Mark Sabbatini By

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There was rarely a problem obtaining a file and the trips to other sites can even be a benefit, as an already worthwhile collection can get a boost from additional free songs available there.
Sometimes it's a great thing getting a reminder of one's ignorance.

Stumbling upon these user-created collections of free music downloads, usually compiled from different sites and grouped into virtual "albums," exposes an entirely new genre of site foreign to me despite years of scouring the Net for files. Maybe it's just associating the "mix" thing with the vapid techno/sampling remixes littering sites everywhere, but Mixtaper's genre-sorted collections fixes that perception in seconds.

Jazz fans, for instance, can download "It Came From The Public Domain," a collection of 11 songs recorded mostly during the 1920s and '30s by top-name legends and other noteworthy performers. It's as good as any single-disc artists' compilation from the era, especially since the site provides brief details about the significance of each performance and/or song. Another much more modern collection is 10 songs from the independent U.K. label Provocateur Records, spanning a wide range of contemporary global influences.

Collections can be played with a single click using various streaming methods before surfers spend time on multitudes of downloads.

On the public domain collection Ethel Waters, who "taught the rest of the world how to sing a jazz ballad," indeed sounds ahead of her time switching impressively between mournful and upbeat pacing on 1929's "Am I Blue." The mix ends with Betty Roche's level but emotive vocals on "Trouble Trouble," a mid-tempo bluesy selection from the early 1940s that also offers a hint of the bebop era to come, especially in the sax and trumpet solos.

Some of the top-tier artists may be too familiar. It's hard to believe most jazz fans aren't with Louis Armstrong's "Ain't Misbehavin'," for instance, but it's a fine example of his vocal and trumpet playing for those who only know "What A Wonderful World." On the other hand, hearing Benny Goodman's "Wolverine Blues," his first recorded work under his name at age 18, is an insightful if not particularly distinctive bit of fun.

The Provocateur collection, consisting of 10 songs totaling 72 minutes and 66MB in size, is like a lot of label samplers - all over the place without a lot of central cohesion. But unlike a lot of big-label compilations stuffed with safe mainstream picks, the playing here is generally of good quality. What's more, an honest evaluation of the tracks is provided since it's linking to the label's site and not part of it - a nice touch.

I basically agree with the comments, so here's a sampling: "Saxophonist Andy Sheppard strays a little too far to the mellow" on "Learning To Wave;" "Great sax from Christof Lauer" on "Restless World" by Marcio Doctor; "Guitarist Ralph Towner and pianist John Taylor play together seamlessly while ex-opera singer Maria Pia de Vito 'scats' over the top" on "Renewal."

The only hitch is the songs often require different downloading procedures since they are from various sites. Some links may go directly to songs, others to the Web site of the artist, still others to site specializing in free song collections. But there was rarely a problem obtaining a file and the trips to other sites can even be a benefit, as an already worthwhile collection can get a boost from additional free songs available there.

Visit Mixtaper on the web at www.mixtaper.com .


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