Hank Mobley: Reach Out (1968) Liberty Blue Note

Selection: Beverly (LaMont Johnson)

.  .  .

Artists

Woody Shaw, trumpet, flugelhorn; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; LaMont Johnson, piano; George Benson, guitar; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Billy Higgins, drums., recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, January 19, 1968

One of Hank’s last recordings in the US. Within a few months he was recording in Holland:Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 10, 1968,Theater Bellevue, Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 20, 1968,VARA Studio, Hilversum, Netherlands, March 28, 1968; Jazzclub B14, Rotterdam, Netherlands, March 29, 1968. Then in France: Studio Barclay, Paris, France, July 12, 1969; with Archie Shepp, Paris, France, August 14, 1969.

The photos of Hank in France would seem to have been added retrospectively to the US recording, sleight of hand. I wouldn’t put anything past Liberty at this time.

Music

I knew in advance I was going to hate the two pop-tune covers, and I did,  Reach Out (I’ll Be There) is a complete embarrassment, Goin’ Out Of My Head, not much better. You sense the musicians lack of enthusiasm, going through the motions the label required. I pinned my hopes on the other tracks, and there are a few that are good, Woody Shaw always welcome on my turntable. No wonder Hank moved to Europe, hoping no-one would recognise him. Hey, Reach Out, Hank, Europe calling.! Escape while you still can.

George Benson was a rising star, and I think gets too much airtime here, his style of guitar doesn’t gel, the tunes sort of stop, hand over to Benson, who does his trademark thing, then they get on without as before. Benson was destined for smooth jazz, doesn’t belong with Hank. This is Liberty under the TransAmerica financial conglomerate, a poor advertisement for investor-owned businesses over entrepreneur-run businesses.

Hank made the Right move – Right Out, to Europe.

Vinyl: BST 84288 Division of Liberty stereo Van Gelder

Bert-Co labels, but like all new Liberty titles, Van Gelder.. More on labels in Collector’s Corner.

Gatefold

Not quite a Tone Poet, quite scrappy really, cheap absorbent paper for the print of Mobley but Black and White almost redeems it. The gatefold photo will be by Francis Wolff.

Art Director’s Corner

One of the great virtues of vinyl is a 12″x12″ unique artwork in your hands, physical. Look at the Liberty back cover.

Absolutely shocking standard of photography. Yellow colour cast (ever heard of photo-filters to correct white balance?), skin-tone oversaturated red, Hank’s eyes are bloodshot (or he’s been at the Absynthe) , loss of shadow detail, and cropped off the only detail that might have saved the composition – the cigarette in Hank’s fingers. Instead of using props to aid composition, the photographer decided that a blurred quarter of the Arc de Triomphe in the background would establish “French location”. It is unbelievably bad, Bob Venosa, epic fail.

For fun, I tried my hand at retouching, correcting the colour-cast and bad lighting, not a great job, but you can’t hide the poor selection of photo. Hank staring blankly into space, stiff, uncomfortable, no eye contact, no rapport,  a dreadful photoshoot to start with, bad photographer or bad brief, or both. The defects do help conceal bad portraiture.

Compare the lovely portraits of Donald Byrd in the same city ten years previously, Byrd in Paris 1958, Volumes 1 & 2, oozes Frenchness, props establish narrative, French fries! Le Figaro! (note to art director, cafe au lait, not a milk shake)  Off-centre composition leans towards rule of thirds, side-lighting gives the portrait figure solidity, and you see how shoddy  Bob Venosa’s art direction  for Liberty was.  A Blue Note deserved better, Liberty/TransAmerica management chose worse, and did this to my favourite tenor player.

Who was Bob Venosa, that produced such dreadful art for Liberty Blue Note?  At the age of  32, no misguided youth. Let’s lift the coffin lid.

Born in New York City, the young Robert Venosa was an art director for CBS/Columbia Records.How he got the job, gift of the gab, connections, but certainly not through talent.

