John Jenkins & Kenny Burrell • John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBLP-1573
45rpm double-record set



Wayne Shorter • JuJu

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84182
45rpm double-record set



by Marc Mickelson | November 13, 2009

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here is obviously a guiding hand behind the choice of Blue Note titles that Music Matters releases each month. How else could Tina Brooks' Back to the Tracks, one of only four sessions Brooks headlined, be released along with Freddie Redd's Shades of Redd, on which Brooks played, or Wayne Shorter's modal masterpiece JuJu from 1964 be part of an odd couple with 1957's John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell, a bop chestnut? Here it's the juxtaposition of the music that's significant, the earlier release displaying only the vaguest stylistic line to the later, and one you'll have to work to hear.

Alto saxophonist John Jenkins is an obscure figure in jazz history, releasing only this recording for Blue Note and two others in total, all during 1957. He's most often compared to Jackie McLean, but he was clearly influenced by Charlie Parker, the godfather of so many sax players. With guitarist Kenny Burrell, one of Blue Note's prolific sidemen and leaders throughout the '50s and '60s, Jenkins plays on six tunes, half of which are peppy numbers he wrote. Sonny Clark is recognizably charming on piano. Paul Chambers on bass and Danny Richmond on drums round out a quintet whose least-known member is one of the headliners. This is solid music-making that will cause you to wonder why Jenkins didn't record more.

It is debatable whether Wayne Shorter's towering compositional skills surpassed his playing, but there is no question that JuJu, which features all Shorter originals, is one of his most important recordings. The lineup was distinguished, including John Coltrane's rhythm section -- Elvin Jones on drums and Reggie Workman on bass -- along with McCoy Tyner on piano. This is not the up-tempo swing-influenced music of John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell; melody is nuanced, fragmented and the rhythms are varied. Tyner's restraint is the perfect counterpoint to Shorter's bursting runs, the sense that the music was going somewhere dominating its momentary and often sublime beauty.

As with all of the Music Matters releases, the sound -- mono for John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell, stereo for JuJu -- achieves tonal balance and low-end weight that are appropriate to modern wide-bandwidth audio equipment, while original pressings will sound brighter and leaner in comparison. Also typical are the quiet pressings and gorgeous high-gloss sleeves. John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell has one of Blue Note's most famous covers, and the Reid Miles design is reproduced with crispness and eye-popping color.

The Music Matters guiding hand has some gems scheduled for early 2010, including Grant Green's Matador, which may hit the streets with Curtis Fuller's underappreciated The Opener -- another inspired pairing to be sure.

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