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Various Artists: 55 Years Of Jazz

Nic Jones By

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This isn't so much a compilation as it is a celebration of an American institution. As the title suggests, Delmark records has been around for over half a century and on the basis of the evidence offered here, it's not difficult to see why. The label has always been a broad church—how can that not be true with releases out by both Art Hodes and Roscoe Mitchell?—and the diversity presented in this release really brings the point home.

As the label is based in Chicago, it's perhaps unsurprising that the music scene in that city has been so closely documented. In that regard, this album is a celebration of diversity. Yves Francois' take on "Lester Leaps On" kicks things off almost literally, in a manner that's a testament to good programming and also perhaps emblematic of the diversity of Chicago's music.

King Curtis's "Dynamite At Midnight," first featured on one of the Honkers & Bar Walkers' compilations, is a searing slice of R&B through rock 'n roll from 1956 that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Federal or King label. While the clarinetist George Lewis' "Doctor Jazz" is more than sufficient evidence of how far back the label goes.

The contrast of Kalaparush's "In My Morning Song" couldn't be greater, consisting of unaccompanied tenor sax that owes little in the way of stylistic allegiance to anyone. In the same spirit of contrast, Coleman Hawkins, the man arguably upon whom the very position of the tenor sax in jazz rests, comes along a couple of tracks later on "Bu-De-Daht" in a hybrid swing/bop vein, the sheer force of his musicality and the virility of his sound carrying all before it. Sun Ra's "Brainville" changes the frame of reference in a manner less radical than many might imagine, although it still has the air of a certain impatience with established big band forms, even while there are passages where the music's right in keeping with that tradition.

Perhaps it's inevitable that the accompanying DVD is not as eclectic as the CD but it still manages to put across the impression of a label that is restless in the best sense of the term. The Jazz-O-Maniacs and Fred Anderson are, when all is said and done, not the likeliest of bedfellows, but that in itself is cause for celebration of a label that's done its own thing, regardless and indeed heedless of any commercial imperative.

Track Listing: CD: Lester Leaps In; Goin' To Town; Dynamite At Midnight; Saro-Wiwa; Equinox; It's Crazy; Doctor Jazz; Black Metropolis; In My Morning Song; Mode For Mabes; Bu-De-Daht; Brainville; Panama Rag. DVD: The Creator Has Other Plans For Me; Richard's Tune; My Baby; Flashback; Big M; Power (Excerpt).

Personnel: Yves Francois; Deep Blue Organ Trio; King Curtis; Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls; Curtis Fuller; Francine Griffin; George Lewis; Malachi Thompson; Kalaparush; Eric Alexander; Coleman Hawkins; Sun Ra; Art Hodes (CD); Nicole Mitchell; Ari Brown; Jazz-O-Maniacs; Fred Anderson; Ritual Trio; Chicago Underground Trio (DVD).

Title: 55 Years Of Jazz | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Delmark Records

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