February 2009

Duke Pearson - Tender Feelin's
Blue Note/Classic Records 4035
Format: LP
Originally released: 1959
Reissue released: 2008

by Marc Mickelson

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

The first line of any Duke Pearson biography will mention his important role as a producer of Blue Note recordings throughout the 1960s, helping the label gain its identity and shaping its hard-bop catalog. But Pearson recorded nearly a dozen albums for the label as a leader before leaving to teach in the early 1970s. Later in the decade he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, from which he died in 1980.

This 1959 trio date, Pearson's second for Blue Note, includes Gene Taylor on bass and Lex Humphries on drums. Pearson's playing is all about subtlety, a gentle lyricism that reminds me of fellow Blue Note pianist Horace Parlan's soft touch. The back-cover notes mention that Pearson played trumpet before piano and this influenced his work at the keyboard -- described by renowned jazz critic Leonard Feather as "fundamentally a single-note style." This works best with slow, pensive tunes like "When Sonny Gets Blue" and "3AM," the only original of the set. "On Green Dolphin Street" is a Bill Evans classic, and Pearson is thoroughly charming with it, even as Evans's version from the album of the same name is more expansive and challenging.

The mono sound is clear and well delineated, and the 200-gram Quiex SV-P pressing is very quiet. Classic Records doesn't get nearly enough credit for the packaging of its Blue Note releases. It's very authentic -- a folded sleeve with glued-on graphic sheets -- and far more costly than what's used for most other Blue Note reissues, including some pricey 45rpm sets.

While collectors continue to bid up Blue Note originals, reissues like this will suffice -- and how -- for music lovers who can't stop playing LPs.