Seasonal Message From LJC
Happy Christmas, 2020. I’m looking forward to a better New Year 2021, how could it be any worse? (They’ll think of something!). A lot more music to be covered, and it’s not like I have anything better to do. Delighted to see folk chin-wagging on the LJC Forum, behind the boss’s back. Throw in some opinions, get the conversation started, Blog or Forum, you decide.
If you’d care to join me at this Christmas and New Year’s jazz party, you are very welcome. Mine’s a large Scotch, too kind.
Now to the post. It’s Blue Note, but not as we have known it. LJC steps into the Modern World, blinking. A new old face in town?
Seems a long time ago, LJC started writing about original Blue Note back in 2011. Nearly five million page-views later, the journey has covered a lot of ground beyond Blue Note. Gil Evans’ Svengali on Atlantic, who would have thought it? But now Blue Note is back in town, and sounding in very good shape.
A new discovery, to me anyway. A new Blue Note LP from an icon of the 60s now in his 80s, production courtesy of the “Blue Note / Capitol team”, and an interesting new combination of mastering and pressing skills, Rudy would approve.
. . .
Charles Lloyd, tenor saxophone; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Julian Lage guitar; Gerald Clayton, piano.; recorded at Lobera Theatre, California, US, 2018.
Music – Charles Lloyd
I hadn’t followed Charles Lloyd’s career. I had just a couple of his ’60s albums, the famous Forest Flower (Atlantic) and Of Course, Of Course (Columbia) the latter of which was a bit easy listening and terminated further interest . It wasn’t until the recent Chico Hamilton/ Gabor Szabo post, some LJC readers recommended later Charles Lloyd recordings, that I caught up with him. I don’t normally follow later careers, my time is cut out just catching up on ’50s and ’60s, but a friend was nagging me to try Spotify. “Netflix for Music” I muttered, “Infinite choice, a million tunes I’ve no interest in, and no time to listen to.“
However I did power up Spotify, password unused for over eight years checked me in. I selected Charles Lloyd out of curiosity, and was served up top of the list, “Charles Lloyd 8”, new release by ummm… some label called Blue Note. The track Requiem sounded promising. I like minor key, mournful jazz, and from the first few bars, I was smitten by this performance . The same magical mood and pace of Grant Green’s Idle Moments, but charting its own course . The music is timeless in the same way fifty year old music is timeless, it shares the same musical space, without time.
Lloyd’s tenor has an energy that denies his 80 years, and with an intensity and fervour rarely heard, an inner force that speaks its own language, articulated through reeds and darting fingers, it has a feather-like quality. Back earlier in the year NYT’s jazz critic waxed lyrical over the concert (Metaphor’s mangled while you wait, references to Ayler/Coltrane/Young, not really finding his own descriptive vocabulary):
“(Lloyd’s) saxophone is too light to feel like a solid substance, but too graspable to be vapor. It’s liquid, fast-moving and rerouting. Into it he mixes the soul-opening honk of Albert Ayler, full of enough breath to evoke a door blowing wide open; the winding intensity of John Coltrane; and the troubled placidity of Lester Young.”
Other tracks continued to hold my attention. Julian Lage’s guitar won me over, he has the right spirit, and the whole line up is strong and acoustic (aside from some later electric tracks, more in Collector’s Corner). I don’t know the rhythm section names, but I feel I know their playing.
I am not an engineer, and I am making this up as I go along, so you can call me out.
Characteristic of Tone Poet-type mastering, a wide runout, with the grooves packed towards the outer edge of the disk to avoid groove-distortion, as the tonearm approaches the centre of the disk. To maintain playing time at around 20 minutes a side, with this reduced vinyl footprint, it has been mastered by Bernie Grundman ( initials BG in the runout) at lower volume. Audacity rip, the incoming gain was noticeably lower than most vintage Blue Notes. I needed to up the gain by maybe a quarter to achieve peak level – the maximum level in db without clipping, unfortunately, potentially increasing the noise floor.
The channel mixing has the body of the music centre-stage, a few accents on the outer edges, Watching the left and right channel wave-forms I could have sworn I was listening to mono, channels almost symetrical. The listening experience is pretty much a concert hall live performance rather than gymnastic “studio stereo” or a low-ceiling small club date.The Lobero concert hall seats about six hundred people, with high ceiling, and the patter of applause at the end of each track confirms a full house.
I see Joe Harley listed in the credits, representing Tone Poet, that is a good sign, and manufactured in Germany by the mighty Optimal Media. Near silent vinyl, no sign of defects which troubled some of the Blue Note 75 issues.
The whole package comes in a complex three-part concertina gatefold with a kangaroo pouch for a DVD of the concert. The DVD track-listing confirms it covers just the first half of the concert, as included on the three LP sides.
The DVD has been criticized for over-use of video tricks, like split screen effects (Amazon customer reviewer: “ Gives it the appearance of having been produced by an over-zealous film student”). I find video effects a distraction from the music rather than an enhancement to it, so I may not watch the DVD. From the few concert videos I have started to watch, I get distracted easily by camera-men dressed in black clambering over the stage to film those closeups. I’m surprised the musicians don’t find it more disturbing.
