Blue Note Reissues (part 2)

In my last post regarding the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Reissue Series, I suggested starting with Combustication by Medeski Martin & Wood and The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan. Once again, in the spirit of helpfulness, I’d like to suggest a few other albums for you, the discerning listener.  I feel that a couple other great, accessible artists to begin a collection with would be either Herbie Hancock or Grant Green.

Speak Like a Child and Empyrean Isles are excellent introductions to Hancock’s varied styles. Both are acoustic albums (before he’d go electric and gain popularity with his Headhunters band in the 1970s). With its lush horn arrangements, Speak Like a Child is the ideal soundtrack to an imaginary film noir movie or a rainy night alone. Many of its song titles reflect the feeling of the songs, so “Riot” has the tension of a riot and “Goodbye to Childhood” actually sounds like a loss of innocence. (Which makes sense because, in his autobiography, Hancock admits to naming many of his songs after they were written.) In all, Speak Like a Child, just feels well-paced and thoughtful.

Empyrean Isles is a different sort of album, however. It preceded Speak Like a Child and features a smaller ensemble, so the sound is not quite a full. Hancock is joined by his colleagues in the rhythm section of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, Tony Williams and Ron Carter, as well as Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. Hancock dabbles in a different style on each track–modal, funk and free jazz–so its cohesion is one of its most striking attributes. Sure, “Cantaloupe Island” is a catchy tune (that would later become a standard and sampled by Us3), but it doesn’t sound out of place after a challenging piece like “Oliloqui Valley.” Oh yeah, and if you like bass playing, Ron Carter is at the top of his game on Empyrean Isles.

Switching gears, I love finding great dinner music, and there really is none better than Street of Dreams by Grant Green. Because he plays guitar, his music may be a good starting point if horn arrangements intimidate listeners new to jazz. The tunes are mellow and hummable, easy to follow and a little funky. Maybe the smaller ensemble–guitar, drums, organ and vibraphone–lends accessibility to the album. Or maybe it’s because the album was probably a relaxed blowing session, where band members stretched out for long solos. Either way, the players listen well to one another, and the parts they play are economical. (And if this is your first encounter with the work of drummer, Elvin Jones, be encouraged to seek out other records on which he plays. You will not be disappointed.) The album features only four songs, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, Street of Dreams is one of those records in my collection that almost feels too short and I don’t mind starting over and listening to again.

Although I’ve only discussed three albums this time, it is a lot of musical ground to cover for now (especially on Empyrean Isles). Dig into these albums, and my next post will focus on a couple more recent releases.

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