Legendary label Blue Note has enlisted a handful of exceptional acts for a boundary-pushing jazz release.

Entitled Blue Note Re:imagined, the highly-anticipated album represents the intersection between past and contemporary jazz. The tracklist features an assortment of timeless Blue Note tracks revised and redesigned by young rising talents in today’s thriving jazz scene, such as former Crack Magazine cover stars Jorja Smith and Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Skinny Pelembe, Emma-Jean Thackray and more.

We caught up with some of the artists on the upcoming release to talk the legacy of Blue Note, their rework for the compilation and label’s impact on their sound.

Poppy Ajudha

Poppy Ajudha

Watermelon Man (Under The Sun) from Herbie Hancock's Takin’ Off (1962)

It felt really special to work with Blue Note on this project, what a beautiful way to create connections between different generations of music and show how we have progressed and changed. Each song on the album feels timeless in its own way, and the heritage Blue Note stamp made me feel like I was contributing to a moment in time, in history.

I chose Watermelon Man because I wanted to challenge myself. I had never recreated a song in this way before so I just dove straight into it. I always work from scratch, so at first I struggled with producing and writing to an already preconceived narrative or idea, but it was worth it when the lyrics came together. What I was writing felt important and meaningful, and that’s always my ultimate goal. You never know what you’ll create until you’re deep in the midst of it, so being included in this project was a blessing.

Skinny Pelembe

Skinny Pelembe

Illusion (Silly Apparition) – from Andrew Hill's One for One (1969)

My introduction to Blue Note was in my Uncle Ilidio’s pond green Jag in Maputo, probably about 1998. Leather upholstery in cars should really be banned from sub-Saharan countries. A generous offer of a lift for a spoilt punnet of weeping nieces and nephews, frying the seat, in style. Shotgun. Front seat passengers enjoy the luxury thumb through the jewel cases and choice of our trip’s soundtrack. I either didn’t understand the Portuguese titles, or they belonged to the pile of CDs all uniformly identified by covers branded with the Blue Note logo and inhabited by people that look like Tio Illidio and his friends – The Rumproller, The Right Touch, The Real McCoy.

It was Malcolm Catto, who drums on my version of Andrew Hill’s Illusion that suggested the song, I’d not heard it until then. Just at a point when I thought I’d started to get a handle on Blue Note, Hill and the band’s approach to the strings – that sort of dissonant waves lapping over each other thing – made me feel like that eight-year-old foreigner again; some language I always struggled to grasp translated by a local competent driver for a young novice.

Steam Down

Steam Down

Etcetera ft. Afronaut Zu, from Wayne Shorter's Etcetera (1965)

When I first started playing saxophone, many years ago, I remember listening to Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter on repeat. As my jazz inquisition deepened I found myself coming back to Blue Note’s catalogue time and time again. The creativity of the musicians and the sound engineering of Rudy van Gelder was groundbreaking. It’s timeless music I enjoy to this day and that my younger self found integral to my musical development.

When I was approached to rework a song from the Blue Note catalogue it was a little overwhelming at first because they have released so many classic albums. To narrow it down I thought what record would I have loved to have been a part of. The answer stood out, it had to be Wayne Shorter. His compositional ideas and concepts are some of my lifelong favourites. After re-listening to his albums I decided upon Etcetera as it’s one of his lesser-known but equally amazing records. The first phrase of the melody felt like an ideal part to sample as inspiration. I then played the melody on flute and built the song around this fragment.

For me the main thing was looking for space to explore the modern production world whilst not detract from the original song. Reworking any legendary music there is a pressure to live up to the standard of the original, and in this case I felt like moving away from the essence was going to it give something different whilst paying homage to the original.

Emma-Jean Thackray

Emma-Jean Thackray

Speak No Evil / Night Dreamer from Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil (1964) and Night Dreamer (1964)

Blue Note has released some of the best jazz records of all time, records that are now classics to contemporary listeners. But I think that people often forget that Blue Note has been at the forefront of jazz’s evolution, putting out records that shaped what jazz is during its shifts throughout the 20th century and beyond. This reimagined record is one of those important records that shows the world how diverse jazz can be.

My favourite Blue Note albums aren’t Blue Train or even anything by Wayne Shorter, but Madlib’s Shades of Blue and Robert Glasper’s Black Radio. In Shades of Blue Madlib uses a sampler as virtuosically as the performers on their instruments that he chops up, showing in that moment that jazz is so much more than what came before it. And Black Radio fundamentally changed the way in which I made music. Before 2012 throughout my own jazz studies at music colleges, I was a jazz instrumentalist and composer by day but a secret beat-maker and producer at night. I always compartmentalised the ways in which I loved to create because many of my jazz student peers thought hip-hop and house were beneath their cerebrally woven lines, and my beat-making friends thought my jazz pieces were too freaky. When I heard Black Radio I felt like I had permission to show these different sides of me to everyone, that I could make music that served the visceral (the beats) and the cerebral (the jazz) together, and that people would listen.

The interplay of tension and release that Wayne creates in his compositions has been a huge inspiration on me, so I absolutely had to reimagine some of his music. My version of Speak No Evil (Night Dreamer) is a sound-world of what I love: big tune in the bass, driving rhythm, freaky shit on top, positive messages, combining digital with tape and SP404, and an absolutely massive tune that burrows into your head and stays there for days.

Nubya Garcia

Nubya Garcia

A Shade of Jade from Joe Henderson's Mode for Joe (1966)

Blue Note was one of the labels that served as the soundtrack to my childhood. I spent a lot of time discovering the artists that released music on that label. I’m so happy to have been asked to contribute a track to this great compilation, my younger self couldn’t have imagined this! To me it is such an integral home for jazz, and has been a home to all of the legends and pillars that are such an inspiration to me.

I listened to Joe Henderson’s album – Mode for Joe – over and over since I first heard it in my teenage years. I was inspired by his writing, the instrumentation, and above all the playing by the band that Joe put together for the project. A Shade of Jade is one of the tracks that stayed with me, and I’m so grateful to contribute a version of it. I really wanted to sample the original version, and then merge the two worlds as such, so we recorded both feels with the idea to begin and end with a version like the original track. I like to think of it as a tribute to Joe and am excited for everyone to hear it.

Intro: Keziah Wenham-Kenyon
Interviews: Mike Vinti

Blue Note Re:imagined is out on 16 October


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