Written by 6:00 am Audiophile Music

Kenny Burrell on Blue Note : Tone Poet vs. Lexington Ave. OG

Mark Smotroff has gone down so many rabbit holes he may change his name to Alice…


AR-BurrellBlueNote450.jpgSome of you may have noticed that I’ve begun going down a bit of a rabbit hole when it comes to a recent particular reissue series from Universal Music Group. They have been curating a fine and compelling collection of vintage and rare Jazz albums from their vast catalog, largely from the archives of Blue Note Records. 

The appeal of these reissues is at least threefold as they:

  • Restore classic titles to their former glory in high quality pressings and packaging that rivals or even surpasses the original
  • Deliver a great listening experience, presenting music in its best light which might have been degraded over the years (poor remastering, sloppy repackaging, and a general malaise towards the genre)
  • Open up the collectors market to a new generation of listener who formerly could never afford — or even locate — an original pressing (more on this later)

AR-BurrellBlueNoteTonePoetLabel450.jpgLets take the case of legendary Jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell’s debut album for Blue Note Records which came out around 1956: Introducing Kenny Burrell.  I love Kenny’s playing and in the past 10 years I’ve been “going deep” (if you will) collecting his albums whenever I can find them. 

Many of Kenny’s early records are quite difficult to find in any condition these days. Many vintage Jazz records (and early Soul for that matter) were not big sellers and / or they were often played on less than audiophile equipment.  In 1956 it was a very small universe of individuals who had the finances and hobbyist interest level to obtain a fancy turntable approaching what we think of as  audiophile grade these days. That is, a player with a decent tone arm and a stylus that wouldn’t chew up the records.

More commonly, if you can find old original Jazz albums of the period, they are often pretty well trashed. These were party records! When you find an original, you can usually see from the album’s condition that if it could talk it’d have some pretty saucy stories to tell! 

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A year or so ago I found a copy of Introducing Kenny Burrell at a flea market (or maybe it was a garage sale or thrift shop) for a couple dollars as I remember.  I was thrilled even though the vinyl itself looked pretty ragged. Consider that on the record collector’s marketplace Discogs there is only one original copy of this album for sale right now (asking price nearly $1000) and near mint copies have sold on Popsike for around that price as well (click here). 

So, I did wonder — beyond its condition — why all of a sudden this obscure and highly desired album would be cast aside after all these years? Sure, it might have been happenstance, an older collector turning in his trashed collection to help a good thrift shop cause or perhaps the owner passed away.  Or… as I am now realizing… perhaps… maybe just maybe…  the owner got his hands on one of the spiffy new Tone Poet series reissues from Universal Music on the Blue Note label.  

I’ve only recently begun exploring the Tone Poet series but my experiences have been positive thus far — click here for my review of Sam Rivers’ Contours album and here for Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle.

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Both of those reviews were loosely connected in that I did not have an original copy to compare the new edition to, which in some ways is the best way to gauge if a reissue is genuinely an improvement worthy of purchase by audiophiles and collectors alike. Then you can assess if it sounds like the original and, perhaps more importantly, does it sound better!

Poking around on Amazon doing some late night Pandemic impulse shopping, I saw there was a Tone Poet edition of Introducing Kenny Burrell (selling for a very reasonable price) so I ordered it. Click!  It arrived today and thus I’m writing this review for you, Dear Readers. 

This new reissue of Introducing Kenny Burrell (which came out last year) is really quite terrific and I can honestly say it sounds better than the original. Now, of course my original pressing is pretty beat up; even playing it with the Denon DL-102 Monaural cartridge I have, it sounds pretty crunchy. This record got enjoyed a whole lot!  But in general I have learned how to listen through most scratches ‘n glitches (click here to read about that).

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That said, sonics-wise the reason I prefer the new Introducing Kenny Burrell centers around the album’s greater sense of dynamics. The original sounds good for its age but it is a bit boxy and one dimensional. While many Monaural recordings can deliver a nice sense of dimensionality, this one really doesn’t. The new Tone Poet edition, however, is vivid and much more alive, with a rich round low end, full bodied mid ranges and a natural appealing sparkle on the high end.  

As you might expect the pressing on this 180-gram black vinyl reissue is superb, manufactured at RTI. The album was mastered off the original analog tapes by Kevin Gray of Cohearant Audio.  

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The extra special surprise is seeing how Universal has gone the extra mile to make these reissue packages super deluxe in every way, shape and form.  Manufactured in heavyweight cardboard sleeves with glossy laminated finishes and — at least in the case of this Kenny Burrell album — they also added in a spiffy gatefold design with photos from the sessions on the inside.  These editions are arguably as nice or even nicer than the originals. 

Introducing Kenny Burrell is a premium product end to end, and well worth the $25 or so you may spend on a copy.  It is a pittance when you stop to think what an original pressing might cost you. Perhaps now with these reissues the collector’s marketplace for albums like this will come down a bit in price. Even so, you’ll want this reissue. 

I plan to keep my copy side by side with the original, two sides of a beautiful coin. 

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