Update March 21: Harry M. has photo, Clint Houston, Woody’s excellent bass player, taken at Montreux, 1971.
Some jazz collectors hunt big-game Trophies, some dig for buried treasure, ever-hopeful. I scout for hidden beauties, following clues and signposts, but this was an unexpected gem, from Woody Shaw. I had a good number of Woody’s earlier recordings, for Muse, also Timeless and Enja, but missed out on his late ’70s Columbia years, an era I considered mostly an unpromising time for jazz. If you don’t know it, and I didn’t, don’t judge this record by its cover, or its time.
. . .
Woody Shaw is “widely known for advancing the technical and harmonic language of the modern jazz trumpet” (Wiki). He has been described as “one of the most influential jazz trumpeters of the last 50 years“. Considering he died over thirty years ago, that accolade would make him one of the last great artists of the modern jazz trumpet. Miles, Morgan, Hubbard, Byrd…yes, in that company.
Shaw arrived somewhat late to the party, in 1963, as sideman with Eric Dolphy, with whom he made his recorded debut, Iron Man. He made his Blue Note debut on Horace Silver’sThe Cape Verdean Blues, recording his first session as leader in 1965 – an audition for Blue Note, unreleased until by Muse in 1983, under the title In The Beginning. Possibly late, but Shaw stayed true to the modern jazz idiom long after other partygoers had drifted away to fusion, soul jazz, easy-listening, or hard listening avant garde. Soon East Coast’s premier jazz labels would be swallowed up by bigger fish and the artistic focus dictated by the West Coast, in the search for “hits”.
Stylistically, Shaw found himself on the the 60’s and 70’s intersection between hard bop and free jazz; an area Herbie Hancock called “controlled freedom”. His composition The Moontrane is one of the iconic compositions in the jazz playbook, interpretation spanning from Larry Young’s Unity in 1966 to the 1988 recording with Freddie Hubbard, The Eternal Triangle.
Woody Shaw’s main contribution is often found on many other artists group recordings, where he adds a powerful ingredient to the harmonies, texture and highlights, fast and complex solos.
In the great tradition of mainstream, post-bop trumpeters, Shaw rode the harmonic and rhythmic innovation wave of Coltrane and Tyner, achieved greatness despite personal tragedies that left him crippled and nearly blind at the time of his death; he left the stage prematurely in 1989, only 44 years old.
On Theme For Maxine, Rahsaan’s Run: Woody Shaw, trumpet, flugelhorn; Carter Jefferson, Joe Henderson, tenor sax; Onaje Allan Gumbs, piano; Clint Houston, bass; Victor Lewis, drums; recording engineer Don Puluse (AES Fellowship Award in recognition of excellence in the recording arts, 2011), recorded Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC, December 19, 1977
Other tracks: Woody Shaw, trumpet, flugelhorn; Janice Robinson, trombone; Steve Turre, trombone, bass trombone; Art Webb, flute; Frank Wess, flute, piccolo; Jimmy Vass, alto, soprano sax; Joe Henderson, tenor sax; Carter Jefferson, Rene McLean, tenor, soprano sax; Lois Colin, harp; Onaje Allan Gumbs, piano, electric piano; Clint Houston, bass; Victor Lewis, drums; Sammy Figueroa, congas; Armen Halburian, percussion. Recorded 15 & 17 December 1977.
All-Music: “Shaw is in top form throughout, particularly on “Rosewood,” “Rahsaan’s Run,” and “Theme for Maxine.” Rosewood was a consensus Jazz Album Of The Year in 1977. This modal music ranks with Shaw’s best work”.
(The Jazz Album Of The Year 1977 according to other sources was Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, so, no consensus.)
The larger ensemble includes some electronic instruments typical of the late ’70s, busy, with lots of percussion. The small combo is more acoustic-leaning, and Joe Henderson always welcome on my turntable. Woody has a bright voice, which perfectly complements Henderson’s gruff tone. Clint Houston’s bass motors along with shades of high-octane Ron Carter propulsion. Victor Lewis drums maintains the pace, with lots of energy.
Vinyl: Columbia 35309 promo (1978 ) Matrix 1B/1B, Terre Haute pressing (T)
After years of recording for Muse and Contemporary, Rosewood was Shaw’s first album for a major label – Columbia, home of another well-known trumpet player, Miles Davis The recording engineering is what you would expect from the 30th St. Studios – top-notch. Expansive soundstage, not quite today’s Tone Poet width, but lively, full-bodied with some air.
Though Shaw’s music is of a high order, the recording quality across his catalogue is uneven. Early works for Muse are quite strong, notably In The Beginning (1965) and The Mootrane (1974). This Columbia session from 1977 stands out among his later recordings, some of which are quite poorly recorded or mastered. Unsuspectingly, I picked up some Woody Shaw Muse albums pressed in the ’80’s in France – the SACEM logo on the label – simply horrible transfers. Shaw’s album for Enja, “Lotus Flower”, is suprisingly stodgy for what was one of the better European labels in those wilderness-years. Shaw’s catalogue includes many good albums if you are selective.
