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Blue Note Bonanza

Our Blue Note racks are currently looking extremely tasty as we have recently put out a collection of mainly ‘60s pressings from some absolute giants of jazz music including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Grachan Moncur III, Bobby Hutcherson and many more. Here Leo gives his rundown of three of his absolute favourites from the bunch.

Herbie Hancock - “Empyrean Isles” (1964)

When it comes to jazz Herbie has truly done it all. He got his big break in Miles Davis’ “Second Great Quintet” in the early ‘60s and has been at the coalface of reinventing jazz music ever since, from the modal post-bop of the’60s, through pioneering synthesiser-laden jazz fusion in the ‘70s and even proto-hip hop and drum & bass in the ‘80s and ‘00s.

“Empyrean Isles” is a true classic from his early-mid-‘60s period, recorded with a fantastic band including Ron Carter on bass, Freddie Hubbard on cornet, Tony Williams on drums and Herbie as bandleader on the piano. Released the same year that he put out “Inventions and Dimensions”, a more experimental and percussion based record, this showcases Herbie and band at their melodic best, pushing the limits of hard bop with just enough experimental flair.

The frenetic and fast-paced “One Finger Snap” leads into the swinging “Oliloqui Valley”. The classic from this set has to be “Cantaloupe Island”, a bluesier number with a funky piano riff and instantly recognisable horn motif. The set closes with “The Egg”, a more experimental long-form jam with extended, mind-bending solos.

Wayne Shorter - “Speak No Evil” (1966)

When it comes to composition itself saxophonist Wayne Shorter is a figure that towers over all of jazz. Some of his works shaped key albums in the progression of Miles Davis’ sound in the ‘60s and he triumphantly stamped his influence all over the genre in that decade.

“Speak No Evil” is one of the highlights of his bandleader albums and features much the same lineup as the previous album on this blog, switching Tony Williams for Elvin Jones on the drums and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet rather than cornet. With an ensemble like that, as a listener all you need to do is sit back and let the magic transport you. The tight harmonic interplay between Hubbard and Shorter is breathtaking throughout, particularly noticeable on the bewitching motif of “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”. A true delight of an album that delivers beautiful and characterful post-bop from start to finish. Herbie’s lyrical piano lines flesh out all of the pieces wonderfully and Williams astounds with his technically phenomenal yet understated rhythms.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - “Mosaic” (1961)

I had to include my favourite drummer/bandleader in this list and the excellent “Mosaic” is a more than worthy addition. The addition also proves Hubbard and Shorter’s ubiquity across the ’60s reinvention of jazz that Blue Note spearheaded.

This was the first recording of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers as a sextet and all of them contributed compositions to the album’s stunning setlist. They are all powerful hard bop numbers that showcase each player’s skill as an individual and part of the collective.

The title track opens the album with a lush, bright fanfare leading into a fast paced horn motif and solo sections underpinned by frantic bass and a whizzing descending piano line. “Down Under” is a leery bluesy number with more than a touch of swing leading into the unmistakeable Wayne Shorter number “Children Of The Night” with its wonderfully simple, soaring sax riff. “Arabia” as one might suspect lends an Eastern tinged melody to a lively and bluesy jam before the album closes with the more freeform and playful “Crisis”.