Thursday, May 21, 2009

Very Best of Prestige Records: Mandatory Listening

I'm not much for compilations of music that's otherwise available. I'm not opposed to the concept, and I greatly enjoy hearing stuff programmed together. But when it comes to plunking down money, I'd almost prefer to go straight to the original albums and hear the songs that way. But The Very Best of Prestige Records is quite the exception to the rule.
As the Prestige label celebrates its 60th anniversary (well it would, had it survived in its original independent form. Technically it's now owned by Concord, although they're releasing the back catalog.), they've released a 2CD/ 25 track overview of its heyday, from 1949 to 1969. Some of it ranks as some of the most significant recordings in jazz: Miles Davis' first, extremely lyrical version of "My Funny Valentine" which made all the ladies swoon; "Tenor Madness," the only recording that unites John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins; Lee Konitz & Lennie Tristano's "Subconcious Lee,"; James Moody's "Moody's Mood for Love," his reworking of "I'm In the Mood for Love," which he has been playing at every gig sense then; the Modern Jazz Quartet's tranquil and moody "Django."

And that's just the first disc.

I have no idea how Bob Weinstock was able to release such a plethora of albums in such a short time. Regardless, unless you have unlimited funds and time to burn, or you already started collecting the Prestige catalog back in the '80s when they returned to print via the OJC (Original Jazz Classic) series, the prospect of purchasing all these albums seems close to impossible. In lieu of that, buy this set. All of these tracks are mandatory listening for anyone trying to get a thumbnail sketch of '50s jazz. The music leaps out through the speakers with an energy that conveys how new and exciting it was back then when it was being documented for the first time. And that energy hasn't dissipated in the 60 years since. Thelonious Monk sounds so animated as he plays "Blue Monk" and to hear that between a Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell track and a Miles cut, simply boosts it even further.

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