About those Blue Notes...
A few weeks ago, I groused in this space about the tendency of audiophile LP companies to reissue the same jazz titles over and over. Yes, the pressings are nice and thick, the sound generally excellent, but I called on their proprietors to stretch a bit. I mentioned some untapped labels, some (I hope) intriguing direct-to-disc possibilities, and other random oversights.
I also noted that if the ’philes were determined to perpetuate the Blue Note mystique (for understandable reasons, both commercial and artistic), the label did produce several masterworks that have gone curiously passed over, among them Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Jackie McLean’s Let Freedom Ring, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, and Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch--all, admittedly, more adventurous than Hank Mobley or Coltrane’s Blue Train, but still melodic and accessible.
Well, it turns out that Music Matters Jazz has been on my wavelength for months now, but my radar was turned off. This latest of the Blue Note reissue houses is run by Ron Rambach and Joe Harley (the latter of AudioQuest), with mastering by the peerless team of Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray (of AcousTech)
And they’ve released 45 rpm, stereo, gatefold-cover reissues of Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Wayne Shorter’s Juju (arguably better than Speak No Evil), Jackie McLean’s Bluesnik, among several dozen others. They’re currently shipping Joe Henderson’s Our Thing (a hard-to-find great one with Kenny Dorham and Andrew Hill), two of guitarist Grant Green’s best (Matador, with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, and Talkin’ About! with Jones and Larry Young). And upcoming titles this spring include, among other goodies…Hill’s Point of Departure.
When Music Matters Jazz first hit the scene in 2008, I wrote about it in this space somewhat dismissively. I was grumbling about the umpety-umpth reissue of Blue Train, about the deification of Rudy Van Gelder (and, with it, the neglect of unsung engineering masters like Columbia’s Fred Plaut and Contemporary’s Roy DuNann), and I carelessly threw MMJ into the pile. I did observe that one of their first two titles, Horace Parlan’s Speakin’ My Peace, was one of the best-sounding Blue Notes I’d ever heard—which should have moved me to pay attention, but I didn’t. As I said, they dropped off my radar screen.
Then I wrote the blog last month, and a few readers, including Joe Harley, commented that several of the alleged oversights had been well covered by MMJ.
So I acquired a copy of the 45 rpm, 2-LP pressing of Dolphy’s Out to Lunch (it’s out of print but still available at some of the label’s vendors). And let me tell you: Wow!
First, these are the quietest pressings I have ever heard (or not heard). Second, the sound is superior to the original 1964 pressing in every way (I’ve long owned a copy that’s in excellent condition). Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes ring and reverberate; Tony Williams’ drumkit makes you blink; Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard’s horns are spot-on; and Richard Davis’ bass plucks and strums like a wood upright bass. When I first A/B’d the MMJ and the original, I thought the former cut off some deep bass, but on second hearing, I realized that the original pressing was boosted a bit around 50 Hz (common back in the day when almost no hi-fi gear could dip that low).
So my sensors are switched on now to the Music Matters Jazz schedule, and so should yours be. Each title retails for $50 a pop, but (a) try finding an original pressing in good condition any cheaper (hint: you won’t), and (b) so does each title offered by those other audiophile houses that make 45 rpm Blue Notes—Analogue Productions and Classic Records. May they all live and prosper.