THE JAZZ WORD

All that's jazz... and more

As part of the celebration of its 75th anniversary Blue Note are reissuing 100 treasured titles on 180 gram vinyl. Among the first batch of five is this gem from John Coltrane – his one and only recording for Blue Note.

“A provocative item in the hard, modern idiom, most notable for tenor-ist Coltrane’s arresting solo continuity. Obviously moved by vibrant, creative rhythm playing – Paul Chambers, (Philly) Joe Jones, Kenny Drew – trumpeter Lee Morgan and trombonist C. Fuller also turn in top performances.” Billboard 3 March 1958

This is an album revered, cherished, and loved by many; and there are others who cannot quite see what all the fuss is about. We are firmly in the former camp. Granted, some controversy surrounds the recording and critics argue that both Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller have done much better work elsewhere. Yet such judgements seem overly harsh; this is after all a Coltrane album. Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones had already played together on an album the pianist recorded for Riverside Records, so they were already acquainted with each other’s style.

In truth, for the title track alone – and its value is virtually doubled by the addition of a ‘Moment’s Notice’ – this record is a masterpiece. So familiar is ‘Blue Train’ that it feels like a theme to some long-forgotten TV series or the soundtrack of an atmospheric movie. It is everything that makes jazz so affecting.

Much of the debate surrounding the album centres on the track, ‘Blue Train’. On the original album release, the piano solo from take 8 is spliced into the following take from the same September 1957 session to create what we have come to accept as Coltrane’s masterpiece. A later reissue has both the complete take 8 and the composite version, much to Van Gelder’s annoyance, who considered such tape-splicing ‘desecration’.

Along with the four Coltrane originals there is a beautiful reading of the Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer standard, ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ that is unapologetically sentimental and among Coltrane’s finest ballads.

Click here to visit the Back To Blue web site and order Blue Train.

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On this day in 1961 Oliver Nelson was in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs New Jersey recording The Blues and the Abstract Truth for impulse. Nelson played alto and tenor saxophone and was joined by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, George Barrow on baritone and Eric Dolphy on flute and alto sax, while the rhythm section was pianist Bill Evans, Paul Chambers on bass and drummer Roy Haynes on bass. Could it get any better?

Arranged by Nelson, The Blues and The Abstract Truth became impulse AS-5, the label’s fifth release. The album includes another strong song, the sublime, Stolen Moments. Unlike Ray Charles’s ‘One Mint Julip’ it did not chart, but still got extensive radio play that helped promote the sales of this superb record.

If you check out nothing else then listen to ‘Stolen Moments”, you’ll swear its always been part of your life after just one hearing.

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impulse! was created to be a specialist jazz label, a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records, a company formed in 1955 that was already enjoying a good deal of success on the pop charts. ABC-Paramount had its headquarters on Broadway in New York City above the Paramount Theatre on Times Square. It was in 1960 that the decision to form impulse! under the direction of Creed Taylor who had been hired to be an A&R man and producer for the parent company a few years earlier. Taylor, a mild-mannered Southerner was the very antithesis of the fast talking, hustling New York executives that ran ABC-Paramount, was put in charge of creating a distinctive sound for the label. Herein lies one of the keys to his success – he was perfectly suited to the jazz cats he wanted to record – they trusted Creed Taylor.

It had been Harry Levine the A&R Director at ABC-Paramount who first recognised that Taylor’s approach was just what jazz artists needed and even before the idea of a jazz label was mooted it was his support that got some good sounding jazz records made by the parent label. It was Levine’s studio time that Taylor used to complete his early jazz records for ABC-Paramount, studio time that on the face of it a jazz record with limited sales potential would not expect to have been given.

Without Levine’s support it is very likely that the new jazz label would have taken an entirely different direction. One of the records that Levine’s studio time helped to create was, The Sound of New York by the Creed Taylor Orchestra. Released on ABC-Paramount it is a musical evocation of the city and features a photo on the inner sleeve of a cinema showing a movie named Impulse.

It was in late 1959 that Taylor began planning his new jazz label and initially he was going to call it Pulse records until he found out there was already a label of that name. But a name is no good without artists to record on it and Taylor with his finger on the pulse of the New York City jazz scene was better placed than most to start formulating a list, at least in his own mind, of who he would like to record.

Creed Taylor decided that to maximise his success and to ensure that the heavy hand of the parent company did not come down on him he needed to have initial releases with some guarantee of success. It was also important to not too tightly pigeonhole the jazz in one particular style. The first four releases featured trombonist Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson as well as another LP with just Winding, Gil Evans’s Out of the Cool and, as it turned out, his trump card – Genius + Soul = Jazz by Ray Charles.

Taylor’s plans paid handsome dividends with all four albums proving popular, but  he did not anticipate one event that both boosted the sales of the Ray Charles album as well as the finances of the label, something which the ABC-Paramount executives prized above all else. One Mint Julep by Ray Charles came out as a single in early 1961 and by May it had made No.8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles. In so doing it became Ray’s third Top 10 single of his career and while it was not unheard of for a jazz record to chart so high it was a rare occurrence that helped to sell tens of thousands of albums allowing it to become one of the biggest selling records of Charles’s career.

And from there impulse went on to be a label with a history of fascinating releases. Check out our special playlist.

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Larry Cook January 22nd at 2:28am

I have been a fan of jazz for 50 years. Throughout high school and college, Impulse was the "go to" label for quality jazz. With high quality streaming services now available, I get to hear those albums that I loved so many years ago.
Thanks for the memories. They are great.