Blue Note was one of the most important American jazz labels of the 1960s and 1970s with a roster of stellar talents including Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Grant Green, and Wayne Shorter. They were known for releasing avant-garde records as well as in more popular crossover jazz productions. The records had a clean sound compared to the smoky nightclub discs from the previous decade and featured striking modern art covers.
Blue Note Re:imagined features a collection of classic Blue Note tracks re-imagined by a selection of the United Kingdom’s young jazz talents. The artists cover both the weird, such as Skinny Pelembe’s rendition of “Illusion (Silly Apparition)” from Andrew Hill’s One for One (1969) and more familiar material such as Poppy Ajudha’s take on “Watermelon Man (Under the Sun)” from Herbie Hancock’s Takin’ Off (1962). None of the contemporary updates are as good as the previous tracks in their original contexts. That’s not surprising. Asking an artist to create another masterpiece is futile as what person wouldn’t want to, if only it were that easy. Instead, the album works
There is nothing new about using classic Blue Note tracks for inspiration. That has been happening for decades. Us3 conceived the entirety of their debut album using material from Blue Note releases back in 1993. In 2003, hip-hop producer Madlib put out Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note, a collection of his remixes and interpretations of Blue Note tracks. That was followed by the Roots’ Questlove’s fellow 2008 anthology Droppin’ Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Lab, that gathered material from the Blue Note recordings sampled by contemporary artists such as Dr. Dre and A Tribe Called Quest. Nor is Blue Note the only jazz label whose catalog has been mined by contemporary artists. For example, The Verve Remixed, a series of albums centered on the concept of classic Verve tracks, has been especially successful.
Blue Note Re:imagined is a mixed bag. The positive spin is that these musicians are encouraged to experiment with a treasure trove of source material and see where it leads. Pianist and producer Alfa Mist’s take on “Galaxy” from Eddie Henderson’s Sunburst (1975) hauntingly evokes the vastness of space and being engulfed by the nothingness that is everything. London’s jazztronica duo Blue Lab Beats capture Bobby Hutcherson’s sun-drenched California vibe “Montara” from Montara (1975) in a warm and inviting manner. Saxophonist and composer Nubya Nyasha Garcia imaginatively uses the sonics of ” A Shade of Jade” from Joe Henderson’s Mode for Joe (1966) to make what’s old sound new.
There is one cut based on a relatively recent track, Jorja Smith’s “Rose Rouge” from St Germain’s Tourist (2000). Smith wraps her vocals around the jazz soundtrack more than leads the way through the song’s melody to create a dreamlike effect. Her voice pleasantly drifts in and out of the proceedings and adds an emotional punch while the horn lines blow forth. The other 15 songs all hail from records originally issued between 1962-1975. As a collection Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what’s going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.