Blue Note Reissues (part 4)
For my final post regarding the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Reissue Series, I want to discuss what is, quite possibly, my favorite jazz album. If not of all time, then certainly my favorite of this series.
McCoy Tyner was most famous for playing piano in John Coltrane’s quartet in the early 1960s. After a series of safe tribute albums on Impulse! (undoubtedly to distinguish his solo albums from Coltrane’s progressive output on the label), Tyner signed with Blue Note. The Real McCoy was his first solo album of all original songs (and first for his new label), and several of those tunes have since become jazz standards. Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones, also plays on the album, so it’s understandable that some would hear similarities to Coltrane’s work.
But it’s Joe Henderson’s contributions that set this album apart from albums under Coltrane’s name. (This listener strongly recommends further examination of Henderson’s work as a sideman, starting with Horace Silver’s Song for My Father or, if you’re particularly adventurous, Alice Coltrane’s Ptah the El Daoud.) Sure, he plays tenor sax and can play “out,” but Henderson can also groove and play uncluttered at times, in ways unheard on Coltrane’s later records. The first two tracks give the listener an indication of the various styles Henderson will command throughout the record. The opening cut, “Passion Dance” is a frenetic 4/4, while “Contemplation” follows in a flowing 3/4.)
The Real McCoy charms this listener with how soulful and restrained the entire band plays. The impression that every part was nitpicked and obsessed over is a testament to the players’ feel and skill and God-given superhuman talent to blow people’s minds. Despite the fact that Tyner seems to make no concessions to commercial appeal, the record is still concise and the themes are strong. The Real McCoy is quite a catchy album.
I don’t need to argue Blue Note’s importance; it’s rather well-documented. What sets the label apart for me is the meticulous care it spent on everything: album artwork, recording quality and liner notes. Unlike other labels, Blue Note regularly paid for a day of rehearsals for its artists before they entered the studio. I believe this allowed writers to bring more sophisticated and developed compositions to the studio.
While I appreciate the Rudy Van Gelder remastered CD reissues in the late-nineties and early-aughts (especially for the two sets of liner notes in each), this series strips the superfluous alternate takes that bogged down earlier reissues. In addition, most of the albums in the series are pressed on substantially heavier vinyl than with the Direct Metal Mastering (DMM) reissues in the 1970s. Best yet, most titles are reasonably priced under twenty dollars.
The 75th Anniversary Reissue Series is especially timely and important now. In our age of streaming music, buying an album with which a person plans to spend the evening is staking a claim. It’s being intentional. It’s refusing to listen to algorithm-generated playlists. Most of the albums in this series were recorded on tape and intended to be heard on vinyl. And, thanks to Blue Note, many of them are back in print again.