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Gary Burton Quartet in Concert

Gary Burton

Jazz - Released January 1, 1968 | RCA Bluebird

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East Virginia Blues (When The Sun Goes Down Series)

Various Artists

Country - Released September 17, 2007 | RCA Bluebird

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Heavenly Eartha

Eartha Kitt

Jazz - Released March 4, 2002 | RCA Bluebird

Heavenly Eartha is part of RCA's mid-line series Bluebird's Best. This is a solid collection of original hits that vocalist and sex symbol Eartha Kitt recorded for Bluebird in the '50s. Many of her well-known classics have been assembled here, including "I Want to Be Evil," "Long Gone (From Bowlin' Green)," "Beale Street Blues," and "Santa Baby." Heavenly Eartha is a perfect introduction to the glamorous and occasionally risqué persona of Eartha Kitt. © Al Campbell /TiVo
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Cool Imagination

Paul Desmond

Jazz - Released October 7, 2002 | RCA Bluebird

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It's De Lovely: The Authentic Cole Porter Collection

Cole Porter

Pop/Rock - Released June 22, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

Whenever great American song in general, or a classic songwriter specifically, goes through another phase of popularity, record labels invariably cast around to assemble yet another round of songbook compilations with artists from their catalog interpreting the standards. In 2004, on the occasion of the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely (starring Kevin Kline), Bluebird/BMG entered the sweepstakes with It's De Lovely: The Authentic Cole Porter Collection. This collection is authentic because Porter was signed to Bluebird's long-ago parent label RCA Victor, and the label proved home to many of the best versions of his songs. It's also authentic because it features two rare performances by Porter himself. Although he never recorded with orchestral accompaniment for commercial release, Porter did record eight demos in 1934 accompanied only by his clumsy piano, and 70 years later producer Barry Feldman and bandleader Vince Giordano paved over the original backing with a newly recorded backing track that relies on a mid-'30s arrangement. The result is successful; Porter's voice betrays a few similarities to Mickey Mouse's but is no more idiosyncratic than Broadway hero Cliff Edwards, his interpretation is naturally superb, and the new accompaniment is unobtrusive. The rest of the compilation is more problematic. While most songbook compilations focus either on vintage versions contemporary to the song or later interpretations, It's De Lovely attempts both but manages only a hodgepodge of artists and time periods. The compilation certainly doesn't shirk in its presentation of excellent, classic material, but it never coalesces as a representative picture of Porter's genius. Only a few performances easily evoke Porter's era: the classic versions of "Night and Day" and "Begin the Beguine" by Fred Astaire and Artie Shaw (respectively), a performance of "Easy to Love" by the beloved crooner Al Bowlly, and a mournful version of "What Is This Thing Called Love" led by Leo Reisman and featuring trumpeter Bubber Miley from Duke Ellington's Orchestra. Latter-day interpretations by Sonny Rollins (of "You Do Something to Me") and Paul Desmond (of "I've Got You Under My Skin") are lovely also but difficult to reconcile to the whole. © John Bush /TiVo
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East Virginia Blues (When The Sun Goes Down Series)

Various Artists

Country - Released September 17, 2007 | RCA Bluebird

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Sacred Roots Of The Blues (When The Sun Goes Down Series)

