My grandfather, a Depression kid who spent the whole of his years in and around the steel mills of northwest Indiana, had a vast and terrifying basement filled to each last dark nook, cranny and corner with stuff. Boxes of stuff, boxes upon boxes upon crates upon cigar boxes upon milk cartons. The basement was one of those places you didn’t go into by yourself until you were 14; there was barely a square foot without a cobweb and the only reliable sources of light were naked bulbs that dangled from the 10-foot ceiling. One time I traveled down there with my Dad, and he found a room he was previously unaware of. That sort of place.
As an adolescent and beyond, a place like that holds an impossible allure that makes your hands shake and sweat: What the hell could Grandpa have down there? In our case, the answer was simple: baseball cards. He had a collection, the legend told, dating back to God knows when. Needless to say, my Grandpa, being a man of above-average intelligence, never let the grubby hands of me or my cousins within a country mile of them. When he died, and the long-rumored box was at last unearthed, our reaction wasn’t one of validation or the possibility of making a damned killing on Ebay; it was entirely this: Ah HAH! We KNEW it! What we wouldn’t have given for 10 minutes with those things, just to look, just to play.
I bring up this tangentially connected tale in reference to the DJ collective Jazzanova’s Blue Note Trip, a two-disc mixtape wherein the acclaimed German DJs were given access to the vast vaults of Blue Note Records, which, in my early musical imagination anyway, are held in roughly the same kind of Vatican-like, humidity-controlled, underground sanctum much like the one that held my Grandpa’s Clemente rookie (now much of them are probably on a server, which isn’t nearly as cool).
Over the past decade-plus or so, Blue Note’s been almost bizarrely welcoming to the sampling community (first to US3, then to guys like DJ Smash and Madlib, in addition to their 10-kinds-of-fun box set Blue Break Beats), but handing the reins fully over to one group lends Blue Note Trip a sense or organic cohesion often lacking from these sorts of deals, and cuts down on the always-nagging sense that their mother labels are looking to the downtempo set to help make those fourth-quarter budget predictions.
Many purists, of course, will continue to grouse that’s the only reason these kinds of records exist (Impulse and Verve are all over them as well) and… well, yeah. But let’s be honest, Jazz The Popular Art form has has seen better days (nervous tugging of collar). And as is usually the case, even the most dedicated purist will find little ammunition in Jazzanova’s selections to suggest that any graves have been dug up. And if the work of a few capable remixers gets Horace Silver and Lee Morgan and Gene Harris on the lips of somebody, what’s all the fuss about anyways?
Yes, Jazzanova are club DJs primarily, but here they function not as remixers or sonic deconstructionists, but professional mix-tape makers. Blue Note Trip could function in da club, but why? This is downtempo, chillout, late night stuff, equally at home front and center or hovering in the background, heavy on the deep cuts and with a sense of beat happening even when you’re not aware of it. Horace Silver appears several times over, as does Bobby Hutcherson. ‘70s bachelor-pad wall-of-shaggy-soul tracks from Donald Byrd and Bobbi Humphrey slide into Latin detours and back out again. There’s a reverence for their material, and they never drive it into places too silly, too garish, or too noveltyish. They just got to play in Disney World after it closed for a while. Not all of us ever got that lucky.