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Various Artists: The Contemporary Records Story

Charlie B. Dahan By

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There is a huge difference between a good reissue package and a great one. Good packages contain a reason for its 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 this 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 history of the label and its founder, Lester Koenig. There can be no doubt that Contemporary played as significant a role 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 box set features a recording from this LP entitled "Viva Zapata!"

The box set divides its four discs up among different eras. The first disc contains recordings from 1952-1956. The central figure on this CD, and probably the most important artist who worked for Contemporary, is Shelly Manne, who served both as 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 its 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.

Title: The Contemporary Records Story | Year Released: 2004


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