Various Artists

Blues - Released June 7, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

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Bing With A Beat

Bing Crosby

Jazz - Released January 1, 1957 | RCA Bluebird

Bing Crosby claimed that this dozen-song collection was among his favorites, namely because he was able to call all the shots. In the liner text, Crosby -- who was already well into his fourth decade as a multimedia entertainer -- refers to the Bob Scobey-led project as "the album I had always wanted to make." Modern listeners may not be familiar with Scobey's work, however prior to World War II, the instrumentalist-turned-arranger was hailed as the 'King of the Dixieland Trumpet,' forming his own Frisco Band upon returning from military service in 1946. Likewise, as a sizable contributor to the Dixieland revival of the late '40s and early '50s, Scobey was the perfect choice for the collaboration. Although he hadn't fully retired, by 1957 rock & roll had irreparably altered the landscape of popular music, leaving Crosby's unmistakable crooning style passé. Since he was not a concurrent contender for the charts, the vocalist indulged his own considerable tastes and talents. Rather than having material specifically penned, Crosby and Scobey were joined by arranger Matty Matlock and together they chose a handful of numbers that will inevitably be familiar, highlighted by outstanding readings of "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "Some Sunny Day." Head and shoulders above the rest is a spirited rendition of "Mack the Knife," easily rivalling Louis Armstrong's memorable version some eight-years later. Another zenith is the lesser-known "Last Night on the Backporch," as Der Bingle equals, if not arguably bests, Brit-vocal diva Alma Cogan's interpretation of a tune that became a signature in her tragically short career. Bing With a Beat (1957) was remastered and reissued as part of BMG/Bluebird's First Editions series and unlike many of the other entries, there are no bonus performances. That said, the audio quality is impeccable and the 12-page booklet contains rare photos from the recording session and an essay from jazz critic Will Friedwald. © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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The Centennial Collection

Fats Waller

Jazz - Released April 20, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

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Dreamer

Eliane Elias

Vocal Jazz - Released May 4, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

Eliane Elias' second record for Bluebird is, like the previous Kissed by Nature, a vocal date intended for crossover audiences. Elias connects with her Brazilian pop heritage by choosing to sing, early on, a pair of Astrud Gilberto pieces, "Call Me" and "So Nice (Summer Samba)," both of which fortuitously suit the short range of her voice. Still, she speaks far more with a half-minute of piano soloing than she does with several minutes of vocal interpretation, and sounds far more comfortable taking an extra verse of the latter in Portuguese. Unlike the Gilberto tracks, Elias succeeds on two Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions, "Photograph" and the title song, her voice ironically betraying her in the same seductive fashion that Jobim himself made a hallmark. Her solos, though beautiful and contemplative, are short and usually hug the shore. As an overall musician, Elias has sure instincts when playing or singing, and compensates for her lack of vocal strength by rarely lingering on her notes. © John Bush /TiVo
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With All My Heart

Harvey Mason

Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released December 1, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

Because Harvey Mason has appeared so frequently as a sideman on lots of smooth jazz dates, one tends to think of him solely within that genre, even though his roots are in straight-ahead jazz. This rare date as a leader features the drummer leading a series of 11 different piano-bass-drums trios, primarily in post-bop, bop or hard bop settings. His arrangement of "Bernie's Tune" is very refreshing, utilizing reoccurring displaced rhythm behind Kenny Barron and Ron Carter. The magic continues with Chick Corea and Dave Carpenter in their creative rendition of "If I Should Lose You." Victor Feldman's less familiar "So Near, So Far" features Fred Hersch and Eddie Gomez, though the expected influence of the late Bill Evans is minimal. But elder statesman Hank Jones steals the spotlight with his elegant interpretation of "Tess," a tune that was brand new to him; Mason and Jones' longtime bassist George Mraz joins him. Some of the other participating musicians for this project include Monty Alexander, Charlie Haden, Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Bob James and Dave Grusin. Mason's informative liner notes not only describe how each take came together in the studio but add background about his relationship to each musician or what appealed to him about each individual's playing. The only oversight on this terrific release is the inadvertent omission of track-by-track composer credits, though a few of them are included within Mason's commentary. © Ken Dryden /TiVo
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Strange Liberation

