Blue Note/Slow Down Sounds SDS-84099
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
Although I’d heard of the great jazz guitarist Grant Green by the time I began collecting jazz albums, in the 1970s, I didn’t begin listening to him seriously until the early ’90s, when there was little available on new vinyl. The last few years have seen the return on vinyl of several Green albums, some through Blue Note’s 75th- and 80th-anniversary reissue and Tone Poet series, others from such audiophile labels as Analogue Productions and Music Matters.
Slow Down Sounds, a vinyl-only label run by record executive Tom “Grover” Biery, was able to license for reissue on vinyl Green’s fourth album, Sunday Mornin’ (1961). Biery chose Kevin Gray to handle the all-analog remastering, a job Gray has done for Blue Note’s 80th-anniversary and Tone Poet vinyl reissues, as well as for the Analogue Productions and Music Matters releases. A sticker on the outer sleeve quotes Gray about the original recording: “Rudy’s sound doesn’t get any better than this, it really doesn’t.” He means Rudy Van Gelder, of course, who recorded nearly all of Blue Note’s classic sessions.
My copy of Sunday Mornin’ on CD is a 1996 reissue from Blue Note’s Connoisseur Series, mastered by Ron McMaster. It sounds clean, not overcompressed, as some Blue Note CDs of that era did. But when I then played the new LP, I heard an immediate improvement in the amount of space and air around instruments. On track 1, Green’s “Freedom March,” I could hear the reverb and sustain around the guitarist’s melody lines. Green’s distinctive style came from his heavy but fluid picking and his amplifier settings, both of which are easier to hear in this pressing.
The rest of the band is also better represented on this pressing. Kenny Drew’s piano solo in “Freedom March” sounds harmonically richer -- notes blend and resonate, and lines that feel a bit insistent on CD satisfy more subtly here. Ben Dixon’s snare and ride cymbal are sharply focused but less intense and pushy than on CD, and Ben Tucker’s double bass sounds warmer, more natural.
Green’s notes sound out confidently in the title track, another of his compositions, and on the new pressing his solo flows more easily. Dixon’s drums have more swagger, and Drew’s piano resonates with an openness and depth the CD doesn’t quite convey. On CD, Tucker’s bass is somewhat forward and threatens to overwhelm, but Gray has integrated its sound better with the sounds of the other instruments. Drew’s notes in the opening of Ernest Gold’s “Exodus” strike harder on CD than on the new vinyl, from which they unfold warmly, and Dixon and Tucker sound more supportive of the other two instead of pressing in on them. When I switched from CD to LP during “Exodus,” the soundstage widened and deepened, to give me a better picture of the positions of the instruments in Van Gelder’s studio.
The gentleness of Green’s playing in Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” is much more obvious in Gray’s mastering; it’s a shade too bright and edgy on CD. Drew’s solo also develops more naturally, his notes hanging in air warmly and better blending together. In the rollicking “Come Sunrise,” the third Green composition here, Dixon hits a solid groove that carries the band along on LP; on CD, he sounds a hair too aggressive.
The LP closes with the quartet’s take on Miles Davis’s “So What” (the CD includes a bonus track, Green’s “Tracin’ Tracy”); again, having the band spread out across a wider, deeper soundstage makes their interaction seem more composed, and Green’s riffs behind Drew in the latter’s solo more supportive.
I heard some drift in the piano’s pitch in a few spots during the intro to “Exodus,” but these were brief, and not unusual in tapes nearly 60 years old. I don’t hear this wobble on the CD, so I assume that either the tape was in better condition in 1996 or, more likely, McMaster digitally corrected it. It was a minor problem that I was able to ignore.
The pressing, by RTI, meets their high standards for quiet backgrounds, and the packaging is luxurious, with a cover of heavy cardboard printed by Stoughton and tipped-on artwork printed on high-gloss paper. The LP is housed in a polyethylene inner sleeve, but a copy of a 1961 Blue Note inner sleeve is also included.
Sunday Mornin’ is one of Grant Green’s best sessions; in this new edition, it’s an essential purchase for his admirers.
. . . Joseph Taylor