Blue Note’s Hidden Secret, Division of United Artists reissue series
Somewhere between 1971 and 1975, United Artists reissued a carefully selected list of classic titles from the Blue Note 1500 series and some low numbers in the 4000 series, originals of which today would cost you up to a $1,000 or more. These reissues were re-mastered by UA engineers from original tapes, many in their original mono form with identical liner notes, released on the classic blue and white Blue Note label updated with “DIVISION OF UNITED ARTISTS” mimicking the previous “DIVISION OF LIBERTY” .
Of all the different series of United Artists reissues in the Seventies, these are to be prized for their exceptionally high audio quality, having been recorded originally by Van Gelder, though not mastered by him.
Close up, there is little consistency in the runout markings. Etched in a couple of different hands, sometimes the occasional varying initials – an “NB” and a “Eck” -, the odd “UA” attribution, the work of several individuals working their own way, smacks of a laid back LA sound engineer lifestyle.
Above you see the handiwork of United Artists engineer “NB”. A methodical worker each side of each record he is remastering has a job number – in this case #43 and #46, the Blue Note catalogue number side 1 or 2, and his own initials NB as an RVG-style “trademark”. The # numbers are found as a running sequence on most if not all these reissues, indicating a well defined programme. You have to ask, why not Mobley 1568? The highest # number found on my copies is #99 and none of the A and B sides have a sequential number and each # number is unique to that title and side, so they are not “sequential pairs”. My guess is that the United Artists reissue programme consisted of at least fifty Blue Note titles, possibly more.
A small number of these historic reissues bear the copyright date (p) 1975 and new organisation name United Artists Music and Records Group Inc. in place of the artist credits. There is some anecdotal evidence these are of a lesser audio standard, but with only a few copies in hand it is not possible to be definitive, as the issue may be title-specific, pressing specific, or engineer specific.
Division of United Artists: examples of the “good stuff” 1971-3 ( and a few not s good)
There follows a selection from my own collection of sixteen Division of United Artists pressings, plus some contributions from LJC readers. For a couple of them I also have an original Blue Note first pressing. With one exception, the gap in audio quality between these UA reissues and the original is not as wide as it is with some others reissues. (The exception is Rollins BN 1542, which is a disaster) I reckon UA reissued fifty titles, so somewhere are a good number of others.
BLP 1506 JJ Johnson The Eminent Vol 2
Electronically rechanneled for stereo, a mistake thankfully not repeated on any of the other titles.
BLP 1519 Herbie Nichols Trio
BLP 1542 Kenny Dorham Afro-Cuban
BLP 1542 Sonny Rollins
Very poor transfer of a stellar Rollins title, using the re-mastering done by Liberty, which is the source of the problem. Record cover is on its side – Rollins should be vertical.
BLP 1564 Paul Chambers Quintet
BLP 1567 Curtis Fuller The Opener
BLP 1572 Curtis Fuller Bone & Bari
BLP 1573 John Jenkins & Kenny Burrell
BLP 1594 Louis Smith Smithville
P 1975 edition. Has the # numbering etching in the runout both sides, so the metalwork probably comes from the 1971-3 reissue programme. Its the only one I have and it sounds ok, though I have nothing to compare it with.
BLP 1595 Cannonball Adderley Somethin’ Else
BLP 4012 Kenny Burrell Five Spot
BLP 4022 Duke Pearson Profile
BLP 4023 Dizzy Reece Star Bright
BLP 4024 Jaclie McLean Swing Swang Swingin’
BLP 4040 Freddie Hubbard Open Sesame
This one is a beaut, as I have the Music Matters audiophile as well. Which do you think sounds better? I’ll post on it.
BLP 1536 JR Monterose (contribution from Matty)
8. BST 1589 Horace Silver Futher Explorations (contribution from Stefano)
Its Division of United Artists, Jim, but not as we know it. A 1975 reissue series on the Division of United Artists classic Blue and White label, but all is not well. Its from United Artists Music and Record Group, after a UA internal reorganisation, and the magic has gone.
Though sporting the Blue and White classic label, with “Division of United Artists Records Inc” around the rim, not everything is as before. In place of the list of performers is “P 1975” and the later organisation title “United Artists Music and Record Group Inc” (rather than the earlier “United Artists Records Inc”) From the matrix number it is clearly a stereo pressing. Possibly there wasn’t a stereo label to hand (though it was also released in Stereo in 1959) so they adapted the original mono label “Microgroove Long Playing”
The cover and liner notes appear to be a Division of Liberty jacket, not a clone of the original 1958 Blue Note jacket like the earlier Division of United Artists reissues. Where original Blue Note jackets have the catalogue number in bold large font in top right corner, Liberty demoted it to a small font, and the rear top left where it should say “HIGH FIDELITY” is the Blue Note logo.
Acording to my informant Stefano, other releases have been seen in this second “Division of United Artists 1975” series, and they are not sonically up to scratch. Looks like somebody within United Artists Music and Records Group took on a project to revive the classic Blue Note brand, possibly using Liberty left-over stock covers, but failed on the essentials, like what they sound like. I guess they wouldn’t be alone in that. Thanks to Stefano for the pictures. You did well.