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Jazz CDs for the Collector

By Mike Zwerin

PARIS, 22 December 2000 - The French have always been ahead of most people when it comes to knowing how to recognize, listen to and collect good jazz. Just in time for the Christmas season, two bargain price multi CD collections illustrate their talent once more.

A series called "Jazz Reference" has just been released by Dreyfus Music, one of the few independent French labels with serious international distribution. Its director, Francis Dreyfus, is a longtime dedicated fan. The story goes that after making his fortune from a string of platinum Jean Michel Jarre albums (not that there's anything wrong with them), he signed people who deserved a break - Roy Haynes, Michel Petrucciani, Eddy Louiss, Philip Catherine and the Mingus Big Band.

"Jazz Reference" consists of 20 reissues from Bechet to Bird, programmed and produced by Dreyfus himself. Each artist has an individual CD, with the best of a variety of sessions over the years culled from a variety of labels. The only catch is that the originals are all more than 50 years old. Recordings come into the public domain after 50 years in Europe; the law is different in the United States, and so this collection is not available there. The CDs are not boxed, you do not have to buy all of them. Anybody who has read this far will probably want three or four.

The Count Basie collection, for example, goes from "One O'Clock Jump" in 1937 through the trombonist J.J. Johnson's classic solos on "The King" and on his own composition called "Rambo," both from 1946. Johnson's postwar stint with Basie is often overlooked, and these cuts are not usually on the same side as the celebrated Lester Young features "Every Tub" and "Tickle Toe" from earlier years.

There is a separate Lester Young compilation, including "Indiana," "Body and Soul" and "I Can't Get Started," from 1942, on which Young is in a state of grace with the pianist Nat King Cole, in trio with Red Callender on bass. There are souvenirs of such neglected masters as Art Tatum, Bix Beiderbecke, Coleman Hawkins and Erroll Garner. The company has been making much of the collection's sound quality. And it's certainly clean. These recordings sound as though they were all recorded in the same scrubbed studio on the same day. This is one case in Which "good" technology is not necessarily bad.

"Jazz in Paris," from Gitanes Jazz, is a compilation of 49 CDs of music recorded in what remains the jazz capital of Europe. Although they, too, are reissues, you may have missed them; the originals were not exactly mass marketed, and anyway you'd want to hear them again. Here the catch is they are only manufactured and marketed in France.

Just about every musician of any nationality who was born, died or lived in or ever passed though Paris is heard from - most of them on a good night. The excellent bilingual album notes describe the project as "retracing the epic tale of the jazz musicians listened to, and cherished, by the capital through the past seven decades." The notes would be better if they were bigger and brighter. The credits are designed in colors of small contrast, like beige on beige, and one needs a small magnifying glass to read the small type.

Hemingway is quoted, from A Moveable Feast: "Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it." And the musicians seem to be repaying a sort of debt of honor - Chet Baker, Stefane Grappelli, Don Byas, Toots Thielemans, Bill Coleman, Mary Lou Williams, Jean-Luc Ponty, Memphis Slim, Lucky Thompson and Louis Armstrong, the 100th birthday man who is present any way you slice the music these days. .

"Paris Jam Session" is a recording of a 1959 concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees by an all-star sextet led by Art Blakey. It includes a "Dance of the Infidels" with Bud Powell at the summit of his muscular single line fluidity. The late Franco American saxophonist Barney Wilen can make hair stand on end. Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter might just curl it. This collection, too, is sold by the piece, and both of them are presented in the convenient digi-pack format.

Mike Zwerin has been jazz and rock critic for the International Herald Tribune for the last twenty years. He was also the European correspondent for The Village Voice. Mike Zwerin is the author of several books on jazz and the jazz editor of Culturekiosque.com.

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