Blue Note’s Tone Poet Series

Vinyl Reissues Celebrate Label’s 80th Anniversary

Blue Note’s Tone Poet Series

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the legendary jazz label founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, Blue Note Records has introduced the Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series. Produced by Joe Harley of Music Matters Jazz and mastered directly from the original analog master tapes by Kevin Gray of Cohearent Audio, this new reissue series will present two albums per month this year (18 titles in all at $34.95 per album) in high quality 180g vinyl pressings, and is slated to continue into 2020 and beyond. Describing the mastering process for these titles on Blue Note’s website, Harley wrote: “We do not roll off the low end, boost the top or do any limiting of any kind. We allow the full glory of the original Blue Note masters to come though unimpeded. Short of having an actual time machine, this is as close as you can get to going back and being a fly on the wall for an original Blue Note recording session.”

The titles for the Tone Poet series, handpicked by Harley with input from Blue Note president Don Was, cover lesser-known releases from both the classic and modern Blue Note eras as well as labels like Pacific Jazz, World Pacific, and Solid State. The deluxe packaging adheres to the extreme attention to detail paid by Lion and Wolff, from the beautiful laminated gatefold covers to the stunning Reid Miles cover designs to Francis Wolff’s striking black-and-white session photos on the inside. With heavy sleeves and heavy vinyl (manufactured at Record Technology Incorporated), vinyl collectors will get the sense of holding a substantial product while placing these platters on their turntables.

The series commenced in February with Wayne Shorter’s 1956 Blue Note release, Etcetera, and Chick Corea’s 1968 breakthrough trio album, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. The Shorter quartet album, recorded in 1965 but released in 1980, showcases the leader’s signature oblique tenor lines in the company of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Joe Chambers. Highlights include the title track, fueled by a powerful drum solo from Chambers, and the dreamy ballad “Penelope.” Hancock delivers a meditative solo on the 5/4 “Indian Song” while the smoothly swinging “Toy Tune” hinges on McBee’s insistent walk and Chambers’ ride cymbal pulse. The only non-Shorter composition is the striking 6/8 Gil Evans composition, “Barracudas.” 

Corea’s classic Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, was originally released on Solid State. It presents Corea with one foot in bebop and the other striding forward into “The New Thing.” “Now He Beats the Drum, Now He Stops” opens with a solo piano exploration before morphing into the briskly swinging trio section based on the chords to “How Deep Is the Ocean.” Corea explores freely inside the piano on the avant-garde number, “The Law of Falling and Catching Up,” while the kinetic “Steps: What Was” hints at what would later become Corea’s most beloved and oft-covered tune, “Spain.” The leader’s boppish “Matrix,” another burner characterized by his Bud Powell-esque right-hand flurries on the keys, would later become a jazz standard. 

Another release in the Tone Poet series, Gil Evans’ 1958 album, New Bottle, Old Wine, is an overlooked masterpiece. Sandwiched between Evan’s landmark collaborations with Miles Davis in 1957 (Miles Ahead) and 1959 (Porgy & Bess), it was originally issued on Pacific Jazz. Evans’ second album as a leader features his 14-piece band on polished renditions of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter Stomp,” both enhanced by Cannonball Adderley’s exuberant alto sax solos and fleshed out with Evans’ unique horn orchestrations. There’s also a dynamic updating of Lil Hardin Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue.” Evans puts a new suit of clothes on Lester Young’s “Lester Leaps In,” with Cannonball burning white hot and guitarist Chuck Wayne chipping in a fleet-fingered solo, and delivers inventive takes on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” and Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight.” The album closes with a bristling romp through Charlie Parker’s “Bird Feathers.” 

Other Tone Poet titles slated for 2019 include albums by Sam Rivers, Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, Baby Face Willette, Kenny Burrell, Andrew Hill, Hank Mobley, and Stanley Turrentine that Blue Note released during the 1950s and 60s. Tina Brooks’ Minor Move, Grant Green’s Born to be Blue, and Stanley Turrentine’s Comin’ Your Way were recorded for Blue Note during the same period, but their releases were significantly delayed. Joe Henderson’s The State of the Tenor: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 2 (1985) and Cassandra Wilson’s Glamoured (2003) are more recent classics.