Revinylization #42: Two Blue Note Tone Poet Releases, Andrew Hill & Carmell Jones

Blue Note's Tone Poet audiophile vinyl reissue series, which has been written about frequently in these pages, was inaugurated in 2019 and has now reached 70+ releases, mostly reissues from the storied label's catalog with outliers from Pacific Jazz/World Pacific and United Artists and a couple of new issues thrown in. The Blue Note reissues have ranged from classics released in myriad editions since their initial LP run to music held back for years and sometimes put out only in Japan or only recently discovered and released on compact disc.

Pianist Andrew Hill, one of Blue Note's stalwart artists from 1963–'70 and again from 1989 until his death in 2007, was the leader on three Tone Poet releases: Black Fire, his Blue Note debut; Passing Ships, a 1969 session first released on CD in 2003; and now Dance with Death from 1968, first released as part of the Blue Note Classic series of 1979–'81, during the label's fallow period when it was owned by Liberty Records.

During that period, 44 sessions across jazz styles were deemed unworthy of issue, from artists including Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Grant Green, Bobby Hutcherson, and Stanley Turrentine. When they finally came out, the production was underwhelming, with strange, pseudo-art covers printed on flimsy cardboard and mediocre vinyl with sound to match—hardly up to the standards set by Blue Note heads Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff and engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Dance with Death got a CD reissue in 2004—styled as it would have been if it had been released when it was recorded—but there has been no proper LP release until now.

This new edition presents it as it should be: in a gorgeous, gatefold sleeve with high-quality vinyl mastered by Kevin Gray, pressed at RTI using lacquers cut by Joe Harley, the technical pair behind the series.

Hill changed personnel from album to album. His only regular partner was bassist Richard Davis, and only from 1963–'65. Dance with Death is the first of two dates Hill made with tenor/soprano saxophonist Joe Farrell (the other was the aforementioned Passing Ships). It's also the start of Hill's relationship with trumpeter Charles Tolliver, which would continue through 1970 and be rekindled in 2005. It's Hill's only recording with bassist Victor Sproles and drummer Billy Higgins.

This reissue, together with Blue Note's recently unearthed 1967 Elvin Jones Trio date Live at Pookie's Pub, should renew interest in Farrell, who has been somewhat forgotten since his death in 1986.

As with most Hill albums, the songs are all originals. His composing is on the heady level of label mates like the just-departed Wayne Shorter. The pianist had an unparalleled knack for mixing beauty and bluesiness with complexity, buoyed by laconic accompaniment and sparse solos, the latter best heard on the title track. His music is spacious, which is why it is so nice to hear every detail, especially from the always-subtle Higgins. Farrell is glorious, his soprano tone on the opening song, "Yellow Violet," equal to that of better-known greats on the instrument. No, this isn't Point of Departure or Compulsion!!! (two classic albums with Hill as leader), but there was no good reason to shelve it for so long.

From the opposite side of the spectrum—opposite, that is, to cerebral New York post bop—is the other new Tone Poet reissue, The Remarkable Carmell Jones, a Pacific Jazz album by the West Coast–based trumpeter. This is the first US release of this music since the initial release in 1961, though it has been issued in Europe and Japan in intervening years. It, too, gets deluxe treatment via Gray and Harley: a sturdy sleeve and new liner notes by Tom Conrad, well known to readers of this magazine.

This was Jones's debut as a leader after a move out west from Kansas City and one of only a handful of albums he made for Pacific Jazz and Prestige before a move to Europe and then a final album—Returns on Revelation Records—in 1982. It is among the earliest documentations of Jones's music, preceded only by his work with Curtis Amy (Groovin' Blue) and Bud Shank (New Groove; This Is the Blues, Vol.2) and the 2015 release, Previously Unreleased Los Angeles Session, recorded in 1960. If his name is not immediately familiar, pull out your worn copies of Horace Silver's Song for My Father (Blue Note, 1963–'64), Booker Ervin's Groovin' High (Prestige, 1963–'64), or Nathan Davis's Hip Walk (SABA, 1965) for a refresher.

Here, Jones is surrounded by slightly older veterans: tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Frank Strazzeri, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Leon Pettis. The music is two originals and covers of Duke Ellington, Howard Arlen/Johnny Mercer, Jimmy Bond (a bassist Jones worked with under Curtis Amy), and a Buddy Kaye–Ted Mossman reworking of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.2.

While much has been made of West versus East Coast jazz, Ellington's "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'" and Bond's "Night Tide" could be from a late-'50s Riverside record, with its crisp frontline unisons and firm rhythm section swing. (This is straightahead Peacock, not the Peacock of Albert Ayler or Paul Bley later in the decade.) On Arlen and Mercer's "Come Rain or Come Shine," Jones's pure tone is featured with just the rhythm section. The B-side has the Jones compositions: "Sad March," which is actually kind of peppy, then "Stellisa," the date's other ballad, on which the two horns intertwine lovingly. The LP closes with "Full Moon and Empty Arms," the album's hippest tune, which in Jones's version is closer to the angsty Russian source material than to its saccharine poppifications courtesy of Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, and Nelson Eddy.

The sides should have been flipped...too bad Richard Bock, the original producer, died in 1988 and so could not be queried.

James Shannon's picture

To get a glimpse of how great Farrell was, take a listen to Jaki Byard's "the Last From Lennies" album, where the entire ensemble was phenomenal. Jaki Byard is another of the greats who simply never got the acclaim he deserved.

AaronGarrett's picture

That Hill record is fantastic, as are so many of his records, and Farrell's playing is tremendous. Blue Note's release policy is a mystery to me. They didn't release Hank Mobley's A Slice of the Top which might be his very best work.