“Following an LSD trip in the mid 60s, Venosa decided to become an artist”, however still responsible for commercial artwork . In 1970 (aged 34, getting on a bit), he studied in New York for three months with the artist Mati Klarwein. They collaborated on the album cover of Santana’s Abraxas; Klarwein painted the cover art and Venosa designed the band’s logo. Note, the logo, three months collaboration, a  week a letter, face it, he’s a slacker.

The following year Venosa did a runner and moved to Vienna to apprentice under another contemporary master, Ernst Fuchs. After a few months painting under Fuchs, his lack of funds forced a return to the United States. When I was in Rome a few years back, the phone booths were full of American fine art students begging dad to send more money, of which they had run out.. Empty-handed, Venosa returned home, and ended up living on houseboat in Sausalito, California.

In 1972 Venosa headed back to Europe again, where he settled in Spain, and met the great Surrealist, Salvador Dali. “Hey, how’s it goin’, Sal?” Putain, qui es-tu? There followed a  lifetime as a peripatetic psychedelic painter specialising in hyper-reality, on account of the fact he and actual reality didn’t get on very well.

No wish to be unfair, but at the end of the day, judged by his work, Venosa was a hippy airhead. It’s not his fault. In business I never blame the person, they are who they are, I blame the person who hired them. Talent matters, and there are many more talented people who need the work, and Blue Note deserved better.

Collector’s Corner

Oh dear, Hank, from Mobley Blue Note 1568 changing hands at over $5,000, ten years later, Reach Out, sells for just $50 maximum, down to 1%. of his most collectable title. Tragic decline, for which I blame Liberty artist management/ miss-management. Reach out, reach out…who thought that was a good idea?

84288 is more interesting in a different way – it was one of the first Liberty pressing to mark  a change in label font.  Among the first, because timing of release determined by business issues, records were rarely manufactured and released in catalogue number order. The earliest title with the new font is 84284 Jackie McLean’s ‘Bout Soul.

Hot Metal, The Font Wars, 1960s

Printing record-labels was a  specialised print job, and each  record company had its own regular print suppliers, who held corporate templates for that label, adding the unique text for each record title   There were a half dozen major makes of line-casting machines (Intertype, Linotype, Monotype, Ludlow etc) Each print shop made its own choice in make of line-casting machine, and each could use only cartidges designed for that make of machine.

Print was composed and set by an operator of the line-casting machine with cartridge-fed metal characters of a specific font and point size.The range of fonts and point sizes stocked was limited to those required  for the type of work required (book printing, handbills, posters, record labels). The process was driven by the cartidge.

Metal foundries who manufactured the cartidges offered a competing range of fonts, many of whom had their origins in the golden  age of typographic design in the 1920s. Fonts were proprietory designs, which required licensing, but foundries would make slight modifications to designs and sell their own version of them under different names.

Blue Note labels were printed by Keystone Printed Specialties, a print factory based in Scranton PA, who used Intertype linecasting machines, and the regular font choice for Blue Note labels was Intertype Vogue. After 1966 Liberty maintained the relationship with Keystone, at least for East Coast pressing, though supplemented by labels from other printers  for records pressed at other plants.Those other printers used different makes of linecasting machines, which used different fonts. Thus the label font is like a fingerprint which identifies the pressing plant of record  manufacture, if you can learn to read fingerprints.

All fonts look superficially similar, they need to, or they would not be readable. but the differences fuelled the font wars over the cost of type supply.  In mid-1968,  Keystone Printed Specialties changed the font they had been using for Blue Note from Intertype Vogue to Intertype Futura, or at least a clone version of Futura.This change was probably financially motivated, competition between foundries and proprietary font licensing costs

Up to this point, Liberty had two main manufacturing centres, one on each coast.(supplemented by extra capacity from others). They were easy to tell apart, from just the labels: capitalisation of the SIDE information, and the poor print quality of the ®.

The distinction was a useful predictor of mastering sources for Blue Note reissues. However eagle eyed reader Platte74 spotted that labels which looked in every other respect to be Keystone printed began to appear with a serif in Side 1, not unlike the Bert-Co character 1, but seen close up with a slope in the serif.. What happened?

