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JAZZ

February 23, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

Beyond doubt, the compact disc is the groove of the future. (Yes, yes, I know it has no grooves.) It will duly become to the LP what LPs were to 78s. Because of digital mastering (and in some cases digital recordings and mixing), the sound, read by a laser beam through the plastic surface of the 4 1/2-inch, 1-millimeter-thick disc, is just about as perfect as perfect will ever get.

Though this small, silver surface can accommodate up to 70 minutes of music on a single side, certain inconsistencies have to be resolved. A CD offering only 32 minutes looks exactly like one that may carry twice as much; moreover, the store may overcharge you for the former, as there are no firm price regulations. Even if not used to maximum capacity, of course, the discs are great space savers.

What follows is a sampling of the best I have heard, representing jazz in various styles and stages:

"HELEN MERRILL." EmArcy 814-643-2. This has become a historically valuable item, not only because of the breathless beauty of Merrill's whispered ballad vocals, but owing to the presence of Clifford Brown on trumpet. The somewhat tentative charts were written by a 21-year-old arranger named Quincy Jones. Three decades before Linda Ronstadt, Merrill sensed the inner meaning, lyrically and melodically, of "What's New." Mel Torme's "Born to be Blue" and Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain" are early portents of the unique Merrill persona. Total time, as you should remind your salesman, is only 32 1/2 minutes. 4 1/2 stars.

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