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75 Years of Blue Note Records to Be Honored in Two Years of Reissues

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Blue Note 75

Venerable jazz label Blue Note Records celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and they’re celebrating well into the next year with an ambitious campaign that will see parent company Universal Music Group reissue dozens of titles on vinyl through 2015.

Founded in 1939 by mogul Alfred Lion and musician Max Margulis, Blue Note started as your average traditional jazz label before 1947, at which point the company started to focus on innovations in the genre, namely bebop and hard bop. Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Art Blakey, Fats Navarro, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock are just a few names that recorded for the label at some point in their storied careers. The label began to fade by the late ’60s, when it was acquired by Liberty Records, which was in turn acquired by United Artists (the conglomerate of which was bought by EMI in 1979). However, an early CD-era reissue program saw the name revived in the mid-’80s, and the label became associated with many of Capitol-EMI’s jazz ventures since – most notably Come Away with Me, the Grammy-winning 2002 debut album by Norah Jones.

Of the ambitious venture to release classic albums from the Blue Note repertoire on vinyl, five at a time, between this March and October of 2015(!), label president and noted producer Don Was issued this statement:

Two years ago, we decided to begin remastering the jewels of the Blue Note catalog in hi-def resolutions of 96k and 192k. In order to develop a guiding artistic philosophy for this delicate endeavor, we donned our lab coats, ran dozens of sonic experiments and carefully referenced every generation of our reissues. Ultimately, we decided that our goal would be to protect the original intentions of the artists, producers and engineers who made these records and that, in the case of pre-digital-era albums, these intentions were best represented by the sound and feel of their first-edition vinyl releases. Working with a team of dedicated and groovy engineers, we found a sound that both captured the feel of the original records while maintaining the depth and transparency of the master tapes…the new remasters are really cool!

While these new versions will become available in Digital Hi Def, CD and the Mastered for iTunes formats, the allure of vinyl records is WAY too potent to ignore. This year, Blue Note – along with our friends at Universal Music Enterprises – is launching a major 75th Anniversary Vinyl Initiative that is dedicated to the proposition that our catalog should be readily available at a low cost – featuring high quality pressings and authentic reproductions of Blue Note’s iconic packaging. Beginning in March 2014, we’ll start rolling out five remastered vinyl reissues every month. Although this program begins in celebration of Blue Note’s 75th Anniversary, our catalog runs so deep that we will faithfully be reissuing five albums a month for many years to come!

The first two batches will be available in stores March 25 and April 22, featuring titles by Coltrane, Rollins, Hancock, Adderley, Wayne Shorter and more. Pre-order links for these vinyl reissues are after the jump; click here for the full list of planned titles!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

March 4, 2014 at 15:00

“The Very Best Of” Jazz: Concord Launches New Series With Davis, Rollins, Coltrane and More

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If you’ve ever felt it might be a daunting task to “get into” jazz, Concord Music Group just might have the perfect releases for you.  Concord is home to many of the genre’s greatest labels, including Prestige, Contemporary, Riverside, Milestone, Fantasy and Pablo.  With the new series simply titled The Very Best Of, the Concord team has offered an affordable, entry-level look into five of the most influential musicians of all time: Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Chet Baker (trumpet) and Wes Montgomery (guitar).  All five titles in the series are in stores now, and offer a selection of their most enduring music, primarily dating from the 1950s and early 1960s.  They capture these artists in the early portion of their careers, i.e. Davis before Columbia, Coltrane before Atlantic, Montgomery before Verve, when they were all breaking new ground and honing a personal style.  Each title – effective as either an introduction or a sampler – offers uniform design, remastered sound and new liner notes from authors including Neil Tesser, Ashley Kahn and Doug Ramsey.

For a musician who has influenced every guitarist from George Benson to Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery is remembered for a body of work that lasted just over ten years.  Montgomery didn’t enter a recording studio until 25 years of age, didn’t record as a leader until another ten years had elapsed, and was dead ten years after that, felled by a heart attack at age 45.  The guitarist’s work can be divided into three distinct periods at different labels: Riverside (1959-1964), Verve (1964-1966) and A&M (1967-1968).  The latter two stints were spent under the aegis of producer Creed Taylor, who shaped Montgomery into a pioneer of the crossover jazz market, sweetening his recordings with strings and encouraging him to record the latest pop/rock hits. Concord’s The Very Best of Wes Montgomery is drawn from the pure jazz recorded at Riverside.  Montgomery’s sound was, even in his earliest days, instantly identifiable.  He made radical use of octaves (playing the same note on two strings, one octave apart) and chord melodies, and was inclined to play with his thumb rather than a pick, making his sound one of the most recognizable in all jazz.  The new set’s eleven tracks are drawn from eight of Montgomery’s Riverside albums, bookended by 1959’s The Wes Montgomery Trio and 1963’s Boss Guitar.  As you’ll find with all of these albums, a number of other luminaries appear as sidemen, here including Wynton Kelly (piano), Philly Joe Jones (drums), Milt Jackson (vibes) and Ron Carter (bass).  A number of Montgomery originals have been selected (“Four on Six,” “West Coast Blues,” “Cariba”) as well as covers of standards and pop songs (“Gone with the Wind,” “Canadian Sunset”) and jazz classics by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.  For those only familiar with Montgomery’s hit Verve and A&M albums, these eleven tracks will likely be a revelation.  In any event, they’re a solid starting point to explore the sadly-truncated career of a true great.

