Various Artists

Soho After Dark

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Subtitled "London's '50s Modern Jazz Scene" -- a genre not too well covered even by most in-depth modern jazz histories -- this two-CD compilation has two and a half hours of British jazz from 1949-1960. That's almost as much music as a double CD can hold, and while experts on the style will no doubt be aware of much worthy material that didn't make the cut, this would seem to be a good overview or introduction to this relatively little-studied corner of '50s jazz. A few of the names might be familiar to the serious jazz fan, like Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth, Ted Heath, Don Rendell, Tony Crombie (unfortunately not represented by "Eastern Journey," upon which the Who based "Cobwebs and Strange"), Tubby Hayes, and Tito Burns (though he's more renowned as a pop manager/promoter than a musician). But it's safe to say that even the typical well-schooled jazz listener will have encountered few if any of these tracks before. While jazz is justly thought of as a primarily American idiom, however, this is a highly respectable and diverse collection of 35 tracks in various styles, from swing and bop to cool and Latin-influenced. It might be a bit more reserved than the most renowned recordings in these areas, and not heavily colored by (as U.K. rock of the 1960s was) a particularly British character. Yet it can hold its own with the jazz music being made across the ocean during the same era, occasionally going into some odd but interesting detours like Dankworth's cinematic "African Waltz" (a U.K. Top Ten hit), the Stan Tracey Trio's vibe-heavy "Free," and the Afro-Cuban jazz in Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists' "Mango Walk." Some more in-depth detail and context in the liner notes would have been nice, but overall it's a surprisingly interesting and entertaining survey.