Blue Note Records was founded in 1939, and the label went on to record some of the greatest jazz albums of the 20th century. The roster ranges from legends like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis, to in our time Norah Jones, Rosanne Cash, Amos Lee, and my favorite jazz guitarist, Charlie Hunter. Blue Note at its best is all about musical authenticity; few labels have sustained that level of commitment over a decades long run. Blue Note will release five classic jazz LP titles each month at least until October 2015.
I received a nice pile of LPs, representing the current artist roster and the first five remastered classics. The new Blue Note titles are thick 180-gram vinyls; the jazz reissues are thinner, but still high-quality pressings. The jazz titles' inner paper sleeves look like the ones that came with records from the '50s and '60s, with thumbnail images of a large number of Blue Note albums.
High-resolution digital downloads may be the next big thing, but at home I'd rather listen to LPs like Rosanne Cash's "The River & The Thread"; it's one of the very best albums of 2013. Cash digs deep and explores her roots through tunes that'll make you want to return again and again to the album. The "River" flows from swampy Delta blues, to country, gospel, folk, and rock in one seamless arc. Cash's husband, John Leventhal, produced and plays on the record with a terrific band. It sounds like a family affair.
If you're just getting into jazz, saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" is a great way to start. This album has a smokey, late-night-session atmosphere and blistering improvisations. It was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, the genius engineer behind the boards at most Blue Note sessions.
Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" is a time capsule of the hippest sounds circa 1964, and it's still a breath of fresh air. Dolphy plays alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet, and the band is an all-star assortment of avant-garde players. The LP's sound quality and dynamic range far exceed most contemporary recordings.
I always thought of Amos Lee as a bluesy folk singer, but on his 2013 album "Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song" he kicks out the jams and rocks harder on a few tracks. My favorite is "High Water," for its rougher edge and attitude. Production is a little busy for my taste, but Lee remains front and center.
Norah Jones' two-LP set, "Little Broken Hearts," produced by Danger Mouse, sets up a series of dreamy atmospheres for the star to play in. I loved the way the slippery bassline on "All A Dream" fully exercised my subwoofer.
Blue Note's vinyl quality varies from LP to LP; most are quiet, though some have a few clicks and pops.
With Blue Note's reissues and new titles now regularly appearing on LP there are a lot more reasons to consider buying a turntable. U Turn'swould be a great way to get into the groove.