Some years ago, Madlib was offered the opportunity to dig into the master tapes of the legendary Blue Note Records, remix whatever he liked, and have them release the record. For a producer raised on the label, the offer couldn’t have been any better. The result was the album Shades of Blue, which was recently reissued on vinyl as a part of a year-long celebration of Blue Note’s 75th year in business.
Rounding out the birthday party is this substantial release, Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression, a heavy coffee table book documenting the 75 years of albums, credits, photos, cover art and production details.
One irony of the digital music is the continuing interest in record labels, vinyl album covers, and what seems like a flood of books about LP cover artwork. But if there’s one label who truly deserves it, whose work can fill nearly 400 pages, it’s Blue Note Records. They not only defined jazz in the 20th century, but defined several eras of jazz. Just as important to those of us who love the labels as much as the music, was their unique ability to combine the music and the recordings with photography and design in a way that presented Blue Note as an entire culture unto itself. Even their look defines jazz. Other labels did this to some extent, but never as long and with as much consistency as Blue Note. Many others tried and never came close. It’s now something of a lost art, but some still try.
It’s an honor to see Madlib’s Shades of Blue rounding out the last section of the book, and the album still sounds good today. The cover photo was shot by B+ (Brian Cross) and a couple pages of his proof sheets are also published in the book. I, Jeff Jank, designed the record, in the classic “Blue Note style.” Someone at Blue Note told me I was the only person in the history of label to design and perform on one of the records. The performance part is a stretch, since I played two notes on a broken-down standup bass which Madlib later re-processed, but I’ll accept the credit.
Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression was written by Richard Havers, published by Chronicle Books. 399 pages, 4 lbs.