Night Lights' annual report to the investors: Reports of the death of reissues have proven to be somewhat exaggerated, though there's little doubt that the boom days of the 1990s are well behind us. There's also an unmistakable sense in certain quarters that jazz has become far too enamored of its own history. That said (and this cultural reporter/programmer, while keenly aware of Night Lights' own penchant for jazz history, sees the desire to move forward as a good thing), here's my annual, always-highly-subjective round-up of favorite historical releases and reissues from the past year:
Chet Baker, She Was Too Good to Me. Baker's 1974 comeback album, proving that he could still bring the romantic-melancholic goods, not to mention playing trumpet, after having lost his teeth several years earlier in an apparently drug-related altercation. Paul Desmond offers a couple of lovely cameos as well. For a double dose of 1970s (and 80s) Chet, also check out The Sesjun Radio Shows.
John Carter/Bobby Bradford, The Complete Revelation Sessions. Changing of the avant-guard: Carter and Bradford in the late 1960s and 70s picking up where Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry left off.
Clarke-Boland Big Band, Complete Live Recordings at Ronnie Scott's February 28 1969. Hard-kicking music from one of the best big bands of the past 50 years.
Nat King Cole, The Forgotten 1949 Carnegie Hall Concert. A live portrait of Nat, circa 1949: bop, Latin, novelty, and some of the tunes that made him famous. Here he's still in the hit-that-jive-jack trio format (augmented by percussionist Jack Costanzo), but already on his way to the 1950s/60s days of pop solo-singer stardust. (You can hear some of the music from this CD on this Afterglow show.)
Duke Ellington, The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick/Columbia/Master Recordings. One of the most important and underrepresented-on-CD periods of Ellington's career is beginning to see the light with the release of this set.
Ella Fitzgerald, Twelve Nights in Hollywood. Fitzgerald in her vocal prime, swinging with more-than-rote expressiveness in a Hollywood nightclub, backed by an excellent small group.
Ahmad Jamal, The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions 1956-62. Has the "cocktail pianist" jibe been laid to rest forever? One would hope, by 2010, but if further evidence is needed that Jamal (aided by the superb work of bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernal Fournier) was up to all sorts of interesting rhythmic and harmonic things, then simply turn to this set (another Mosaic production).
Charles Mingus, Complete 1961-62 Birdland Broadcasts. The Baron in all of his early-1960s glory with a spectacular cast of sidemen-Booker Ervin, Yusef Lateef, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk just a few of the players contributing to the bassist's funky-bop rave-ups broadcast from the jazz corner of the world.
Modern Jazz Quartet, Under the Jasmin Tree/Space. The MJQ in the late 1960s on Apple, of all labels. Turns out there were some jazz fans in the House the Beatles Built.
Artie Shaw, Complete Thesaurus Transcriptions 1949. Shaw's last great big band, together for only several months, captured in a handful of recording sessions. With young, bop-influenced arrangers like Tadd Dameron and a saxophone section that included Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, this band deserved to make it big-but as Shaw famously remarked, "Everybody liked it but the people."
Frank Sinatra-Antonio Carlos Jobim, Complete Reprise Recordings. The Chairman of the Board meets the master of bossa nova for a laidback late-1960s Sinatra masterpiece.
Various artists, Cabaret Echoes: New Orleans Jazzers at Work, 1918-1927. From the Archeophone folks who brought us that superb King Oliver collection several years ago, a worthy and wide-ranging followup that might be one of the best documents of early New Orleans recorded jazz ever issued. Some listeners have complained about the insertion of historic interview snippets between the music tracks, but I'd say it's well worth it to simply reprogram the CD if the in-between talk bothers you, and dig into the deep, deep roots of Treme.
Various artists, California Concert: the Hollywood Palladium. Party like it's 1971: a CTI superstar affair with Freddie Hubbard, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine and others ushering in the dawn of a new jazz decade.
Various artists, CTI Records: the Cool Revolution. The title makes a bold claim, but several decades on it's easier to render a more objective verdict about That Seventies Label: they did make some pretty damn good records, a bitchin' brew of straightahead jazz, strings and soul. This set also lays down some of the other CTI highways and byways, including Brazilian and pop-classical crossover.
- Roy Brooks, Ethnic Expressions. Live Afro-spiritual jazz of the 1970s, straight outta Small's Paradise in Harlem.
- New York Art Quartet, Old Stuff. A significant addition to the slim body of work that represents this 1960s avant-jazz group.
- Mike Reed's People, Places and Things, Stories and Negotiations. A new recording, but historical by virtue of its tribute to the 1950s/60s Chicago jazz scene, replete with some of that scene's players (Ira Sullivan, Julian Priester, and Art Hoyle).
- Gabor Szabo, Jazz Raga. The musical content is of varying quality, but jazz sitar? 'Nuff said.
Several Books and DVDs of Note
- Harvey Cohen, Duke Ellington's America.
- Will Friedwald, A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers.
- Various writers, John Coltrane and Black America's Quest for Freedom and Coltrane on Coltrane: the John Coltrane Interviews.
- John Cassavetes, Johnny Staccato.