Sunday Aug 25

Favorite listening from 2002

2002 has been an odd year for me as far as adding music to my collection goes. Very few new releases have grabbed my attention and the reissues have often been problematic.

Modern Jazz Sextet

For example, I picked up The Modern Jazz Sextet, one the best of Norman Granz's combination dates from the '50s. It has finally been reissued as a Verve Master Edition CD. My original LP disappeared when I was in college so I welcomed the CD replacement, until I heard it. The remastered CD sound was awful. Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet and Sonny Stitt's alto bit my ears. John Lewis's elegant piano touch was defamed and Ray Brown's cogent bass was all but inaudible. Verve's "Meticulous Restoration" (as touted on the cover) turned out to be a "Ridiculous Desecration."

So why mention a miserable failure of a reissue at the start of a "Favorites of the Year" list? Because as luck would have it, I happened upon a near-mint copy of an vinyl reissue of Sextet at a reasonable price. I bought the LP, dubbed it to a CD, photocopied the reissue CD's nice reproductions of the original front and back artwork, and produced my own CD version, one that’s good to listen to and good to look at. (The reissue LP cover was an artistic nightmare.) The music is highly recommended if you can obtain it in listenable form.

Guy snd Dolls Love Vibes

Eddie Costa's rare classic Guys and Dolls Like Vibes fares somewhat better in the hands of Verve’s reissue production team. I'm so happy that this superb session (originally a 1958 mono release on Coral) is available again that I'm willing to overlook the slightly edgy Verve Master Edition sound. Costa was a great talent on both vibes and piano. Here he sticks to the former and is accompanied by Bill Evans at the keyboard in one of his finest early (pre-Miles) recordings. For this one, I just back off the treble a bit and enjoy.

Kind of Blue

Speaking of Miles and Evans, a recent reading Ashley Kahn's book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece inspired me to buy the 1997 Columbia/Legacy CD version of that music. This CD corrects a tape speed error and also adds an alternate take of "Flamenco Sketches." If you haven't upgraded from the first Kind of Blue CD, it's time to do so.

[UPDATE: Various further Kind of Blue reissues, remasterings, and special packagings have appeared since I drew up this list. A likely candidate for current consideration is the two-CD set that includes everything mentioned above along with a false start of "Freddie Freeloader" and some studio sequences on the main disc with all extant official recordings by the same sextet personnel collected on the second disc.]

Columbia has done a good job correcting other of commission and omission that plagued other early digital reissues of classic jazz LPs. The recent Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy and Satch Plays Fats CD updates totally cure the hatchet jobs the first CDs did on the original sessions and add enhancements to boot.

Jimmy Rushing is also getting better treatment from Columbia. The company has added the complete Little Jimmy Rushing and the Big Brass, a stunning big-band-backed set, to an expanded Rushing Lullabies, both on one CD. In this case, however, the sound suffers in comparison to the original LPs, but the performances are so fine that one can overlook a bit of harshness.

I blush to admit that I never owned Sonny Clark's mid-'50s classic Cool Struttin' LP. This is the one with Art Farmer and Jackie McLean in the front line. It provides an operative definition of "tasty" as applied to jazz of that era. I recently fixed that oversight by picking up Blue Note's CD reissue, which is sweetened by the addition of two tunes from the original 1958 session that didn't make it to the LP.

Bud Plays Bird

From Roulette, now a Blue Note sibling, comes Bud Plays Bird, treating us to music that was recorded in the LP era (1957 and 1958) but never released until the CD version came out a couple of years ago. Prototypical bop pianist Bud Powell plays a program of tunes composed by or associated with another of bop's creative progenitors, Charlie Parker. It's not to be missed.

Calle 54

And so that I have at least one recent recording here, I'm going to wrap up with Calle 54, the soundtrack from the Latin jazz performance documentary movie of the same name. You'll also want the DVD version of the entire film when it comes out, but the CD will still be useful since it cuts some of the narration and other background sounds to focus more directly on the wonderful music of Tito Puente, Gato Barbieri, Jerry Gonzalez, Paquito d'Rivera, and others.