Various Artists

The Essential Guide to Jazz

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The Essential Guide to...Jazz takes on quite a challenge with that title -- and loses: can a three-disc set truly capture the essence of jazz? Well, no, and presumably the compilers of this U.K. set knew that going in. But calling this an essential anything while devoting the entire second disc to smooth jazz, starting off with the execrable faux jazzer Kenny G, is just laughable. The first disc is well worth a visit, and the third, devoted to Latin jazz, is in itself quite a treat. The first disc is, in fact, about as good as it gets as far as distilling classic jazz goes. From Satchmo to Bird, this is one impenetrable wall of genius: key tracks from Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, John Coltrane and more on one CD is not a bad way at all to spend an hour or so of your life. But the smooth jazz selections just can't hope to compare. Sure, artists like Larry Carlton and David Sanborn are fine musicians with plenty to offer, but many of the others here are inconsequential -- look again at that disc one lineup and see how names like 2Play and Tom Browne compare. Point made. The Latin sequence is quite enjoyable. Stan Getz and João Gilberto, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo and others great and not so great make for an enjoyable summation of the genre. But essential? It's up to you.

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