After spending many months searching for a first pressing of an album called The Phantom by jazz musician and composer Duke Pearson, released on the legendary Blue Note label in 1968, I finally acquired a copy from a dealer in the US. During my search I came across one or two copies for sale on the web, but they were either re-issues or first pressings in poor condition. I was holding out for a nice clean first pressing. I was on the verge of giving up hope and settling for a re-issue when a first pressing came up for sale on eBay…still sealed in the original shrink wrap. Hallelujah! There was no way I was going to be outbid.

I came across the work of Duke Pearson by chance one day while browsing through the catalogue of Heavenly Sweetness, a label based in Paris, France. Heavenly Sweetness promotes and releases, in their words, “colourful music for the soul”. Mainly jazz, but also an extensive array of music from other genres by artists from all over the world. In addition, they re-issue hard-to-find unsung classics. The Heavenly Sweetness web catalogue entry for The Phantom included an embedded YouTube video of the title track. One listen and I was hooked. I would have bought the re-issue of The Phantom from their online store then and there, but they’d sold out. Short runs I guess.

The Phantom cover back
The Phantom: cover back (click for larger image)

I decided to hunt down an original Blue Note first pressing. Little did I know how hard it was going to be; or how costly. Rare jazz pressings ain’t cheap. You end up trying to outbid people crazy for the stuff. Not that I’m any kind of fanatic or at all anal about vinyl, you understand.

Columbus Calvin “Duke” Pearson, Jr (August 17, 1932 –August 4, 1980) recorded between 1959 -1970 (discography at Discogs). He worked with a variety of musicians, combos and bands on a large collection of albums in various roles – as frontman, sideman and arranger. As a producer, he played a key part in shaping Blue Note’s hard bop ventures in the 1960s. My favourite works of Duke Pearson include the albums Sweet Honey Bee and The Phantom. I have Sweet Honey Be on re-issue.

With The Phantom, Pearson set out to expand the boundaries of post-bop with an extended group of musicians, featuring himself (piano), Jerry Dodgion (flute and alto flute), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Sam Brown (guitar), Alexander Gafa (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums), Carlos “Patato” Valdes (conga and guiro), and Victor Pantoja (conga). In the credits on the back of the sleeve, Pantoja is misspelled “Pantojo”. The album was produced by Francis Wolff and recorded by the mighty Rudy Van Gelder,  widely regarded as the greatest recording engineer in jazz history.

The enigmatic cover image (photo by Francis Wolff) suggests that intrigue and mystery lay within. Latin rhythms and percussion provide the foundations over which complex harmonies and arrangements weave exotica-style magic. Avant-garde breaks drift in and out. The sounds are lush and soulful. The music smoulders and the feel is tropical. Stand out tracks are The Phantom and The Moana Surf. The musicianship throughout is phenomenal. Bobby Hutcherson on vibes gets a special mention – he’s simply outstanding. These are dudes at the top of their game.

In the sleeve notes Duke Pearson says of Bobby Hutcherson:

We flew him in from California just to do the date. he was that important because he’s so versatile and because he’s the very best. Bobby is the only vibist I would do this king of album with.

Track listing:

A1 The Phantom (Duke Pearson)
A2 Blues for Alvina (Willie & Alvina Wilson)
A3 Bunda Amerela  (Little Yellow Streetcar) (Duke Pearson)
B1 Los Ojos Alegres (The Happy Eyes) (Duke Pearson)
B2 Say You’re Mine (Duke Pearson)
B3 The Moana Surf (Jerry Dodgion)

The Phantom label side 1
The Phantom: label side 1 (click for larger image)
The Phantom label side 2
The Phantom: label side 2 (click for larger image)

Matrix/Runout Codes:

Side A: BNST.84293.A. (hand-etched) Van Gelder (stamped)
Side B: BNST.84293.B. (hand-etched) Van Gelder (stamped)

Sample tracks:

Here are a couple tracks, courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy:


Happy hunting, vinylheads.