Best Reissues of 2004

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Keeping with tradition, over the past few years this column has turned its attention to some of the best reissues of the past twelve months, looking carefully for any albums that might have been profiled here and subsequently made it to compact disc. Not surprisingly, the vault material still available for mining becomes increasingly less and less each year. Still, many fine reissues made their debut and the Japanese market remained a major source of inspiration. So while jazz ukulele playing as heard on the Verve reissue of Lyle Ritz's How About Uke? might be an obscurity for few tastes, albums like Gloria Coleman's Soul Sisters and Jack Wilson's Easterly Winds were long overdue for rediscovery.

Interestingly enough, avant-garde piano luminary Andrew Hill seemed to be the man of the hour last year, the appearance of his previously unreleased Passing Ships making a big splash with the critics. Building on that momentum, in 2004 Blue Note finally decided to reissue the formerly scarce Hill classic Dance With Death and plans are in the works for a boxed set with yet more of Hill's unreleased Blue Note material. And speaking of boxed sets, they made a big comeback this year with deluxe packages dedicated to the works of Albert Ayler, Tal Farlow, Dave Brubeck, Dinah Washington, Art Farmer and Benny Golson. So in no particular order, here are ten of the best reissues of 2004.

1. Lalo Schifrin/Bob Brookmeyer
Samba Para Dos

Previously featured on Jazz From the Vinyl Junkyard , this 1963 gem is a perfect hybrid of bossa and jazz sensibilities. Finally available through Japan in a mini-gatefold sleeve, not only will Brookmeyer fans find much to enjoy here, but Schifrin delivers one of his hottest solos on the title track.

2. Jack Wilson
Easterly Winds
Blue Note

One of the rarest items from the Blue Note catalog, pianist Jack Wilson's sophomore effort for Blue Note fits the hard bop mold of the label to a tee, with Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean, and Billy Higgins among the heavyweights on board. Supporting crew aside, it's Wilson's superb charts that make this set worthy of wider recognition.

3. Gloria Coleman
Soul Sisters

Well nothing earth shattering happens on this organ combo record, but when it comes to lowdown funky soul-jazz, it doesn't get much better than this. This 1963 rarity also features Leo Wright and the legendary Grant Green, two further reasons to add this one to your collection.

4. Wynton Kelly

Of the three albums that pianist Wynton Kelly recorded for Verve during the mid '60s, this one has always been a personal favorite. Kelly is in fine form, the writing is strong, and with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb along for the ride you can't help but win with yet another trinket from the Japanese market.

5. Dexter Gordon
The Complete Prestige Recordings

Although many a critic might be tempted to suggest that Dexter's prime years were spent recording for Blue Note in the '60s, the fact remains that the tenor man's latter output had more than its share of rewards too. Over the course of eleven discs, this set is a hearty smorgasbord of hard bop delights and will be a valuable addition to any Gordon collection.

6. Andrew Hill
Dance With Death
Blue Note

A true American treasure, pianist Andrew Hill's output for Blue Note remains among the finest jazz music of the century. This late '60s date was belatedly released for a brief period in the '70s, but has never made it to CD until now. With a mix of funk elements and a more overt sense of swing, Hill's music is a marvel and the talents of Joe Farrell and Charles Tolliver are put to great use as well.

7. Don Pullen
Mosaic Select 13
Mosaic Mail Order

Sadly missed since his untimely death in 1995, pianist Don Pullen and tenor man George Adams led one of the best mainstream jazz groups of the past 25 years. The tragedy has been that the pair's two superior Blue Notes, Breakthrough and Song Everlasting have been gone from the catalog for too long. All has been remedied with this three disc set that includes those albums plus Pullen's trio discs New Beginnings and Random Thoughts.

8. Horace Arnold
Tales of the Exonerated Flea

A lost bit of fusion magic, this 1974 set finds the master drummer sharing the stage with such diverse talents as Ralph Towner, Sonny Fortune, George Mraz, and David Friedman. Not as psychedelic as Mahavishnu Orchestra, but more melodically diverse than Weather Report, Arnold managed a distinct melange that is ripe for rediscovery.

9. Moacir Santos
Forma/Universal Music Brazil

Deeply inspired by American jazz, Moacir Santos has been one of Brazil's most important composers for many decades. This 1965 set for Robert Quartin's Forma label was his maiden voyage and prior to this first time reissue the LP fetched whopping sums of money on the used market. A sublime concoction of classical and jazz elements makes this Brazilian amalgam some of the best the genre has to offer.

10. Miles Davis
Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1963-1964

This seven-disc set may be the sleeper of the boxed sets documenting Miles Davis' tenure with Columbia Records. By no means should this suggest that it is of lesser value as nothing could be farther from the truth. Although the tenor saxophone chair is in flux throughout, staring with George Coleman and ending with Wayne Shorter, this series of live recordings catches Miles and the band in prime form. Albums like Miles in Tokyo and Miles in Berlin have never been available before in the United States and the bristling nature of both of these sets are worth the price of admission alone.

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