Sunday, March 27, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: 50 BEST OF BLUE NOTE
This is a big boxed set of tracks from the venerable jazz label Bluenote, and as advertised, it features 50 of them, stretched over five discs. Mammoth you say? Well, it ain't as big as the other one the label has just issued, 100 Best, which features, you guessed it, a hundred tracks on ten CD's. It actually doesn't come from the label's U.S. home, but rather has arrived in Canada as a Dutch import, put together there as a handy sampler set for those needing an introduction to some of Blue Note's most famous cuts and artists over the years. It's available at an introductory price, between $30 and $35 at various on-line sites I checked, a great value. However, it includes absolutely no liner notes or information other than the tracks and composers, so what you gain in savings you lose in information, and I'm someone who wants that in packaging.
If you do know your jazz history, you'll know Blue Note is best known for its bebop, and more importantly, hard bop roster of artists. They are all featured here with one track, including Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Freddie Hubbard. But the long-term signings could be overshadowed by the Blue Note policy of signing the biggest names in jazz to one-album deals, which means on first glance you can be starstruck by this set. It includes Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charles Mingus, and on and on. While it's all high-quality, it's also not usually the best-loved material by these stars. The compilers are luring you in, at the expense of leaving lesser names off the set, with more important performances.
Could you make a better Blue Note box? For sure, and the company has done it a few times before, but at the same time, this is a highly enjoyable listen, stretched over a couple of nights. Many key tracks are here, including Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man, Monk's Nice Work If You Can Get It, Lou Donaldson's Blues Walk, an alternate take of Coltrane's Blue Train, and from the modern era, cuts from Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Norah Jones. Jones' arrival has brought the old label into fame again, at the expense of its legacy, as it now focuses on moneymaking songwriters such as Amos Lee, but this does give you the picture since 1939. As for the ten-disc set, it's all different tracks, which shows you the depth of the catalogue. You'll have to give me a few more days to get through all of those 100 songs.