"Spirit & Time", Blue Note Review Number Two is Musical and Packaging Perfection

The first bi-annual Blue Note Review may have been a somewhat tentative and ill-focused project as label head Don Was worked to re-establish with a younger generation the Blue Note brand identity and “community”, yet few who purchased were disappointed (the set sold-out) other than in the digitally mastered Blue Mitchell album and its grade B jacket.

Unlike the first, the second Blue Note Review doesn’t include a John Varvatos scarf but it does come with a more useful carbon fiber record brush and more importantly a pair of all analog reissues mastered from the original tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Mastering packaged in satiny finished paper on cardboard jackets and a laser-focused mission to spotlight drumming and drummers, of which Blue Note has had, and continues to have, some of the greatest.

The set’s theme resulted from Was binge-listening to six Tony Williams albums the label released between 1985 and 1992. While none of those albums are included here, the sumptuously presented clothbound Spirit & Time double LP (and CD) of new material consists of Williams’ compositions interpreted mostly by drummers currently on the Blue Note roster as well as an unreleased live version of “Juicy Fruit” culled from the live sets Williams performed at Tokyo’s Blue Note Club that produced 1992’s Tokyo Live The set ends with Williams having the last word introducing the band.

The drummers (with their groups) include Brian Blade, Tony Allen (whose double LP The Source [Blue Note France 5768336] is AAA), Kendrick Scott Oracle, Chris Dave, Eric Harland and others all well-documented in Cem Kurosman notes that tie together the album and the Blue Note segment of Tony Williams’ musical life.

The box includes two stitch bound booklets, one curated by Elissa Middleton, featuring thoughts on drumming by many of your favorites and perhaps a few unfamiliar ones. It is filled with insightful comments and great photos. The other features a note from Was and essays by Colleen Williams, Brian Blade and others plus interviews with Billy Hart and Victor Lewis and a swell comic feature by Terence Blanchard.

The Francis Wolff lithos are of Elvin Jones and Art Blakey (of course!). Oh, I almost forgot the two Blue Note previously out-of-print reissues cut from tape! Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ Africaine (BN 97507) recorded in 1959 features Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Walter Davis, Jr., Jymie Merritt and Dizzy Reece (congas, on two tracks) and documents Wayne Shorter’s first recording with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. It was first released in 1979 (apparently Alfred Lion wasn’t happy with it when it was recorded) and then went out of print. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s Patterns (BN 33583), recorded in 1968 is another one that slipped through the cracks and wasn’t issued until 1980. The combination on some tracks of vibes and James Spaulding’s flute produce an ethereal, dreamy quality. The album ends with Joe Chambers’ “Noctural”, which sounds as the title suggests.

And how about the Blue Note “baseball cards”? No bubble gum but you can’t have everything! Finally, a holy bow to “Tone Poet” Joe Harley who most certainly inspired Don Was to go for the best sound and packaging quality on these reissue.

This box is a listening, looking and touching treasure, and an educational experience. It’s also going to cost me some, because now I have to get those Tony Williams albums I don’t have. If the first Blue Note Review box left you wanting more, this one won’t. It’s truly great in every way and most highly recommended.

Rashers's picture

In addition to this product and the Tone Poet Series, Blue Note have started issuing their 80th anniversary series. The first group of records feature Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon and Robert Glasper. The packaging is mid priced, but the 180g vinyl is AAA (where possible) and mastered by Kevin Gray. Pressed at Optimal in Germany. I have only heard the Herbie Hancock record, "Takin' Off" - which sounds good, but not in the same league as the Music Matters 33rpm or the Tone Poet series, possibly reflecting the pressing rather than the mastering.

HiFiMark's picture

I'm in. Anyone have a number 1 they want to sell?