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Fantasy Jazz

The relationship between record companies and musicians who aspire to be recording artists is a symbiotic one. The levels of success in those affiliations hinge on both the appeal of the artist as well as on the marketing savvy of the label and their pr departments. Giants like Sony/Columbia, BMG, Blue Note, Verve and Telarc are masters of strategy. They know how to entice talented players to their ranks and, more importantly, how to get the word out to print media and radio, and ultimately to the consumer. There are certainly a number of mid-level labels that are serve their artists well in this regard, too. ECM, Rykodisc, Delmark, Rounder and Windham Hill come immediately to mind. Record companies count on their catalog to sustain sales. More than in any other genre, jazz also has the added element of the re-issue market.

Sony and Blue Note have respectable reissue programs, though Fantasy is probably king of the hill here. The Original Jazz Classic (OJC) series began in earnest in 1982. In the intervening 22 years, the catalog has grown 1000 titles strong, covering everyone from Miles and Trane to Milt Jackson, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, James Moody, Frank Morgan, Zoot Sims, Kenny Burrell, Woody Herman, McCoy Tyner and many more equally important players, largely from the 1950s and 1960s, though touching on the 1970s and 1980s, as well. Original cover art and liner notes add to the allure. That they are able to draw from Fantasy, Prestige, Galaxy, Milestone, Riverside, Contemporary and Pablo puts their reissue program into another realm. Charlie Byrd, Tom Harrell and Louis Bellson are among the latest entries in the series. The reissue banks have also begun to swell with titles that benefit from the latest in remastering technology, such that the sound quality matches the musicality of the recordings.

Super Audio CDs (SACD), also known as Hybrid discs, utilize a process called Direct Stream Digital, "which samples sounds 64 times faster than the sampling rate used for standard digital recording," according to the sleeve notes affixed to these delights. "The results," it promises, "are simply astounding and will make the music you love come to life like never before." SA-CD players range from about $300 to many thousands of dollars, but these play just as well on conventional stereo systems. Among the recent titles in this format are: Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy 1953). This was one of the quartet’s first and finest. Brubeck and altoist Paul Desmond offer delicious versions of "Perdido" and "Stardust," that stand with any of their classic sides. Also available in 20-bit. Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Jazzland 1957). As good as Monk and Trane sounded independently, as a working unit they were amazing. Listen to "Ruby My Dear" for proof. Coleman Hawkins is in on a pair of numbers, too. John Coltrane: Lush Life (Prestige 1957). The balladry here is as good as or better than on any other collection. This remains one of my favorite albums. Vital Coltrane. Also available in 20-bit. The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (Riverside 1960). An appropriately titled disc, this is the recording that landed Wes squarely on the world stage. Tommy Flanagan with Percy and Tootie Heath join the master in one of the great classics of the era. Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughan: In Session (Stax 1999). Two of the most lauded blues guitarists of their time recorded in a 1983 concert that stands as one of the great blues guitar albums. Not a cutting contest, but not a polite dance either, this is a pair of masters challenging and cajoling with a smile on their guitars.

20-bit K2 super-coding limited edition remasters have a higher resolution than typical analog recordings. So much so that you are likely to hear sounds that, regardless of how many times you’ve heard a particular recording over the years, you’ll swear wasn’t there before. The clarity on these discs is beyond extraordinary. Among the newest titles in this format are: Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige 1956) Miles, Trane, Garland, Chambers and Philly Joe. It just doesn’t get better. This is one of the greatest jazz recordings ever committed to wax, and boy doesn’t this new technology beat the heck out of wax! You can hear Miles breathing through the mute on "It Never Entered My Mind." Gerry Mulligan/Thelonious Monk: Mulligan Meets Monk (Riverside 1957) The New York bop pianist and the West Coast baritone monster pulled a classic out of their unlikely alliance. The program is mostly Monk and the vibes is wholly infectious. Vince Guaraldi Trio: Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (Fantasy 1962). Long before Charlie Brown TV specials made him famous, Vince Guaraldi had a sizeable radio hit with "Cast Your Fate To The Wind." This samba disc sounds fine in analog, but the crispness of this remastering brings it to life and what a lively disc it is. Wes Montgomery: Boss Guitar (Riverside 1963). Another masterwork. Montgomery is joined by organist Mel Rhyne and Jimmy Cobb on drums. "The Days of Wine and Roses" never sounded so good. Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Abraca Jobim (Pablo 1981). The last installment of the songbook series, this tribute to Jobim features "The Girl From Ipanema," "One Note Samba" and "Corovado" cast in first rate arrangements and given the diva’s unique interpretations.

Fantasy has also packaged a series of beautiful Plays For Lovers discs featuring the music of John Coltrane ("I Want To Talk About You," "Like Someone In Love," "You Leave Me Breathless," etc), Miles Davis ("My Funny Valentine," "It Never Entered My Mind," "In Your Own Sweet Way," etc.), Barney Kessel ("Embraceable You," "Tenderly," "Laura," etc) and Blue Mitchell ("The Nearness of You," "There Will Never Be Another You," "For All We Know," etc.).

Next month two very small and very impressive labels, 9 Wind and Entropy will be examined.

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