In March 1963, guitarist Kenny Burrell was at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey to record for Blue Note.
For whatever reason, the musicians on the date only could manage to get through three songs, with each one requiring a high number of takes. Burrell returned to Van Gelder’s studio in October 1964 to record five more with a completely different group. Here again, a sizable number of takes were needed on most tracks. Long story short, the tapes of the two sessions weren’t discovered until 1980, when re-issue producer Michael Cuscuna found them in the Blue Note vaults.
The lost material was then cobbled together for a Blue Note album called Freedom but released only in Japan. My guess is that Capitol EMI, which owned Blue Note at the time, was too busy investing in re-issues of existing Blue Note releases to bother with scraps for the U.S. market. So Michael wisely cobbled them together for Japan, where the demand for top-quality jazz was stronger. The States would have to wait until 2011, when Freedom was re-issued on 180-gram vinyl.
In his 1980 liner notes, Bob Porter surmised that the material probably was recorded originally for release as singles in the early ’60s. It’s hard to know for sure, since only Loie and The Good Life were issued on a 45. Listening to the melody-rich, swinging album yesterday, I found it hard to believe that producer Alfred Lion had singles in mind beyond the first session or why he decided to shelve the tapes of the second date. Equally puzzling is why this album hasn’t been reissued and why it’s so hard to find today. Thanks to Michael Cuscuna, Freedom is a groovy tiger from start to finish and features superb sidemen and songs.
The 1963 recording session included The Good Life, Stairway to the Stars and Burell’s Loie and featured Seldon Powell (fl,bar) Hank Jones (p, org) Kenny Burrell (g) Milt Hinton (b) and Osie Johnson (d).
The 1964 session included Edmund Goulding’s Love, Your Magic Spell Is Everywhere; Burrell’s sassyFreedom; Lonesome Road; Burrell’s G Minor Bash and his K Twist, and featured Stanley Turrentine (ts); Herbie Hancock (p); Kenny Burrell (g); Ben Tucker (b); Bill English (d) and Ray Barretto (cga).
We’ll never know why Lion made the business decisions he did so many years ago. He obviously had something in mind when Burrell came in initially to record but changed his mind along the way, which was the case with several artists whose tapes gathered dust until Michael arrived. Perhaps Burrell asked Lion not to release the material, or maybe Lion decided that Grant Green was all the guitar he needed on the label and didn’t want Burrell’s recordings eating into Green’s market share. Or they were nice tries and it took someone like Michael to arrive years later to see their potential combined.
Interestingly, Burrell didn’t record for Blue Note between the two sessions above except as a sideman on Stanley Turrentine’s Hustlin’ in January 1964. He also wouldn’t record as a leader for the label ever again, preferring to stick mostly with Verve and Prestige during the period.