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Microsoft Quickbasic
Microsoft Quickbasic
by Douglas Hergert
Edition: Paperback
28 used & new from $0.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A clearly written text that suffers from poor programming practices, June 14, 2012
This review is from: Microsoft Quickbasic (Paperback)
I purchased Douglas Hergert's Microsoft QuickBASIC: 2nd Edition around 1989, when I was teaching myself how to program. I was excited about the possibilities of programming in a structured language; QuickBASIC was (and still is, after a quarter century) the ideal springboard from which to progress beyond the spaghetti code of GW-BASIC and other such variants. Having just revisited my old QuickBASIC 4.5 compiler after all these years, I pulled this volume down from the shelf and began reviewing it. Now it occurs to me why I never delved very deeply into this text.

To begin with, Hergert is a very fine writer, if not a very flashy one, and overall the exposition is quite clear in comparison to most computer texts issued today. Second, Hergert embarks on a worthy mission of composing six extended and diverse programming projects, and deconstructs each one in a very lucid way, explaining QuickBASIC's language features as he goes along. That feature alone makes the book worthwhile on its face. The six programs are as follows:

Data Types and Data Structures: The 'List' Program
Decisions and Loops: The 'Twenty-one' Program
Sequential Data Files: The 'Survey' Program
Random-Access Data Files: The 'Employee' Program
Graphics: The 'QuickChart' Program
Event Trapping: The 'Advanced Menu' Program

Chapter 2, "Using Subprograms and Functions," starts off in a most promising way. Rather than resort to a formalized syntax for subprograms and functions (which is what the companion volume to QuickBASIC 4.5, "Programming in BASIC," does, and that in a most obscure, hard-to-read manner), Hergert assumes no prior experience with other computer languages and formalized abstractions for specifying those languages. Instead, he describes in plain English how these two constructs operate differently, the different syntactical variants one could deploy for each, the distinction between passing arguments by value and passing by reference, and so on.

Why only three stars for this book, then? The problem appears to be that Hergert writes English prose a good deal better than he writes computer programs. It's not that his programs don't compile, or don't run as advertised; they do. It's just that his coding style is plagued by some very bad programming practices, not least of which is that many of his subprogram and function definitions are far too lengthy. This problem manifests immediately, in the very first function that he defines: the HeadlineStyle$ function on page 57. Not counting blank lines and comments, the function contains 21 lines of code. This is not an auspicious way to begin the text, if your goal is to impart good programming style from the get-go. Why? Well, I find it a plausible rule of thumb that if a function contains significantly more than about a dozen lines of code--regardless of the language used--then it's time to ponder whether the function attempts to do too much, and whether that function should call another function. Indeed, this is precisely the case with the HeadlineStyle$ function: it extracts individual words from a string, AND processes each word into a "headline" format, AND reassembles the words to form a new string in "headline" style. As if to compound the lack of clarity, Hergert sometimes chooses variable names that are obtuse, and don't express accurately the purpose of each variable. Examples include "nextSearch%" when what is really meant is "nextSpace%"; and too many variable names like "inString$" and "outString$," which are redundantly expressed, and nowhere near as specific as "example$" and "headline$," for instance. Throw in some poorly-placed comments, and/or missing comments, and the logic of HeadlineStyle$ becomes very, very difficult to follow--a most unfortunate circumstance given that most of Hergert's target audience is presumed to have little or no experience with structured subprograms and function calls.

So I sat down, rolled up my sleeves, and proceeded to determine whether I could do better. I decided to isolate the processing of individual words within the headline string, and devote this processing to its own function. The revised HeadlineStyle$ function, along with its accessory function ProcessedWord$, are shown just below, at the end of this review. (I've inserted leading periods into the code in order to overcome Amazon's lack of tabbing capability.)

Notwithstanding all this, if you're concerned to investigate QuickBASIC as a programming language, and are looking for extended programming examples to get your juices flowing, you might consider purchasing Hergert's volume anyway. Just don't pay full-price for it if possible, and be prepared to do some extensive code rewriting!

