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Will Layman hails resurgent Blue Note Records

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For my money, Will Layman is among the sharpest jazz writers around. He’s out this morning with a new essay hailing the potential return to greatness of Blue Note Records. You can read the whole piece here but the nut graphs are below.

The label effectively disappeared in the late ‘60s, but was revived by EMI in 1985, when producer Bruce Lundvall started re-signing old Blue Note artists such as McCoy Tyner and new players like Joe Lovano and John Scofield. Maybe it wasn’t quite the same – jazz had been changed in basic ways by the market, by electronics and rock music, and by a diffusion of clarity about what it really meant to play “jazz” – but these were still some of the best records of that time.
But these records no longer had a clear identity. A “Blue Note” in 1962 couldn’t be mistaken for a record on any other label. Even the same musicians recording elsewhere didn’t sound the same. (The producer Bob Porter famously said, “The difference between Blue Note and Prestige is two days’ rehearsal.” Blue Note, simply put, was quality.) In the ‘80s and beyond, Blue Note recordings might have come out on Columbia or even some independent label.
But maybe there’s something Blue Note-y in the air again. The last month or so has been an exceptional one for Blue Note. In 2012, producer Don Was (known more as a rock or soul musician, not necessarily a jazz maven) took over, and something exciting started to kick in. The newest version of Blue Note isn’t any revival of the Golden Age – it’s something better. Maybe a new Golden Age that’s starting to rise? And its building on a sound that consolidates what’s best about jazz today.

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