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Ken Micallef  |  Sep 20, 2023  |  3 comments
Today's scrappy record labels understand that an intimate brand connection captures consumers. Every major label has its own boutique imprints, from Columbia's Legacy to Blue Note's Tone Poet and Classic Vinyl. Craft Recordings, the catalog label for Concord, is set up well for achieving such a connection, since the parent company also owns Fania, Prestige, Milestone, Pablo, Telarc, Vanguard, Concord Jazz, and Riverside (not to mention Stax, Rounder, and Sugar Hill). For vinyl reissues, that's the jazz motherlode.

Craft created Jazz Dispensary to reissue some of this music, with shall we say uplifting goals: "With jazz as its source, ... Jazz Dispensary blurs boundaries and opens minds to the psychoactive potential of music, introducing a new generation to the grooves that elevated the hippest heads of the '60s and '70s." One Jazz Dispensary review copy came with branded rolling papers.

Robert Baird  |  Sep 05, 2023  |  0 comments
The standup bass genius and jazz force of nature Charles Mingus made his first album for Atlantic Records, Pithecanthropus Erectus, in 1956. Several of his most memorable musical masterpieces, including The Clown (1957), Blues and Roots (1960), and Oh Yeah (1962), followed as he intermittently returned to the label throughout the 1960s and early '70s. Beginning in 1974 with Mingus Moves, the cigarillo-chomping, famously gruff Mingus recorded most of his final albums for the label as he progressed from composer/player to wheelchair-bound writer and musical director. His final seven studio albums for the label and a single LP of outtakes, all freshly remastered, comprise this welcome 8-LP (or 7-CD) box-set addition to the Mingus oeuvre.
Tom Fine  |  Jul 25, 2023  |  2 comments
Little Feat's beginning was a slow burn, bolstered by the faith of record company execs as the band found its groove. Once it found its, um, feat, the band thrived through deaths and other turmoil. In fact, they're still at it. This fall, according to Rhino Records, the band will be performing "on back-to-back nights ... at selected venues" the two albums that document the time they found their way: 1972's Sailin' Shoes and 1973's Dixie Chicken.

In conjunction with that 50th anniversary mini-tour, Rhino has issued deluxe remasters of both albums on 3 LPs or 2 CDs, with plenty of bonus material and a previously unissued live show with each album. On the LP sets, the two original albums were remastered by Bernie Grundman "from the flat master tapes," according to Steve Woolard, Rhino's head of A&R. Plating and pressing was done at Precision Record Pressing in Ontario, Canada. Rhino was kind enough to send me both the LP and CD sets so that I could compare the sound and presentation.

Robert Baird  |  Jul 02, 2023  |  0 comments
Liner notes from jazz albums of the 1950s and 1960s can be shot through with naivete, hipsterism (usually faux), and callousness toward the abundance of musical talent then working. Few though are as shortsighted as the original essay by Jack Maher on the back of 1960's Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. Opening with "Miles Davis is the most maligned and idolized musician in modern American jazz today. He is at once the saint and the sinner," he goes on to cite a dynamic that literally all musicians experience, especially when playing live: "He has been accused of being lackadaisical and unconcerned about his playing. When the spirit moves him, he plays with warmth and lyric beauty, at other times he plays with vague disinterest."

Once the tape was running, however, Miles rarely missed a step. Among all of Davis's recording triumphs, the pair of sessions with Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey, his May and September 1956 sessions with saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones, remain among his finest moments on record.

Andrey Henkin  |  May 30, 2023  |  2 comments
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.
Tom Fine  |  May 08, 2023  |  1 comments
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, also known as Jaws, was a self-taught originator of soul jazz. He recorded the first records that blend Hammond organ and tenor sax, with Bill Doggett at the B3, for Roost Records in May 1952. He continued to develop his blues-based, jukebox-friendly style of jazz and, in 1955, joined forces with a young organ player from Philadelphia named Shirley Scott. They recorded together for King and Prestige Records and formed a gigging band with drums and bass.

In three 1958 sessions at Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack, New Jersey, "living room" studio, Davis and Scott recorded four seminal soul-jazz albums, the "Cookbooks." Themed around bluesy originals and spirited takes on comfortable standards, the albums featured liner notes and song titles that relate to an imagined soul kitchen, with a generous helping of kitschy references to the "simmerin'" music on the platters. Craft Recordings, the reissue label for the Concord Music Group, has collected the four "Cookbook" albums into a box set of vinyl cut from the two-track master tapes by Bernie Grundman and plated and pressed at RTI in California.

