Art Blakey and the Blue Note Sound (at 45rpm)

When people talk about "the Blue Note sound," they're talking about the sound of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers—or, more to the point, the sound of that band as captured by Rudy Van Gelder for Blue Note Records: the two- (later three-) horn harmonies arrayed across the stage, the drum kit's airy sizzling cymbals, the up-close intensity of the mix (Van Gelder pushed the levels beyond the point where most engineers feared to roam).

Two new releases by Music Matters Jazz—the audiophile company that specializes in reissuing Blue Note LPs, each title mastered at 45rpm, spread out on two slabs of 180-gram vinyl, and packaged in separate slots of a beautifully reproduced gatefold cover and priced at $49.95—tell you what you need to know.

The Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia—one album subtitled Vol.1, the other Vol.2, both recorded live in 1955—didn't mark Van Gelder's first date with the band. That occurred a year earlier, laid down as One Night at Birdland, but it's been bypassed by the audiophile labels because the sound is muddy. (MMJ's Ron Rambach says the PA mikes leaked into the feed.)

The Café Bohemia albums were Van Gelder's second try with the Messengers. They feature the first of many stable Blakey bands—including Horace Silver, piano; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Kenny Dorham, trumpet; Doug Watkins, bass—and it sounds sensational.

Everyone, everything, is so present, and one thing you'll notice—something that no previous reissue, on vinyl or CD, revealed—is Blakey's subtlety on the drums: not the first (or, for that matter, 10th) word ascribed to Blakey's style, but there it is. The famous backbeat on the bass drum and the steady ride-cymbal whoosh still drive the action; but check out the nuanced counter-rhythms on the snare and hi-hat, the little klook-a-mops that make your head snap a different angle. Watkins' walking bass is clearer and woodier than on other reissues too, adding heft and hesitation. Blakey was labeled a "hard-bop" musician, and he got his start with Billy Eckstine's be-bop big band and small groups led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; but he also played with Thelonious Monk, who demanded more complexities from a drummer, and you can hear those struts and jitters here. Watkins' walking bass is crisper and woodier than on other reissues, too, adding heft and hesitation. Even Silver's piano is clearer than usual.

Which one should you buy, Vol. 1 or Vol. 2? I don't know. They're both exciting, even galvanizing, and, when they turn to ballads, a bit dreamy. Get either one, and you'll probably come back to get the other. Note: They're both mono (stereo wasn't around in 1955), so you don't get the horns' soundstage spread, but the saturation of the sound is still remarkable.

ken mac's picture

To hear whjat you think of the Music Matter's Blue Train LP, part of their new 33 1/3 series. On my rig, it sounds rather soft, which is not what I'd call the Blue Note sound. The classic BN albums are full and rich, but they also pack a real punch. This reissue does not.  Any plans to check it out?