Duke Pearson - "Sweet Honey Bee"

 Duke Pearson - "Sweet Honey Bee" - Front Cover

Duke Pearson • Sweet Honey Bee • 1966 • Blue Note Records
Recorded December 7, Rudy Van Gelder Studios, NJ

The Players:
Duke Pearson - Piano
Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet
Joe Henderson - Tenor Sax
James Spaulding - Alto Sax, Flute
Ron Carter - Bass
Mickey Roker - Drums

The Tracks:
A1. Sweet Honey Bee
A2. Sudel
A3. After The Rain
A4. Gaslight
B1. Big Bertha
B2. Empathy
B3. Ready Rudy?

The Music:

Sweet Honey Bee is an all-star outing that is about as good as it gets when it comes to an example of the soul jazz and hard bop music that Blue Note was putting out in the mid to late 1960's. This is the music that many folks associate with the label and why it has remained so relevant and popular to this day. Duke Pearson was an extremely important figure in the musical direction that the label pursued in the 1960's, both as a producer and leader of his own albums. On Sweet Honey Bee, Pearson is joined by some serious talent in the horn section: Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Joe Henderson on tenor sax and James Spaulding on the alto sax and flute. Ron Carter and Mickey Roker are the rhythm section, who along with Pearson on piano, keep the session's swinging yet easy-going compositions nicely in the pocket.

The title track is definitely the best known song from the album - and rightly so - as it is a stone cold soul-jazz classic. Spaulding's flute line starts things off and lets you know exactly what kind of album you've got your hands on: groovy, soulful and bluesy. The rest of the tunes are uniformly strong, with a couple of outstanding mellower tracks in the mix - particularly the Pearson and Spaulding showcase ballad "After The Rain" - that don't feel forced or out of place on the record. Many folks consider this to be Pearson's finest moment as a leader, and I would be hard pressed to argue that point. 

The Vinyl:

My copy is an original stereo pressing from 1966, although it is a bit of an anomaly in terms of the label and cover markings. While the cover has the "Liberty Records Inc." on the front indicating that Blue Note had been sold to Liberty earlier that year, the address on the back cover is still "43 West 61st St., New York, N.Y. 10023" (instead of the "1776 Broadway NY / 6920 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles" that showed up on the Liberty covers the next year). The label retains the "New York USA" rather than the "A Division Of Liberty Records" that they soon began to use, an oddity for a new release in a Liberty cover (not so much for titles Liberty re-released, where they would often use up any remaining "New York USA" labels before printing up new ones). Definitely one of those fun little quirks that keeps collectors geeking out and always on their toes.

My copy, like many you can still find in the $35-$75, has a cover that is in nice shape (the low end of VG+ due to some ringwear) with a record that is in VG+ condition and sounds fantastic. One interesting fact to impress your friends with: the beautiful lady on the iconic front cover was Pearson's fiancee Betty.