Most important note at the beginning: This compilation is available as a double vinyl!
16 of the UK’s most in-demand jazz and organic acts have come together to create their own reworks of classics from the vast Blue Note vaults. “Rose Rouge” from the now anthemic 2000 “Tourist” album by St Germain, gets things going on a funky, groovy route, with Jorja Smith sticking mostly to the original. There is an organically flowing “Footsteps” coming up next. The Ezra Collective turns this Wayne Shorter classic into a brilliant fusion jam, with pianist Joe Armon-Jones being responsibe for a thrilling solo and also for stating the surefire, steadfast beat.
My favorite artist of this highly inventive and entertaining set is the ultra soulful Jordan Rakei who simply can’t do anything wrong. His exceptionally sexy vocals and his signature lo-fi approach graces Donald Byrd’s “Wind Parade” (essential: “Places And Spaces” from 1975). Jordan has also come up with additional lyrics for this masterpiece which maintains the original, phenomenally percussive stance. What a choice. What a cover! Clearly the most imaginative cut on this album and proof once again that Jordan is one of the most attractive artists we have on the planet these days.
Some of the tracks were previously released as singles and some choices are a bit obscure and remarkable, like Andrew Hill’s “Illusion”, done as a mystic and somewhat dark version by Skinny Pelembe. Warm keyboards start off Eddie Henderson’s “Galaxy”, very much keeping the fusion jazz/experimental/soul vein of the 1975 original which had George Duke on all kinds of assorted keyboards. The 9-minute track here by Alfa Mist tends to become a bit muddled, but overall works pretty well. Just don’t panic! We also get a wonderfully subdued, sax-driven “Search For Peace” with angelic voices by the Ishmael Ensemble, one of the very few tracks which I prefer to the original (McCoy Tyner, 1967). I have always adored Bobby Hutcherson and his immensely hypnotic “Montara” (1975) which was covered in recent years by people like Harvey Mason or Swedish producer HNNY and now, Blue Lab Beats have transported it into the future with a mix of breakbeats and flute/trumpet and a percussive groove which meanders into a hypnotic shuffle. One of the highlights for sure. I can’t help falling in love with this melody over and over again. Listen back to the Rhodes/percussion/marimba bliss of the original!
There are a couple of so-so tracks here, like the revamped version of “A Shade Of Jade”, Joe Henderson’s 1966 opus, worked out by in-demand artist Nubya Garcia, which fails to ignite, or Poppy Ajudha‘s rather stale addition. I never really caught fire listening to Yazmin Lacey‘s voice who still seems to choke on words rather than sing them. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” by Mr Jukes works well with its churchy vocals and warm Rhodes. There’s another Bobby Hutcherson tune, “Prints Tie”, from the 1971 “San Francisco” album featuring Harold Land and Joe Sample, audaciously reinterpreted by everybody’s darling Shabaka Hutchings, weaving in some early 70s CTI effects here and there. I totally disagree with Melt Yourself Down and their take on Henderson’s “Caribbean Fire Dance”, but heartily indulge in Emma-Jean Thackray‘s truly inspired melange of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” and “Night Dreamer”.