Blue Note 45s

The first two pressings from Music Matters Jazz arrived the other day. This is the new audiophile company that reissues classic stereo albums from the Blue Note catalogue on two slabs of 180-gram vinyl mastered at 45 rpm, packaged in a gatefold cover with not only a facsimile of the original cover but, inside, five finely reproduced photos from the session, taken by Blue Note’s masterly inhouse photographer, Francis Wolff. This is exciting stuff for jazz-loving audiophiles.

That said, the rollout leaves me lukewarm. The first two albums are Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ Big Beat and Horace Parlan’s Speakin’ My Piece. The sound quality is sensational, especially the Parlan—as vivid, dynamic, and in-the-room lifelike as any Blue Note I’ve heard. The music, though—the music isn’t stellar. It’s good, very good. If you wanted to play someone an example of “the Blue Note sound,” you might put on one of these records. But that’s the problem: it’s generic, formulaic; there’s nothing distinctive about it. I’m glad that the company delved a bit deeply into the catalogue, that they resisted the temptation to put out the overly familiar. (How many more audiophile pressings of Coltrane’s Blue Train do we need?) But Big Beat is far from Blakey’s best album; it’s not even among the best albums of that version of the Jazz Messengers (the one with Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt); those would be A Night in Tunisia, Moanin’, and At the Jazz Corner of the World. And Horace Parlan—he’s elegant, soulful, woefully neglected, but there’s nothing essential here.

In a brochure inside the gatefold, Music Matters’ proprietors—who include Joe Harley, Ron Rambach, and ace mastering engineers Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray—list 61 other titles that they plan to release in the next two years. (Good luck on that!) The ones I’m most looking forward to—the ones that have the “Blue Note sound” but something else, something original and distinctive, beyond that—are Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ and Sonny’s Crib, Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Wayne Shorter’s Juju, Jackie McLean’s Swing, Swang, Swingin’ and Let Freedom Ring, Freddie Redd’s Shades of Red!, Clifford Brown’s Memorial Album, Kenny Dorham’s ‘Round About Midnight at the Caf Bohemia, Freddie Hubbard’s Open Sesame, and Dexter Gordon’s A Swingin’ Affair.

These double-disc 45s go for fifty bucks per title. I also see that Chad Kassem’s Analogue Productions is going to be putting out a series of Blue Note 45s, as a follow-up to his Fantasy 45 series (which just finished the last of its 100-title run). If you want to buy them all, for the sound and the collector’s value (these are limited-editions), go ahead. Otherwise, save up and get them not just for the demo value but also for what matters most: the music.

Tony's picture

Pure fetishism.

Billy Drummond's picture

Moanin- Benny Golson on Tenor! I Look forward to some of the upcoming releases.

carlosmnyc's picture

wow, interesting. fred, are contemporary Blue Note releases available on vinyl... like, say, Jason Moran's "Modernistic"?

Fred Kaplan's picture

In reply to carlosmnyc - Not that I know of. Not a bad idea, though. (I'm told, however, that, except for the likes of Norah Jones, who would sell well in Braille, new jazz releases don't have much commercial appeal in this market. (True?)