Jazz Gift Guide

Jazz up that holiday list with intriguing sounds
Contra Costa Times

My holiday gift list seems to get longer each year as my annoying relatives and friends keep having new kids. In the time it took me to write this column, I suspect, my prolific pals the Duffys probably had twins. Welcome to the world, Seamus and Margaret!

When it comes to buying presents for loved ones, or even casual acquaintances, nothing beats the gift of music. And while we’ve already riffed on pop/rock hits collections and boxed sets, here is a look at some of the top gift-worthy jazz offerings available this season.

# “Perfect Peterson: The Best of the Pablo and Telarc Recordings,” Oscar Peterson
(Concord, $19.98): I saw the 82-year-old piano legend perform twice in 2006, first at Yoshi’s in Oakland and then again at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and he was terrific on both occasions. Yet Peterson wasn’t as good then as what you’ll hear on the first disc of this two-CD collection. That disc spotlights the best of the pianist’s run at the Pablo label, which lasted from 1953 to 1986, and includes some works by the then-young lion that will make your jaw drop. The second disc, which definitely has its moments, highlights Peterson’s more recent work on the Telarc imprint.

# “Live 2007: 4th Annual Concert Tour,” SFJAZZ Collective ($35, SFJAZZ label): Each year, the San Francisco Jazz Organization (SFJAZZ) Collective spotlights the works of one great composer. For 2007, the troupe picked one of the best of the best, Thelonious Monk. Recorded live during the band’s international tour, this two-disc set features the all-star troupe (led by the Bay Area’s own saxophone colossus, Joshua Redman) in a mix of Monk tunes and original band compositions. Not to sound too much like an advertisement, but don’t delay in ordering your copy — only 3,000 were pressed, and this set, like the prior Collective releases, will someday be a true collector’s item. For more information, visit http://www.sfjazz.org.

# “Tijuana Moods,” Charles Mingus
(Sony, $13.98): It seems like every time I turn around, somebody has released a “newly remastered” version of a Charles Mingus album. The skinny on this one is that it sounds superb — but if you already own an older version on CD, you probably don’t need to update your collection. If you don’t have a copy, this is a perfect chance to remedy that situation. “Tijuana Moods” (1962) stands as, arguably, the famed bassist-composer’s finest hour. More significantly, it’s one of the greatest pieces of improvisational music ever recorded.

# “The Essential Benny Goodman,” Benny Goodman (Columbia, $24.98): The clarinetist-bandleader led the league in nicknames. During his long reign at the top, he was known as “the King of Swing,” “the Professor,” “the Patriarch of the Clarinet” and “Swing’s Senior Statesman.” I just refer to him as “the Great One,” a billing you’ll probably agree with after listening to this two-disc set. “The Essential Benny Goodman” is an outstanding career overview, featuring 40 recordings from his years on RCA Victor and Columbia. Included in the mix are such favorites as “King Porter Stomp,” “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Air Mail Special.”

# “Interplay,” John Coltrane
(Prestige, $59.98): Coltrane is such a cash cow that there never seems to be a shortage of new product carrying the saxophonist’s name. Sure, he died in 1967, but you’d never know it by looking at the new-releases shelf at your local record store. The latest offering for Coltrane fans is this wonderful five-disc set that collects seven full-length albums plus change. The lion’s share of the music was recorded in just one year’s time, September 1956 to September 1957. That was, to say the least, a very fertile period for the saxophonist, and these recordings document a player who was simply bursting with new ideas and sounds.

# “Trio of Doom,” John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius and Tony Williams
(Columbia, $13.98): Talk about a great triumvirate — guitarist McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra), bassist Pastorius (Weather Report) and drummer Williams (Lifetime, Miles Davis band) all on the same stage at the same time. The convergence of supreme talents only happened once in front of a live audience, back in 1979 in Cuba, but the legend lives on. This essential disc features a mix of live tracks recorded at that Havana date, as well as studio tracks laid down the following week in New York. Fans should also check out the newly released “Essential John McLaughlin” and “Essential Jaco Pastorius,” each of which clocks in with 150-plus minutes of music.

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