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Brian Reitzell’s Guide To Blue Note: 16 Tracks He Can’t Live Without

TV and film composer Brian Reitzell always turns to the Blue Note label for inspiration. Here are the 16 tracks he can’t live without.

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Brian-Reitzell-boombox-pic-02-1000-CREDIT-Photo-courtesy-of-Brian-Reitzell
Photo courtesy of Brian Reitzell

From playing drums in cult alt.rock band Redd Kross, to working with French electronica outfit Air and creating scores for some of the finest movies and TV shows of the 21st Century (his work on the Lost In Translation soundtrack earned him a BAFTA nomination), composer Brian Reitzell’s career is was wide-ranging as the musical styles he’s mastered. One constant through it all, however, has been the legendary Blue Note label, to which he always turns for inspiration. “I close my eyes and go back in time,” he says of listening to the label’s iconic output. In a uDiscover Music exclusive, Reitzell has picked his 16 favourite Blue Note tracks, sequenced for an imaginary movie, providing a unique guide to the label’s groundbreaking work.

Listen to Brian Reitzell’s top 16 Blue Note tracks on Spotify, and scroll down to see what he has to say about them.

1: Thelonious Monk: ‘Misterioso’ (from Genius Of Modern Music Vol.1, 1947)

“I had to open with something from Monk, since that’s where it all started. Think of this as a prelude or the opening titles to a film. It’s short, like a pop song. I love how it’s so normal and so weird at the same time. Monk was such an original composer and pianist – such a sincere, unique character. He plays like a percussionist doing these impossible rolls around the piano, with Art Blakey on drums and Milt Jackson shredding on vibes.

“This is the earliest recording I’ve chosen – it’s such a pure performance and recording. I close my eyes and go back in time, sitting on the floor in the control room of the studio, listening in mono as Monk and the boys rip it up. It’s angular yet flowing. A little tipsy. Predictable and baffling.

“Get some popcorn. The show is starting.”

2: McCoy Tyner: ‘Message From The Nile’ (from Extensions, 1973)

“Now the film begins! This is exotic traveling music. The cover of the record looks like a National Geographic magazine from 1973. I discovered the album when I was a teenager and thought it was related to National Geographic. This is the opening track on it and, in my opinion, one of the best opening tracks ever. The way it enters with the bass ostinato then the harp is pure 70s cinematic wonder. The drums come in seemingly upside down – or is it inside out? The way they all connect is a sonic wonder.

“The recording, by Rudy Van Gelder, paints a super dimensional soundstage. The bells add such a nice touch. My favourite part is about three quarters of the way in, when Alice Coltrane takes her solo. Her harp is on the left, with Elvin Jones drumming on the right, and Ron Carter gluing it all together on bass in the centre. You can hear Elvin moaning away – it’s as if another subtle weird instrument comes in. Wayne Shorter, on the right, and Gary Bartz, on the left, are stunning together and complete the sound spectrum. This is an amazing band, with the Miles/Coltane crew integrated, without their bosses centre-stage.”

3: Herbie Hancock: ‘Dolphin Dance’ (from Maiden Voyage, 1966)

“My older brother Todd put this on a few months ago and claimed it was his favourite jazz record. It’s insane to think how young Herbie Hancock (24) and Tony Williams (19) were when they made this. It’s such elegant music. Ron Carter stays in the centre on bass. When I was playing with Air, we got immersed in all the later Herbie records, which I love, but this is my favourite of his solo records. Timeless.”

4: Tony Williams: ‘Memory’ (from Life Time, 1964)

“I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was fortunate enough to take a drum lesson from Tony Williams when I was a teenager. I collected everything that Tony played on. To me, he’s the greatest drummer that has ever lived, and these tracks argue that point – Tony is on more of them than any other musician.

“He was born with an absolute gift. This is from his second solo record for Blue Note, he was maybe 18 when he made it. It’s mostly a percussion piece, with Bobby Hutchinson on vibes/marimba and Tony picking up various percussion instruments, along with his kit including a cool and very rare timpani section. Herbie Hancock somehow mysteriously joins in on piano. It sounds like film music, and I love it!”

5: Modern Jazz Quartet: ‘Odds Against Tomorrow’ (from Music From Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959)

“This is a rare bird. This track is a cover of a film cue composed by John Lewis of Modern Jazz Quartet. The score for the film, starring Harry Belafonte, was performed by Lewis and the Quartet, with the addition of strings, etc… a ‘proper’ film score. This track was recorded a few months later, rearranged as a Modern Jazz Quartet album and released through United Artists. I’m not sure anyone else has ever done that. I love how the cymbals sound like snowflakes, and Milt Jackson’s vibes take me to New York City in the winter.”

6: Bobby Hutcherson: ‘Procession’ (from San Francisco, 1971)

“This record really does sound like early 70s San Francisco. I didn’t discover it until my early 20s, when I moved down to LA. It’s cool to listen to while driving around the city. There’s something almost post-rock about this, which I always liked.”

