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Holiday Gift Guide 2008

By Published: December 6, 2008
Considering the wealth of material included in this sizable boxed set, this should be an essential gift idea for the jazz fan on your Christmas list, an economically-priced import that lists for under $100.

Anthony Braxton
Complete Arista Recordings

This box documents the most quixotic signing by a major label in the rock era. From 1974-80 Anthony Braxton, a multi-reed playing musical omnivore, was signed and given incredible artistic license by Arista. Braxton made nine albums during that time, including double and triple LPs. This eight-disc box is the material's first complete digital issue.

Creative Orchestra Music 1976 is the one LP that was a complete success, critically if not quite commercially, winning the Downbeat Critics Poll for Record of the Year. Comprising most of Disc Five here, it holds up remarkably well as complex yet visceral, multiphonic big band jazz. And though half of this box can't be considered jazz at all—notably an almost two-hour piece "For Four Orchestras" and the 50-minute "Opus 95 for Two Pianos"—the quartet recordings are some of the finest post-bop jazz to come out of that decade. The studio sides feature Braxton with Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Dave Holland (bass) and Jerome Cooper or Barry Altschul (drums). Trombonist George Lewis replaces Wheeler in a live Berlin concert recording, a highlight of this box. In its own quirky fashion, the quartet could generate incredible swing momentum, even with the oom-pah of "Opus 6C". And Braxton's creativity, virtuosity and command of everything from sopranino sax to contrabass clarinet (used occasionally for comic effect) alone makes him a major jazz figure. As do the surprisingly listenable solo alto sax sessions. The big band and quartet sides, if nothing else, should be made available in single CDs so more jazz fans can hear how good they are.

The Thing
Now and Forever
Smalltown Superjazz

In eight years, The Thing—saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love—have become Europe's most dynamic improvising ensemble. The group has released nine albums including collaborations with Joe McPhee and Ken Vandermark and most of their output has come through the efforts of the Smalltown Superjazz (STSJ) label. Two of the three albums that preceded that affiliation have now been reissued as part of STSJ's first foray into the Boxed Set. Now and Forever brings together the trio's first two albums for Crazy Wisdom—2000's The Thing and 2001's She Knows...—along with an unearthed 2005 recording and a DVD documenting a 2005 Norwegian festival set.

The Thing extrude a remarkable level of vehemence and did so from the very beginning, as demonstrated on their debut, a tribute to Don Cherry that gave rise to their moniker, and their second disc, done with McPhee, which established the model of drawing music from a wide array of sources like PJ Harvey and Frank Lowe. The 30+ minute DVD is part of a concert with one of four tracks featuring guest guitarist Thurston Moore. The Thing are one of the more visually appealing groups out there, whether it be their matching Ruby's BBQ t-shirts or onstage histrionics, so the the visual record is a valuable one.

It was far too early to have The Thing's early work out of print so Now and Forever allows the full arc of the group's development to continue to be appreciated. An accompanying booklet, light on text but heavy on visceral photographs, including a reproduction of a Ruby's BBQ menu, is a congenial addition.

Pannonica de Koenigswarter, Gary Giddins, Nadine de Koenigswarter
Three Wishes:An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats
Abrams Image

For the jazz junkie who thought they had everything but still needed more here's a suggestion for a great, affordable holiday gift. With more than 300 pages of photos and text Three Wishes by the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter is the perfect coffee table addition. Shaped like a cinder block, nearly as heavy yet easy to manage, this book contains the Baroness' polaroids of all the musicians she knew in clubs or when they came calling at her "cat house" in Jersey as it was known: she kept more than 100, cats that is, and jazz cats as well.

Where else can the jazz voyeur/voyager see Monk bare-chested on the telephone or in a fur coat, Miles in a chair with his crotch up in the air, greats like Sonny Clark, Horace Silver, Newk, the list goes on and on. Also many lesser-known folks, some forgotten and plenty of surprises.

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