This first installment in Blue Note’s new subscription box-set series requires a different kind of jazz review, maybe something closer to a consumer guide or catalog writing. The point of it, in the context of our streaming era, is that it’s an object, a collectible, containing interviews to be read and photographs to be framed and even scarves to be knotted. So here’s a sort of unboxing video with words. Titled Peace, Love & Fishing and sold online for $200, it begins with a handsome cloth-covered navy-blue box. Open it like a book and you’ll see a pocket on the left side containing that Blue Note signature scarf, designed by label president Don Was’ pal John Varvatos; a card with a printed note from Was plus your box’s edition number (out of 1,500); and a brochure-style Blue Note magazine, highlighted by a revealing conversation between comedian Jeff Garlin and Wayne Shorter, who counters his more typical philosopher-king bit with revealing anecdotes about his drinking days, love of comic books and more. Stacked on the opposite side is a double LP containing previously unreleased music from the current Blue Note roster; an LP reissue of the long out-of-print Blue Mitchell title Step Lightly; two music-room-ready Francis Wolff prints, of Stanley Turrentine and Wayne Shorter; a cork turntable mat that reads “Jazz Is Not a Crime”; and, in the bottom of the well, a double CD containing the same program that’s on the double LP.
As for the music, if it isn’t revelatory it isn’t slight, either. Step Lightly, recorded in 1963 but not released until the early ’80s, is one of those Blue Note vault sessions whose relative obscurity is head-scratching. Featuring the trumpeter in his first session for the label, with Joe Henderson, Gene Taylor, Roy Brooks, Herbie Hancock and the unsung alto player Leo Wright, it frequently exceeds Mitchell’s proper 1965 debut, The Thing to Do. The eight tracks of new music, available only within this box, can also make you wonder about why labels hold certain recordings back. The Blue Note All-Stars’ powerful take on Ornette’s “Turnaround” trumps much of that group’s recent output; ditto Dr. Lonnie Smith’s two-drummer journey through “Footprints,” and live recordings by Charles Lloyd and the Marvels (a loosely explosive meditation on Gábor Szabó’s “Lady Gabor”) and the Wayne Shorter Quartet (“Zero Gravity #913,” with the band at its searching, eruptive best). Filling out the discs are cuts from Gregory Porter, backed by the All-Stars, Terence Blanchard, Derrick Hodge and Kandace Springs featuring Ambrose Akinmusire. Is $200 a lot for a jazz box set that isn’t a definitive collection or complete-recordings deal? Absolutely. But Blue Note understands the caliber of the intellectual property it’s peddling, and the Review offers collectors a real Christmas-morning feeling.