For legal reasons, the packaging of this 20-track collection never makes it obvious that these recordings, discovered in the Capitol Records recording logs by reissue producer and DRG Records president Hugh Fordin, were all previously unreleased. So this is quite a find for the Kenton enthusiast -- and there are still plenty of them out there. But the rarity of the material alone isn't the only reason to get excited -- all too often, "lost" sides are better off staying lost, but the quality of these recordings elevates the set's importance to crucial. The eight octet sessions that open the package, cut in a single day and night in Chicago in July, 1955, boast crisp fidelity and the playing is unstressed and natural. The uptempo boogie "Wait for Gail" rocks like a jump blues, and the ballads "All I Need Is You" and "Gone with the Wind" are alternately are sweet and smooth. Jumping ahead a few years, the four "Saxophone Septet" sides of 1958 showcase both Kenton's compositional and arrangement genius -- the juxtaposition of the alto and tenor saxophones gives the music a richness and depth one would expect from a big band rather than a compact group such as this. The next four tracks also date from 1958 and are dubbed the "Pop Leftovers," for reasons that become apparent, as "Harbor Lights," with its choral vocals and lack of any hints of swing or experimentation, unfolds (an approach that continues with the other tracks in this section). These are truly the least exciting recordings in the collection, but fill a gap nonetheless, serving as a reminder that Kenton occasionally did kowtow to public taste by playing it safe and staying away from bold ideas that might not be embraced by a hesitant mainstream. Finally, we have two tracks taken from the same performances that comprised the 1959 Kenton Live from the Las Vegas Tropicana album (these in addition to several others already added to a reissue of that album in the '90s). The newly uncovered sides that comprise this set are not bottom-of-the-barrel outcasts but worthy, fine-sounding additions to the Kenton discography.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin