BLUE NOTE, one of the first independent jazz labels, was also something of a repertory jazz company. In the late '50s and '60s in particular, owner Alfred Lion produced hundreds of exemplary sessions reflecting his instinct for hard-swinging grooves and finessed ballads as well as stellar combinations of players. Many of these classic recordings are now being reissued through Capitol in digitally remastered audiophile pressings, complete with the original Reid Miles covers.
In the early '50s, organist Jimmy Smith transformed that much-maligned instrument by adopting a hard bop style (by way of Horace Silver and Bud Powell) and developing a crisp, racing attack above his own foot- powered bass lines. He was the first organist to win a Downbeat poll (for "miscellaneous instrument"), and his funk explorations inspired a much imitated subgenre -- the organ/tenor sax quartet -- as well as an entire club circuit (not including Blues Alley, where he performs through Sunday).
Among the 50 albums it has reissued so far this year, Blue Note has included three Smith classics from the early '60s: "The Sermon" (BST 80411), "House Party" (BST 84002) and "Back at the Chicken Shack" (BST 84117). "Chicken Shack" was the first quartet album to feature rising young tenor terror Stanley Turrentine, and established a longstanding empathy still in evidence on Smith and Turrentine's 1983 album for the Musician label. The title cut is the kind of unfettered down-home blues Smith excels at, his sly improvisations endlessly spun in fast single-note runs and sustained chords.
The other two albums are typical Blue Note blowing sessions with all-star casts (Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Art Blakey, Curtis Fuller) and the kinds of tunes that gave everyone the space they needed, whether on standards like "Lover Man" (a beautiful Donaldson ballad vehicle) or Smith's blues-drenched tribute to Silver, the side-long "Sermon."
Other recent reissues include the seminal "The Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia; Volume One" (BST 81507), featuring Blakey, Silver, Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham; Silver's own "Blowin' the Blues Away" (BST 84017); Kenny Burrell's "Midnight Blue" (BST 84123); Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" (BST 84195 ); and Wayne Shorter's "Adam's Apple" (BST 84232).
But Blue Note has also been digging into its tape vaults and releasing previously unavailable sessions from some of its giants. Here's a sampling: BUD POWELL -- "Alternate Takes" (BST 84430). Bebop's premier pianist, and one of the genre's founding figures, the troubled Powell is not well represented on vinyl but his immense technique and imagination are clearly evident here. Included are two new takes of "Bouncing With Bud" and an alternate version of "Dance of the Infidels," the 1949 quintet classics featuring Fats Navarro and Sonny Rollins; five trio dates; and a gorgeous "Our Love Is Here to Stay," a 1963 quartet recorded in Paris with fellow expatriates Dexter Gordon and Kenny Clarke. STANLEY TURRENTINE -- "Z.T.'s Blues" (BST 84424). Mostly standards recorded in 1961, including a lush "More Than You Know' and a hard-charging "The Way You Look Tonight." The saxophonist teams here with guitarist Grant Green, who's featured on his own standards album, "Born to Be Blue" (BST 84432), with yet another big-toned tenor, Ike Quebec. HANK MOBLEY -- "Another Workout" (BST 84431). A 1961 followup to 1960's "Workout," teaming the tenorman with his mates from the Miles Davis Quintet, Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly, and a future Milesman, drummer Philly Joe Jones. Mobley is a sadly underrated player; his supple melodic invention and oblique rhythmic sensibilities, evident in his detailed solos, hold up surprisingly well on up-tempo cuts like "Gettin' and Jettin'" and vibrant ballads like "I Should Care." FREDDIE HUBBARD -- "Here to Stay" (BST 84135). Blazing, brassy, hard bop explorations from 1962 in the company of fellow Jazz Messengers Wayne Shorter and Cedar Walton. Hubbard's in fine form on the album's single ballad, 'Body and Soul," and on a set of pressure-cooker tunes such as "Philly Mignon" and "Full Moon and Empty Arms."