"You have absolutely no right to review the 19th volume in the Albuzerxque compilation series," said the boss of a syndicated series of music commentaries heard on radio. "First of all, I doubt you have listened to either the 17th or 18th volumes in the series..."
The hopeful reviewer felt that arguing this point was not necessary. He was emboldened by a document which he quickly took out of a shiny plastic envelope and handed over to the boss. "Look at that," the reviewer said. "See my name on top? According to that document, I am the King of Music. As king, I can pass a decree on anything in my dominion."
The boss sat down and waved one hand, briefly and with little interest. "Go. Get out, and take your compilations with you."
On certain days this encounter might have rattled the reviewer, but not today. The new distinction as "King of Music" was inspiring heavy thinking, new ideas such as the following slogan for promoting compilation recordings of all kinds: "You don't have to be the King of Music to appreciate a good compilation."
In contrast to this point of view would be that expressed by Dick Syria, CEO of the Fou-BM
independent label conglomerate. "Compilations are the bane of the recording industry," he said in an address to NARAS in 1996, subsequently estimating that in the greater Los Angeles area alone, compilation records outnumbered the common black ant but took up far more space in the sales racks. Mark Weber of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is responsible for at least 19 of these; he claims to print more than 1000 copies of each volume in his series and hasn't made any decision to halt further activity of this sort on his Zerx label, at least not one that has been announced to the general public. The latter is a potential audience who would, in most cases, not see the attraction in these sort of productions. Unlike the compilation sets sold on cable television, Weber's collections are created for the serious listener. It might be assumed that this would also have to be a listener seriously interested in the\Albuquerque music scene, its performers coming in and out of the various volumes like bank customers making deposits. Yet this western town is similar to many other parts of the United States in that there are musicians studying, practicing, and performing many different types of music there. A blindfolded listener -- and yes, some reviewers have to be not only blindfolded, but sometimes even gagged and bound before they will listen to a compilation -- would not immediately place New Mexico's biggest town as the locale for these performances. For one thing, performers from out of town show up, including players associated with jazz on the west coast such as trombonist Michael Vlatkovich and multi-instrumentalist Dan Clucas. In addition, some of the best performances come from genres that have not been restricted to geographic locations for a long time. Vocalist Patti Littlefield pulls off a superb "Banks of the Ohio," accompanied only by the beautiful tuba of Mark Weaver. This vintage of folk song gets performed in many parts of the world; so does the sort of loose free jazz captured here, among other tracks, in a sidewalk performance by the fine Cosmic Bebop Society. The latter quintet's lengthy performance, opening with sharp nattering from Clucas on cornet and
eventually developing into a sustained ensemble lament, pretty well seals the previously mentioned "serious" factor in terms of where this collection is headed, given its content. Prior to that, Albuzerxque, Vol. 19 has moments with such probable general appeal that it might be suggested producer Weber is trying to be a bit more commercial -- but only if the CD's opening track, a drum solo entitled "I Remember Jazz" is disregarded, a bad idea since it is damn good. Drummer Dave Wayne is one of a few players that show up more than once on this particular volume, but his other solo track is less interesting than the opener, which is followed by a sweet and delicate solo piano composition and a lovely bit of traditional Mexican music with "El Gallito." The program heads deep into the well of free improvisation and avant-garde, including a stimulating, spaced-out conduction event in which the man waving his arms is J.A. Deane, a colleague of the commando of conducted improvisations, Butch Morris. Vocal performances continue to weave in and out of challenging instrumental tracks effectively through the program, including soprano Leslie Umphrey and the atmospheric "Songs of Love and Longing." The final track features some terrific bass playing and trombone from Mark LeClaire and Kurt Heyl, respectively.