Wow. It's too bad this extraordinary box set will probably never garner the recognition and accolades it deserves. The relatively high price and the fact that the name Keystone isn't well known like other small jazz labels works against any widespread recognition. This collection has been reviewed already, so I won't repeat the same information and waste time and space. But one thing is certain--this music rates 5 "stars"--maybe more if it was possible. I'm surprised and a bit saddened that more jazz fans haven't made some noise about this fine collection of music. Released over a year ago (2013), this should've been a contender for jazz reissue of the year.
I'm writing this to hopefully, in my own small way, bring this fine set of 1940's era jazz to more jazz lover's attention. This is an example of a living breathing moment, when jazz was moving away from traditional Dixieland/swing styles into the be-bop era. Across these eleven discs you'll hear both styles. And besides some great jazz, you're also hearing the period when music was morphing, moving ahead, and away from the seeming constraints of traditional swing style jazz. This was ( and still is) a major turning point in jazz, and you're there when the changeover is happening. A good example of this musical shift is on Disc 1. Listen to George Hartman's Dixieland jazz, and then listen to vocalist Dinah Washington with Lionel Hampton's band. You can hear the change from traditional jazz to something newer. Also listen to Roy Eldridge's "I Want To Be Happy", which combines both older and newer styles of music.
Included are sides by Lester Young, Dinah Washington, Roy Eldridge, George Hartman, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, Billy Taylor, Red Norvo, Chubby Jackson, Barney Bigard, Milt Hinton, J.C. Heard, Bud Freeman, Ted Nash, Juan Tizol, Benny Carter, Lennie Tristano, Ann Hathaway, Neal Hefti, Red Rodney, and a number of other well and lesser known artists.
The Fresh Sounds label has done right by this music. The digitally remastered sound has done small wonders for the 1940's era 78 rpm recordings--clean and more open sounding without any digital harshness--the authenticity hasn't been smothered by a modern approach. But you can hear the limitations of the recording process (hiss/lack of dynamics) of the era, plus the sources used aren't, after all this time, pristine. The discs slip into glossy jackets with photos and song information on the front and back sides. The eleven jackets fit inside their own (glossy) slipcase which then fits inside the well done outer box slipcase. Plus there's a small 40's era-looking poster with photos of the musicians with name and instrument for each--a nice touch. But along with the great music is an equally great 124 glossy page (!) booklet. It contains the story of Keynote Records along with an essay on jazz fan Harry Lim, who was responsible for recording and documenting jazz in the 1940's for the label. The albums he recorded soon became collector's items and are hard to find today. The story of the music and the early years of the label is laid out in wonderful detail, and continues with Lim recording so much great music. Also included is recording information for each track along with brief (but well written and intelligent) information (mostly taken from Down Beat and Metronome) on the various musicians. And when you include the many great period photos, well, this is one of the best booklets I've ever come across, and an example of how things should be done.
So I'm hoping more jazz fans will somehow come across this and other reviews of this seminal collection of jazz. No one's jazz library can be called "complete" and/or definitive without this box set. How often can you witness a living, breathing change in a musical genre into new, uncharted territory before your own ears?
And while I'm at it, you might also want to check out "Jazz On Disques Vogue" (Sony/Vogue Legacy), a 20 CD set of good/great jazz from both American and French jazz artists. This is another box set that has set packaging standards very high, plus the sound taken from these old 78 rpm vinyl albums is as good as they're likely to ever be. There's occasional surface noise and other anomalies throughout the set, but the jazz is unassailable. And unlike the Keystone set, this set can be found for well under fifty dollars as I write this. Jazz fans will find much to like all through this outstanding collection from the Vogue label. An undiscovered treasure for jazz fans.