When it comes to music, the phrase budget-priced compilation need not be synonymous with mediocrity or the banal. Prestige Profiles: Sonny Rollins, one of 10 CDs recently released by Concord Records compiling performances by significant jazz artists on the Prestige Records label, is a prime example.
Saxophonist Rollins appeared as a sideman on a couple Prestige recordings within months of the label’s founding in 1949. Then, between December 1951 and December 1956, Rollins went into the studio for Prestige as a leader on 10 different occasions. Those sessions produced some of Rollins’s most significant releases (Saxophone Colossus and Tenor Madness to name just two). This CD shows the wide range of the early years of a man who remains a jazz giant today.
That range is seen in just the first two tracks on the CD. The first is the calypso-influenced “St. Thomas,” recorded in 1956 and released on Saxophone Colossus. Many consider it to be the artist’s signature composition. The second track shows Rollins in prime ballad form in an extended version of “More Than You Know” with Thelonious Monk on piano. Rollins is clearly the leader on the tune, recorded in 1954, and Monk serves as a sideman, albeit an inimitable one.
Although they quickly display how well Rollins could perform in various idioms, those two songs are just an introduction. The CD covers the waterfront both stylistically and in time frame. It has tastes of bop and blues and even “Moritat,” better known to most as “Mack the Knife,” and a song with vocalist Earl Coleman (“My Ideal”). The compilation also covers the chronological full period of Rollins’s Prestige sessions. Two songs — the Tin Pan Alley tune “On A Slow Boat to China” and the largely self-descriptive “Mambo Bounce” — were cut at the first session in 1951. “My Ideal” was recorded at the last session in 1956.
In between there is plenty of tremendous music that remains vital today. There’s Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet (“In A Sentimental Mood”) and a 12-minute piece (“Tenor Madness”) with Rollins sharing tenor chores with John Coltrane and working with Miles Davis’s then-current rhythm section, Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums).
The CD also contains a bonus compilation disc of another sort. The bonus CD contains Prestige recordings of other artists of the era, including among others Davis, The Thelonious Monk Quintet, Clifford Brown and Dexter Gordon. Each of the 10 Prestige Profiles discs released by Concord carries one of several different volumes of these compilations, themselves called the Profiles Collector’s Edition.
Undoubtedly, many jazz fans will already have some of the tunes on the CDs, but, as the Rollins disc shows, it is not only a wonderful introduction for the newcomer but a handy collection for the enthusiast. Moreover, it’s hard to go wrong at a suggested retail price of $11.98 when you’re getting more than an hour of music on the Rollins compilation and an additional 47 minutes on the bonus CD.
No, there are times when budget-priced compilation can be a very good thing.