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So, yet another in Sony/BMG's series of cheap boxes of 25 original albums. This one sticks strictly to the Sony half of the combine, exploring Columbia's rich jazz heritage with an odd mixture of the crashingly predictable (e.g. Kind Of Blue, Time Out), the sensible - i.e. they're very good but not everyone's already got 'em (e.g. Blues By Basie, Thelonious Monk's Criss Cross, The Bill Evans Album) and the thoroughly unexpected or unusual (e.g. Ornette Coleman's Skies Of America, Tony Bennett's Beat Of My Heart, Max Roach's M'Boom). The mere fact that this box contains music by both Ornette Coleman and Tony Bennett - and Mahavishnu Orchestra for that matter - tells you this is not aimed at anyone with a narrow view of what constitutes jazz, although the emphasis on original albums does largely militate against the inclusion of music pre-dating the invention of the LP, of which Columbia recorded (or later acquired via takeover) much jazz of quality and importance.

As a product, and at the price, this box is worth close to 5 stars for anyone who doesn't already have many of the albums it contains, however far too many of the albums included had previously appeared in earlier 25 CD box sets The Perfect Jazz Collection - 25 Original Albums (3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 20) or The Perfect Jazz Collection Box - Volume 2 (9) and I'm deducting a star for this because it was entirely avoidable given the vastness and depth of Columbia's jazz catalogue - what, for instance, was to stop them from including a less obvious Miles Davis album such as E.S.P. instead of Kind Of Blue AGAIN? The breakdown of the content by decade is odd too: 1940s: 1; 1950s: 10; 1960s: 2; 1970s: 10; 1980s: 1; 1990s: 1 - I mean, it's not as if Columbia stopped issuing jazz in the 1960s. But enough quibbling, here are some brief and largely subjective assessments of the contents:

1. Count Basie: Blues By Basie - One of only two LPs here that was a compilation and the only one containing pre-LP recordings, this contains a mixture of small group and big band recordings ranging from 1939 to 1950 (mostly early 1940s) and sticks to the bluesier end of Basie's repertoire, with a mixture of vocals (by Jimmy Rushing) and instrumentals. The whole album is a delight; I'm particularly fond of the version of Leroy Carr's much-covered "How Long Blues" but it's all good. Unfortunately it's also only 36 minutes long - if Sony ever issued an expanded version of this on CD, this isn't it.*****
2. Chet Baker: Chet Baker & Strings - From early in his career - shortly after his first major success - the strings ensure this will divide opinion but they aren't cheesy or syrupy and the band swing. The trumpet is superb but Chet doesn't sing on this album. There are 3 bonus alternate takes.****
3. Sarah Vaughan: In Hi-Fi - Excellent vocal jazz from the late 1940s and early 1950s. This expanded version nearly doubles the 1955 LP, mainly with alternate takes.*****
4. Art Blakey: The Jazz Messengers - One of the founding documents of hard bop, an all-star classic also featuring Horace Silver, Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley. One bonus alternate take.*****
5. Louis Armstrong: Ambassador Satch - Louis Armstrong spent much of the 1950s touring the world with his All-Stars. These recordings are from Milan and Amsterdam; the recording quality is excellent for a mid-1950s live set and the performances superb and joyful. 3 bonus tracks.*****
6. Tony Bennett: The Beat Of My Heart - One of the more unexpected items in this box. Tony Bennett sounds exactly like you'd expect him to, however this is definitely a jazz album, standing out because of its percussion theme (on some tracks he's backed by very little else) and some top-notch jazz talent including Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, Herbie Mann, Nat Adderley and Kai Winding. He's a fine singer and some tracks work well, but overall it's a bit ho-hum. 6 bonus tracks (not alternates) but Army Air Corps Song, listed on the original LP cover, seems to have been mislaid.***
7. Billie Holiday: Lady In Satin - Her voice was substantially ruined by the time of this album and she died less than a year after its release, but her timing, phrasing and emotional impact were fully intact. I find it hard to listen to, others love it. Even if you can take the state of her voice, the orchestral backings and occasional heavenly choir may be a bit much for some. 4 bonus takes.**
