CD review

Blue Note Re:Imagined

Various artists – Blue Note Re:Imagined
(Decca 890927. Review by John Bungey)

Ah, Blue Note – hallowed home of hard bop, trove of smokin’ classics by Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver… But, of course, some 21st-century music fans know different: it’s also the label of St Germain’s four million-selling, sample-packed Tourist or the hip-hop and cut-ups of Us 3’s Hand on the Torch (2.5 million sales).

It is at these listeners that Blue Note Re:Imagined is aimed, just like the often weird, occasionally wonderful Verve Remixed series or Madlib’s Shades of Blue. Purists look away now.

The opener is a soulful take on St Germain’s Rose Rouge (“I want you to get together, put your hands together one time”) by the Walsall-born Jorja Smith. All the artists here are young-ish British talents – a recognition and celebration of the new UK jazz generation. Smith loses some of the spooky urgency of the original but creates something that’s more a song, less a disembodied bunch of samples.

There is though vintage Blue Note too – some pretty faithfully interpreted, others close to unrecognisable, where a hook or a phrase becomes a launch pad for an altogether different story. The artists here have absorbed grime, afro-swing, hip-hop and broken beats and have myriad studio tools at their disposal unknown to their analogue elders.

Ezra Collective stay close to Wayne Shorter’s Footprints. The tune sounds a little more relaxed, as if its feet are up on the porch, drink in hand, as sundown comes. The piano solo from Joe Armon-Jones doesn’t sound at all shabby compared with Herbie Hancock’s eloquent original. Likewise, Nubya Garcia opts for a funk backbeat but doesn’t tinker with Joe Henderson’s A Shade of Jade. Playing clarinet, Shabaka Hutchings fashions a typically ear-catching solo as he retains the singular character of Bobby Hutcherson’s Prints Tie – the closest Blue Note ever came to the sound of Seventies krautrock.

Of the re-inventors, Skinny Pelembe takes Andrew Hill’s Illusion into an electro hall of mirrors. Watermelon Man becomes a polished but very different R&B song from Poppy Ajudha. Its new lyrics belie the sunny feel of Hancock’s original and address historic American racism. Emma-Jean Thackray neatly melds two Shorter classics – Speak No Evil and Night Dreamer – though with its boom-tish beats and long mellow keyboard outing it begins to sound more like a Bugge Wesseltoft tribute.

For some heritage-loving jazzers and Wynton Marsalis sympathisers, this whole vault-raiding exercise will be sacrilege. By contrast, some young R&B fans will just hear a bunch of clubbable tunes unaware who wrote the chords. Some of Blue Note Re:Imagined‘s supposed updates will vanish long before the originals fade and the results often aren’t “jazz” – but the spirit of adventure and imagination in a good number most definitely is.

TRACKLIST:

1. Jorja Smith “Rose Rouge” – from St Germain Tourist (2000)
2. Ezra Collective “Footprints” – from Wayne Shorter Adam’s Apple (1966)
3. Poppy Ajudha “Watermelon Man (Under The Sun)” – from Herbie Hancock Takin’ Off (1962)
4. Jordan Rakei “Wind Parade” – from Donald Byrd Places and Spaces (1975)
5. Skinny Pelembe “Illusion (Silly Apparition)” – from Andrew Hill One for One (1969)
6. Alfa Mist “Galaxy” – from Eddie Henderson Sunburst (1975)
7. Ishmael Ensemble “Search for Peace” – from McCoy Tyner The Real McCoy (1967)
8. Nubya Garcia “A Shade of Jade” – from Joe Henderson Mode for Joe (1966)
9. Steam Down feat. Afronaut Zu “Etcetera” – from Wayne Shorter Etcetera (1965)
10. Blue Lab Beats “Montara” – from Bobby Hutcherson Montara (1975)
11. Yazmin Lacey “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” – from Dodo Greene My Hour of Need (1962)
12. Fieh “Armageddon” – from Wayne Shorter Night Dreamer (1964)
13. Mr Jukes “Maiden Voyage” – from Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage (1965)
14. Shabaka Hutchings “Prints Tie” – from Bobby Hutcherson San Francisco (1970)
15. Melt Yourself Down “Caribbean Fire Dance” – from Joe Henderson Mode for Joe (1966)
16. Emma-Jean Thackray “Speak No Evil / Night Dreamer” – from Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil (1964) & Night Dreamer (1964)

LINK: Blue Note website

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