Initially I thought they just used a smaller point size of Vogue, but diving deeper, discovered significant changes in the formation of several characters, not only the serif 1, but the capital letter M now had sloping ascenders, and the letter C  a much wider mouth. The letter Q was an even easier tell, a center tail or right quarter.  They had changed font. Font recogniton software pointed to the classic Futura font, created by Paul Renner in 1927. the prototype of the twentieth-century Modern Geometric Sanserif.

Fonts require close inspection as they fall into the psychology domain “We See What We Expect (not what we actually see)”  Once a word has been recognised, we move on scanning the next word, the font has done its job. Many of the characters look almost identical, but there are always a number of important stylistic differences in some characters, and these distinguish Keystone labels before and after mid 1968.

LIBERTY-KEYSTONE-LABEL-FONTS-OLD-NEW-COMPARISON-RANDOM-TITLES

There are still some unexplained anomalies, infuriating, just as it seems to be getting clearer, along comes the odd hybrid label, with new  Intertype Futura in most respects but not all.

The “Q” in QUINTET is Intertype Vogue on the left, Intertype Futura on the right but also the old sans-serif  I, and not the new Futura 1.  Still , we have part solved the story, but  remaining anomalies, for another day.

UPDATE: What font does Bert-Co use? My research to date has visually matched Linotype Spartan, a font that was released by American Type Founders around 1936 as an American copy of Futura.  An online font identifier I tried just now matches SOUL STATION (1968) Bert-Co label to… Futura. Perhaps font choice converged on Futura. However Bert-Co continued to  set SIDE in capitals, and set the Artist Name and Album Title all in same-size capitals, that had not changed, a consistently different house style from Keystone. There’s more work needed.

The Font Of All Knowledge -set in Erbar as used by Columbia for Kind Of Blue.

Respect to WB of New York, whose knowledge of labels and fonts is unrivalled.

Ljc

 

7 thoughts on “Hank Mobley: Reach Out (1968) Liberty Blue Note

  1. Venosa also used Klarwein’s artwork for Blue Note (Wilson’s Blue Mode and McLean’s Demon’s Dance).

    Some typos: Beverley; souces; design the 1920s; cafe au lait; font-recogniiton

    • Try again: recognition; café au lait. Also, it’s not Sanserif, but Sans serif (with or without hyphen).

  2. I have commented before on this LP , I agree it is at first like blue vein cheese ( Reach Out stinks )
    but the three Mobley compositions are of the tasty, matured Blue Note standard. Beverly is very cool and Hank’s tone on Head is beautiful. Obviously Liberty were after a quick buck from this session and released the single Reach out / Head on 45-1938 ,still trying to milk the “Sidewinder” success.
    A note on Bob Lampard ( British photographer 1934-2010) Very active in the 1960’s did the famous Beatles shoot in 1963 plus many touring artists such as Chuck Berry , Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard. This would seem to support your theory that the Venosa design mob basically blew it , I am sure Bob would not have been happy with the end result.
    Give this album another spin without Reach Out , it grows on you and is a keeper for me

  3. As a fledgling graphic designer and typographer living in London in the late 60s and early 70s I was an aficionado of the New York design scene. Milton Glaser and Push Pin Studios amongst others. At that time the Blue Note record label covers were the standout thanks to Reid Miles, with their consistency and originality. A benchmark in typographic design and layout. It was so disappointing when Liberty took over the label and changed direction. Reid Miles himself wasn’t entirely innocent here mind. His Lou Donaldson Alligator Boogaloo album cover, where he took photographs of a model rather than the usual artist, marked a departure from using Francis Wolff material. Perhaps it was a portent of what was to come under Al Bennet and Liberty…

  4. Great post (I’ve always hated Venosa’s work, blech.)

    I think the information you’ve been sharing regarding Blue Note design specifics— and especially printing and typography—are what really sets LJC apart.

    We know that 90%+ of BN historical details have already been documented by Fred Cohen in his book, with the assistance of Larry Cohn’s deep collection of every Blue Note variation in existence. However, as a former graphic designer and typographer in discussions with Larry at the Jazz Record Center, I could see that details around printing and typography were a rare blind spot.

    So, I give you serious kudos for providing genuinely new research in these areas—cheers!

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