8. Duke Ellington: Black, Brown & Beige - Ellington first unveiled this suite in 1943 to a largely indifferent and critical response. 15 years later, the LP format and a more receptive public enabled him to put the whole thing on one disc, this time featuring the beautiful voice of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson on the second side. Despite the "classical form" criticised in 1943, this is very definitely jazz, and very typical Ellington too.****
9. Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um - One of the greatest albums in the history of jazz, simultaneously an artistic triumph and extremely accessible. This edition contains unedited versions of 6 of the original 9 tunes (the editing was purely to fit them all on the original LP - none of the unedited versions outlive their welcome) and 3 bonus tracks (not alternate takes) that sound a bit lost in such exalted company.*****
10. Dave Brubeck: Time Out - At the time, this was the biggest selling jazz LP to date. Its use of unusual time signatures was revolutionary in 1959 but its popularity is all about the tunes. Far too many potential buyers of this box will have this already; there are no bonus tracks.*****
11. Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue - And this one IS the biggest selling jazz album of all time, entirely understandably: its reputation is fully deserved. So here's your chance to own another copy. One bonus alternate take.*****
12. Thelonious Monk: Criss Cross - This was Monk's second LP for Columbia and finds him re-recording old material to excellent if not ground-breaking effect; this doesn't matter because he could always get something new and surprising out of a familiar tune - what he does to hoary old standard Tea For Two, in a trio arrangement, is fabulous. The only tune here that he hadn't recorded before is the Fields/McHugh standard Don't Blame Me, played unaccompanied. A fine version of Pannonica is added to the original album.*****
13. Charlie Byrd: Brazilian Byrd - Commercial but tasteful and rather beautiful acoustic guitar ruminations on tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim, with strings on many tracks. Short and sweet - 9 of the 13 tracks are under 3 minutes. One bonus alternate take.****
14. Bill Evans: The Bill Evans Album - I don't greatly enjoy some of Evans's forays into electric piano, especially on opener, Funkallero, but the rest of the album is far better and his work on the acoustic instrument is mostly superb. 3 bonus alternate takes.****
15. Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame - This stands out like the proverbial sore thumb here - it's a rock record with jazz influences rather than vice versa. The technical virtuosity of the group is stunning, but at times is shown off too blatantly for the music. While some of this dates it rather, the album is worth listening to just for Billy Cobham's astoundingly propulsive drumming, and though it's slightly inferior to its successor, Birds Of Fire, that isn't the only pleasure to be had from it by any means.***
16. Keith Jarrett: Expectations - A wildly eclectic early solo album, originally a double LP, from one of the most enduring latter-day keyboard talents in jazz, varying from latin and soul jazz to the beautiful, strings-drenched title track to nearly free jazz. Something for nearly everybody, and lots of excellent piano. But a few tracks are not that great - it would have made a 5-star single LP.****
17. Ornette Coleman: Skies Of America - Always a mould-breaking musician and composer, this album is one of his oddest, pairing him with the LSO but not his own band, who were prevented from playing due to UK Musicians' Union rules, so the album is not the integration of orchestra and jazz band originally intended. Ornette himself doesn't play on most of the tracks either. Intended and (so far as I can discover) recorded as a single continuous piece, this version is divided into 21 tracks with gaps between some of them, making it rather bitty, as more than half the tracks are under 2 minutes long. Only by virtue of its composer and his occasional saxophone does this remotely belong in the jazz canon - it is 20th century classical music. Despite all this, much of the actual music is quite compelling, if certainly an acquired taste.***
18. Ramsey Lewis: Sun Goddess - Two tracks here feature Lewis's former drummer Maurice White and other members of his current band Earth, Wind & Fire; the rest feature Lewis's regular band of the time. Overall it's a good - and at the time very successful - jazz-funk album; the EW&F tracks don't stand out particularly, in fact my favourite is the version of Stevie Wonder's Living For The City. The synthesizer dates some tracks rather badly.***
19. Freddie Hubbard: High Energy - Mildly funky mid-70s jazz - the album title may be ironic as it never works up to a frenetic tempo. Unexceptional but a very pleasant and classy listen throughout.****