_________________________________________________________________________________________

FUNCTION HeadlineStyle$ (example$)
...example$ = LTRIM$(RTRIM$(example$))
...IF example$ = "" THEN
......headline$ = ""
...ELSE
......nextSpace% = 1
......DO
.........spacePos% = INSTR(nextSpace%, example$, " ")
.........headline$ = headline$ + ProcessedWord$(example$, spacePos%, nextSpace%)
......LOOP UNTIL spacePos% = 0
...END IF
...HeadlineStyle$ = headline$
END FUNCTION

' The ProcessedWord$ function takes advantage of the fact that in QuickBASIC,
' arguments are passed referentially by default. Thus nextSpace% is updated,
' and the updated value is retained by the calling function HeadlineStyle$:
'
FUNCTION ProcessedWord$ (example$, spacePos%, nextSpace%)
...' Extract the next word from the example string:
...IF spacePos% <> 0 THEN
......pWord$ = MID$(example$, nextSpace%, spacePos% - nextSpace%)
......nextSpace% = spacePos% + 1
...ELSE
......pWord$ = MID$(example$, nextSpace%)
...END IF

...' Now process the extracted word and return the result:
...pWord$ = UCASE$(LEFT$(pWord$, 1)) + LCASE$(MID$(pWord$, 2))
...IF spacePos% <> 0 THEN pWord$ = pWord$ + " "
...ProcessedWord$ = pWord$
END FUNCTION
_________________________________________________________________________________________


Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!: A Beginner's Guide
Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!: A Beginner's Guide
by Miran Lipovača
Edition: Paperback
Price: $31.63
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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid introductory text that needs exercise sets and more extended programming projects, September 9, 2011
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A young man from Slovenia, just 23 years of age, writes his first book documenting a difficult computer-programming language, in English, which is not his native language. Given these facts, you'd think the odds would be stacked deeply against any measure of success for him. Yet it appears that, with his book Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!: A Beginner's Guide, Miran Lipovaca has almost smashed the ball right out of the ballpark. It is easily the best text available for an absolute newcomer to Haskell, and would also benefit many who've already perused other Haskell books. Moreover, of the seven volumes on Haskell that I own, it's the only one that I've so far managed to read cover-to-cover (including, BTW, typing, testing, and hacking all the code in it. I have, however, come close to finishing Graham Hutton's book, Programming in Haskell, which in most respects could not be further removed from this one.) Another big "plus": Mr. Lipovaca's code actually COMPILES. All of it. (Professor Hutton, are you reading this?)

I say "almost smashed it out," though, because there is room for improvement. Even at that, I think Lipovaca has, at the very least, hit a long triple, just bouncing off the top of the center-field wall, with this book.

To begin with, I must disagree with the reviewers who've claimed, in one way or another, that the author has left out information important even to a beginners' text. On the contrary, the scope and breadth of this text are truly astonishing. Nowhere else have I seen monads, monoids, functors, applicative functors, and the like, treated with such thoroughness and patience. As one or two other reviewers have pointed out, Lipovaca has even managed to impart insight into how these constructs actually obey the same laws that are expected of their theoretical counterparts in higher mathematics, specifically category theory--without getting bogged down in technical details. This would be a stunning achievement for any author, let alone one who's just writing his first book! As a programmer/hacker of more than thirty years, one who's deeply immersed in the imperative programming paradigm, I've truly come to appreciate how Lipovaca divides topics into small, bite-sized, easily-digestible chunks, with (mostly) easy-to-follow code snippets, before moving on to the next chunk. Indeed, he appears to approach his pedagogy from the sympathetic viewpoint of one who has quite recently had to grapple with a welter of high-flying, highly abstracted, and theoretical texts, and who consciously wants to spare his own readers this sort of iniquity.

If Mr. Lipovaca's book leaves anything at all to be desired, they would be the following: (1) More systematic use of exercises and problem sets at the end of each chapter; (2) Greater use of extended programming examples, and maybe a few programming projects that readers and hackers can really sink their teeth into. As for (1), despite the wealth of code snippets that the author provides, I still find myself wanting to test my assimilation and understanding, by forcing myself to complete a related set of exercises at chapter's end. To my way of thinking, in a beginners' text these exercises are absolutely indispensable. (Maybe it's just me, but without such exercises I always have the lingering, vaguely nauseated feeling in my gut that I haven't quite absorbed the relevant topics fully.) To take just one example: in his otherwise excellent discussion of randomness and pseudo-randomness (pp. 190-198), the author employs a snippet of code to intimate the beginnings of a rudimentary password generator (on p. 195). Here he misses a good bet, I think; he could have easily followed this up with a series of exercises cuing the reader to develop more powerful and refined versions of the password generator; for instance: "(1) Write a brief program that extends the password generator on p. 195 by generating a number of different passwords, the number of which the user can input from the keyboard; (2) Extend this program to allow the user to specify the length of the passwords generated; (3) Now have the program output the passwords in rows of five across, with all five columns aligned; (4) Develop your generator further, by allowing the user to incorporate upper- and lower-case characters, and/or numerals, and/or other typographical symbols, in the passwords;" and so on.*

