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Cds: Best Of The Didgies

January 12, 1986|DON HECKMAN

The year 1985 saw the arrival of jazz on compact discs, a year in which two important trends were established. First, a considerable variety of jazz CDs finally began to show up in the stores. Second, the enormous creative potential of the digital recording process for jazz was revealed.

By the end of the year, the number of commercially available jazz CDs was well over 500. As with all CDs, jazz items were in short supply, partly because of growing consumer demand, partly because of a shortage of manufacturing facilities.

The big record companies, slow as ever to move into new marketing arenas, have generally limited their jazz CDs to small catalogues based on current stars and safe reissues.

One exception is Polygram, which offers a jazz CD line described as "the largest and most varied of its kind in the world." With more than 125 releases on seven different labels, the company has a claim that is hard to dispute, even though most of the recordings are reissues.

Included are such valuable items as the Clifford Brown/Max Roach EmArcy recordings from the early '50s, Ella Fitzgerald's definitive Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Mercer and Rodgers & Hart song books on Verve, Stan Getz's atmospheric bossa novas on Verve, many Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington releases on EmArcy, and the Oscar Peterson and Count Basie Verve catalogues.

CBS Records' more conservative jazz commitment is limited to CD versions of the most recent recordings of Miles Davis, Al DiMeola, Herbie Hancock, Bob James, Wynton Marsalis and Weather Report.

The Warner Bros./Elektra/Asylum/Atlantic conglomerate has also been cautious, with only a few releases from Earl Klugh, Freddie Hubbard, David Sanborn and Jean-Luc Ponty. However, many ECM recordings (which Warner Bros. distributes) as well as some entries from Elektra/Asylum's admirable Musician Series have begun to appear on CD.

Capitol Records' jazz CDs are almost all reissues from the classic modern jazz recordings in the Blue Note catalogue (with a few new items--from guitarist Stanley Jordan, for example--thrown in).

RCA has only a few swing band issues, and MCA also is still at the jazz CD starting gate, with little more than Spyro Gyra available. But the prospects look good for MCA's new jazz record program directed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Reissues are the dominant CD programming from Roulette Records (which has an extensive collection of Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Tony Bennett), Fantasy Records (with classic Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis), Norman Granz's Pablo Records (Basie, Fitzgerald, Ellington and Vaughan) and Vogue Records (with Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ellington, Getz and Clifford Brown).

Virtually all are CD versions of original analog recordings. In fact, probably no more than 10% of jazz CDs make full use of the astonishing accuracy of pure digital recording. Of the remaining 90%, most are analog, with a growing number of hybrids consisting of analog recording and digital mixing and/or mastering.

A few smaller companies, quick to spot an opportunity, have moved to fill the vacuum in new CD jazz programming left by the majors. GRP Records, Digital Music Products Records, Windham Hill Records, RealTime Records, Trend/Discovery Records and Denon Records are among the more prominent small companies with growing jazz CD catalogues. GRP and Digital Music Products have gone a step further by making major commitments to fully digital jazz releases--from digital studio recordings, through digital mixing and digital mastering.

It is in the releases from these smaller, boutique-style companies that the really creative potential of jazz on CD begins to become apparent. It's surely too early to set up any icons of jazz on CD but it's not too early to list a number of fully digital jazz CDs that represent (in no particular order) the best of these new perspectives on jazz. Call them the Jazz Didgies of 1985.

Joe Williams: "I Just Want To Sing." Delos D/CD 4004.

An eccentric collection of blues, rare standards and an unusual gospel track, which bring out every one of this masterful singer's many skills. Up-front presence from Thad Jones' trumpet, Benny Golson and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis' saxophones and Norman Simmons' piano create the ambiance of a private concert in your living room.

Gerry Neiwood: "Share My Dream." Digital Music Products CD-450.

A solid hour of fusion music from Chuck Mangione's former saxophonist. "Live" in every sense of the word, the music ranges from romantic interludes to hard swing.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra: "In the Digital Mood." GRP Records GRP-D-9502.

Yes, it's a remake of all those classic Miller tunes--from "In The Mood" to "Moonlight Serenade." But what a remake! New York's finest studio players stick with the original arrangements and solos (almost), and the combination of digital recording accuracy and hot playing finally tells us relative youngsters why those jitterbugs got so excited.

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