Various Artists

The Prestige Records Story

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Like most of the now-prized jazz labels, Prestige Records sprang from the vision of one man -- a 20-year-old kid, actually -- named Bob Weinstock, who guided the label from its infancy in 1949 until 1971 when he sold out to Fantasy. Although Prestige continued to record for awhile after 1971, Fantasy chose to survey only the Weinstock years in this beautifully put-together four-CD boxed set. Though the tracks are arranged in chronological order, the box neatly divides itself into two stylistic halves. The first two discs contain mostly bebop and hard bop sides from Prestige's first ten years, and you can't help but be dazzled by the number of strong records that this label put out -- with six from Miles Davis alone and plenty of playing time for Sonny Rollins, James Moody, Milt Jackson, and early John Coltrane. Here, some clever sequencing illuminates the period, where Moody's "Moody's Mood for Love" is followed by King Pleasure's vocalese version, and further down the line, we hear Wardell Gray's original "Twisted" and Annie Ross' self-psychoanalysis on the same tune. The last two discs mostly explore an area that at last is starting to receive respect -- Prestige's imposing soul-jazz legacy, where organists like Richard "Groove" Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff, and Charles Earland laid down the groove, and His Majesty Gene Ammons was the reigning soul tenor sax king when he wasn't serving time for drug busts. These sides really cook, and they make you feel good and jiggly all over, evoking their place and time as completely as Johann Strauss' waltzes do for 19th century Vienna. The booklet is an especially refreshing departure from the usual critical routine because it offers a round-robin assortment of voices (including the long-retired Weinstock himself) who offer rarely explored insight into the commercial aspects of the jazz record business -- anecdotes about how records get hot, and how they get airplay and distribution. While there is nothing particularly rare on this set -- only three tracks are new to CD and no outtakes crop up (which figured since many Prestige records were one-take blowing sessions) -- even veteran collectors will appreciate such a concentration of classic stuff in one box.

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