In today’s music world, the barrier between the average music lover and great vinyl is price. Nowhere is that barrier more strongly fortified than hi-fi jazz vinyl. A fan’s eyes become transfixed with the notion of having a recording that is as close to the source tapes as possible, and all you need to do is be willing to part with 50 or so dollars. 45 rpm and an all-analogue process from original tapes is now the answer for anyone for whom money is no object, apparently. And if you aren’t willing to drop that kind of money for great jazz, then you must not be a true fan of hi-fidelity jazz, right? It makes one wonder what happened to the days of a solid recording for anywhere between five or ten, or twelve bucks.
But for the average music Joe, twelve dollars is not much to throw around when it comes to finding quality represses on vinyl these days. Yet you never know when you might find something great for a small price. It was an early spring day, and, sitting in a local music store’s new arrive bin was Cannonball Adderley’s indispensable Somethin’ Else, re-released on vinyl by Blue Note. It came complete with a reproduction of the original liner notes and barcode-free album sleeve, and for just 12 bucks. For an album that his hard to find in decent shape in it’s original pressing, it was enough to make any finicky Jazz/Vinyl fan giddy. If the pressing itself was up to par, that is.
Was it ever. For the price of admission, it’s hard to believe how clearly Art Blakey’s snare and cymbals ring through your speakers, coolly collecting between Miles Davis’ elegant strokes, Cannoball’s smooth alto musings, Hank Jones’ wistful keyboard lines, all in front of Sam Jones’ mellow bass.
This is music that has been reviewed again and again by many a jazz critic, so suffice it to say that if you are a jazz fan of any sort and don’t have this on the shelf, you are missing out. The music itself is a joy, from the first track’s opening notes to the last few bars of “Dancing in the Dark”. After spinning the whole disc, the listener may realize this was one of the pinnacles of the careers of each of these men, even Miles. It is in fact considered by many to be one of the defining moments of Cool or Hard-Bop Jazz.
Though all five pieces on the LP are top notch, no cut here stands out quite the way the album opener, “Autumn Leaves” does. Whether you are a fan of the Bill Evans metropolitan swing version on Portrait in Jazz, or Nat King Cole’s orchestrated-pop version, this is the cut that expanded the spectrum and depth of the tune for the Jazz repertoire. One can’t help but hear the heavy influence Gershwin’s “Summertime” had on this number, and it makes you thankful for the arranger as well as Gershwin himself. Rarely was mood so laid bare, easing in and out with a breeze that could only be described as, well, autumnal. Hank Jones’ final lines that linger at the end of the cut will linger with the listener long after the playing ends. The quintet wasn’t afraid to have a little fun as well-“Love For Sale” is Art Blakey’s moment, leading these players past the opener’s moodiness into a freewheelin’, up-tempo romp with Jones’ piano laying down the canvas that the others play and paint on. “Somethin’ Else” is hot, cymbal driven jazz, with an answer and call between Cannonball and Miles, “One For Daddy-O” keeps the energy going and the albums comes to a quiet, classy end with “Dancing in the Dark”. Not one track is filler on this long-player.
As a listener, the only way to further the experience of such a wonderful album is to have no barrier between the music and the ear. And quite simply, you would be hard-pressed not feel as though this pressing allows just that. Never is there a moment where you feel distant from the musicians, or the space they play in. There is no feeling of isolation, but rather a feel of quiet inclusion into an intimate and rich moment in time between musicians at the peak of their powers. The sound feels present, always available to the listener, from the air in the high end, all the way to the warm, yet precise bass tones. Perhaps the only thing left to be desired would be that Hank Jones’ piano be better mic’d in the original sessions. Compared with the other instruments, it sounds canned. But it’s a minor quibble with an overall superbly engineered session.
Many audiophile collectors would have you believe you need to drop at least thirty dollars for an album such as this, pressed on premium 45rpm vinyl, to gain true access to the music. All you need to enter the rich world of Somethin’ Else is twelve dollars, your ears and some free time (Well, that and a turntable with a receiver and some speakers.)
[Some might wonder why Cannonball was billed as the leader of these sessions, with some validation. Miles was essentially doing a favor for a friend whom he knew deserved the recognition. It is debated who actually led the sessions, though Miles did choose many of the numbers. Either way, it was a welcome reunion between the two.]