May 2008

Lou Donaldson - Blues Walk
Blue Note/Classic Records 1593
Format: LP
Released: 2008

by Marc Mickelson

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

You know you have something exceptional when you remove this 200-gram LP from its sleeve. The vinyl is about as substantial as it gets, and the music deserves the special treatment. Blues Walk is alto-sax player Lou Donaldson's pièce de résistance, adding a dash of blues to some hoppin' bebop. Donaldson had been leading groups since 1952, but it's this 1958 session that cemented his place as a leader and composer -- half the numbers are originals. As a player, Donaldson was an antidote to John Coltrane -- ebullient, happy. There's no sense of angst here. He plays into these tunes, each note buoyant and alive.

I have a couple of older Classic Records 200-gram LPs, and they are rather noisy in audiophile terms. I'm happy to report that Blues Walk is much improved -- the equal of the fine Music Matters releases in regard to surface quietness. This helps you hear deeply into the recording -- how drum strikes bounce off the walls, how each note, along with its natural reverberation, decays into nothingness. As with many early stereo recordings, the music is presented with extreme separation between the channels -- sax and congas left, drums with bass right -- but the piano is dead center, helping to fill things out, though sometimes it sounds so distant that it seems like it's in another room. A quirk of 1950s stereo recording.

The vinyl market is overflowing with recent Blue Note reissues, and many of them are unconditionally wonderful. Add this Blues Walk to that list. Quiet vinyl, improved sound, important music -- it has everything you could want.