Rosewood Cover Art
Budget for cover-art is noticably absent – faux Reid Miles “Woody shaW” typographic design, nice try but just one idea? Woody appears to be suffering from a bad migraine. Art direction/designer was Gene Greif, staff designer at CBS Records 1977-80, noted for “contemporary collage-based illustration in the late 70’s to the present (2004 at time of writing) by combining visual and typographic puns with Surrealist and Constructivist influences,” apparently reviving “retro style in the 80s” (NYT obituary). And you thought retro style was a modern phenomenon? There’s always been retro, just retrospective reference to a different decade each time. The past is a permanent feature of the present.
Columbia Records review copy cover has adhesive tracklist for picks with timings, very professional help for DJs, while spoiling the cover, you can’t get the picklist off it.
Clint Houston, bass with Woody, at Montreux 1971
More Woody Shaw in some up and coming posts, relax.
This week’s Collector’s special is a deep dive into United Artists Blue Note reissues, strictly for vinyl collectors on a tight budget. It’s a little long on forensic detail, but that goes with the territory. If it’s not for you just skip it.
I get frequent emails from the modest collector whose budget doesn’t run to original pressings, but who have “heard the sound”. Once heard, you can’t unhear it. They can still find extraordinary sonic quality at very little cost, if they know what to look for. One of the bargains in vintage Blue Note reissues are the United Artists Records pressings when Van Gelder metal was sometimes still in use, around 1973 – 79.
The analogy I like is that there are big game hunters, and then there are pearl divers, descending into murky waters in search of dimly-glimpsed precious jewels. I’m going to take a closer look in the murky waters, through the example of Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue, though it could apply equally to any other Blue Note recording.
Our friend from Japan, Takashi, has some Blue Note United Artists blue label reissues, which have thrown up yet another “mystery””, a blue label/ black note copy of 84123 with miss-matched runout stamps and matrix etchings. This is a starting point, from which to unravel and reveal the bigger picture.
First, some baselines. 8/4123 was unusual in having the only stamped matrix. Van Gelder experimented with a mechanical stamp, but did not repeat it. Of itself it doesn’t much matter much, just a curiosity, but in this case it provides the a helpful audit trail through the engineering practices of Blue Note’s subsequent owners.
The second unusual aspect of Midnight Blue was the West Coast Division of Liberty reissue (Bert-Co labels) . Instead of the usual practice of local remastering from copy tape, this West Coast manufactured edition has original Van Gelder metal, both sides. So this Van Gelder metal travelled to LA, as early as 1966, one of very few titles that did. That metal passed on into the hands of subsequent owners United Artists, with the Division of United Artists edition below (right) declaring Van Gelder stamps both sides:
So precious Van Gelder Stereo metal was available to United Artists in 1973-5 for the blue label black note reissue. However it was not always used, and, I suspect, was not valued for its sonic properties, but as a labour-saving short cut.
Tashaki’s mystery blue label run-outs
Side 2 has VAN GELDER stamp (seen but not pictured) and a seperate STEREO stamp as was usual Van Gelder practice in the early days of stereo, and a mechanical stamp catalogue number BNST-84123-B . Undoubtedly, Van Gelder original stamper for Side 2.
The pin-etched United Artists job code “#94” (reversed out, top left) is a common characteristic of United Artists remastering process control. Easily overlooked, it is seen on most if not all the United Artists Mono Replica Series. (c.1972), each record side has its own unique “# xx” number. Same Department prepared this remastering for Takashi’s edition.
The “x” or cross after 84123-A x maybe meant something to the mastering engineer, another process control type marker, not a catalogue number. Perhaps the engineer was cross that the Van Gelder stamper for Side 1 had gone missing, so he had extra work to do. That however is not quite the end of this oddity
Not all UA blue label copies have Van Gelder metal on one side or both sides. This seller notes the “x” suffix is on both sides – no Van Gelder metal at all, but the remastered matching Ax & Bx pair.
Engineering mayhem, US blue label reissues which have one side VAN GELDER, neither VAN GELDER stamps, the aX/bX master matrix, or a different, third party mastering: which adds a “UA”. The 1975-80 corporate reorganisation UMARG put out a blue label white note, no Van Gelder at all, remastered again, by house engineer “egk”, bottom right.
United Artists sometimes did the right thing for the wrong reasons. Then they did the wrong thing thinking they were doing the right thing. All the budget-conscious audiophile needs to do is pick their way through the offerings, with this as a roadmap.
Moral of the story? Big labels had some chaotic practices among house engineers below stairs and contractors. Always read not just the label, but the run-out, on both sides. Look with an informed eye at what is there. And always expect the unexpected, when you least expect it.
More internet data on Blue Note Records
Rival blog alert! No, not really, more helpful information for buyers sellers and modern jazz enthusiasts.
Blogger Andy S has founded a useful Blue Note reference site which consolidates various constituent parts of each Blue Note recording (release dates, session notes and photos, track listing and liner notes) into one reference point. He also includes digitised notes, including CD Reissue, BN Spotlight, official notes and analysis not found elsewhere – a searchable site for all liner notes. in one place It’s called “Blue Note Records“, on the Blogspot platform (https://blp1553.blogspot.com/)
Andy makes a useful contribution to our knowledge base, especially digitised liner notes, which complements my pictures for pixel-peepers. I recommend interested parties to bookmark it. I’ll add it to the blogroll.