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Ray Charles’ Genius + Soul = Jazz, Impulse Records Acoustic Sounds Vinyl Reissue

Mark Smotroff revisits a soul jazz classic …

I have heard and seen Impulse Records referred to as the house that ‘Trane builtand in fact there is even a book with that title (click here). However, that concept may be a bit misleading in some ways. The second album issued by Impulse Records in 1961 when it was formed was by none other than the great Ray Charles.  It was their first big hit.

The album is called Genius + Soul = Jazz and it was an interesting release for Impulse Records to issue early in its run — note the original serial number is A-2. It was a smart move by producer and label head Creed Taylor as “One Mint Julep” from the album hit No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 8 on the pop charts!  

So it is not quite a surprise that this is one of the first albums out the door on Universal Music’s Acoustic Sounds Impulse Records reissue series; it is part of their celebration of the label’s 60th Anniversary this year. 

Genius + Soul = Jazz was Ray Charles’s only release for Impulse Records but his subsequent releases for parent company ABC Paramount — including the groundbreaking (and massively successful) Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music — underscore the brilliance in launching the label around a hot Rhythm & Blues star with likely crossover appeal. 

Genius + Soul = Jazz planted a flag in the surface of popular music for Impulse and set the stage for a barrage of now classic releases including Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Gil Evans’ Out Of The Cool and of course a slew of John Coltrane gems such as Africa/Brass, Live! At The Village Vanguard and Coltrane on through to the sea-changing masterpiece, A Love Supreme.

This is a great album which takes Charles’ signature soul sound and amplifies it many notches, backed by a killer big band (Count Basie’s, with arrangements by the legendary Quincy Jones & Ralph Burns). Placing him behind a smokin’ Hammond B3 organ delivers a bigger sound than his regular organ or even piano. 

The band sounds amazing on this album. Produced by Creed Taylor, this isn’t your great grandparent’s Big Band album, kids. 

I compared the new Impulse Records Acoustic Sounds 60th Anniversary reissue to my original orange label pressing and I’m quite pleased. As with others in this series (and the Tone Poets for that matter) from Universal Music, the album is mastered a bit more quietly so I had to turn up my amp accordingly. The brighter and more open high end is particularly noticeable on the drums and percussion. Listen for the decay on the cymbals and the snap of the drum sticks on the snare at times and you’ll hear plenty of that classic Van Gelder studio vibe for sure. The mid ranges are richer as well. 

The Stereo separation on this album is excellent with plenty of detailing of individual instruments and specific sections of the orchestra. The thick, 180-gram black vinyl is dark, perfectly quiet and well centered, so kudos to Quality Record Pressings (QRP) for that good work.  

The cover is almost identical to my original too, crafted at the Stoughton Printing Company with a nice laminated design. The crisp, clear artwork makes me think they made this from original production elements. The only minor differences are that the type face on the spine is not the same as the original — neither is the serial number — and on the back cover there is the inevitable and necessary UPC code for modern inventory purposes. 

Genius + Soul = Jazz is a winner, now sounding better than ever. I like this reissue so much I’ll probably not play my original again since it isn’t in quite as nice condition. In fact, I’m not sure if I really need to even keep my original in the collection at this point given the quality of this reissue. And that is probably the best complement I can offer.

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