The days before Christmas are now dwindling down to precious few hours and you still need something for your Aunt Nettie and Cousin Dexter. So here we are again, back with our annual jazz gift guide in a box (set, that is), but this year we're also including some world music.
Big Boxes: Start with the big boxed sets. Two collections, both of which are far-ranging and inclusive, have arrived just in time for the season.
* "Eric Dolphy: The Complete Prestige Recordings" (Prestige) is a long overdue hearing of the work of one of contemporary jazz music's most under-recognized pioneers. The multiskilled Dolphy, who performed prodigiously on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, was a legitimate competitor to the more publicized Ornette Coleman in the avant-garde '60s. This brilliant nine-CD compilation, the result of a brief, year-and-a-half stretch of recordings, confirms that Dolphy's death from insulin shock in 1964 at the age of 36 deprived the jazz world of an artist with the power and imagination to have emerged as a major influence.
* "Big Band Renaissance: The Evolution of the Jazz Orchestra: The 1940s and Beyond" (Smithsonian) is a must-have for the big-band jazz enthusiast. Seven CDs cover jazz from 1940 to the present, starting with Charlie Parker's seminal outing with the Jay McShann Band ("Swingmatism") and concluding in 1991 with Europe's Willem Breuker Kollektief. There are some obvious inclusions--Basie, Ellington, Herman, Kenton--along with equally appealing Gil Evans and Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis and Don Ellis. And there are several obscure but fascinating works: a piece from the pioneering Boyd Raeburn Orchestra, selections from boppish ensembles led by Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, George Russell's offbeat version--with a band that featured John Coltrane and Bill Evans--of "Manhattan," and individual numbers from Benny Carter, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra and Charlie Haden.
Any serious jazz fan will also be delighted to receive one of these other significant collections:
* "Miles Davis: The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel" (Columbia), a club performance by the mid-'60s band that included Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams.
* "The Heavyweight Champion, John Coltrane: The Complete Atlantic Recordings" (Rhino), recorded during the years in which Coltrane evolved from super side man with Davis to become a leading figure in his own right.
* "Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings" (ECM), four nights of superb, live performances by the state-of-the-art trio of Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
* "Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Man From Ipanema" (Verve) is a beautifully packaged, three-CD album overflowing with Jobim's lyrical melodies and highlighted by his intimate duets with a gifted singer, the late Elis Regina.
Other Boxes: "I Got Rhythm: The Music of George Gershwin" (Smithsonian) touches every aspect of the composer's music, from pop songs and musical theater to concert music and jazz in four CDs. But Gershwin's inseparable connection with jazz colors most of the recordings, especially on the disc devoted to performances by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Milt Jackson. . . . And don't overlook Mosaic Records' always classy limited editions. Among its more interesting recent releases are "The Complete Capitol Duke Ellington" and "The Phil Woods 20th Anniversary Set" (available by mail order from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CN 06902).
Little Boxes: "I'll Be Seeing You: A Tribute to Carmen McRae" is a lovely two-CD set of numbers recorded for Decca in the mid-'50s. McRae was over 30 when she made her initial studio outings, so it's no surprise that her voice sounds fully formed--very much the stellar interpretive singer she remained for the next 30-plus years. . . . "Clifford Brown: The Complete Blue Note and Pacific Jazz Recordings" (Blue Note) doesn't contain any tracks from the classic Clifford Brown/Max Roach ensemble, but there are plenty of stunning solos from the trumpeter who was only 26 when he died in a tragic auto crash in 1956. Among the many arresting items are early readings of Brown's "Daahoud," "Joy Spring" and "Tiny Capers," as well as the full chronicle of a now-legendary gig at Birdland with the Art Blakey band. . . . "Easy Listening Jazz Classics" (Reader's Digest) is perfectly titled--music for the casual jazz listener. And there's a little something for every kind of mainstream taste, from Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt to Charlie Parker and Chet Baker, with vocals by Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day and Billie Holiday.
World Music: "Brasil: A Century of Song" (Blue Jackel) ambitiously attempts to survey 100 years of music in four CDs. The first two, "Folk & Traditional" and "Carnaval," are intriguing documents, filled with rare historical material, but may be a little thorny for the less dedicated listener. The last two CDs--"Bossa Nova Era" and "Musica Popular Brasiliera"--are completely captivating.
Almost anything from the Ellipsis Arts catalog--the pace-setter in quality world music collections--will make a first-rate holiday gift. "Bayaka: The Extraordinary Music of the Babenzele Pygmies" is an unusually attractive release. Packaged as a book/CD combination, it includes a lavish, color-illustrated text exploring the lives and culture of the inhabitants of the central African forest, as well as a CD collection of the music and sounds associated with hunting, gathering and celebration. For information on the Ellipsis catalog call (800) 788-6670