on June 13, 2006
I can't imagine that I'm the only person who's looked at this Prestige set and the Steeplechase set and wondered if the 3 extra discs were the $20 dollar difference. Allow me to clear some things up. This is "The Complete Prestige Recordings". And for once, you get the complete recordings. Usually, jazz labels call their recordings "complete", and you get it home and find out that in fact you now own the complete studio recordings. Some might find that trivial; I find that dishonest. The 3 big factors in this set are live outings, excellent side-men, and variety of material.
We get all of Dexter's live outings for Prestige here. Starting off with a track from the Wardell Gray Memorial album, we get the "Live at the Left Bank" album, Montreux in '70, "The Chase" in Chicago w/ Gene Ammons, and Montreux in '73. So lots of opportunity to hear Dexter outside the studio. In contrast, the Steeplechase set is studio only.
Another reason this package is so exciting is all the other musicians that Dexter gets to work with. Wardell Gray, Booker Ervin, James Moody, Gene Ammons, Freddie Hubbard, Thad Jones, and the Adderley brothers. And those are just the horns! There are some great names all throughout the rhythm section! The Steeplechase set is simply Dexter and a seemingly revolving cast of rhythm players.
I think the last reason this set works so well is the variety of material. It never gets boring or irritating. Sure there are a few alt. takes here and there, but it was sequenced so it never feels repetitious. The Steeplechase set on the other hand, almost as a rule has two takes in a row and often three. If you're not in the mood, this gets old quick.
So $140 and 11 discs sounds like a big investment, but I would really recommend this for those that are looking for an introduction to Dexter. At least until Blue Note wakes up and re-releases the awesome '60s set. If you come across that for a reasonable price, by all means do it. But until then, this is really the way to go. I think the best way to say it is that the Steeplechase set is like Chinese food: it's good, but you'll just be hungry again.