Jazz Icons: Series 4 rescues nearly ten hours of priceless jazz performance footage from the vaults of television studios across Europe. The new eight-DVD box set easily lives up to the standard set by the previous three multi-disc releases.
These performances, by the true masters of the genre, were broadcast once and locked away for decades. In some cases, the tapes never saw the light of day at all. Presented in the best possible audio and video quality, and accompanied by booklets loaded with genuinely insightful analysis, the Jazz Icons series continues to assemble an invaluable library of jazz history.
While longtime jazz buffs will recognize the seven artists featured in Series 4, there aren't many household names to draw in the average neophyte. However that shouldn't be a deterrent, as each of these musicians deserves to be appreciated. Each of the individual artists' discs are available separately, with the eighth disc containing bonus performances only available as part of the box.
These concerts date back to the 1960s, when the visual style was far less frenetic than modern live video recordings. The great benefit of this no-frills presentation is that the viewer is allowed to focus on the visuals that really matter, with a minimum of intrusive audience cutaways and other distractions. We can drink in the expressive faces of these artists as they feel every note. Fingers relentlessly working an instrument are lingered on long enough to fully appreciate the dexterity necessary to produce this complex music.
A true innovator works wonders on the organ in Jimmy Smith: Live In '69, a ninety-minute performance shot in Paris. Bob Porter, who contributed a foreward to the disc's booklet, states emphatically, "Jimmy Smith is one of the four or five greatest jazz musicians of the last 50 years." High praise, to be sure, but not undeserved. Smith pioneered the Hammond organ as a solo instrument in jazz, focusing largely on blues and R&B-oriented material. He crafted a series of popular jazz albums featuring a trio that eliminated bass, containing only guitar, drums, and Smith's keys. His influential style found him playing bass lines with his left hand, while soloing with his right. Speaking of his solo style, Smith said, "I copped my solos from horn players...I can't get what I want from keyboard players."