Highlights: April - June 2004

Charlie B. Dahan By

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Though the Straight from the Vault calendar information will be moved to our new Upcoming Releases section, I intend to update the list several times a week to keep you well informed of the plethora of reissues and special projects that will be hitting the stores soon. In addition, there will still be a highlight column, where the best of the best will be spotlighted. Speaking of the best of the best...

Best Overall Reissue Package

Contemporary Records Story
(Contemporary / Fantasy)

There is a huge difference between a good reissue package and a great one. Good packages contain a reason for it’s existence, such as unreleased takes or a new look at a recording or period / theme with a new compiling of tracks and in depth liner notes. A great one contains the preceding but it also plays enjoyably from the first track to the last. They are musically pleasing, as well as containing all the extras. Fantasy has released such a set with its box set look at the Contemporary Record label.

The Contemporary Records Story is a four CD box with excellent liner notes and insight that celebrates the label’s and it’s founder’s, Lester Koenig, history. There can be no doubt that Contemporary played as significant a roll in recording and exposing a tremendous stable or artists and recordings to the public.

Koenig founded Contemporary Records in 1951 in Los Angeles as a ‘refuge,’ so to speak, of the Red Scare in Hollywood where he was employed. The label began as a Classical recording company, but Koenig realized he was in the midst of a fertile and growing jazz community based around the Lighthouse establishment – so much so that his first jazz release was the LP Sunday Jazz a la Lighthouse with the Howard Rumsey Lighthouse All-stars. The boxset features a recording from this LP entitled “Viva Zapata!”

The boxset divides it’s four discs up between different eras at the label. The first disc contains recordings from 1952-1956. The central figure on this CD and probably the most important artist that worked for Contemporary, is Shelly Manne, who served both as a bandleader and drummer for many of the sides at Contemporary. The second CD, 1956-1958, deals with the ‘bigger names’ that would record for and make Contemporary successful. This disc contains works by Art Pepper, Benny Carter, Red Norvo, Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson, Andre Previn and Ornette Coleman. The third CD again celebrates the great players and sides recorded between 1958 and 1960. In addition to the regulars, included are sides by Cecil Taylor, Helen Humes and Barney Kessell. The final CD culminates tracks from 1960 until Koenig’s death in 1977 with recordings by Art Farmer, Chico Freeman and Ray Brown.

What makes this package stand out is it’s ability to be historically significant and musically consistent. One attribute of Lester Koenig’s business acumen was his attention to detail and desire to always put the best sounding recording out to the public – this project serves both his memory and legacy well.

Best Look at a Vocalist

Thirty of Maria Muldaur: I’m A Woman
(Shout Factory)

One of music’s great blues / roots singers is finally celebrated in this career retrospective from the fine folks at Shout Factory. Maria Muldaur’s career spans thirty years that has witnessed her as a pivotal part of the fertile Greenwich Village folk scene, massive pop success, Grammy nominations and critical acclaim.

Stand out tracks contained in this package include her mega-hit “Midnight at the Oasis,” the big band / sassy “It’s Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion),” her take on the Memphis Minnie Classic “Me and My Chauffer Blues” and the passionate song to her homeland “Louisiana Love Call.” But to be honest, this is a ‘drop the needle’ type collection – you’ll get a great recording / performance no matter from where you start listening.

The package also includes appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Charles Brown. Muldaur, herself, comments with insightful and pertianant explanations about each track in the collection. While, there aren’t any essays that speak to the artist’s history and background in as much depth as one would wish, this package is well worth the price of admission.

Best Historically Enlightening Package

Albert King’s Windy City Blues

This is an exploration of King’s little known recordings from the 1970 sessions with Willie Dixon that never materialized into a full length record, two tunes from 1960 for Prestige, eight tunes with King as a sideman for Sunnyland Slim, The Muddy Waters Band and Billy Boy Arnold and rounding out this collection are three alternate takes with Homesick James. While not always transitioning smoothly from one track to the next, one cannot doubt the great insight and brilliance displayed by these recordings from King’s career.

Perfect for the Summer Collection

Various Artists Latin Jam
(Concord Picante)

It sizzles, it’s spicy; culminated from a great catalogue of Latin jazz recordings, Concord assembles a great collection that plays perfectly from the first second to the fade out on the last track. Included in this collection are performances by Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, the Caribbean Jazz Project with Dave Samuels and Dave Valentin, Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. Fire up the grill and turn this one up to eleven!

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