Various Artists

The Black Box of Jazz [Millenia]

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An excellent four-CD compilation of top-flight performances by members of the upper tier of the jazz world. This collection is a mixture of studio and live performances focusing on musicians from bop and post-bop era, although there's a healthy presentation of swing and pre-bop musicians. Moreover, many of these tracks had not been released when this set was issued in 1995. In addition, a lot of the performances from the late '80s and early '90s. But there are some cuts from the 1950s as well, most notably "Off Minor" from a 1957 set with Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Coleman Hawkins. With 50 tracks covering more than five hours of different styles of jazz music, this box set is a veritable jazz smorgasbord. Woody Herman typically limited his solo opportunities, passing them onto the preeminent jazz musicians who worked in his various aggregations, Herds, and otherwise. But this compilation includes a version of "Mood Indigo" with Herman's clarinet working with Lionel Hampton's vibes and Roland Hanna's piano that can be best described as breathtaking. Playing mostly in the middle and lower registers, his clarinet captures the sense of "blueness" which is conveyed with this Duke Ellington classic masterpiece. Hampton, in fact, appears several times throughout this set in a variety of scenarios as leader and sideman and with players representing a variety of styles from Gerry Mulligan to Charles Mingus. Hard bop master Art Blakey shows up with a 1980 version of "Moanin" with a Jazz Messengers iteration that includes Wynton Marsalis and Billy Pierce. It are Marsalis' trumpet and Peirce's tenor that are highlighted on this track. Another treat is Louis Bellson's dazzling drumming on "Caravan," on a 1987 Phil Woods track. There's a fine Freddie Hubbard Quintet track, "Bolivia," from a live 1991 performance at a jazz festival in Warsaw, Poland. However, to fully enjoy this set, misspellings, incorrect recording dates, and other errors will have to be tolerated. But, given the amount and quality of music available here, more than a little forbearance is warranted. This set is still in print. But it may have to be obtained from a British distributor.

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