As for (2), greater use of extended programming examples and projects, Mr. Lipovaca begins to do as much with his Optimal Path program of Chapter 10, and with the examples used in the final chapter on zippers, yet it still strikes me that he could go much further in this direction. This is one of very few areas in which Graham Hutton's deeply flawed book, Programming in Haskell, truly shines. I would particularly like to see such examples deployed when readers begin swimming in really deep waters--such as when the discussion turns to creating types, use of applicative functors, monads, and suchlike.

Happily, Mr. Lipovaca is as amicable and easy-going as his funny drawings suggest; I've corresponded with him on a few occasions, and he seems willing to address the use of exercises and projects in a subsequent edition of this book. If such an edition does come to pass, I will gladly shell out the bucks for it if the text is expanded to 450-500 pages, maybe with smaller chapters in greater numbers, and comes with copious examples to practice upon and hone the craft of Haskell programming. THAT book would be an absolute world-beater--and a "tape-measure" home run that bounces into the city streets.**

__________________________

*Anyone interested in seeing this program realized should Google XGB Web and Software Design, visit the Programming page, and click the link that references code for the password generator.

**Oh, and have I pointed out how much I LOVE the "I lie flat" feature of this book, with its semi-detachable back cover binding? I wish EVERY techbook had this feature.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2013 9:59 AM PDT


From a Cool Perspective
From a Cool Perspective
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your time or money on this set, July 20, 2009
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This review is from: From a Cool Perspective (Audio CD)
This year (2009) marks the 100th anniversary of the day Lester leaped in, and the 50th anniversary of the day Lester left town. By the gods of great music, make the most of these occasions, and pass on this 2-CD set altogether. Not that the music is the issue; my complaint has to do with Snapper Music's shoddy, low-rent production values, as evidenced in this package.

As the previous reviewer has noted, "Cool Perspective" contains no discographical information, and for that matter, not even track timings. What you get in their stead is a skimpy six-page booklet containing a brief biography of Prez, which in this instance is worse than useless because it relates only information that is already widely known. If it's presumed that buyers won't know much about Lester Young's legacy, why then are they left to chart the high seas on their own, without some kind of discographical guide?

I'd be somewhat more favorably inclined toward this recording if the folks at Snapper Music had dumped the biography and provided a decent discography instead. But all this is moot, because there are better alternatives out there. Chief among them is Proper Records Ltd.'s 4-CD box set, The Lester Young Story. For about $10 more (depending on how and where you shop), you get all 44 tracks of "Cool Perspective" plus 40 more; and a handsome, 52-page booklet with discography, performers on each recording, a more comprehensive biography, and a spate of interesting photographs. On top of which, the four CDs are packaged in a mini-LP-style (or even 78-rpm-style) box with cardboard sleeves for each. For additional nostalgia value, each sleeve displays an artificially colorized photo of Prez in different bands and different attitudes, but all of them conveying that particularly odd way he held his instrument at angles that were completely askew of his body. (I much prefer this sort of packaging to that evil plastic "jewel case" of the 2-CD "Cool Perspective" set, from which the splines on the CD trays have already begun to break off. That recording is headed for the local music and arts library as a donation.)

Other reviewers have raved about "The Lester Young Story," so I won't comment further whether right here or over there. It suffices to say that, in this case, the decision is a textbook example of a no-brainer. If you enjoy the Proper Records production as much as I do, you should also look into another 4-CD set of theirs, Coleman Hawkins: The Bebop Years.


