JAZZ, like classical music, is never out of date, with virtually everything ever recorded eventually winding up in reissue collections, often with improved audio quality. This year's four-star jazz gift items reach from the origins of jazz to its latest manifestations (with a jazz-influenced world music set tossed in for good measure).
Jelly Roll Morton
"Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings" (Rounder Records, eight CDs, $115)
Portions of folklorist Alan Lomax's conversations with Jelly Roll Morton in 1938 have been released in various formats over the years, but never in such thorough and comprehensive fashion. The box alone, constructed in the shape of a piano, is a fascinating visual attraction. Aside from the corrected speeds and improved sound of the musical recordings, the pages of Morton's prose writings, the inclusion of Lomax's book "Mr. Jelly Roll" and the bonus disc of interviews with his contemporaries, it is Morton himself who is the constant center of attention in this mesmerizing collection of interviews and songs.
Although his claim to have "invented" jazz is clearly over the top, Morton was one of the first to transform the spontaneous music simmering to the surface in New Orleans around the turn of the century into written form. His recollection of how that came about, his colorful tales of the musicians and the music, its surroundings and his larger-than-life participation in it are irresistible -- invaluable firsthand recollections of the emergence of what was, in essence, the beginnings not just of American jazz, but of much of American pop music.
"The Cellar Door Sessions (1970)" (Columbia/Legacy, six CDs, $79)
In 1969, Miles Davis told Down Beat magazine that he "could put together the greatest rock 'n' roll band you ever heard." What he accomplished the following year was even better: He assembled a collective that employed some of the more sophisticated aspects of rock to take jazz into marvelously adventurous new territory.
These sessions, recorded over four nights in December 1970 at a club in Washington, D.C., included an astonishingly gifted lineup: Davis, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett playing electric piano, bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionist Airto Moreira, with guitarist John McLaughlin on the final two discs. Previously released in shorter segments, this is six hours of passionate, exploratory music -- music that would change the sound and substance of the jazz that followed.
"The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes" (Verve Group, six CDs, $55)
Scheduled for release on Dec. 13, these are the masters from Billie Holiday's sometimes controversial stint under the direction of Norman Granz. There's plenty to argue about in the occasional soupy arrangements, but there's much more to treasure in Lady Day's inimitable classic renderings of songs such as "East of the Sun," "Prelude to a Kiss," "I Must Have That Man" and "Embraceable You" -- even in those cases in which the vocals don't quite match her original encounters with the material.
Bill Evans Trio
"The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961" (Riverside, three CDs, $26)
A good case can be made for this Evans group -- with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums -- as the progenitor for many of the piano trios of the last third of the 20th century (and beyond). Recorded 10 days before LaFaro died in a car accident, the brilliant, envelope-stretching performances, alive with musical interaction, have been previously released in several forms. This version, with newly remastered sound, presents the original sequence of numbers, adds an unreleased tune (the first take of LaFaro's "Gloria's Step"), and tosses in some incidental conversation.
"Rendezvous in New York" (Image Entertainment, 10 DVDs, $90)
"Rendezvous in New York" (Stretch Records, two CDs, $24)
To celebrate his 60th birthday in 2001, Chick Corea decided to play, record and videotape a series of concerts featuring most of the musicians and the styles he has passed through in his busy career (with the exception of his fusion efforts with Return to Forever). The lineups include duets with Bobby McFerrin, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Gary Burton and a series of ensembles including the likes of Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Avishai Cohen, Michael Brecker, Dave Weckl and many others.
The DVD box comprises nine concert DVDs and a documentary DVD narrated by actor-pianist Jeff Goldblum. Autographed copies are available from www.chickcorea.com.
"Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar" (Columbia/Legacy, four CDs, $40)