Best jazz box sets, from Sinatra to Miles to Mehldau
Howard ReichContact Reporter
We're obviously deep into the digital age, but that hasn't stopped labels from producing expansive and important jazz box sets. Among the best:
Frank Sinatra, "A Voice on Air (1935-1955)" (Columbia/Legacy Recordings; $69.98): This year's Sinatra centennial has yielded several commemorations, and this four-CD set ranks among the best. Though so much of Sinatra's enormous discography already has been released in uncounted packages, "A Voice on Air" traces the first two decades of the man's career via lesser-known radio broadcasts. The treasures include songs Sinatra never documented in the recording studio, as well as duets with Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and Johnny Mercer. Essential listening for Sinatra devotees.
"Miles Davis at Newport: 1955-1975, The Bootleg Series Vol. 4"(Columbia/Legacy Recordings; $49.98): This four-CD set opens with trumpeter Davis' debut at the Newport Jazz Festival and traces the next two decades of his live performances there. That includes four hours of music that has not been released before and features Davis in the company of Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Dave Liebman and more.
Brad Mehldau, "10 Years Solo Live" (Nonesuch Records; $33.98): Few contemporary jazz pianists command as devoted a following as Mehldau, whose incantatory solo performances vary freely among classical, jazz and pop influences. Four CDs of his solo sets have been gathered here, Mehldau reimagining everything from a Brahms Intermezzo to Thelonious Monk's "Think of One" to Kurt Cobain's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"The Complete Bee Hive Sessions" (Mosaic Records; mosaicrecords.com; $169): Jazz lovers owe a huge debt to Chicagoans Jim and Susan Neumann, who in 1977 started Bee Hive Jazz Records and proceeded to capture the work of Nick Brignola, Pepper Adams, Curtis Fuller, Dizzy Reece, Clifford Jordan, Roland Hanna and, most famously, singer Johnny Hartman. Now that music has been collected in 12 CDs, filling holes in many collections.
"The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions" (Mosaic Records; mosaicrecords.com; $149): The 1940s represented an explosive period in jazz, marking the rise of bebop and the emergence of a new generation of technically brilliant, artistically fearless stars. Dial Records preserved work of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Melba Liston, Erroll Garner and more, the music re-mastered here on nine CDs.
William Parker, "For Those Who Are, Still" (AUM Fidelity; $30): Two years ago, bassist-composer Parker earned wide critical acclaim for the eight-CD box set "Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012," which illuminated free-ranging, abstract music created in the heat of the moment. "For Those Who Are, Still," a three-CD set, takes a different tack, focusing on Parker's long-form works, from a sweeping, symphonic opus to a vocal-instrument suite of songs.
Johnny Mathis, "The Singles" (Columbia/Legacy Recordings; $59.98): Having turned 80 this year, singer Mathis surely deserves this four-CD tribute, spanning 1956 to 1981. Of course, that includes such classics as "When Sunny Gets Blue," "It's Not For Me to Say," "Chances Are," "Wonderful! Wonderful!" and "The Twelfth of Never." But the set reaches beyond the familiar, with singles such as "All the Sad Young Men," "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Wild is the Wind."
Weather Report, "The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981" (Legacy Recordings; $59.98): For those who value jazz-rock fusion, this four-CD set will provide a taste of how Weather Report sounded in concert at a high point in its evolution. The group at the time featured Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine and Robert Thomas Jr.
Erroll Garner, "The Complete Concert by the Sea" (Legacy Recordings; $15.98): Pianist Garner achieved an unexpected hit with his "Concert by the Sea" LP, recorded live in 1955 and quickly selling nearly a quarter million copies. But that didn't include everything Garner and his trio performed in concert in Carmel, Calif. The new set adds 11 tracks previously unavailable, a post-concert interview and the recording as originally released.