The Sound - Blue Note

To coincide with the ongoing 70th birthday celebrations of Blue Note, Jazzwise looks at the history of the best-loved record label in jazz bar none. Beginning in an unlikely way in New York in the year World War II broke out with a boogie-woogie record Blue Note by the 1960s, had created an identifiable sound which has to this day continuing relevance in a world where most music is forgotten about just weeks after release. Brian Priestley traces the history of the label; Blue Note’s first UK producer Tony Hall remembers the secret Blues in Trinity session by Dizzy Reece and label chief executive officer Bruce Lundvall, label A&R Eli Wolf and producer Michael Cuscuna talk to Bill Milkowski about Blue Note, past, present and future.

 It seems almost bland to say that the Blue Note story is unique. But, in the history of recorded jazz, it certainly is and indeed, in the history of any kind of recording, it’s only challenged by a few of the early giants such as Victor and Columbia or Decca, an imprint recently revived by its inheritors at Universal.

Like most specialist jazz labels, Blue Note was originally a one-man venture and, in the person of co-founder Alfred Lion, it had both its impetus and its sustaining energy. Though the successful company was sold in the mid-1960s, the name has been kept in the public eye almost continuously till the present day. By contrast, a company set up around the same time, Commodore Records, ceased new recording in the mid-1950s, and its classic material has been leased to several reissuers in turn. Similarly, a slightly later contemporary, the enterprising jazz-blues-gospel label Savoy has seen a series of reissue programmes and even sporadic bouts of new recordings under successive owners, yet it’s basically dormant now.

Blue Note, on the other hand, not only has a seven-decade back catalogue that continues to sell. It also puts out a number of new albums every year, and among each batch there is usually something that helps to crystallise what’s happening at the time. Undoubtedly a unique brand, then, but whether the legendary “Blue Note style” is also unique is a matter for discussion. For a start, there are different Blue Note “styles”, each with their own fans and, though these help us in retrospect to define how the jazz scene was at various times, they also reflected the company’s awareness of and sensitivity to what was at the cutting edge of live music.
This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #133 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Warner Jazz CD

John Surman - An Englishman Abroad

Known primarily as a saxophonist, bass clarinettist and composer John Surman has been a fixture on the UK and international jazz scene for as long as many of us can remember. Dig out that rare copy of classic album Extrapolation which he recorded with John McLaughlin, Brian Odges and Tony Oxley in 1969 for a quick refresher. Born in Tavistock on 30 August 25 years earlier, John Surman moved from the west country to London and as a student of music played baritone saxophone with composer Mike Westbrook before winning a competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival as best soloist in 1968. As a leader of his own group, The Trio, and later as one of storming sax triumvirate SOS in the 70s, joining forces with Alan Skidmore and Mike Osborne, Surman began to use electronics and synthesisers and by the end of that decade reached a new landmark with the award winning solo album Upon Reflection.

Prolific in the 80s and the two decades since, his 1990 ECM album tour de force The Road To St Ives is widely seen as a snapshot of a distinctive English, and European, musician and composer grounded in forward-looking streams of jazz, improv and contemporary classical music. Before he turns 65 on the penultimate day of August Surman talked to Duncan Heining about his career so far and asks the question ‘What is British jazz?’

 In the autumn, saxophonist John Surman celebrates his birthday with a new CD, Brewster’s Rooster and then later in November the celebrations build to a peak with a concert at the London Jazz Festival. Now resident in Norway, his gigs take him all over Europe and beyond and he’s more in need of frequent flyer miles than a bus pass. While fans have become used to the huge range of John’s projects from solo and duo records to string quartets and big bands he has rarely recorded with anything resembling a standard jazz rhythm section.
So on the new album with John Abercrombie on guitar, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Drew Gress on bass, that is precisely what Brewster’s Rooster amounts to. As John points out, perhaps his back catalogue doesn’t provide an accurate description of his musical activity over the years. “The music I’m playing on this record is something that is a continual part of my life. Many of my recordings have been in some other format but, in my life in any given year, I’ll do a fair amount of playing as a saxophone player with a rhythm section.”

