Jazz CDs for Special Occasions
by Mike Zwerin
The current state of popular music is such that it is safe to assume that anything with mass appeal is automatically bad, uninteresting at best. Creative honest music no longer sells platinum. Accepted wisdom is that quality in fact hurts sales.
No more happy conjunctures like Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Django Reinhardt. The following CDs are all reissues from the good old days and are guaranteed not to top anybody's charts.
John Coltrane, "The Heavyweight Champion" (Rhino, six CDs):
This special gift for distinguished folks will compliment their intellect and convey the value of their friendship.
Between January, 1959, and May, 1961, Nesuhi Ertegun produced ten Coltrane LPs for Atlantic Records. Listening to them reissued on CD, you can hear how Trane dotted the Is, crossed the Ts and provided final punctuation for jazz past. Nothing has surpassed it since.
Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Tommy Flanagan, Don Cherry, Jimmy Garrison, Milt Jackson, Hank Jones, Paul Chambers, Charlie Haden...not one lightweight musician. "Giant Steps," "My Favorite Things," Harmonique," "Syeeda's Song Flute," Cousin Mary," "Mr Syms"...not a lightweight track on six CDs (the out-takes have mercifully been reserved for a bonus seventh). The artwork and packaging are more than up to snuff. Beautiful Box to look at as well as listen to, John Coltrane was a...heayweight champion.
Duke Ellington, "Live At The Whitney" (Impulse):
Begining his recital playing solo piano and in trio at the Whitney Museum in New York on April 10, 1972, Duke warns the audience: "Be prepared for a totally unprepared program." The Ellington charm ("let's see if I'm in tune with the piano") flows effortlessly through 19 tunes from "Black And Tan Fantasy" to "Satin Doll" by way of "Lotus Blossom" and "Mood Indigo." Come to think of it they are more like a series of sonatas than tunes, and it's a lot more than charm. Call it Ellingtonia.
Paolo Conte (WB):
Two LPs reissued in a budget-priced two CD package. It is impossible not to be enchanted by Conte's Italian-language amalgam of Nino Rota, Randy Newman and Leon Redbone.
Django Reinhardt, "L'Essentiel" (EMI-France):
Three CDs worth of the best of Django from 1936-1946, his best period, with the Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France and others including Coleman Hawkins. Too often neglected these days, Django was the father of the modern guitar. The collection ends with the joyful "Echoes Of France (La Marseillaise)," the French Gypsy swing equivalent of Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner." It was, however, too hip - Charles de Gaulle banned it from the radio. Stephane Grappelli once called the Hot Club Quintet "the first rock 'n' roll band; nobody had three guitars before us."
The Complete Roulette Live Recordings of Count Basie and his Orchestra, 1959-1962 (Mosaic):
John F. Kennedy cited the Greek definition of happiness as "the full use of your powers along lines of excellence." Count Basie must have been a very happy man. His keyboard minimalism, which has been called "pre-edited," has no equal except perhaps for Thelonious Monk. The album notes for this massive eight-CD collection describe it accurately: "This was a band at the peak of its very considerable powers." It was recorded at the Americana Hotel, Miami Beach; Birdland, New York; and Grona Lund, Stockholm. The geographical diversity reflects the band's dynamic range and universal swing. The Berlin Philharmonic of jazz, or perhaps it's the other way around. Available only from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut, 06902.
Miles Davis, "En Concert," Olympia (Europe 1):
Two CDs of two Parisian concerts in 1960. In March with John Coltrane, and October with Sonny Stitt. You can hear the crowd booing and hissing Trane, who is at the top of his futuristic powers. Later, when he was told that perhaps he had gone too far for the people, he replied: "No. I didn't go far enough." A steaming rhythm section, first class sound, a jazz benchmark.
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