By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 12, 2007 at 12:24 PM

Flute-tastic, that’s how I’d define the latest batch of Blue Note Records jazz reissues. That’s because four of the six discs credit a flutist, not one of jazz’s most utilized instrument.

I’m no fan of the instrument in rock and roll or jazz, but I’m happy to report that the work of James Spaulding, Bennie Maupin and Jerry Dodgion doesn’t affect my ability to enjoy these six sessions that cover 13 years.

In chronological order:

“Introducing Johnny Griffin” is the 1956 debut of Chicago tenor man Griffin, a post-bop swinger known for his ability to fire off notes at a killer pace. But while that speed is evident here on tunes like Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” the breadth of his skill also shone through with an astonishing quartet of Max Roach, Curly Russell and Wynton Kelly.

From a similar period – 1960 – is pianist Kenny Drew’s “Undercurrents,” with a front line featuring Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and my favorite Blue Note tenor saxophonist, Hank Mobley. Sam Jones and Louis Hayes are on bass and drums, respectively. Drew, who debuted on Blue Note 10 years earlier, proves himself here to have open ears and the skill to avoid becoming dated. He experiments successfully with the new modal jazz on the opening cut – the title track. A mix of straightforward hard bop and tentative steps into new styles, “Undercurrents” was, sadly, Drew’s last session as a leader for more than a dozen years.

Skipping ahead to 1966, tenor man Stanley Turrentine’s “The Spoiler” opens with a brilliant soul jazz number, “The Magilla,” which swings and swings. But this nonet (nine guys!) is, if you ask me, a spotty affair. The musicianship is ace – McCoy Tyner on piano! – but stylistically, “The Spoiler” is all over the place. Some might say it shows Turrentine’s wide-ranging skill and they’d be right. But with such a sizzling opener in “The Magilla,” we soul jazz fans want more and instead we get a mix of ballads and readings of pop hits like Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny.”

Also recorded with a nonet (when Liberty bought Blue Note in 1966, there was suddenly money around for this kind of thing) is Lou Donaldson’s 1967 “Lush Life,” which finds the soulful alto sax man strolling – with his lush backing (as the title suggests) – through “Stardust,” “It Might As Well Be Spring” and other such by-then-old material.

There’s no faulting Donaldson’s skills or those of his band (again Tyner but with an interesting front line that included Wayne Shorter, Hubbard, Garnet Brown on trombone, Pepper Adams on baritone sax and alto and flute player Dodgion) or those of his arranger Duke Pearson. But as a fan of all the cats listed above, I’d have hoped for more than a high quality run through of standards. If I see Shorter and Tyner listed, I want to see a couple of rules being broken or at least pushed to the limit.

Personally, I like Donaldson better on records like “Blues Walk” and the organ-based sessions, at least one of which included Milwaukee organist Baby Face Willette.

Pearson himself leads “The Right Touch” session recorded in 1967. Here he leads a swinging octet that includes Turrentine, Hubbard, Dodgion, Spaulding and trombonist Garnett Brown, along with swinging drummer Grady Tate (who sparked Jimmy Smith’s fine “Organ Grinder’s Swing” two years earlier.  “The Right Touch” is a genre-jumping affair with soul jazz, a bluesy “Scrap Iron” (not the Skatalites tune, sorry) and “Make It Good,” which reminds of Pearson’s connection to Count Basie.

Last but not least is the Horace Silver Quintet’s 1969 “You Gotta Take A Little Love,” the last record by a Silver quintet for the label. And that’s something since Silver and his bands had fueled the label, arguably, for well over a dozen years. Despite its hippy-ish cover and title, and new, young guys like Randy Brecker and Billy Cobham, “You Gotta Take A Little Love” has the same hard bop vibe-- with blues, Latin and Middle Eastern touches -- as Silver’s work through the previous decade. That is, it’s satisfying; it’s rocking and even if not especially revolutionary.

As for the flutes, no comment. 

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.