I have a problem with compilation recordings, regardless of genre. They tend to be hastily put together solely for the purpose of marketing an artist's- or label's- catalog. Compilations generally have little regard for song sequencing or information on the songs beyond the songwriter or musicians on the tracks. In jazz this is especially true; the catalog business is very healthy. Since the musicians used in the original sessions were either already paid or long gone from the world, there is very little overhead. Ergo, a few songs are burned onto a disc, along with the title of the album it can be found on, and sold at a bargain price in the hopes that the consumer comes back to buy some full-length albums. The biggest offender of the compilation game is the Laserlight label, which takes a cut-and-paste approach to previously out-of-print compilations. While Laserlight is the low-water mark, other labels are just as guilty.
The Cleveland-based Telarc label is better known as one of the more high-profile classical music labels around. They have, however, been slowly building a solid jazz stable for years, loaded with legendary players. This creates a double-edged sword. On one hand, Telarc has a good number of innovative, seminal musicians on its roster. The other side is that these musicians are given the same conservative reverence as great classical composers. It smacks slightly of the same type of elitism that makes Wynton Marsalis such a polarizing figure. Telarc, like Marsalis, tends to preserve the past instead of venturing boldly into the future. This is another sticking point of mine. Jazz is an ever-evolving music. There should be room at the cross for bop, swing, New York art-jazz, the European style, Chicago free jazz, and even the predictable bluster of Kenny G and his smooth jazz brethren.
Listening to Telarc's new compilation "Jazz Live From New York", I was struck by two things. One, it commits the very transgressions I wrote about earlier. Second, so many of the featured musicians have passed on in the past few years. Taken from live recordings at New York's Blue Note, the Village Vanguard, Michael's Pub, and Iridium, the compilation is a who's who of artists who have died in the past ten years: Dizzy Gillespie, Stephane Grappelli, Mel Torme, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Milt Jackson. A few of the songs are standouts: Slide Hampton and the Jazz Masters' rendition of "A Night in Tunisia" rolls along on the force of its roller coaster horns. Jon Faddis proves once again that he has a better emotional connection to the bebop and Ellingtonian swing than Marsalis, who pops up on Jon Hendricks' "Contemporary Blues". Dizzy turns in a wonderfully sublime performance on "Con Alma", floating like a gossamer above the tender piano playing of Danilo Perez. Oscar Peterson's classic trio is represent
Otherwise, there's not much glue here to make the album stick. This is an album that would be best served for people looking to enlarge their collections or people who are looking for a little enlightenment, like watching Ken Burns' "Jazz".