Record label retrospectives can often be spotty affairs â€“ many labels who put out 10- 20- or 25th anniversary discs ought to be arrested for public self-pleasuring. I can think of a couple recent cases where outstanding labels with otherwise sterling reputations have sold out their big anniversary compilations in the name of pushing mediocre current releases, a shortsighted move that makes the whole affair a waste of time and good money.
On the other side of the coin is the retrospective that tries too hard to be good. A prime example is an old Matador set my wife has. Whoever put it together chose well; all Matadorâ€™s big names and proud moments are spread over three discs. But there is one drawback: Matador have hewed to their guiding vision with almost Puritanical devotion. Hearing so much of the labelâ€™s self-chosen best moments in super-duper indie rock integrity in one place is overwhelming, sort of like eating two pounds of exquisitely delicious pulled pork barbecue in one sitting. (I donâ€™t recommend trying this; my last barbecue bacchanal put me down for 24 hours, and I still canâ€™t listen to Superchunk without bolting from the room.)
Concord Picante has recently decided to celebrate their 25th anniversary with a 4-cd collection celebrating their quarter century at the top of the Latin-jazz heap, and it turns out they have put out a lot of really good stuff. As a relative newcomer to the wonders of Latin Jazz, I have to say that this collection is a great place to start learning. If the single-disc sampler I received is any indication, Concord Picante have not only managed to sum up a quarter century but have done so without becoming didactic, boring, or presentist. The full setâ€™s four discs seem like the right length to contain 25 years of music of this variety and uniformly high quality.
The challenge for Concord Picante is that Latin Jazz is sometimes seen as being a niche market within a niche market. However, even the single disc sampler proves the opposite, showcasing a surprisingly diverse (and excellent) collection of recordings by artists from all over the Americas. Tito Puente is of course well represented, but so are other Latin music eminences like Pete Escovedo and Eddie Palmieri. Vibraphone great Cal Tjader is here too (his debut with the label won the label its first Grammy in 1980), as well as Concord Picante stalwarts like the great conguero Poncho Sanchezâ€™ groovy soul-jazz-blues-Latin hybrid, the sparkling Brazilian bossa nova of guitarist Charlie Byrd, and the hot Brazilian dance of Tania Maria. On the jazzier side, Concord Picante offers recordings by reggae-tinged Jamaican keyboardist Monty Alexander and harmonica great Hendrik Meurkens, and many more. Far from being a niche product, it seems that in the hands of Concord Picante â€śLatin Jazzâ€ť is almost anything they want it to be as long as itâ€™s got a little duende, a little especia.