Tone Poet

Grant Green ‘Born to Be Blue’

Another must-own title from the Tone Poet series. More specifically: Here we have Green paired with one of his best melodic foils, pianist Sonny Clark. If you’ve not heard their quartet work together (four LPs, all of which are essential) stop what you’re doing right now and right that wrong. The Green/Clark symmetry is superb, bordering on magical. Add tenor sax ace Ike Quebec (whom Green had also done several sessions with), power the affair with the Sam Jones (bass)/Louis Hayes (drums) engine, and you’ve got a ticket to hard bop heaven with tight, turn-on-a-dime, conversational interplay. Take the title track for instance: a smokey, dimly-lit scene is setup by Quebec and Clark. Quebec’s playing is pensive. Measured. Heartfelt. As he seeks a silver lining in his world-weariness, Green begins to quietly make his presence known, gently arpeggiating a couple of chords before commenting on Quebec’s parting thoughts with clean, single-line precision. Then Quebec claps back with a forceful, anguished wail before adding a few final musings. He and Clark gently bring this soul-searching ballad to a close before Quebec’s final words, and Clark sends everyone back into a misty night…no happier, no wiser, but perhaps a bit more resolute. An achingly beautiful ballad that’s superbly delivered by this quintet. There’s an interesting alternate take on the digital version that doesn’t carry nearly the same emotional impact for those who care to compare. Great job by Joe & the Tone Poet team—great sound, lovely packaging and the price is right. I’m pleased to see this continued focus on sessions that were shelved when originally recorded like Wayne Shorter’s ‘Etcetera’ and Donald Byrd’s ‘Chant’. Often their initial appearance in the 1980s wasn’t exactly with much fanfare, and the cover art used in that series was—compared to the inspiring photos and art of @bluenoterecords heyday—crap. That wrong has now been righted. This one was recorded in March 1962 but put on ice until 1985. Highest recommendation

Sam Rivers-Contours

Sam Rivers ‘Contours’ (Tone Poet edition 2019)

Mesmerizing. Fearless. Challenging. Indispensable. ‘Contours’ is a gripping record that will compel you to play it again and again. There’s one track called “Mellifluous Cacophony”—an apt description for this extremely progressive hard bop session that occasionally flirts with the avant-garde. You’ll hear beauty, anger, sadness, longing, confusion, and elation…the range of the music is staggering. It does have occasional sharp elbows so those who prefer a more distinctly melodic tonal center may have moments of panic but hold on tight—it’s worth it. Definitely music more for the head than the dancefloor. Intense, fascinating, dynamic, and endlessly replayable—the hallmark of a great, classic record. Mad respect to Sam Rivers (sax/flute), Herbie Hancock (piano), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass) and Joe Chambers (drums) who gathered on 21 May 1965 to create this rare unicorn. This is a brand new reissue, the latest in @bluenoterecords “Tone Poet” series overseen by Joe Harley. Sonically, this is some of the best work he’s done—spin this one for your friends/family who don’t understand the lure of vinyl. Props to all involved here…original pressings and reissues are all long out of print, and prices have gone sky-high. Now for $30 or so, you can own one of the all-time great under-recognized jazz records that sounds better than ever. Highest recommendation @jazzsaraswati @herbiehancockofficial

Dexter Gordon ‘Clubhouse’

Take the rhythm section from ‘The Sidewinder’: Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums); add peak-period trumpet fireworks from Freddie Hubbard; put them under the guidance of Long Tall Dexter Gordon and what do you do with the resulting music? Stick it in the vault for 15 years! 🤦🏻‍♂️ I suppose given Dexter’s run of @bluenoterecords greatness during that era there may have been some concern about flooding the market. And as I said in a previous post about these vaulted Blue Note sessions, this album—now that it’s widely available—may never get it’s fair day in court given that Dex’s other classic BN albums have had decades of head start in terms of discussion & admiration, so ‘Clubhouse’ may always be considered an also-ran. Hogwash I say—this is not AT ALL a second-tier album. The quintet’s reading of Frank Sinatra’s “I’m A Fool To Want You” is achingly beautiful, and to my ears the highlight of the session. Bassist Ben Tucker contributes a tune called “Devilette” which is a minor modal masterpiece with both Dex and Hubbard shining brightly. While ‘Clubhouse’ did finally see the light of day in 1979, it’s finally getting the royal treatment it always deserved. Available this week as part of Blue Note’s ‘Tone Poet’ series overseen by Joe Harley and Kevin Gray, it’s another job excellently done with dead quiet vinyl, outstanding sonics and under-known/under-appreciated music made more widely available. Let’s call it audiophile-grade vinyl/packaging at a non-audiophile price. Terrific attention to detail: music, packaging, and sound are all top shelf. Fantastic

Andrew Hill ‘Black Fire’

When @bluenoterecords announced the “Tone Poet” series as part of their 80th Anniversary celebration, there were two titles I was most excited about. Sam Rivers ‘Countours’, and this album, Andrew Hill’s ‘Black Fire’. It was Hill’s debut as a leader on Blue Note and the start of an extraordinary run that would span 13 albums over the next six years. Hill’s partners for this session are bassist Richard Davis, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Roy Haynes. Collaborating with Richard Davis would be come a recurring theme for Hill, resulting in some of his most successful sessions. Roy Haynes struts with an agile confidence that gives Davis ample room to explore and find elusive grooves, while tenor sax monster Joe Henderson is…well, monstrous. Killer playing all around. The music is spellbinding—Hill has his own rule book about harmony and time, bending both to his will as needed to work within the constructs of his music, some of which is like looking at an MC Escher sketch. The geometry seems skewed until you allow yourself to see it from another perspective, then it blows your reality apart, and makes sense in a really compelling way. Hill composed every track on the record, and the quartet takes hold of each one like it’s an enormous, restless anaconda. Not a grouchy one—there’s not really much aggression here. It’s more like the music is relentlessly exploring its enclosure, testing to see if the boundaries are *REALLY* boundaries or if there’s somewhere else to go. Someplace further. The journey is the prize here. Five stars and two thumbs up to the Joe Harley and the entire Tone Poet team for a terrific job on this. Superb record and outstanding job on the reissue—best this record has EVER sounded. Well done team Tone Poet! 10 stars out of 5

Joe Henderson ‘The State of the Tenor Vol. 2’

Get. This. Record.
The tenor sax/bass/drum combo might understandably trigger comparisons to Sonny Rollins legendary Vanguard recordings but this is an entirely different bag of bananas. This recently issued Tone Poet vinyl is jaw-droopingly awesome, and a significant upgrade from the CD. Most notably in the tone and presence of Ron Carter’s bass in the mix. In fact, the depth and resonance of every nuance is so clear he deserves co-billing as a leader. Carter and Henderson (supported with crisp, tight drumming from Al Foster) spin lines that flow, intertwine, support, challenge, merge and then melt into new, uncharted vistas—producers Stanley Couch & Michael Cuscuna deliberately encouraged the trio to engage with less-familiar repertoire to lure everyone’s improvisational best to the fore. Mission accomplished. It’s wild and exploratory, yet melodic and fun at the same time. For those looking for a piece of vinyl to demonstrate why they bother with the time and expense over the easier digital options, look no further. Five stars, two thumbs up, and a record I’ll be spinning again and again. Looking forward to the release of Vol. 1 next year