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Over the course of jazz history there have been a handful of iconic producers. Norman Granz—who founded several labels, including Clef, Verve, and Pablo—got his start by launching the high-end blowing sessions known as Jazz at the Philharmonic in the mid-40s, and he brought a related ethos to his talent-crammed recording sessions. On the flip side is someone like Manfred Eicher of ECM Records, who's been more concerned with the sonic quality and distinctive packaging of his releases.
Producer Bob Thiele took over and guided Impulse for most of the next decade, notably allowing the young imprint to become home to the "new thing," aka free jazz. Yet Impulse maintained high production standards, so that titles by folks like Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders were a cut above what was turning up on other labels, both in terms of sonics and packaging. Earlier this summer Verve reissued 30 albums from the Impulse catalog on 15 two-fer CDs—a pretty ballsy move in the current marketplace. The even more iconic Blue Note label, for example, hasn't put out a reissue in a couple of years, and I don't expect to ever see another from them, at least not on CD.
The 15 CDs were manufactured and produced by the European arm of Universal Music, then simply imported to the U.S. as domestic releases. In the credits of each title is the phrase "Special thanks to Dusty Groove America." According to Dusty Groove owner Rick Wojcik, the Wicker Park shop ended up loaning album art to the company when they couldn't find it in their files—a situation that speaks to how screwy the state of multinational record labels is these days.
The 15 releases are a mixed bag to be sure, usually pairing albums made in succession by a given artist. A few are classics, readily available over the years, by folks like Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and McCoy Tyner, but others have never been widely reissued on CD—including There Will Never Be Another You by Sonny Rollins (which was released only in Japan) and Soul Trombone and Cabin in the Sky, a pair of lesser-known hard-bop gems by the great trombonist Curtis Fuller. (You can find the entire title list here.)
In 1967 Taylor started another label, initially as a subsidiary of A&M but by 1970 a freestanding company: CTI (which modestly stood for Creed Taylor Incorporated). This label has also been marked for anniversary celebration by Sony Music, which owns the catalog, though its reissues have been trickling out over the year rather than arriving in a concentrated burst. To these ears the CTI catalog is a much dicier proposition. Most of its releases came in the midst of the fusion era, so even music by such relative traditionalists as Paul Desmond and Milt Jackson features some electronic touches—mostly the ubiquitous Fender Rhodes or electric bass. In some cases Taylor pushed the classical element present in some fusion way too hard, guiding Hubert Laws through Stravinsky's Rites of Spring or Brazilian keyboardist and arranger Deodato through "Also Sprach Zarathustra," which hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973. Some of those releases were commercially successful, but many haven't aged well.