20. Stan Getz: The Best Of Two Worlds - Getz successfully (in musical if not commercial terms) returns to the scene of his triumphs of the 1960s with Brazilian stars Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. No Astrud Gilberto this time, she's replaced by Heliosoa Buarque de Hollanda. Light and airy bossa-jazz. 3 bonus alternate takes.****
21. Weather Report: Black Market - This album marks the arrival of Jaco Pastorius, though only on 2 tracks. When it's funky, it's very funky though not in your face. The tunes are fine but not showy. The synthesizers don't detract. Classy, accessible but not overtly commercial fusion.****
22. Dexter Gordon: Manhattan Symphonie - Recorded shortly after his return from lengthy exile in Europe, not a trace of fusion or other current trends, this is just a superb "proper" jazz album. 2 bonus tracks (not alternate takes)*****
23. Max Roach: M'Boom - One of the real curios in this box, all the sounds on this album are made by percussion instruments played by a 9-piece group. The results are quite tuneful as there are large contributions from tuned percussion instruments like marimba and vibraphone but I suspect the group was better experienced live.***
24. Branford Marsalis: Scenes In The City - Debut as leader by the second member of the Marsalis clan to make it big. Classy hard bop with little concession to the mid-80s; regular listeners will avoid his narration over the Mingus-composed title track after a few listens but that's a minor criticism and the track isn't bad, just not made for repeated listens.****
25. Ellis Marsalis: Whistle Stop - The father of Branford and Wynton, Ellis Marsalis only recorded as a leader from 1990 on. This one features material from leading players on the New Orleans jazz scene of the 1960s, including Marsalis himself, mostly in a quite original-sounding hard bop style - in fact this is the nearest thing to a 60s hard bop album in the whole box. The standard of the tunes is high and the playing - not least from his son Branford - excellent and inventive.*****

So, it's a hugely mixed bag and pushes at several of the boundaries of jazz. While one can quibble about the contents both as a representation of jazz at Columbia and in terms of the duplication of individual albums with their earlier boxes in this series or with albums anyone remotely interested in jazz is likely to already own, this is still a very worthwhile buy at the price because a large majority of it is very good to excellent music, though that doesn't mean any individual listener will necessarily LIKE all of it. The packaging is fine for the price: a sturdy box containing the CDs in cardboard replicas of the LP sleeves, with the notes mostly legible to the sharp-eyed, at least with a magnifying glass. The booklet isn't great - it contains brief commentaries on the albums, which could have used a proofreader, and individual track listings for each album but not recording details or personnel.
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on 9 May 2015
An excellent set of jazz recordings.
If you like jazz, then this is definitely for you!
Strongly Recommended!
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on 30 September 2014
A truly great assembly of some of the mighty figureheads of modern jazz; beautifully presented and excellently chosen!
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on 10 January 2016
A gift for my husband who is a jazz anorak he is ploughing his way through them when I am out!
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on 17 November 2015
I bought this after dinning at the La Belle Epoque in Leigh the music and atmosphere was so good i just had to buy the CD that they played ,good range of songs ,great compilation love it well worth the visit
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on 20 February 2014
My only niggle is that i already own about half of the discs here...but that's hardly the compiler's fault that's because I have the two already released Perfect Jazz Collectiion and Volume 2...
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on 23 December 2014
Some real gems amongst this . Value for money assured . Good essay and general info included .
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on 1 April 2016
Very nice set for the asking price. Decent to very good sound with excellent packaging.
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on 15 November 2014
Coleção impecável.
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on 13 August 2014
indispensable collection for anyone who enjoys music
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