Even as this is written, master engineer Rudy Van Gelder has finished mastering another set of 50 albums for the Japanese RVG Series. That brings the total available output in that country to 250 titles. On the American front things have been far more conservative, yet an additional five titles have just been issued to compliment the 30 discs already in circulation. Of these five, one session has never been reissued in the United States, while the others are making a second appearance on compact disc.
According to Blue Note guru Michael Cuscuna, Wayne Shorter's post hard bop masterpiece, THE ALL SEEING EYE (Blue Note 24543), has been one of the most requested titles for reissue since the original Connoisseur version came and went many years ago. One of Shorter's most radical statements, this 1965 classic features an octet of Blue Note heavies from the first rank- Freddie Hubbard, James Spaulding, Grachan Moncur III, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Joe Chambers. The tracks are extended and probing, with "Chaos" proving to be a particular favorite. In his best programmatic manner, Shorter recounts the forming of the universe and each piece takes as its fodder an element from this chronicle. Intense and biting at times, but not without its more gentile moments, this set ranks among the greatest ever issued by Blue Note and Van Gelder's new remastering job leaves us with a simply radiant outcome.
In 1962 Jackie McLean announced the strain he was feeling with the conventions of the mainstream by releasing an album titled Let Freedom Ring. Pushing farther away from traditional structures, the album would prove to be his most militant up to that point. However, McLean's preceding effort pointed the way for this new revolution for those who were alert enough to catch it. Never before issued on compact disc in the United States, A FICKLE SONANCE (Blue Note 24544) comes from a session in October of 1961, with an all-star line-up including Tommy Turrentine, Sonny Clark, Butch Warren, and Billy Higgins. Those needing a translation of the title will also find a hint to McLean's tenor in the process, with "a fickle sonance" meaning roughly "the changing sound." Sharp, intense, and teeming with furious solos, this set is short on time but not on inspiration. On a purely technical note, Van Gelder has done as much as he could with the sound transfer, but this proves to be one of his more inconsistent original works.
One of the few cases where several Blue Note sessions with differing personnel were mixed together to form various albums, the original Hank Mobley sets THE TURNAROUND and NO ROOM FOR SQUARES were eventually separated and organized by original recording date several years back in their initial CD incarnations. Picking up on the Japanese obsession for originality, the new RVG reissue of NO ROOM FOR SQUARES (Blue Note 24539) presents the album as a straight reissue, albeit with two alternate takes. The same will be done shortly when a RVG version of THE TURNAROUND also hits the stores. All but two cuts find Mobley fronting a quintet with Lee Morgan, Andrew Hill, John Ore, and Philly Joe Jones. Hill's presence is especially notable as the progressive pianist rarely made such appearances. He even manages to get a bit funky with Morgan's killer boogaloo, "Me 'n You." Another Blue Note of iconic proportions, this album further benefits from a great new master that sounds rich and warm.
An early gem from Horace Silver's deep and extensive Blue Note oeuvre, SIX PIECES OF SILVER (Blue Note 25648) belongs in any comprehensive collection and has been remembered most for the prototypical "Senor Blues," even though the remaining program of originals is nothing short of revelatory in its own right. Recorded in the fall of 1956, this set includes Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley on the front line with Doug Watkins and Louis Hayes in the rhythm section. The three bonus tracks included are the ones that were also a part of the previous compact disc version of the album, with vocalist Bill Henderson's version of "Senor Blues" proving to be a real keeper.
For just about anyone who came under the spell of organist Jimmy Smith back in the late '50s, one album was always to be at hand. That classic to end all classics was, of course, THE SERMON (Blue Note 24541). One of the first Blue Note titles to make its way to CD back in the mid-'80s, fans and devotees got even more of a good thing when additional material was added. Again taking a lesson from the Japanese, the RVG edition of this masterpiece includes the original three tracks and nothing more. The title performance goes on at over 20 minutes and presents in the solo spotlight such masters as Kenny Burrell, Tina Brooks, Lee Morgan, and Lou Donaldson. This is "down home" grooving of the tastiest variety and those who can't get with this groove simply don't have a pulse. "J.O.S" and "Flamingo" round out this collection, which now sounds even better than I last remembered. Amen.