DVD & CD Gift Guide: Jazz
CDs, DVDs hail heroes
By Bret Saunders
The special jazz collections this holiday season look to the past. From rare films of jazz greats performing in Europe to Lady Day and even more from John Coltrane, there is plenty to please the jazz aficionado on your list. While prices are listed, online discounts can be found in most cases.
“Jazz Icons” DVDs various prices for individual films and boxed sets
This second wave of films featuring jazz heroes performing across Europe is done as beautifully as last year’s collection. It’s instructional to see Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery and Duke Ellington perform in their prime, but the real winners are sets from Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan and John Coltrane. The 2 hours of bassist Mingus’ music captures his most radical band with now-revered players like Eric Dolphy (saxophone and flute) and Jaki Byard (piano) pushing each other in three settings, shortly before Dolphy’s 1964 death. The Coltrane features his Classic Quartet (more below) and a couple of mesmerizing takes of “My Favorite Things.” And the Vaughan collection is simply magisterial, one of America’s greatest singers who seems strangely unheralded today.
“The Complete On the Corner Sessions,” Miles Davis Columbia/Legacy, $99.97
Allegedly the final “metal box” detailing trumpeter Davis’ unprecedented career at Columbia Records — but who really believes that? There’s probably a storeroom of unreleased live and studio tapes that will eventually be available. In the meantime, these early to mid ’70s experimental-funk pummelings are far from barrel scraping: There’s some hypnotic and menacing music here. It’s costly; maybe you can buy one for the Miles maniac in your life and secure the much cheaper digital version for yourself via iTunes.
“Interplay,” John Coltrane Prestige Records, $59.98
“The Impulse! Albums, Volume 1,” John Coltrane Verve, $49.99
He’s the saxophone deity who keeps on giving 40 years after his death. “Interplay” puts together a sharp package (with excellent liner notes) of his ’50s collaborations and sideman gigs with other top-flight players of the day. As a product, it’s lovely to behold and overstuffed with solid, straight- ahead, even polite music in contrast to what would develop a couple of years later. If blues and blowing sessions before he got “spiritual” are your idea of great ‘Trane, then look no further.
By the admirable design standards of “Interplay,” the cheaply conceived Impulse! Records box, which covers 1961-1962, might come off as a shoddy exercise in repackaging. But what music! The idea here seems to be that CD replicas of Coltrane’s vinyl releases of an intensely productive period, featuring his Classic Quartet of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, might provide the kind of unpredictable excitement available to listeners in the early ’60s. There are no bonus tracks to deviate from the original releases, but the recreations of the albums themselves are in superb sound, from the thunderous “Africa/Brass” to the regretful “Ballads” collection.
“Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles,” Billie Holiday Columbia/Legacy, $49.98
“Rare Live Recordings 1934-1959,” Billie Holiday ESP Disk, $90
A lot of jazz fanatics already have a shelf full of Holiday, as they should. There’s no voice that is as haunted and lighthearted at the same time. The four-CD Columbia set is a satisfying “best of” reduction of an exhausting 10 CD set released a few years ago, with her most humorous and adventurous recordings. It’s the best introduction to Holiday currently available
The ESP Disk box (five CDs) is for the Billie Holiday fan with everything. There are live dates of varying sound and artistic quality, and a few segments are abysmal, including out of tune pianos and Holiday’s gift disintegrating toward the end. But “Rare” also provides an emotionally charged alternate history (removed from the conglomerates that control most of her legacy) of an amazing and tragic career.
Other jazz gems
# Sinatraphiles will want the first box set to consolidate the best of Frank Sinatra’s RCA Victor and Columbia Records years, “A Voice in Time (1939-1952)” (Legacy, $49.98)
# One of America’s true independent labels, Rounder, has the eccentric and lovable decades-spanning “City of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music” ($25.97)
# The octogenarian sax behemoth Von Freeman finally receives his due with the warm “Best of Von Freeman” box on Premonition Records ($29.98).
# Finally, the best for last: Leave it to the heroic mail order Mosaic Records (mosaicrecords.com) to take the initiative to release “The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941” ($85) featuring the vibraphonist with the great swing stars of the era. A review copy was not available at press time, but after consulting with my old vinyl, it didn’t get any more celebratory than this.