Complete Jazztone Recordings 1956
Complete Jazztone Recordings 1956
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jazztone Stories, Part IV: Lionel Hampton and His All-Stars: Enjoyable but not groundbreaking, May 3, 2009
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Lionel Hampton, it seems, was tailor-made for the kind of music that the Jazztone Society sought to typify. Recall that the Society was a subscription record service working much as the Book of the Month Club does. You can bet that many of its subscribers were greenhorns who desired to enter the world of jazz by taking cautious baby steps first. Jazztone met this need by offering a largely "mainstream" hybrid of swing, bop, and "cool" elements, while carefully skirting the intellectual, avant-garde, and edgier hard-bop tendencies that began to arise at or shortly before Jazztone's time. But much to its credit, Jazztone did not succumb to the urge to placate, or condescend to, its subscribers with pseudo-jazz, "smooth jazz," or "easy-listening jazz."

Therefore it should not surprise that Fresh Sound Records' 2007 release, "Lionel Hampton and His All-Stars: Complete Jazztone Recordings 1956" follows suit. This assemblage of three different 33 1/3-rpm recordings,* spanning 17 tracks and 96 minutes on two CDs, makes for very enjoyable listening. This recording is to jazz what so-called "gateway drugs" are to heroin. This is affable, amiable, good-natured jazz. But make no mistake, this is JAZZ, with all that that implies. It quite properly reeks of urban grime, weed in the air, whiskey on the floor, and the sex-soaked back seat of a Packard Clipper sedan.

At the same time, this recording is best appreciated on its own terms, without attempting to place it within any temporal context within the evolution of jazz. (I'll try to explain shortly.)

Hampton's sidemen on this date include two alumni from his previous organizations, tenor Eli "Lucky" Thompson and trombonist Jimmy Cleveland. Lucky Thompson was a criminally under-recognized tenor man who, independently of Sonny Rollins, developed a quite similar style. One of his major claims to fame is having performed in two tunes from Walkin', Miles Davis' extraordinarily great bop album from 1954. Renowned bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Gus Johnson join the ensemble, along with two relative newcomers at the time, pianist Oscar Dennard and trumpeter Ray Copeland. Dennard proves to be a pleasant surprise throughout, but apart from Hamp the real standout player is Thompson, whose horn is easily favored by Jazztone's rather low-tech recording standard. More importantly, it's really Thompson who applies the freshest, most modern face to the entire set.

Of the 17 tracks, nine are standards or jazz standards, while five are compositions by Hampton. (A sixth, "Lionel Choo-Choo," is just an alternate take of "What's Your Hurry.") The remaining two are interesting takes on traditional folk songs: the Scottish tune "Loch Lomond," and a surprisingly cooking piece based on "Ochi chyornye" ("Dark Eyes"). The level of ensemble playing is consistently excellent, and Hampton's solos are always superb. You'll frequently and plainly hear Hamp egging the other players on. In "Romeo's Gone Now" and "Raindeer" he repeatedly shouts "Go Lucky, go!", and in other tracks you'll hear guttural yelps and a hearty "Ya-a-a-a-yeh!" whenever he seems pleased with the proceedings. The enthusiasm is infectious, and it's difficult not to get caught up in it. Hampton also interjects brilliant quotations of other material as he improvises. In "Over the Rainbow" he riffs on a theme from "Spring Song," one of the "Songs Without Words" by Felix Mendelssohn. As he closes "Rainbow," he introduces the "Spring Song" theme once more, followed by a quotation of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz." Also, in what appears to be a master stroke of design (or sheer coincidence), the closer of the Gerry Mulligan tune "Line for Lyons" includes a quotation by Hamp of his own composition, "Raindeer"--which fortuitously follows just moments later on the next track of the CD. (Now, whatever accounts for the unorthodox spelling is beyond my limited power to divine.)

Interestingly, the most cooking tracks on this set are the compositions by Hampton, which demonstrate his ability to keep somewhat apace of then-current trends in bop playing while remaining true to his big-band and swing roots. On one of them, "Look! Four Hands," Hamp displays his amazing versatility by sitting at the keyboard with Oscar Dennard for a smokin' boogie-woogie duet for piano four hands. Bassist Oscar Pettiford really shines here, providing all the rhythmic accompaniment that's needed. However, Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train" also calls for special mention, because it includes a vocal trio performing much in the style of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, with terrific harmonies and all the "Woo-woo!" sounds of a train whistle. This track is an absolute gas, and it's positively criminal that these singers aren't credited anywhere on this recording (although one strongly suspects that Hampton himself is part of the trio).