Dave Douglas

Jazz - Released January 27, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

On Strange Liberation -- a play on a phrase of Martin Luther King's; he once said that the Vietnamese must have seen Americans as "strange liberators" -- trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas expands his quintet to realize a long-held ambition: to have guitarist Bill Frisell in the ranks of his group. Douglas has once again stepped back from the precipice of his intense gaze at the musical landscape of American culture and turned his focus directly and intensely toward jazz for this set. Along with Frisell, pianist Uri Caine, saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist James Genus, and drummer Clarence Penn join Douglas for an electric jazz outing that falls far outside the purview of "fusion." Douglas has obviously composed these works with Frisell in mind, and this is his most saturated jazz date in some time. His playing here is front-line and full of his trademark counterpoint and atmospheric fills, as Douglas engages both the pastoral nature and the complexity of his harmonic view, making Caine a conflating bridge between the horns, guitar, and rhythm section. The album starts with a sparse melodic figure that borders on modalism in "A Single Sky," Frisell's microphonics holding the edges of the piece in check as Douglas and Potter weave through Caine's beautiful chord voicings in a minor progression. The title track uses a blues framework that allows Caine to play a skeletal funk vamp on his Rhodes in order to bring Douglas and Potter into the fore as Frisell paints the backdrop deep blue until it's his turn to solo. There are silences in the margins and they are used as an improvisational device, imposing themselves from outside on the players. "Frisell's Dream" and "Mountains from the Train" could have been on one of Frisell's own recordings. The latter is a mellow, pastoral soundscape with guitars played backwards and forwards and harmonics floating freely in the solo spaces that surround the melody -- a languid and unhurried line full of color, space, and texture played by the horns. Frisell's melodicism is played inversely here, and Caine fills in the dots. On "Frisell's Dream," an elegant jazz classicism is evoked in the head where blues, swing, and Aaron Copland's wit are on display in a knotty little melodic figure that gives way to an open-chorded Americana that is now Frisell's signature. And on "The Jones," the funky mischief of Thelonious Monk is touched upon in the melody as Caine muscles up the middle and punches through Douglas' lines as Penn's rim shots accent the edges of the time signature. Potter too climbs aboard the melody and Frisell once again becomes the guitarist as impressionist painter before Caine deftly wraps a knockout heavily arpeggiated solo through the entire proceeding and changes the pace. Strange Liberation is a laid-back record in terms of its dynamics, but in its imagination and depth it is one of the high marks of Douglas' thus far prolific career. Compositionally it is head and shoulders above most of the stuff out there, and in terms of the taste in its performance and elocution it is virtually untouchable. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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America's Best Big Band Hits

Various Artists

Jazz - Released November 3, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

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Wise Children

Tom Harrell

Jazz - Released September 6, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

4 stars out of 5 - "Tom Harrell has been quietly building a consistent, substantial body of work featuring his own expansive compositions and arrangements." © TiVo
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The Legendary Small Groups

Benny Goodman

Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released October 8, 2002 | RCA Bluebird

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Kansas City Powerhouse

Count Basie

Jazz - Released March 5, 2002 | RCA Bluebird

This mid-priced collection is good as far as it goes, presenting 16 tracks derived from two distinctly separate periods in Count Basie's career. The first five cuts are by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, of which Basie was a key member as a pianist and arranger from 1929 until 1932, when he took over the band following Moten's death; the other 11 cuts date from Basie's brief return to RCA Victor in 1947-1949. The five Moten band tracks are flashy virtuoso pieces played at dizzying tempos, built around the prodigious talents of Harlan Leonard, Hot Lips Page, Ben Webster, and Eddie Barfield, as well as Basie's piano, which is a bit flashier than it would be in his own subsequent recordings. Those early sides are a delight, especially the sound they have on the fresh remasterings -- even Eddie Durham's guitar solo on "Moten Swing" sounds loud and close. The jump from those sides to the postwar material isn't remotely as jarring as one would think, despite the gap between them -- they have more of a polished sound (with George Matthews, in particular, delivering as sweet-sounding a trombone solo as you ever heard on "Futile Frustration," which is an exercise in neither), but otherwise it's just a more sophisticated take on the same core, just with 15 years of musical advancement between them. The assembly of material here seems focused on contrasts; "Swingin' the Blues"'s slow build-down followed by the brash "Lopin'," its focus shifting from Jo Jones' drums to Jack Washington's honking baritone sax and Basie's piano spot. Basie is also in the foreground on "I Never Knew," sharing the spotlight with Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax, and on "Seventh Avenue Express," and Jimmy Rushing also gets one featured number as well. The sound on this disc is a delight and also, curiously, a source of frustration -- one finishes it in pleasure, but also hoping that RCA/BMG might someday remaster the rest of the Basie/Moten sides and his late-'40s sides. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Take This Hammer - The Complete RCA Victor Recordings - When The Sun Goes Down Series

