New Era

Various Artists

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New Era Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Anyone that follows The Blue Note Years: 1939-1999, either in its original incarnation as a 14-disc box set or as a series of seven double-disc sets, will notice something curious by the sixth volume, The New Era (1975-1998). Volumes three, four and five end at 1967, while The New Era begins in 1975 -- leaving seven full years unchronicled. Blue Note, supported by many jazz critics, pretend that the late '60s and early '70s didn't exist, considering it an embarrassment for the label and its roster, who were pursuing musical directions that weren't strictly jazz. Veterans delved into soul and funk-jazz fusions, complete with slick, stylized productions and covers of contemporary pop songs, while the newer artists weren't distinguished. Post-bop had all but disappeared from the label, as Andrew Hill and Sam Rivers departed for labels that were interested in cultivating serious jazz. This "decline" continued until 1975, when the label changed ownership and began recording "real" jazz again. Some will argue that Blue Note turned out some good recordings between 1968 and 1974, pointing to excellent groove and pop-jazz records, plus such notable bizarre recordings as Horace Silver's Total Response. These are ignored, as the compilers pick up the story again in 1975. Ironically, The New Era kicks off with Byrd's "(Falling Like) Dominoes," an Earth Wind & Fire soundalike, but that's an anomaly since much of the set is dedicated to straightahead mainstream jazz, with just a few hints of fusion. Since this 23-track compilation covers over 20 years, it's the least coherent of the series, but the compilers do make a convincing argument that Blue Note has produced some great contemporary jazz recordings by the likes of Stanley Jordan, Cassandra Wilson and Charlie Hunter, plus some cool comebacks from former BN stalwarts such as Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and McCoy Tyner. Even if a portion of history is missing, it's a good summary of these two decades and fans of classic Blue Note may find that this is the easiest way to learn about the label's later years.