7: Andrew Hill: ‘New Monastery’ (from Point Of Departure, 1965)

“My mother gave me a copy of The Penguin Guide To Jazz when I was a young man, and that book was my guide. It was a great resource – and still is. My copy is all marked up and wilted like a faded old phone book.

“This is one of the records I bought because of it. It has a ‘crown’, which is as high a rating as you can get. It also has another killer performance from a young Tony Williams. Andrew Hill’s piano phrasing is especially fun to follow as you listen. This was also my introduction to Eric Dolphy.”

8: Elvin Jones: ‘Mr Jones’ (from Poly-Currents, 1969)

“The first jazz musician that ever registered as such to my young brain was Elvin Jones. His face was so distinct that when I saw the cover of the record Merry-Go-Round, it just burned into my psyche. This track is so groovy. I love the percussion. Elvin and the whole band are on fire.”

9: Dexter Gordon: ‘A Night In Tunisia’ (from Our Man in Paris, 1963)

“A classic performance. Should be called ‘A Night In Paris’. I learned about this particular version from the Penguin guide.”

10: Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers: ‘Free For All’ (from Free For All, 1965)

“Art Blakey got me into collecting jazz records. In the early 90s, my band at the time – Redd Kross – would tour in Japan, where you could find all these amazing reissues and original LPs. I spent all my free time and money hunting through Tokyo and Osaka record shops mostly trying to complete my Blakey collection. This track is just plain fierce. The chemistry between Blakey and the rest of the Jazz Messengers is at a peak. This blows away so many of the energetic punk, prog, metal, grunge rock records I was also listening to at the time. Wayne Shorter and Blakey are a couple of prize fighters in ballet shoes.”

11: Eric Dolphy: ‘Something Sweet, Something Tender’ (from Out To Lunch!, 1964)

“I bought this record because Tony Williams was on it. He’s 18 on this one, I think. This record still perplexes me, which is a good thing. This track is another stellar recording by Van Gelder – I know how hard it is to record bass clarinet and bowed bass! This is very symphonic. The musicians are so in step with each other that one might imagine there was a conductor holding it all together. A stunning display of musicianship: tonally and rhythmically its own world. I played this piece for a rather well-known classical orchestrator/conductor recently and he could not understand it in the least.”

12: Grachan Moncur III: ‘The Coaster’ (from Evolution, 1964)

“Another great Tony Williams performance – I think he’s only 17 on this one. My first instrument in the school band was the trombone, which was how I discovered this. I just love this ensemble/record. Also: Grachan Moncur III – what a cool name! Bobby Hutcherson, Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan, too. This track is perfectly titled. Another great driving cut.”

13: Jackie McLean: ‘Ghost Town’ (from One Step Beyond, 1963)

“This track connects with the last one – Jackie McLean, Grachan Moncur III, Bobby Hutcherson and, of course, Tony Williams all return. I bought this because of Tony. I love the dynamics and the film noir vibe it creates. It’s like a bank robbery gone wrong.”

14: Art Blakey: ‘Split Skins’ (from Orgy In Rhythm: Volume One, 1957)

“This was the holy grail for me when I was first seriously collecting jazz records. It’s the best drums solo ever recorded, hands down! It swings and drives along at breakneck speed – it’s like riding a motorcycle really fast without a helmet, but much safer. Joining Blakey are Art Taylor, Papa Jo Jones and Spec Wright on the drums, so it’s not a drum solo it’s a drums solo. I loved listening to these records and figuring how who was taking the lead. This was one of the very first drum/percussion records of its kind.”

15: Brian Blade Fellowship: ‘Evinrude-Fifty (Trembling)’ (from Perceptual, 2000)

“Not only the old stuff is great. Think of this track and the next one as the closing credits. Brian Blade is a badass who beautifully carries on the Blue Note legacy. It’s nice to hear a guitar and some modern recording techniques without diminishing the timeless quality of the old-school recordings.”

16: Tony Williams: ‘Foreign Intrigue’ (from Foreign Intrigue, 1985)

“Tony Williams playing wild muscular electronic/acoustic drums after studying composition in Berkeley in the 80s. This is from right around when I took that lesson with him, so it’s special for me.”

Blue Note have just announced the next batch of Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl reissues, due in 2020. Discover more here.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mark Edward Blewer

    December 25, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    I sometimes find the comments after the list, more entertaining than the music. So far, this will be an exception to that rule. I generally find the lists interesting, because, one looks at a familiar and much loved art form, from someone else’s perspective. This one in particular, I enjoyed, it included people, who in the past, I have considered, too modern for my taste. Grachan Moncur 111, was a revelation, and Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet, along with the arco bass of Richard Davis, was a joy to behold. Thank you for your lists, I will continue to listen and learn, in spite of rapidly approaching seventy, and listening to jazz, for over fifty years.

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