Of all the Fresh Sound releases of Jazztone material, the packaging of this one really revels in the Jazztone aesthetic. Not only is the cover of the CD booklet closely patterned after the jacket art of the original 12-inch LP; you also get a reproduction of the original LP jacket inside the booklet, as well as the jacket of the 10-inch LP, with the album title--"Visit on a Skyscraper"--printed in German! Best of all are the three imprints, in brown-on-white, of the labels on the A sides of all three LP recordings, clearly depicting the very hip Jazztone logo design.

Why, then, doesn't this set merit a full five-star rating? Chalk it up to the curiously anachronistic feeling that this recording conveys in general. I know intellectually that it was made in the summer of 1956, but somehow I just can't wrap my wetware around that fact. It's well-known that Hamp's style was firmly grounded in the Swing Era. That, and the very rough Jazztone sound, conspire to make this record seem as though it was produced in 1952...or even 1948! Compare it to Milt Jackson: Wizard of the Vibes, which WAS recorded in 1952 and 1948, and you may find "Wizard" to be almost light-years ahead of this one, with all the salient elements of hard bop already in place. For that matter, compare it to all the works produced in 1956 by The Jazz Messengers, or Miles Davis' First Great Quintet, or Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins. Compare it to anything Mingus produced even prior to '56...hell, compare it to Birth of the Cool (1948). You'll find it difficult to escape the discomfiting notion that, in many respects, all of them were way ahead of the curve ridden by Hamp at this point in his career.

Ergo, try to detach yourself from all knowledge of its placement within the jazz timeline, and appreciate this recording for what it is: good, straight-ahead jazz, drenched in the blues, and more than occasionally approaching the seething temperatures of hard bop. Ultimately, whether you should buy this set depends on whether you're a fan of Hamp, or like to collect buried treasures that have been overlooked by nearly everyone. If either, this recording merits your serious consideration. If not, then maybe not. Speaking for myself, I choose to deal with the problem of anachronism by pretending not that I'm a snot-nosed six-year-old zooming around the streets of North Hollywood on a 20-inch bike, but rather, a toddler zooming around the hardwood floors in training diapers, trying to make sense of the wonderful buzzing, blooming confusion of jazz recordings with which my dad filled the house.
_____________________________________

*Specifically, "The Fabulous Lionel Hampton and His All-Stars," a 12-inch LP (Jazztone J-1238); "Visit on a Skyscraper," a 10-inch LP (J-1040); and a 7-inch EP, "The Fabulous Lionel Hampton" (J-723).


Complete Jazztone Recordings
Complete Jazztone Recordings
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazztone Stories, Part III: The "sleeper" in Coleman Hawkins' discography, April 27, 2009
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Just a few days shy of his 50th birthday, tenor sax legend Coleman Hawkins, and five sidemen most of whom were considerably younger, stepped into a studio in New York City to record an album for the Jazztone Society. One gets the feeling that the fledgling Jazztone label had high hopes for this event. The album that ensued--Timeless Jazz: Coleman Hawkins and His All-Stars--was to be Jazztone's first release (J-1201), and of the 12 tracks recorded in that single day, two of them made their way to two different sampler recordings released by the Society.

Little did the Hawk know how his efforts would be served so shabbily by Jazztone's indifferent recording standards, and its hasty demise less than three years after that November day in 1954.

There is much shame in this irony. That's because, by every meaningful measure, "Timeless Jazz" is truly a masterpiece. If Jazztone's liner notes are to be believed, even the Hawk himself held this album in very high regard; according to those notes, "...Hawkins, who is his own harshest critic, ranks [this album] among his best...". Had it not been for the efforts of Jordi Pujol and a handful of other jazz enthusiasts living in Spain, this already endangered specimen could easily have met with untimely, cold, black-hearted extinction. Instead, through Fresh Sound Records, which Pujol heads, the nine tracks of the original Jazztone release were evidently salvaged from existing LP copies, then mastered to digital and released on compact disc in 1989. In the years that followed, the three remaining tracks surfaced on three additional Jazztone recordings.* The 12 tracks were compiled and released by Fresh Sound in 2003 in the recording that's being reviewed here.

