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Music Review: from The Concord Music Group – The Definitive Miles Davis, The Definitive Bill Evans, and The Definitive Albert King

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When a label conglomerate owns every major jazz label, re-issues and special series become a de rigueur marketing tool. A current case in point is The Concord Music Group (CMG). The conglomerate owns the catalogs of Prestige, Riverside, Pablo and Norgran, as well as the Concord Jazz and Telarc imprints (among many others) The monopoly the group has is ultimately a good thing for maintaining this mass of important archival material. While the recording concern produces new classical, jazz and blues recordings, their metier remains their collective catalogs.

Re-issued reassembled collections make the most sense in this post-compact disc world we are swiftly inhabiting. Music is becoming atomized, more so than it was in the age of the 45 rpm single. Listeners today (that demographic of 10- to-20-year-olds) are about customized “playlists” of individual songs each by a different artist. The age of the popular music “concept” album (e.g., The Who’s Quadraphrenia or Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger) is over. The only place that cogent, integrated recordings (those best suited for compact disc storage and marketing) will be found is in the classical and older jazz repertories. Series re-releases resemble “playlists,” remaining attractive gift items. This approach will continue to be “profitable” for companies like the CMG to release CDs. And that is exactly what the West Coast group is doing.

On this series front, Concord Music Group’s (CMG) 2-CD “Definitive” series gains three more titles with the release of The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige, The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy and The Definitive Albert King on Stax. These join previously released series items, The Definitive Dave Brubeck on Fantasy, Concord Jazz and Telarc; The Definitive John Coltrane on Prestige and Riverside; The Definitive Sonny Rollins on Presige, Riverside and Contemporary; The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside and The Definitive Vince Guaraldi. The aim of this series is to provide a 2-CD overview of a given artist’s career on one (or more) of the labels owned by CMG. The depth of these catalogs makes these releases definitive, at least for the period a given artist was recording for one of the owned labels.

The three new additions to CMG’s Definitive Series were carefully considered when producer Nick Phillips assembled the packages. The Miles Davis collection sports 24 tracks. The first disc is made up of Davis’ recordings made with pick-up and house groups often comprising “all-star” combos between 1951 and ‘56. Included are selections from Dig, Bag’s Groove, Walkin’ and Collector’s Items. Disc two is populated mostly with selections from LPs recorded with the first great Miles Davis Quintet (John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones), most famously from the marathon sessions that resulted in Cookin’-, Relaxin’-, Workin’- and Steamin’- With the Miles Davis Quintet. This collection succeeds as a sampler for Davis’ pre-Columbia recordings, with the second disc being essential listening.

The Bill Evans set covers a lot of ground and it has to. Evans was the last great jazz piano innovator. He has influenced every pianist that has recorded since he began recording. Evans recorded for Concord-related labels for 20 years, amassing a large discography with them. Twenty-five selections over two CDs highlight Evans’ famous 1961 appearance at New York City’s Village Vanguard (“Gloria’s Step” and “Waltz for Debbie”) as well as his ground-breaking recordings. Everybody Digs Bill Evans (“Peace Piece”) and his recordings with Tony Bennett (“Young and Foolish,” “The Touch of Your Lips”). This is a good collection, but still check out The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 and The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings.

Blues guitarist and singer Albert King spent 15 years at Memphis, TN’s Stax Records. Thirty-four sides from these years populate the Definitive release dedicated to him. King’s blues were informed by a mixture of chitlin’ circuit roadhouse and greasy southern jazz. Well represented are King’s outstanding live recordings, Live Wire/Blues Power, Blues at Sunrise and Blues at Sunset.

An accomplished lead guitarist, King was to influence many guitarists, not the lease of whom were Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. This is a pioneer at the height of his powers. As “playlists” each of these recordings fill the bill for listen-ability and quality of selections included. These Definitive collections make perfect samplers for these three important artists.

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About C. Michael Bailey

I am sanctified and Southern fried, My mama tried and daddy cried; I tell the truth 'cept when I've lied And I like my huevos on the side...