critic’s pick 12

cannonball adderly sextet in new yorkPerhaps the Riverside label is taking its cue from Blue Note Records. In other words, the groundbreaking jazz label has devised a way to market vintage product in a way that would entice listeners to whom its classic music might actually be new.

Blue Note’s primary reissue series lets its groundbreaking engineer, Rudy Van Gelder, remaster sides he helped record four and five decades ago. Similarly, on five new editions, the fourth batch of reissues in its Keepnews Collection series, Riverside lets the recordings’ original producer, Orrin Keepnews, oversee the proceedings and offer insightful new liner notes.

But it all boils down to the music. And in this case, it’s all essential listening. Die-hard jazz fanatics likely memorized these grooves ages ago, although the 24-bit remastering makes them sound sharper than ever. But for novice fans, here are five gems to start a budding collection with. The reissues also come at a bargain price. Past Keepnews Collection reissues frequently pop up in stores for under $10.

Sets by Thelonious Monk and The Bill Evans Trio sets are true diamonds. Monk’s 1956 Brilliant Corners is brilliant indeed with the sort of animated, percussive playing that defined not only Monk’s piano designs but the brassy exchanges of alto saxophonist Ernie Henry and a young Sonny Rollins on tenor sax. Max Roach’s drumming on Bemsha Swing, which is a graduate course in rhythm all on its own, is a bonus.

Evans’ 1959 Portrait in Jazz takes us back to the pianist’s days with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, a lineup many feel discreetly reinvented the jazz piano trio. But the playing here is too unassuming to take such grand appraisal to heart. Who else could fill Autumn Leaves with sunny exuberance and later cast Spring is Here adrift with soft focus wistfulness? Where Monk was out to shatter rhythmic barriers, Evans took refuge in them by making lyricism sound reserved but regal.

The Cannonball Adderly Sextet’s 1962 In New York takes us to the very venue that made Evans’ famous: New York’s Village Vanguard. After a curious recitation about audience hip factors, the saxophonist enlists two then-young jazz titans – saxophonist/flutist Yusef Lateef and pianist Joe Zawinul – and swings like nobody’s business.

Trumpeter Blue Mitchell’s 1959 Blue Soul is the sleeper of the lot, a mix of savory swing peppered by a title tune that indeed is a meeting ground of sleek blues and soul phrasing.

Finally, 1961’s Bags Meets Wes! is coolsville all the way with Milt Jackson’s icy tone on vibraphone and Wes Montgomery’s unmistakable guitar subtleties transforming the bustling swing of Stablemates into a lesson in majestic cool.

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