VARIOUS: ‘Blue Note Re:Imagined’ (Blue Note)

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Although 81 years have passed since German-Jewish émigré Alfred Lion co-founded Blue Note Records in New York City, as the label’s new compilation ‘Blue Note Re:Imagined’ clearly shows, the iconic jazz imprint’s revered catalogue of music continues to inspire young artists today. The 16-track album (available on double CD and vinyl) brings together some of the finest talents from London’s contemporary jazz and soul scene, who reinterpret classic tunes, some familiar, others less so, from Blue Note’s vast repertoire of material.

23-year-old Walsall R&B chanteuse Jorja Smith opens the proceedings with a sublime take on a famous track from Blue Note’s more recent past: St. Germain’s ‘Rose Rouge,’ originally recorded in 2000. Smith’s inclusion shows that the compilation’s aim is to present a vivid snapshot of the UK urban scene rather than focusing exclusively on jazz artists; and it brings a welcome dimension of genre-blurring diversity, which means that the album’s appeal isn’t restricted to serious jazz heads.

Smith isn’t the only singer to grace the compilation; Jordan Rakei, a highly regarded Antipodean singer/songwriter based in London, serves up a stupendously breezy vocal version of Donald Byrd’s 70s Blue Note gem, ‘Wind Parade.’ In sharp stylistic contrast, Poppy Ajudha  – purportedly a favourite of Barack Obama no less – offers a wonderfully spacey but soulful take on Herbie Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man,’  while Nottingham’s Yazmin Lacey puts a fresh spin on Dodo Greene’s ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You.’ Yorkshire-raised, London-based multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray impresses on a medley on two 60s Wayne Shorter tunes, ‘Speak No Evil’ and ‘Night Dreamer,’ which are fused with a danceable jazz-funk groove.

Shorter’s music is also impressively retooled by the groups Ezra Collective (‘Footprints’),  Steam Down (‘Etcetera’), and Fieh (‘Armageddon’). More classic 60s Blue Note tunes – this time written by tenor saxophonist, Joe Henderson – are also reworked to good effect; the magnificent horn blower Nubya Garcia – currently riding high with her acclaimed debut album ‘Source’ – puts her funky stamp on ‘Mode For Joe’ while the anarchic aggregation Melt Yourself Down transform  ‘Caribbean Fire Dance’ into a grime-influenced rave-up dominated by a looped jabbing sax riff. More sedate is Mr Jukes’ deliciously immersive rendition of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’; so too is Alfa Mist’s mellow-vibed retread of Eddie Henderson’s ‘Galaxy.’  

Though these radical new versions of classic Blue Note sides might upset the jazz purists, they reveal that today’s generation of urban musicians isn’t content to play it safe or follow a well-trodden path; instead, like Blue Note legends Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson did back in the 60s, they seek to break new musical ground and go where no musician has gone before. It’s Blue Note, Jim – but not as we know it!  

(CW) 4/5

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