THE CREAM OF THE CURRENT CD CROP
The floodgates have opened. The panic is on.
After a two-week absence covering jazz festivals in New York and Montreal, it was a shock to return and find 89 newly arrived compact discs. The rush to amplify the CD jazz market has been doubly beneficial, since virtually all these items are concurrently available on LPs, though in some cases one or two bonus tracks have been added for the CD version.
Classic has become a trivialized adjective, applied to everything from a cola drink to a 10-year-old rock record, but most of these sets justify the term in its original unadulterated sense. What follows is the cream of the classic crop; in addition, it can be strongly recommended that you check out new CDs on Trend (a fine Bob Cooper set with four newly recorded tunes), Musicraft (Artie Shaw with Mel Torme and the Mel-Tones) and Discovery (Bill Henderson’s “Live at the Times”).
“MILES AHEAD.” Miles Davis/Gil Evans. Columbia CK 40784. “LIVE MILES.” Miles Davis. Columbia CK 40609. “DIG.” Miles Davis/Sonny Rollins. Prestige OJCCD-005-2. “COLLECTORS’ ITEMS.” Miles Davis. Prestige OJCCD 071-2. There was a great temptation to put “Miles Ahead” on a tape loop, relax, and forget about writing a column. This is the perfect union of the respective orchestral and solo artistry of Evans and Davis. Though many composers are involved (Brubeck, Delibes, Ahmad Jamal, J. J. Johnson, Evans), the effect is that of a suite. Davis’ work is a masterpiece of lyricism (this was just after he switched from trumpet to fluegelhorn). 5 stars plus.
The other Columbia consists of unissued leftovers from a 1961 concert, one side given over to an extended version of “Concierto de Aranjuez” with Evans, the other to three small group cuts, the best of which is Davis’ “Teo,” a modal jazz waltz. 4 stars.
The Prestige sets are typical 1950s post-bop, both with Rollins. It wouldn’t have hurt, 34 years later, if the “Charlie Chan” who plays second tenor sax on the “Collectors’ Items” set had been correctly identified: It was Charlie Parker. 4 stars each.
“COMPACT JAZZ.” Stan Getz. Verve 831-368-2. Creed Taylor, who recorded more seminal jazz in the 1960s than any other producer, was responsible for these memorable sessions, the first of which (with guitarist Charlie Byrd) triggered the whole bossa nova phenomenon in the United States. Here are the original, definitive versions of “Desafinado,” “One Note Samba,” “Corcovado,” “Girl From Ipanema” and the rest, with a cast that is its own built-in seal of approval: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luis Bonfa, Joao and Astrud Gilberto, Laurindo Almeida, Gary Burton. If there is room for only one Getz in your collection, this has to be it; moreover, it clocks in at 57 1/2 minutes. 5 stars.
“FIRST LIGHT.” Freddie Hubbard. Columbia ZK 40687. “CALIFORNIA CONCERT.” Columbia ZGK 40690. “FACE TO FACE.” Freddie Hubbard/Oscar Peterson. Pablo CD 2310-876-2. “CARAVAN.” Art Blakey. Riverside OJCCD 338-2. Another superb Creed Taylor product, “First Light” was cut for his CTI label and won a Grammy in 1972 as best jazz group album. It’s a perfect example of the exercise of good taste in rendering an artist more commercial, with strings discreetly used by arranger Don Sebesky. George Benson and Hubert Laws are featured; an extra tune has been added for the CD. 5 stars.
“California Concert” was a spectacularly successful 1971 Hollywood Palladium gig with Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Laws, Billy Cobham et al. 4 1/2 stars. Hubbard and Peterson team joyously in the 1982 date that found them backed by Joe Pass, Niels Pedersen and Martin Drew. 5 stars. Hubbard was a Blakey sideman in the 1962 “Caravan,” along with Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller and Cedar Walton. For the reissue an extra take of Hubbard’s “Thermo” has been added. 4 stars.
