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HD Tracks: Classic Blue Note Titles Now In Master-Quality Audio

November 12 2012

Six classic Blue Note titles have been remastered and released in the highest quality audio format available, exclusively from HDTracks.com. This audiophile site offers digital music as 192kHz/24 bit FLAC files, which for those who don’t know audio terminology offer more than twice the audio quality of a CD. Indeed, the sound of these remasters is the equivalent of listening to the original master tapes. As Don Was, Blue Note’s president, puts it, “In preparing these hi def remasters, we were very conscientious about maintaining the feel of the original releases while adding a previously unattainable transparency and depth. It now sounds like you’ve set up your chaise lounge right in the middle of [legendary engineer] Rudy Van Gelder’s studio!” In addition to the music, each title comes with rare photos and brand-new liner note essays.

Here are the six titles currently available (with more to come):

John Coltrane, Blue Train: The legendary saxophonist made only one album for Blue Note, and it’s one of the jewels of his discography. Leading a sextet that also featured trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones, he stepped out of the shadow of Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, each of whom had featured him in their bands, and made a bold statement of individualism and musical power. The title track is a hard-swinging, bluesy 10-minute workout that grants solo space to each of the three horns, and no man outdoes the others (though Morgan, only 21 at the time, makes an unforgettable impression). Possibly the greatest hard bop album of the 1950s, Blue Train is a must-own jazz classic, and it’s never sounded better.

Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch: Like Blue Train, this was the only album its leader made for Blue Note, and again like the Coltrane record, it’s a standout achievement by its creator. Recorded in February 1964, only four months before his early death, it features multi-instrumentalist Dolphy alongside trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Tony Williams (who’d turned 18 just a few months earlier). Its shifting rhythms sometimes lurch and stagger, and rarely swing in the traditional sense, but Hutcherson floats across the uneven percussion, and dances around Dolphy’s and Hubbard’s almost speech-like soloing, creating clouds of chords that punctuate and surround the rest of the ensemble, keeping the whole thing from falling apart and turning it into a marvelously suspenseful journey.

Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage: Despite its title, this was not pianist Herbie Hancock’s first Blue Note album; in fact, it was his fifth. At the time it was made, in 1965, Hancock was part of Miles Davis’s quintet, as were bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, and saxophonist George Coleman had been with them in that group in 1963 and 1964. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was the odd man out, but the pianist had backed him on 1962’s Hub-Tones, so they weren’t strangers, either. The album’s lyrical melodies and subtly adventurous rhythms and harmonies combine into a shimmering, beautiful whole—it’s no surprise that three tracks out of five (“Maiden Voyage,” “The Eye of the Hurricane” and “Dolphin Dance”) have become standards, essayed by many other performers over the years.

Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil: Like Herbie Hancock (who plays on this album), Wayne Shorter achieved great fame with Miles Davis, but he’d been the musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers before that. On this album, recorded on Christmas Eve 1964, Shorter and Hancock are joined by their fellow Davis bandmate, bassist Ron Carter, along with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (a veteran of Blakey’s band) and drummer Elvin Jones. While Speak No Evil’s six compositions, all by the leader, are traditional in structure, the tempos range from waltzes (“Dance Cadaverous,” “Wild Flower”) to modal grooves, and there’s more than a hint of the ideas being explored by avant-garde players of the time. The solos are frequently introverted and brooding, making the album a perfect late-night headphone listen.

Horace Silver, Song for My Father: Rock and funk fans will recognize the introduction to this 1964 album’s title track; those unforgettable chords form the basis of Steely Dan’s hit “Ricki Don’t Lose That Number,” while Stevie Wonder borrowed its horn fanfare for “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing.” This album features two different sets of musicians. Pianist Silver is backed on most of the disc by trumpeter Carmell Jones, saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Teddy Smith and drummer Roger Humphries, but on one track, “Calcutta Cutie,” the band he’d led since 1959—with Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Junior Cook on saxophone, Gene Taylor on bass and Roy Brooks on drums—takes a final bow. A brilliant mainstream hard bop record, it’s 42 minutes of pure toe-tapping, finger-popping joy.

Larry Young, Unity: The second of six albums jazz organist Young made for Blue Note, this 1965 release also features trumpeter Woody Shaw, saxophonist Joe Henderson, and drummer Elvin Jones. Young was determined to travel beyond the realm of funky soul-jazz grooves, as practiced by labelmates like Jimmy Smith and John Patton; he drove his bandmates hard, exploring the limits of the organ’s abilities on his own solos. His boundary-breaking approach can be heard on the band’s version of the standard “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise,” where they churn the song up until swing and not-quite-free playing collide and ultimately come together. Young would take listeners on quite a journey before his untimely death in 1978; this album finds him at the beginning of that path.

In addition to these classic titles, you can also find four of Norah Jones’ albums—Come Away with Me, Feels Like Home, Not Too Late, and Little Broken Hearts—on HDTracks.com.