Leadbelly

Blues - Released May 6, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

The fifth issue in Bluebird's Secret History of Rock & Roll project is the first by a single artist; the previous four have all been various-artists compilations. All feature excellent sound and decent if not exceptional packaging. This set, the complete RCA Victor recordings of Leadbelly, is up to that standard. All of the 26 tracks here were recorded in June of 1940 and released at various times as 78s by Bluebird. Some of the material includes virtually definitive versions of "Midnight Special," "Rock Island Line" (primarily because of the quality of the recording itself; the performance is awesome, but all of Leadbelly's performances of this song are), "Easy Rider," "Grey Goose," "TB Blues," "Don't You Love Your Daddy No More," the title track, "Stewball," and "I'm on My Last Go 'Round." This alone is reason enough for any fan of Leadbelly to purchase the CD, and these transfers are so fine, so warm, and so true sounding that they mark a new standard in remastering material from worn master tapes. (Give a listen to the back-to-back tracks "Good Morning Blues" and "Leaving Blues" -- they sound as if Leadbelly is hanging on your couch singing these songs.) The music here doesn't sound like archival material; it sounds alive and it becomes possible to hear what those who were initially knocked out by Leadbelly were able to experience. For anyone interested in Leadbelly's music, this is as essential as the Folkways recordings -- and in some ways, more so. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Chet is Back!

Chet Baker

Jazz - Released January 1, 1962 | RCA Bluebird

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Recorded in Italy in 1962, Chet Is Back! showcases the "cool" trumpeter cutting loose on such bop-oriented workouts as "Pent-Up House" and "Well, You Needn't." Backed skillfully by a young cadre of up-and-coming European musicians, including the stellar saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, Chet Baker may have never sounded better, including on the ballads. One listen to "Over the Rainbow" and it's clear this is an overlooked Baker classic. [Fans should check out the 2003 reissue of Chet Is Back!, which includes four orchestral pop bonus tracks Baker recorded with Ennio Morricone around the same time as this session.] © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Duke Ellington : Never No Lament

Duke Ellington

Jazz - Released April 1, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band, covering the years 1939-1942 in the great composer and bandleader's career, is essentially the third time that RCA has issued this material on CD. The first was a botched job, appalling even, with its flattened-out, compressed sound, along with a chopped version of "Take the A-Train" and other sonic and editorial errors. The second version was completely remastered and corrected the editorial problems, but featured no alternate takes from the band's performances. Beyond the original 66 tracks, nine additional cuts are featured here, including four brand-new master-take issues of "Another Pitter Patter," "Body and Soul," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Mr. J.B. Blues," as well as alternate takes of "Ko-Ko," "Bojangles," "Sepia Panorama," "Jumpin' Punkins," and "Jump for Joy." All of this material is available on RCA's Complete Duke Ellington and in bits and pieces on imports, but these tracks make this set feel much more complete as a document of Ellington's greatest band. The interplay between Jimmy Blanton's bass, which stood completely out front with its fat, rounded tone -- a revolutionary thing in a big band in those days -- and Ben Webster's shimmering, soulful tenor on the alternate take of "Sepia Panorama," as well as the title track and Webster's signature tune, "Chelsea Bridge," are more remarkable with each listen. The sheer force of Blanton's playing moves the band to a whole different level of intensity, and the contrast between the tones of altoist Johnny Hodges and Webster is one of the most unique and complimentary in the history of jazz. If you are new to this set, it's a fine introduction, with performances of classics such as "Ko-Ko," "Harlem Air Shaft," "All Too Soon," "In a Mellotone," "Warm Valley," "Harlem Airshaft," "Take the 'A' Train," "I Got It Bad," "Five O'Clock Drag," "Perdido," "Bojangles," "The C Jam Blues," "Concerto for Cootie," "Cottontail," "Johnny Come Lately," "Sentimental Lady," and many others. The Blanton-Webster Band featured a great many soloists, including Cootie Williams, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, and vocalist Herb Jeffries. In fact, the only shortcomings on this set are some of the vocals by other performers, but let's face it, there were few truly great jazz singers at the time, and this minor annoyance is easily overlooked. While it is easy to be cynical about the way classic recordings are repackaged and remastered as a way of getting enthusiasts to buy them again and again, this one is truly worth either an initial investment or reinvestment. It may have taken RCA three tries, but they finally got it right. The package is lovely, the notes updated, and the sound stellar. Along with the extra tracks, what more could you want? © Thom Jurek /TiVo