By Mike Zwerin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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