More Than Meets The ‘Ear’


Engineer Rudy van Gelder passed away this week on Thursday, August the 25th. Mr. Van Gelder, not surprisingly, is a trending topic. Already during the pioneering engineer’s lifetime, Van Gelder acquired a mythic status among jazz lovers around the globe. Serious jazz collectors discuss ‘original’ pressings of Van Gelder’s Blue Note albums and the famous ‘ear’ mark in the dead wax on the world wide web on a daily basis. Van Gelder isn’t the only audio legend (For instance, Roy DuNann and Tom Dowd enjoy a dedicated following) but certainly has been the most widely revered in jazz history. Besides his brilliant, revolutionary engineering, RvG’s association with Blue Note is responsible for his status. There was a certain mystique as to how Van Gelder created the label’s poignantly warm, transparent and spacious sound. Occasional criticism – through the overuse of reverb Van Gelder recordings sometimes seem personal soundscapes instead of palettes attuned to the special features of the involved artistic personalities – seems, if justifiable serious audio geek-critique, a bit presumptuous to me in the light of Van Gelder’s countless gifts to the jazz world. It is evident that Rudy van Gelder’s role in shaping modern jazz is everlasting and paramount.

Naturally, Van Gelder didn’t work exclusively for Blue Note in his legendary Hackensack and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey studios, but also for Prestige, Impulse, Atlantic, Verve, CTI and a few other labels. The list of albums that Van Gelder is associated with is endless. A peek through DG Mono‘s helpful Van Gelder jazz discography up to 1966 – the classic years – has a dizzying effect. To name but a few classic Van Gelder albums: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus, Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch and Miles Davis’ Walkin’.

Below, I have listed a few lesser-known albums that were engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. Exceptions to the RvG rule for a number of, hardly shocking but evident, reasons:

Van Gelder rarely recorded for Signal. Figures, the label was short-lived and the catalogue was taken over by Savoy in the late fifties. RvG engineered Gigi Gryce, Duke Jordan, Red Rodney… And?; Blue Note eschewed singers but made an exception for Sheila Jordan. Van Gelder rarely worked with singers – Johnny Hartman for Impulse, Etta Jones for Prestige – but captures Jordan at her spine-shivering best; Van Gelder is synonymous with quintet line-ups, the classic hard bop format. However, his job with swing giant Count Basie turned out pretty swell.

Latin Soul is one of the few latin jazz recordings that Van Gelder did for Prestige. Commercial but swinging stuff; African High Life was characteristic West-African dance music, the album’s an odd Blue Note release; Must’ve been somethin’ else for RvG to check in folk singer Dave van Ronk after a few days with the front-liners of Blue Note like Andrew Hill and Grachan Monchur III! However well-prepared, it’s like eating kidney stew after a long-awaited evening at El Bulli.

God’s a kind of a less-is-more kind of guy. In fact, the penultimate silence is His trade. Which may be the best music after all. But I know RvG is gonna change that scene.

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