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #133 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Warner Jazz CD 

Acoustic Ladyland - Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Acoustic Ladyland, the band that broke the mould back in 2001, was originally conceived in name if nothing else as a way of interpreting the groundbreaking music of Jimi Hendrix. Despite the name the band’s direction is not at all acoustic, indeed it is very loudly electric, full of menace and since the critically acclaimed , became an edgy post-No Wave outfit with an acute improvising ethic, and the godfathers of a new young UK jazz scene that’s been called anything from punk jazz to post-jazz or even death jazz. Saxophonist Pete Wareham, the guiding light behind the band, gears up for the release this month of . Interview: Selwyn Harris

The year is 2005, and just for one splitsecond moment you can believe that jazz could actually become the new rock ’n’ roll. Just two bands, Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear are in the public eye getting unheard of TV/radio exposure for musicians coming out of the jazz scene in recent times, elevated in status by TV appearances on Later with Jools and a Mercury Music Prize nomination. But not only that, they are also giving the alternative rock scene a run for its money in terms of pure adrenalin, originality and excitement. In the end of course, put in those terms, it was just another false dawn. We weren’t about to enter a new Jazz Age. But four years on, all has not been lost. Since then Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear have been responsible for opening the floodgates for a new wave of bands to fearlessly push the boundaries of jazz.

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #132 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Warner Jazz CD

Christian McBride - Magnetic Force

Christian McBride debuts his new band Inside Straight with the slightly tongue-in-cheek title, this month. The foremost acoustic jazz bassist of his generation, and a pretty fine electric one as well, if recent touring with the Five Peace Band is anything to go by. McBride was a bright talent in a generation of fine players to emerge in the States at that time and the Philadelphian went on to make a successful solo debut on Verve in 1994. Since then he has alternated between acoustic, post-Weather Report and James Brown Ropeadope funk side projects and electric jazz-rock. Kevin Le Gendre talks to McBride about his approach to creating his new group which includes the distinctive sounds of the vibraphone courtesy Mack Avenue Records.

Jazz has a long tradition of bands that comprise several generations of players. The exchange of points of view, culture and above all energy produces startling results when the right personalities come together, old and young complementing rather than undermining one another.  Loosely related to this is the phenomenon of the group that comprises a respected teacher and several students, of which an obvious recent example is Anthony Braxton and his Wesleyan wünderkinder .

Bass virtuoso Christian McBride has taken a similar course with his new project, a quintet. One of the key members of the outfit, the vibraphonist Warren Wolf, is actually a former charge who went streaking ahead in the precocious talent stakes. “Yeah, he is an old student of mine from a jazz summer camp that I’ve been teaching on,” McBride tells me over the phone from his home in New York. “And he was so far ahead of everybody else that I said ‘one of these days I will give you a gig and you can take that to the bank!’ So we got a gig at the Village Vanguard and I called Warren, as planned, and some of the other guys that I hadn’t played with for a while.”

 This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #132 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Warner Jazz CD

Stanley Clarke - Songs Of Experience

Bassist Stanley Clarke made an indelible mark on jazz history with Return To Forever in the 1970s and has since gone on to become a major star at jazz festivals around the world, reuniting successfully with Chick Corea, Lenny White and Al DiMeola last year. In demand as a film composer Clarke has, nonetheless, had his career peaks and troughs along the way with a number of less successful projects failing to make the impact that he once would have made. But new album, featuring Clarke on double bass, could well be a return to form. As Andy Robson discovers, it’s an older, wiser Clarke who talks openly about his new approach to life after a painful divorce, how he finds himself in a new America now Barack Obama is President, which Clarke marks with a special composition.

“Whaddya mean Bill Bruford’s retired? He’s a year younger than me. You know what I’m gonna do? Now write this down: I’m going to call him for a session. We’ll see how ‘retired’ he is.”

One thing’s certain: Stanley Clarke has no ambition to hang up the bass or shred his compositions. “Musicians never retire. We get tired. But we don’t retire,” he says, as he laughs down the phone from his hill-top California home. “I remember Keith Jarrett doing his ‘retirement’ concert. I was there going ‘Oh yeah, sure man’ — he’s still out there.”And you bet still ‘out there’ is Clarke, who has “so many albums” coming out of his head he doesn’t know “what to do with them all.” 

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #132 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Warner Jazz CD 


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