Among the artists chosen to inaugurate this series, Chet Baker stands out as the only one to have a career as both instrumentalist and vocalist.  Both sides of Baker are on display in The Very Best of Chet Baker, which consists of 14 tracks recorded between 1953 and 1965 from the Riverside, Prestige and Fantasy catalogues.  The collection’s earliest song, Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” hails from Baker’s 1953 debut as part of The Gerry Mulligan Quartet.  It quickly became a signature song for the young trumpeter, whose tone was one of restraint, intimacy and smoothness.  A major player in the West Coast school of jazz, the handsome young Baker was courted for motion pictures and groomed for stardom, but a drug problem kept him running from the law and the court of public opinion throughout his entire life.  Other than drugs, the one constant was his great musicianship, whether playing or singing.  Four of his vocals are represented here, including three from Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen to You (1958) and one from Chet Baker with Fifty Italian Strings (1959).  Baker’s cool, relaxed take on “Do It the Hard Way” from Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey is a particular standout.  Many of Broadway’s finest songwriters received sympathetic treatment from Baker.  In addition to four songs from the Rodgers and Hart songbook, two come from Lerner and Loewe, and two more from Jerome Kern (with Oscar Hammerstein II and B.G. DeSylva).  Pianist Bill Evans joins Baker on two selections from 1959’s Chet, and Herbie Mann’s tenor sax enlivens “Almost Like Being in Love” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” both from 1959’s The Best of Lerner and Loewe.  Baker continued to record until his untimely, mysterious death from a hotel window in 1988 (Was it suicide?  Was it an accident?  Was it something else?), but this collection preserves the musician in his prime.

After the jump, we explore sets from John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and the Miles Davis Quintet, plus we’ve got full track listings with discographical annotation, and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 29, 2012 at 10:06

Analogue Launches Audiophile Reissue Series for Prestige Label with Davis, Rollins, Coltrane

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With a brand-new decade just around the corner, and his finger on the pulse of the bustling, inventive New York City jazz scene, Bob Weinstock must have been reasonably confident that day in 1949 when he christened his record label “New Jazz.”  But he set his sights even higher when he renamed the label “Prestige” a year into its operations.  That lofty moniker, of course, proved prescient when Prestige became home to the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and other musicians who redefined the art of jazz.  Weinstock’s controversial practice of refusing to pay artists for their rehearsal time just may have resulted in some of the most spontaneous and immediate improvised music ever.

Prestige was sold to Fantasy as the 1970s began, and today falls under the umbrella of the Concord Music Group.  Hardly a year has gone by without a new reissue of a Prestige classic, and 2012 will be no exception.  Audiophile specialist label Analogue Productions (the company behind the recent SACD releases for Nat “King” Cole and Pink Floyd, and an upcoming series for The Doors) has announced a two-tiered program that will eventually include a full 50 titles from the heyday of the legendary Prestige label.

The Prestige Mono Series comprises 25 of “the most collectible, rarest, most expensive titles ever,” according to the label.  The Prestige Stereo Series will be dedicated to “25 of the most audiophile-sounding Rudy Van Gelder recordings ever made,” referring to the legendary New Jersey-based engineer behind the console for many of Prestige’s recordings.  All 50 titles in both series will be mastered from the original analog master tapes, and released on both vinyl (cut at 33 RPM and pressed at Quality Record Pressings) and hybrid SACD.  Kevin Gray (a frequent colleague and collaborator of Steve Hoffman, with whom he teamed for the Nat “King” Cole series) will master each title.  The mono series has confirmed releases coming your way from Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Thelonious Monk, Jackie McLean and more!  (Rollins recently made headlines as a recipient of a 2011 Kennedy Center Honor!)

Analogue is promising a lavish packaging style for these reissues, with “deep groove pressings [for the vinyl releases], just like the originals where there is a deep groove that appears to be cut into the record label area of the disk, the result of the die that was used in the old presses in the ‘50s.”  That’s not all.  The new Prestige series will feature “original tip-on jacket facsimiles with the original thick cardboard stock. The monos are pressed with a flat-edge, no groove-guard flat profile, just like the originals. The SACDs will be packaged in mini-‘old style’ gatefold jackets. These jackets feature printed wraps mounted to chipboard shells, producing an authentic, ‘old school’ look and feel. Some people call these ‘mini-LP’ jackets.”  In summation, Analogue states, “the sound, the pressing quality, the look – everything will surpass the original Prestige LPs.”

The first 1,000 LP copies of each title in both lines will be numbered. Analogue is offering a subscription series for diehard collectors interested in owning each title.  LP series subscribers can reserve their same serial number for each title in the series, and series subscribers will enjoy free shipping and be charged for their records only as they ship.  More information is available directly from the label at (800) 716-3553.  Each title will, of course, be available individually through the usual channels.  The standard MSRP is $30.00 for both vinyl and SACD.

The 25 mono titles have already been announced, with the stereo slate to follow soon.  Hit the jump for a complete list of all 25 mono releases! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 20, 2011 at 09:48

Impulse Buys Abound from UMe

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Universal Music Group got off to a great start anthologizing the deep catalogue of Impulse! Records with a four-disc box set from Hip-o Select earlier this year. Today, that catalogue is revisited yet again, in the form of 28 albums from the jazz label’s catalogue collected as two-on-one discs.

The titles are pretty diverse, collecting sets from Duke Ellington, McCoy Tyner, Alice Coltrane, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson and others.

You can order each of the titles on Amazon here and check out the track lists after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 26, 2011 at 13:47