For starters, Hawkins could not have assembled a better supporting cast even if the continued existence of The Free World had depended on it. Trumpeter Emmett Berry, a co-player with Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson's band, firmly steeped in the tradition of swing, and whose influences from Louie Armstrong are obvious. Trombonist Eddie Bert, a highly flexible, adaptable musician who, within a year, also did gigs with the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. Pianist Billy Taylor, a protégé of Art Tatum who possesses Tatum's fluid style without the distracting embellishments. Bassist Milt Hinton, who over time became the most-recorded jazz musician ever, with more than 1,100 recordings to his credit; and drummer Jonathan "Jo" Jones, part of the notoriously great rhythm section in Basie's band, who distinguishes himself on this occasion by using brushes almost entirely throughout.

The twelve tunes are well-known standards and jazz showpieces, often performed with surprising twists. In "Cheek to Cheek," for instance, the group chose not to take it at all literally, but instead to perform it at a breakneck pace, just as frenetic as the group's interpretation of "Get Happy." (Hawkins can also be heard occasionally making snorting noises with the horn that bring a peevish elephant to mind!) In rather stunning contrast, the Fats Waller tune "Ain't Misbehavin'" (one of six tracks where Hawkins and the rhythm section play as a quartet) is taken slowly, made reflective and contemplative, with none of the implied cheeky mischief that has become cliché in the hands of others. "Time on My Hands," which at eight minutes never made it to the LP release, is another quartet arrangement, languorously and lusciously played, with extremely sensitive and sympathetic interaction between Hawk and Taylor. "Blue Lou" was a staple tune from the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. But Henderson never conceived an arrangement that smokes like this one does. This is prototypical hard bop, every bit as fresh and exciting as what Miles was doing with Walkin' that same year. Dig the muted horn by Berry, and the locomotive-at-eighty-miles-an-hour effect that Jo Jones generates with nothing more than a pair of brushes.

But what truly impresses about this album is the way Hawkins frequently and unselfishly cedes the musical ground to his younger sidemen. Often the sidemen are allowed to solo first, sometimes with the Hawk providing a gentle "left hand" underneath. An excellent and representative example would be "Out of Nowhere," in which trumpeter Berry begins by tracing out the melody in more or less literal fashion. Then Hawkins takes over with a blazing series of harmonic inventions (the signature of Hawkins' style generally) that shuns the melody entirely. But then, remarkably, all the ensuing soloists take up the gauntlet thrown down by their leader, responding with their own series of inventions, beginning with trombonist Bert, then another brilliant, lyrically fluid series by Taylor. The tune concludes cyclically, as Berry rips out another, very Satchmo-like solo, this time much less literal than his opener, but no less inventive than the others.

"Coleman Hawkins: The Complete Jazztone Recordings 1954" justly deserves the label of "jazz masterpiece" for these and so many other reasons, but also because it fulfills this additional necessary criterion: it contains not a single gram of fat, not even one wasted breath or hint of redundancy. Every moment, from first to last, contributes to the artistic integrity of the whole. That's a remarkable achievement for a package that clocks in at around 71 minutes. (Yusef Lateef's Eastern Sounds and McCoy Tyner's The Real McCoy are two legitimate masterpieces from the '60s that also fulfill this criterion despite being half the length of this album. In contrast, consider a typical album of "millennial jazz," such as Chick Corea's Past, Present & Futures (2001), which is the same length as "The Complete Jazztone Recordings 1954" but which--in spite of its more promising moments--drags itself down like a boat anchor with its enormous preponderance of dead weight. Just because you CAN put 70 to 80 minutes of music on a compact disc, it does not follow strictly that you SHOULD!)