I recall once watching a rock music video, a favourite band whose lead guitar was one of my heroes. Just when the lead guitarist launched into his solo, playing his heart out, the camera view switched to the hands of the bass player. Duh!
When it comes to watchable music videos, it is hard to beat the Jazz Messengers Concert Live In Belgium (1958) It preserves that unique combination of artists on film: great music, great artists, good editing, no tricks, and suitably glorious monochrome which transports you instantly back to the world of 1958. I love Lee Morgan just standing there, nodding to the beat, listening patiently as Benny Golson tears up the saxophone solo, waiting to pick up the lead.
Dammit Morgan, why didn’t you pick a girlfriend who was a lousy shot?
Blue Note include an LP-sized 22-page black and white insert documents the concert and stills from Charles Lloyd’s remarkable career. The concert photos are mostly very grainy and out of focus, I assume deliberately impressionistic, given the tack-sharp low-light capability of modern DSLRs. They are at least in the Wolff tradition, black and white. Below is a nice ensemble shot.
You have all the information you need here, including the microphone set up. Mikes are important. Contemporary used to list them in the credits, along with the engineer. The Lobero has a full suite of mainly Shure mikes, a few AKGs, plus a 32 channel mixing desk. I am not a fan of “Live PA” which in my limited experience mixes every instrument together and blows the mix out from both side speaker stacks, so that people sitting in side aisles or back get to hear the same thing. OK for concerts, but not audiophile recording.
Presumably the Lobero house faciities were used to record the Live session. I wonder what would Rudy have made of it all. 1956, Cafe Bohemia, Half-Note Cafe, The 5-Spot – pack portable ampex tape-recorder and bag of mikes – Neumann/Telfunken U47’s – jump in car, set up, connect to kitchen sink, get stunning results.
Well, it’s not classic “Blue Note” label, but it is a modern recording.
What you get officially is Side C “Ruminations”, the track listed on the album cover, a black blank label on the other side.Two LPs but only three sides, there is no Side D. Except there is, the grooves give it away. A quick a needle drop confirms Side D from the 3-LP set is present on the flip side of C, missing the label. An easter egg.
Blue Note suffered reputational damage as a result of its low price-point 75th Anniversary series, where plating and pressing issues marred the audio quality, which was from digital sources anyway. Maybe expectations were unrealistic at that price-point. In this essential- read the whole piece, it’s worth your time – Discogs blog, various players in the production of modern Blue Note tell the story – 75 series, Tone Poet, Classic Vinyl Series (<-release schedule links) Blue Note 80, Joe Harley/ David Gray, Optimal Media: a lot has changed.
“Why is there such a gulf in sound quality between the 75th Anniversary Series and the two current series, (Classic Vinyl and Blue Note 80) ? The answer is threefold: Don Was enlisted revered mastering engineer Kevin Gray; sourced directly from analog rather than digital; and pressed the records at Optimal Media, a German vinyl plant that, by all accounts, boasts consistent and meticulous output.”…
Art Director, my office now.
But if this is the output of Blue Note today, it has come a long way, some odd turns on the journey, but has truly come home, welcome on my turntable. It is a pleasure to listen to, along side those pesky and increasingly unaffordable originals. More please.
Blue Note Classic Vinyl Reissue Series – Release Schedule::
December 4, 2020
Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder
McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy
January 15, 2021
Horace Silver – Song for My Father
Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
February 12, 2021
Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else
Joe Henderson – Page One
March 12, 2021
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Moanin’
Hank Mobley – Soul Station
April 9, 2021
Sonny Clark – Cool Struttin’
Jimmy Smith – Back At The Chicken Shack
May 14, 2021
Dexter Gordon – GO!
Eric Dolphy – Out To Lunch
June 11, 2021
Grant Green – Idle Moments
Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue
July 9, 2021
Freddie Hubbard – Ready for Freddie
Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
So now 2021 has something to look forward to. Of course if you want RVG mono, you will still need to go for originals.
For the merchandising-junkie, Blue Note offer the Deluxe Pack: 3x LPs, a DVD of the whole concert, two CDs and more photo memorabilia. Pictures of the Deluxe Edition below courtesy of Discogs.
The third LP, which is only in the deluxe boxset, includes a live version of Booker T’s Green Onions, a song I haven’t heard in fifty years. R&B legend Booker T (here a spritely 74 year old) actually joined Lloyd on the stage at the Lobero, to play that iconic number, joined by Blue Note President Don Was on electric bass. No doubt a crowd-pleaser in the concert hall, but not quite the haunting aesthetic of the first two LPs, you decide if it’s worth the extra. My recommendation – the 2-LP edition.
Sorry if I’m a little late to this party, but I wanted to get the message out. There is some very good music here.
Amazon-managed super-fast delivery. 2xLP set, personal purchase at full price, unsolicited review.
Post Update December 24, – Harry M has the photo – Charles Lloyd Quartet at Antibes Jazz Festival 1966. Keith Jarrett on piano, Cecil McBee bass, Jack de Johnette drums.