Into The Blue(s)
The blue in Blue Note Records wasn't just a stab at being colorful
01/15/2009 12:06:56 PM PST
The blue in Blue Note Records wasn't just a stab at being colorful.
Biographer Richard Cook once described the seminal jazz label's distinctive sound as "spage-age melancholia."
That penchant for the blues is heard in the label's vast and wide-ranging archive of recordings from Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Dorham, Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Rollins and every other major jazz figure of the 20th century.
This month marks the 70th anniversary of the label; so, imagine the task put before pianist Bill Charlap and his all-star ensemble - dubbed The Blue Note 7 - on choosing tunes for its just-released "Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note"? The album is a reimagining of eight classic jazz compositions by the septet, which performs Jan. 22 at UCLA's Royce Hall as part of a 51-city North American tour to commemorate its legacy.
"The music that Blue Note recorded is so vast and historically important that there was no way we could be comprehensive in covering the contributions of so many major musicians," says Charlap, the band's musical director. "We chose to record compositions that would honor the label and its key players, whittling it down to eight of our favorites ..."
Tracks on the album released Tuesday include Tyner's "Search for Peace" and Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," guest arranged by pianist Renee Rosnes. Other tracks include Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," Bobby Hutcherson's "Little B's Poem," Monk's "Criss Cross," Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments" and Silver's "The Outlaw." The title track is Cedar Walton's "Mosaic," a tune that was written for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers that swings between a Latin and a hot-jazz feel.
As drummer Lewis Nash puts it, "We wanted to play these tunes without losing their essence."
"The Blue Note 7 is a true collaboration ... (composed of) the next generation of major players, all leaders in their own right," says Bruce Lundvall, president of Blue Note Records, which is also celebrating 25 years of its relaunch after a hiatus.
"They are also the A-list of accomplished arrangers and composers, steeped in the Blue Note tradition, reimaging this time-honored repertoire in a fresh way." Nash brought "Mosaic" to the project after getting the thumbs-up on his new arrangement from Walton, himself.
"We wanted to do new things with them so they have some freshness about them, and they don't sound like we're trying to copy what was already done," he says. And so, changes were made to the time signature, feel and tempo of each song to differentiate them from their originals.
"The tunes already have strong melodies and interesting chord changes," Nash adds. "So, if you're knowledgeable enough you can use the material that you already have very effectively and make it interesting without changing it too drastically, so that people will recognize it."
So far, so good.
Blue Note was founded in 1939 by German emigre Albert Lion, who had a deep affection for the music. As the story goes, Lion had brought a pair of boogie-woogie pianists into a New York studio and made some recordings. While it has since broadened its roster to include such diverse artists as folkie Priscilla Ahn and electro-pop duo The Bird and The Bee, it is still regarded as a premier jazz label.
"We all love these records and come from this place," says guitarist Peter Bernstein. "It's vital. "So, with this project, we're just trying to bring whatever we can to the music without making it a sentimental thing," he says.
It doesn't stop with the album. On tour, The Blue Note 7 has been adding more newly arranged classics so as not to repeat itself, which begs the question: When's the next album?
"That's up to some other powers that be, I suppose," says Bernstein, adding he's up for the idea. "There are so many people that we couldn't get to in one CD that have to be acknowledged."
Sandra Barrera, (818) 713-3728 email@example.com
BLUE NOTE 7Oth ANNIVERSARY - ON TOUR
Where: Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 22. Cost: $26 to $50.
Info: (213) 480-3232 or www.ticketmaster.com