Of the three recordings mentioned here, completists will want to obtain this one even though it's in short supply. It can be obtained directly from Fresh Sound Records if it's not available through Amazon or the vendors linked to Amazon. Fresh Sound's 1989 release of "Timeless Jazz" may be even more collectible due to its scarcity; copies of this CD are already fetching some pretty commanding prices. If neither of these is doable, then by all means spring for the more recent Original Long Play release (and swallow hard whenever you contemplate its unpretty utilitarian packaging). But get this album no matter what. It is almost impossible to recommend it too highly.
___________________________________

*"Undecided" was originally released on a 7-inch, J-708; "Honeysuckle Rose" on a 10-inch sampler, J-SPEC 100; and "Time on My Hands" on a Concert Hall 7-inch sampler, J-SPEC-700. These facts lend considerable weight to the speculation that Fresh Sound's engineers did not have access to any master tapes or metal dies during the remastering process. For if they had, why not release all 12 tracks back in 1989?
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2011 3:42 AM PDT


Byer's Guide
Byer's Guide
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jazztone Stories, Part II: "Byers' Guide" won't leave you with "Byers' Remorse", April 20, 2009
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Although contemporaneous with iconic figures of bebop, the names Billy Byers and Joe Newman aren't likely to resonate among the bop and postbop crowds. Perhaps that's because, musically speaking, these two were throwbacks to an earlier time, when jazz was more relaxed, carefree, and swinging. Billy Byers was a kind of mid-century Renaissance man: he composed and arranged, and played piano, organ and trombone. He worked extensively in radio, television and motion pictures as a writer, arranger, conductor and trombonist; he attended Harvard University, joined the Army, and played in the bands of Georgie Auld, Benny Goodman and Charlie Ventura. Amazingly, he accomplished all that before the age of 22! Co-leader Joe Newman was a trumpet player who joined Lionel Hampton's band in 1941, played for a year in the Illinois Jacquet band, and enjoyed two very long stints with Count Basie, for which his work is most widely remembered.

"Byers' Guide," recorded in 1956, boasts a rather curious genesis. It was issued under two different titles, apparently by two different record companies. It was evidently released first under the Jazztone Society label as "New Sounds in Swing" (J-1217). (For a description of the Jazztone label, see my review of Timeless Jazz: Coleman Hawkins and His All-Stars.) "Byers' Guide" was probably released shortly thereafter, with a new jacket and vibrantly cool cover art by Leah Cohen, ostensibly to reach a wider audience outside of Jazztone's subscription service. In 1992 the album was remastered to digital and issued on CD by Fresh Sound Records of Spain.* In addition to Newman and Byers, the album features Gene Quill on alto sax and clarinet, and pianist Lou Stein, who actually takes up the celesta on one of the cuts. Bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Osie Johnson, both eminently capable Jazztone standbys, round out the rhythm section. Of the ten tunes on the album, six are compositions by Byers, two are standards, and the remaining two were composed by a young musician named Judy Spencer. The LP issues were laid out very logically and symmetrically, with each side containing exactly three Byers compositions, one by Spencer, and one standard.

But this is far from being just a collection of swing music. Janus-like, the album looks forward as well as back, effectively proving that whatever boundaries are alleged to exist between various schools of jazz--swing, bop, cool--are in practice never defined as sharply as we'd often like to think. Co-leader Byers has also infused this album with a canny, "brainiac" sensibility that you might expect of a guy who attended Harvard (not unlike that of Dave Brubeck, who studied classical music with the great French composer Darius Milhaud). Just listen to Gene Quill, soaring like a Bird in "Which One is Sali?", and in "Who's Cool?", followed by hard-charging solos by Byers, Newman on muted trumpet, and pianist Stein--after which all three horns take turns trading fours with drummer Osie Johnson, with Newman's horn now uncorked. "Byers' Guide," the title track, swings more casually and freely, with more of the outstanding solo work by Quill and Newman that reveal them to be the real stars of this outing. "Fingernails on the Windowpane," another tune penned by Byers, is most curious, but not because its recurring theme sounds dissonant (it doesn't, especially). Rather, it's because the improvised middle section has nothing musically to do with the main theme; it's just a series of changes based on "Anything Goes." (At least that much is strongly intimated by Newman's solo on that track.) "Gin and Catatonic" and "Tribute to the West" both suggest that Newman and Byers had been listening very intently to early Miles Davis. The resemblance of these tunes to Davis' 1953 recording of "The Serpent's Tooth" (from the album "Collectors' Items") seems more than accidental.

The two standards in this set employ a quartet format, with mixed results. With open horn, Newman gives a very sensitive, expressive reading of the Arlen-Harburg tune titled (appropriately on this occasion) "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe." But Byers' solo outing on "I Found a Million Dollar Baby" is somewhat less successful. Indeed, it reveals him to be, frankly, a better composer/arranger than a trombonist.

