What the heck is happening to Blue Note?
The direction of Blue Note raises the issue of what jazz is and how its always changing.
Whether it’s the last eight years of Robert Glasper, or the recent Blue Note debuts of Jose James and Derrick Hodge, there’s one common thread linking their sound: the unmistakable funky beat of hip hop. That, in part, is because of Blue Note’s eccentric and innovative president, Don Was, who accidentally fell into the reigns in January 2012 after a social breakfast with the head of Capitol Records.
He takes Alfred Lion’s 1939 Blue Note mission statement literally. It read, in part: “Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression. By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive.”
Derrick Hodge’s newest record, Live Today, authentically incorporates a mish-mash of musical genres including funk, hip hop, rock, and electronic, creating a new sound that is becoming fairly identifiable with Blue Note. What appears to be Was’ strategy is to sign artists that are easily relatable to the next generation of jazz fans which will ensure Blue Note’s success into the future. And it sounds great!
Gritty Folk is the gem of the album with warm trumpets reminiscent of Blue Note’s earlier days and backed by a contemporary, funky rhythm section. The Real sets the tone for the rest of the album immediately combining jazz, spoken word, hip hop, samples, and looping. The title track features rapper, Common, rhyming with a strong message over a jazzy background. Appearing as a sideman is pianist Robert Glasper, and Hodge has appeared on several of Glasper’s Blue Note albums. If there’s one thing that Blue Note remains consistent with, it’s keeping the best jazz talent of the day immersed in each other’s projects, just like in the golden days.
Derrick Hodge “Live Today,” Blue Note Records, 2013