Robert Baird  |  Mar 13, 2023  |  4 comments
Turns out rock stars are human after all. Which means music fans should prepare themselves for the coming toll. The next few years are certain to be brutal: Bob Dylan, 81; Paul Simon, 81; George Clinton, 81; Brian Wilson, 80; Carole King, 80; Keith Richards, 79; Jimmy Page, 79; Sly Stone, 79; Rod Stewart, 78; Neil Young, 77; Pete Townsend, 77, and the inexorability rolls on. The news is even worse among the pre-rock era stars, where it's a matter of any day now: Tony Bennett, 96; Burt Bacharach, 94; Sonny Rollins, 93. Even the ageless one, Willie Nelson, is 86.

January 2023 was a particularly cruel harbinger of the reckoning to come as guitar legend Jeff Beck and folk rock icon David Crosby died within eight days of each other.

Ken Micallef  |  Feb 28, 2023  |  6 comments
Decades after their deaths, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday loom large over the American music landscape, inspiring every jazz vocalist, especially the women. Fitzgerald and Holiday's contributions are vast, their work timeless, their joys and sorrows expressed in songs both thrilling and crushing.

Jazz as a form of popular song has largely faded from America's music culture, but Fitzgerald and Holiday's brilliance lives on, a beacon to their artistic excellence. Much evidence for that excellence can be heard in two new vinyl sets, both produced by Ken Druker.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 02, 2023  |  1 comments
To be a poet is to be tormented. And singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt's demons were relentless: mental illness, addiction, willful recklessness. He constantly complicated his life and the lives of those around him. Even fans who felt lucky just to have him play their town were unwittingly drawn in, often exhilarated but occasionally aghast. Yet judged by his recordings, he was indisputably a songwriting genius—often sad and confused but gifted nonetheless. The scion of a storied and wealthy Texas clan, he was that rare artist who was compelled to create art.
Sasha Matson  |  Jan 05, 2023  |  4 comments
One of my favorite comments by an actual participant in rock history is from Bonnie Raitt: "I miss Little Feat like I miss being eight years old." That remark was included in the liner notes for the Feat's 1981 album Hoy-Hoy (Warner Bros. 2BSK 3538), which was released two years after front man Lowell George's passing in 1979.
Sasha Matson  |  Dec 01, 2022  |  1 comments
My wife saw me putting on my new LP of Joni Mitchell's great For the Roses album and said: "Oh, our breakup album!" Never mind the confusing details—we're obviously still (or again) together—that's how intense the bonds are for many people with Joni's music: We people of a certain age set the clock of our lives by her recordings.
Robert Baird  |  Nov 03, 2022  |  0 comments
With its indelible Francis Wolff cover image of a pensive John Coltrane bathed in blue, freshly fired by Miles Davis but four months free of heroin, and its confident, accessible music that hints at the genius to come, Coltrane's Blue Train is a timeless jazz masterpiece. The saxophonist's only album as a leader for Blue Note, recorded before his triumphs at Atlantic Records—My Favorite Things and Coltrane Jazz—the boppy Blue Train, which, including the original mono and stereo pressings, had been issued 272 times, remains important for many reasons.
Ken Micallef  |  Oct 04, 2022  |  3 comments
As an aspiring teenage illustrator, I was fascinated by the work of outlaw cartoonist Robert Crumb. His beautifully drawn images offered escape from the redneck southern city where I grew up. I was especially enchanted by Crumb's caricatures of blues and jazz musicians, which were assembled in his "Heroes of the Blues" and "Early Jazz Greats" trading-card collections.
Fred Kaplan  |  Aug 31, 2022  |  7 comments
Steely Dan's last two studio albums, Two Against Nature (2000) and Everything Must Go (2003), are anomalies. The music is stellar, at or near the level of the band's best early work, but it's almost unknown, even among fans. (Back in 2011, one night of a week-long gig at the Beacon in New York City was supposed to highlight songs from these two albums—the program was called "21st-Century Dan"—but the idea was dropped when almost nobody bought advance tickets.)
Sasha Matson  |  Aug 02, 2022  |  3 comments
Those of you old enough to have heard it when it was new will recall when you first experienced the music of Jimi Hendrix. I was 13, in 1967, when I came home after school with a friend bearing an LP of the just-released US Reprise Records pressing of Are You Experienced. My dad had a floorstanding, monophonic record player.