 7753113
  • Bobbi Humphrey, Blacks and Blues. Blue Note 80 Stereo 7752697
  • Grant Green, Alive. Blue Note 80 Stereo 84360
  • Donald Byrd, Ethiopian Knights. Blue Note 80 Stereo 84380

Commemorating the 80th Anniversary of Blue Note Records, label President Don Was and Director of Publicity, Cem Kurosman, and Joe Harley of Music Matters audiophile vinyl series have set out to re-issue some classic Jazz titles from the Blue Note vaults.

While the Tone Poet series features gorgeous Deluxe gatefold packaging, both series feature an all-analog-chain remastering process by the esteemed sound engineer Kevin Gray, and the vinyl is being pressed at Optimal Pressing in Germany.

Recorded in 1961 at Van Gelder Englewood Cliffs Studio, Donald Byrd's Chant LP is a splendid combination of both melodic and straight-ahead be-bop Jazz. While Byrd plays some sweet trumpet licks throughout, the real stand-out players on this album are pianist Herbie Hancock and baritone sax player Pepper Adams.

Hustlin' features the superb tenor-sax of Stanley Turrentine, and the tasty Hammond B-3 organ of his wife Shirley Scott, drummer Otis Finch plays very lightly on both the high-tempo tunes and the ballads, which really allows the other players to shine.

Speaking of Hammond B-3 organ, Lonnie Smith's Think! released in 1968 marks an interesting subtle turn in musical direction for Smith as more funk began to creep in, most notably in the title track and "Three Blind Mice." Additionally, some Spanish percussion also added to texture and flavor to these tracks; which prefaced the incoming sound of Santana and War, to name just 2 bands that were undoubtedly influenced by this tasty album.

My personal favorite of this batch is Donald Byrd's Ethiopian Knights. Recorded over a 2-day session at A&M studios in Los Angeles, EN is a Jazz-Funk monster I had neither heard of nor seen on my vinyl-hunting excursions.  Consisting of only 3 tracks, this album simply oozes 1971 Funk! Kicking off with the aptly-titled "The Emperor" (as it absolutely rules over the Jazz-Funk domain!) Bassist Wilton and drummer Ed Greene lay down the groove carpet for their fellow bandmates. Byrd enters into the sound-field after a few intro measures with concise, yet laser-sharp trumpet blasts. This mind-melting funk stew continues to boil for about 14 more minutes as the song fades out and keyboardist Joe Sample introduces the rather short but sweet ballad "Jamie," which primarily features Sample and Byrd playing a slow, romantic grove not unlike Chuck Mangione would cash in on several years later. Final track "The Little Rasti" kicks off with what Christopher Walken would no doubt consider the perfect amount of cowbell, as well as a combination of several electric guitars, one playing psychedelic wah-wah while the other scratches its back in fine Meters-like manner. After a few minutes of this vamping, tenor saxophonist Harold Land comes roaring out of the right speaker with sinister intentions, as Joe Sample lays down some tasty electric piano support chords until he hands off the baton to Donald Byrd, who proceeds to remind his own band why this is HIS band as he lays down master-blast trumpet upon which on first listen should have caused Miles Davis to retire! The track finally draws to a close after 14 minutes with Sample switching over to electric clavinet. Why this album is not considered in the same breath as Byrd's next album, Black Byrd, is beyond me as this album blows that out of the water hands down!

Last but certainly not least is the 1973 album by Jazz-flautist Bobbi Humphrey, Blacks And Blues. The first female instrumentalist signed by Blue note, this was her third album for the label, and it's very tasty indeed. Humphrey was more confident as she sings lead on two of the tunes. Instrumentally her band lays down some funky slow jams, Humphrey's flute is sensual and slow as her band seemingly knows just when to lay back and let her do her thaaaang. Fred Perren lays down some ARP synth as well but it supports the tracks rather than overwhelm them.

Blue Note has really done justice and respect to its Jazz Heritage! Special kudos to Cem Kurosman, Joe Harley and Don Was for appreciating these albums enough to have Kevin Gray remaster them in the all-analog domain. Sonically what impressed me most about all these records is there is ZERO surface noise! Quite an accomplishment considering the age of some of these master tapes.

Listening Equipment list:

  • Audio Research VT 100 Mark 2 amplifier
  • Audio Research Reference 5 SE preamp
  • Dunlavy SC 3 speakers
  • Oppo 105 D Disc player
  • Speaker wire -Supra Quadrax