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The New York Times Essential Library--Jazz: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings

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Jazz, like several twentieth century art forms, has for decades seemed to gain acceptance as a scholarly concern in part because of a number of renowned writers and critics heralding something that was once, remarkably, regarded as vulgar, base entertainment for the base masses, and now deemed America's indigenous artistic progeny. As with James Agee and film, Ralph Ellison, Gunther Schuller, and Whitney Balliett provided a lift for jazz's ascendance and acceptance, creating a forum for the intelligentsia that lasts today and is often determined by what, of a number of constantly appearing items, is appearing next—an eight disc box of Bill Evans club recordings, for instance, or a book, like this one, somewhat indicative of the current state of jazz and its current critics.

Ben Ratliff is a pop and jazz critic at The New York Times , who does not, one presumes, fabricate stories, but who rather writes the sort of book whose type can be slotted into any of a number of areas of interests—television shows, fishing lures, electric grills, or silent films—that is to say, the book that has become a reflection of our times, codifying, listing, and deciding on the best of the best in easy-scan fashion—make of it what you will, the book of lists. Ratliff is passionate, though his penchant for the word "mentholated" suggests a perplexing print liaison with the Rolling Stones' "Jig-saw Puzzle," and he chooses commendably; Ahmad Jamal's Cross Country Tour: 1958- 1961 gets a well-deserved nod, and the very concept of the stellar live jazz album is suggested, rightfully, to have a more expansive role in jazz's aesthetic legacy than the live albums of any other musical genre. But as for jazz and its future, or even its thirty year past, about eighty-percent of these recordings come from the sixties or earlier. Ratliff lists his choices chronologically, so pity the Wayne Shorter fan prepared to berate, or celebrate, the qualified artistic merits of Highlights from the Plugged Nickel versus In Stockholm 1960 Complete.


Copyright 2004 Goldmine / Krause Publications . Reprinted with permission.


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