“THE ESSENTIAL COUNT BASIE.” Columbia CK 40608. “ME AND YOU.” Count Basie. Pablo 2310-891-2. “MOSTLY BLUES . . . AND SOME OTHERS.” Count Basie Septet. Pablo 2310-919-2. “SATCH & JOSH . . . AGAIN.” Count Basie/Oscar Peterson. Pablo 2310-802-2. In 1939 the Basie band was making history, aided by Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, Buck Clayton and the Swing Era Zeitgeist ; thus the CBS set is indispensable. 5 stars. The two 1983 sessions (one with a septet, the other partly big band and part combo) show how much life Basie could generate in his waning days. Both 4 stars. “Satch & Josh” is amiably unpretentious interplay. 4 1/2 stars.
“THE SOUND OF SONNY.” Sonny Rollins. Riverside OJCCD 029-2. “MOVING OUT.” Prestige OJCCD 058-2. Rollins, moving fast toward maturity in the 1950s, already had his weird, waggish way with odd songs like “Toot Toot, Tootsie,” but was serious and sensitive on ballads such as “What Is There to Say” and the unaccompanied “It Could Happen to You.” The mambo-like “Mangoes” and the closing “Funky Hotel Blues” (not included in the original LP) come off well, with Sonny Clark at the piano. 3 stars. “Moving Out” is enlivened by the addition of a trumpet (Kenny Dorham) and, although taped three years earlier (1954), is more engaging. Thelonious Monk plays on one tune. Composers are not listed. There is only 31 1/2 minutes of music; in fact, both of these sets could have been combined into ‘one’ CD. 3 1/2 stars.
“SETTIN’ THE PACE.” John Coltrane. Prestige OJCCD 078-2. “TRANEING IN.” John Coltrane with Red Garland Trio. Prestige OJCCD 189-2. “PARIS CONCERT.” Pablo 2308-217-2. The first two display the pre-revolutionary Coltrane, playing orthodox changes on regular tunes (he even tried “Soft Lights and Sweet Music”), with Garland’s piano, Paul Chambers’ bass and Art Taylor on drums. Though never experimental, it offers eloquent evidence of an already influential talent. 3 1/2 stars each. The Pablo concert (1962) shows the catalytic Coltrane in full flower, with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. It’s typical of that time in that the opening tune, “Mr. P.C.,” runs 26 minutes. Tighter versions may be available, but there are 4 stars’ worth of historic value here.
“VIOLINS NO END.” Stephane Grappelli/Stuff Smith. Pablo 23210-907-2. “COMPACT JAZZ.” Stephane Grappelli. MPS831-370-2. Stuff Smith, a half-forgotten giant of jazz violin (he died in Munich in 1967), plays part of the first disc with Oscar Peterson’s Quartet (Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Jo Jones), the rest in a rare summit meeting with Peterson and Grappelli, in Paris. Smith could outswing any man alive, but the contrasted study in styles is fascinating. 5 stars.
The “Compact” set runs to 15 tunes (58 1/2 minutes), taped in the 1970s in Germany with various groups, one of which includes George Shearing, another Larry Coryell. 4 stars.
“THE 1940s--THE SINGERS.” Various artists. Columbia CK 40652. “THE 1950s--THE SINGERS.” CK 40799. The 16 items in the first group entail such fringe benefits as Teddy Wilson accompanying Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday; Ben Webster with Slim & Slam; a Cab Calloway band number with the 22-year-old Dizzy Gillespie, and various soloists who preempt what is theoretically a Nat Cole/June Christy duet. Maxine Sullivan, Joe Turner, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Rushing and Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson illustrate the diversity and nuances of the jazz vocal art. 5 stars.
The ‘50s set is flawed by expendable cuts with Babs Gonzales, Johnny Mathis, Dolores Hawkins (a minor white singer trying to black-bag it with a blues) and a Red Saunders band number the release of which is no favor to Saunders’ 1951 vocalist, Joe Williams. Best cuts: Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Lee Wiley, Betty Roche with Ellington. 3 stars.