Paris: Reissues and belated new releases keep coming from the past. The bottom of the vault has not yet been scraped. Here are some newly packaged and repackaged items of note for late holiday shoppers.
Highlights From The Complete Miles Davis At Montreux, (Warner Music/Switzerland): This eight-track CD serves as a sort of best-of prequel to a comprehensive 20-CD box scheduled for release by Montreux Sounds in May. Producer Claude Nobs, who founded the Montreux Jazz Festival, has a legendary, mostly unreleased post-Bitches Brew Davis archive going from 1973-1991. The sound is better than good, the audience unheard. Most tracks are under 10 minutes, short compared to other live electric Davis, just long enough. The leader's trumpet chops are in unusually good shape for the period. The ensembles are tight -- John McLaughlin's "Pacific Express," for example. Soloists John Scofield, Dave Liebman, Bob Berg and Kenny Garrett are at their most lucid, inspired by the likes of Daryl Jones and Al Foster on bass and drums. A significant body of politically-correct thought holds that Miles Davis's rock incarnation was fabricated to be commercial and is thus irrelevant. Highlights goes a long way towards proving otherwise. Available only in Europe.
Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Sings Billie (Enja/2CDs): Of the number of female vocalists being irrationally compared to Billie Holiday, Lincoln is in the select company that deserves it. Not because she copies, on the contrary, you know who it is right away. Parallel but separate, she and Holiday have organically similar deliveries and textures. These are live performances from 1987 re-released by the Munich-based internationally distributed Enja Records. The accompaniment features the lyrical, underrated tenor saxophonist Harold Vick. "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "God Bless The Child," "Lover Man," "Strange Fruit" and so on.
The Art Of Jazz (Dreyfus Jazz): Six bargain-price three-CD boxes of assorted pre-1950 (pre-LP) recordings. Knowledgably programmed by the French magnate and connoisseur Francis Dreyfus, the cross-stylistic collections are divided into "Piano" (Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell), "Saxophone" (Charlie Parker. Lester Young, Sidney Bechet), "The Band" (Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie), and so on. Informative notes in French and English. Distribution in Europe and Japan but not the U.S. where the public domain begins years later.
Bob Marley And The Wailers, Exodus (Island/2CDs): Marvin Gaye, Let's Get It On (Motown/2CDs): After earlier reissues of Catch A Fire and What's Going On, respectively, these additional two-CD boxes, both labeled "deluxe edition," continue the renewal of the work of two of the most interesting pop musicians of the '70s. In addition to the (remastered) original classic LP, the Marley includes a concert at the Rainbow Theater in London on a good night in 1977: The 11-minute live version of the title-song is about as convincing as reggae ever got. Added tracks incorporate the funky "Punky Reggae Party," previously released on a 12" single under the name Jamaican Tuff Gong. A booming-bass dub version of Curtis (Superfly) Mayfield's "Keep On Moving" keeps you moving on. Gaye's creative liftoff from earlier r&b pleasantries arrived suddenly and dramatically and late in his career. It takes an awful lot of listening to get tired of it. Unpolished alternate tracks, instrumental mixes, live concerts, demos and out-takes from "What's Going On" are like short unfinished symphonies. These are limited editions, they will be hard to find after awhile. Both were released during the second half of 2001.
John Coltrane, Live Trane, The European Tours (Pablo/Fantasy/ 7CDs): Recordings of concerts in Stockholm, Paris and Berlin in the early '60s, including previously unreleased versions of "My Favorite Things," "The Inch Worm," et cetera. The classic quartet (McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones) was at its peak, as was its leader. Seven CDs as close to the cutting edge as these might be called a body of work all by itself. Trane was booed during one Parisian concert. Afterwards, the French producer apologized for his callow countrymen: "John, you just went too far for them." The saxophonist shook his head: "No. I didn't go far enough."
Michael Zwerin wrote this as published first in the International Herald Tribune, December 19, 2001; the books he's written (Swing Under the Nazis) and edited (Round About Close to Midnight: The Jazz Writings of Boris Vian) are perfect presents for the right person.