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Customer Review

on 13 November 2013
This set comprises 31 albums (!) over 34 CDs. The set is nicely packaged in a sturdy cardboard box with the CDs in vinyl replica sleeves made of thick cardboard (none of the cheapo packaging of the recent Warner/Rhino multi-album reissues). There is a comprehensive (and fascinating) 200 page book containing many pics and a superb set of liner notes and full album credits. All this for 98 quid in my case, that is under 3 quid an album - outrageous value for money.

The most important thing of course is the music and whilst it is unlikely that one person will like everything on this set equally much there is such a staggering range of musical forms present here that it would take a complete philistine to not gain much enjoyment from what is on offer. The set starts in '72 at the end of Herbie's Mwandishi band with the visionary 'space jazz' "Sextant" LP. The set then proceeds into Herbie's most commercially (and artistically) successful Headhunters period with the seminal "Headhunters" LP and its almost as good follow-up "Thrust" - brilliantly imaginative jazz-funk with lashings of tasty Fender Rhodes piano playing. This period is capped by the superb Japan-only double LP live set; "Flood" with extended wilder versions of many of the tracks from "Headhunters" & "Thrust".

The set also contains eleven largely acoustic LPs from the '75-'82 period, eight of which were only released in Japan at the time, since acoustic jazz was not commercially viable in the West in this period, including the ex-Miles players (Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, with Freddie Hubbard standing in for Miles) that comprised the V.S.O.P. band in various permutations (quintet and trio). Many of these albums were live but there were also a few illuminating studio sets with fresh material of which the two trio recordings are particularly fine. These LPs were particularly revelatory to me especially with the more powerful bass sound Ron Carter was able to achieve compared to his '60's work. In my opinion these are the real "lost treasures" that a comprehensive set like this should unearth and if you are a fan of modern acoustic jazz then these LPs are the source since V.S.O.P. were enormously influential on the acoustic jazz revival of the '80's and beyond.

As the '70's continues the quality of Herbie's electric work slowly declined through the patchy "Sunlight" and "Man-Child" & "Secrets" LPs, not helped by his disbanding of the original Headhunters band after '76, ultimately reaching a nadir with the pure disco of the "Feets Don't Fail Me Now", "Monster", "Magic Windows" & "Lite Me Up" LPs - all of which had zero jazz content and were a pure bid for the charts. However in this period Herbie was still occasionally capable of producing interesting electric work including 1980's "Mr. Hands" which was a pleasing throwback to his Headhunters period (no vocals thank God!), some of '79's "Butterfly" a collaboration with the Japanese female vocalist Kimiko Kasai (nice version of the title track), and the live in the studio Japanese only set; "DirectStep" also from '79.

It is ironic therefore that after the commercial excesses of the late '70's Herbie was able to score an unlikely genuine hit record with the electro of '83's "Rockit" and its accompanying album "Future Machine". He then followed this hit up with two more LPs in the same vein, "Sound-System" & "Perfect Machine" looking for another smash but to no avail due to diminishing returns. These three LPs sound terribly dated in the 21st century with extensive use of gated drums, programmed beats, scratching and harsh echoey keyboard textures (no Fender Rhodes here alas). Nevertheless they hold a degree of nostalgia value for me since it was through these that I was introduced to Herbie in the mid-80's.

Herbie also scored the movie 'Round Midnight' in '86 with a classic set of vocal and instrumental acoustic late hours jazz (appropriately!) --- probably the best thing he was associated with in the '80's and ironically sounding much less dated today than his contemporaneous techno experiments.

So in conclusion a lot of money yes but you really get some bang for your buck with excellent packaging, comprehensive liner notes (always underrated in the modern reissue industry) and fantastic remastered sound. As for the music --- Mwandishi, Headhunters superb as is a lot of the acoustic (and to date rare) V.S.O.P. associated material. Slowly diminishing returns on the electric side from '76 to '79 until you reach the nadir of the 3-4 "disco" albums of the late '70s to early '80s. Then you get the '83-'88 electro albums that sound horribly dated but still hold a degree of charm to those who remembered them 1st time round. The '70's live sets comprising electric and acoustic sides of Herbie's personality are mostly excellent bar some '70's indulgences (some unenlightening and long drum solos!) including a charming piano duo set by Herbie with Chick Corea, his old compadre from the Miles late '60's electric band. I'd therefore mark the set 8 out of 10 (with two marks docked for the disco stuff).
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4.7 out of 5 stars