Ironically, the weakest and strongest tracks on this album both issue from the pen of Judy Spencer. "April's Delight" sounds the most like traditional swing-era fare. Its simple melodic line is pleasant but derivative (just compare it to Les and Larry Elgart's "The Turtle Walk"), and sounds for all the world like the work of a young amateur composer. How very shocking, therefore, that "Dialogue in F" should turn out to be the creative and exquisitely-crafted stunner that it is! For this tune Byers and Newman pick up their mutes, and Quill his B-flat clarinet, while pianist Stein sits at the keyboard of a celesta for the opening and closing theme. The theme, laid out in A-A'-B-A-A'-B' format, consists of clever rondos, almost chamber-music-like, rendered in duets by Quill and Byers, then Quill and Newman. In the B sections, bassist Hinton walks, then double-times in the highest registers, while Johnson provides subtle brushwork to underscore the muted trombone and celeste. In the improvised middle section, Stein reverts to the piano for a bit more jazz "kick." The entire tune unfolds with uncommon elegance and grace, but most important, IT SWINGS! "Dialogue in F" is the standout tune that you'll remember again and again each time you put this recording back on the shelf.

In terms of artistic value, recorded sound, and just plain notoriety, "Byers' Guide" will not generate the sort of heat or buzz that attends to a typical Rudy Van Gelder remastering of Miles, or Monk. Nevertheless, this is interesting and rewarding music that will make you wish it had been better-served by Jazztone's recording equipment and engineering. It deserves a much better fate than to simply languish in obscurity, only to release its final gasping breaths as it goes out of print. (And it absolutely warrants greater magnanimity than the two-star slap in the face administered by the reviewers at allmusic.com.) If you're fond of collecting jazz esoterica, you'll want to make "Byers' Guide" one of your own.
___________________________

*Interesting aside: The Fresh Sound CD release contains a rather severely-condensed version of the original Jazztone liner notes by Paul Shapler. Notably absent from this abridgment: a two-paragraph tirade in which Shapler rails against certain unnamed "jazz modernists" for adopting formalism and abstraction, as well as influences from Bach, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. "They lose sight of, or else deliberately ignore the basic elements--indeed, the life forces--of jazz...." he writes, concluding that "...[t]heir music is neurotic and anti-social, no longer cool, but cold. It leads nowhere." Naturally, the passage of time and the perseverance of certain artistic verities have shown this conjecture to be rather silly, if not absolute nonsense. But perhaps we can also credit Fresh Sound's catalog for the omission of Shapler's more ill-mannered remarks, since that catalog contains much of the music that Shapler is so bent on attacking.


Timeless Jazz
Timeless Jazz
4 used & new from $11.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazztone Stories, Part I: For once, "Timeless Jazz" is NOT just so much advertising puffery, April 20, 2009
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This review is from: Timeless Jazz (Audio CD)
On November 8, 1954, tenor sax legend Coleman Hawkins, along with five sidemen, laid down 12 tracks for the Jazztone Society label. Nine of these tracks were then issued on "Timeless Jazz: Coleman Hawkins and his All-Stars" (Jazztone J-1201). In the late 1980s, Fresh Sound Records, a Spanish company, remastered "Timeless Jazz" to digital and issued it on compact disc. In 2003, Fresh Sound released all 12 tracks on a newer issue entitled "Coleman Hawkins: The Complete Jazztone Recordings 1954." More recently, the nine tracks of the original album, along with "Honeysuckle Rose," have been re-released on the Original Long Play label.

"Timeless Jazz" is not merely one of the Hawk's better albums; this is a GREAT ALBUM that stands proudly alongside his finest recordings despite its obscure origins and compromised sound quality. Every fan of the Hawk, as well as lovers of jazz arcana generally, should obtain this highly collectible recording before it goes out of print one last time. For a more complete description, see my forthcoming review, "Jazztone Stories, Part III: The "sleeper" in Coleman Hawkins' discography," which is based on The Complete Jazztone Recordings 1954. Meanwhile, a few words about the Jazztone Society, as well as Fresh Sound's efforts to revive portions of the Jazztone catalog:

ABOUT THE JAZZTONE SOCIETY

The Jazztone Society record label was a short-lived offshoot of the Concert Hall Society, a mail-order company for classical-music recordings. Jazz historian George T. Simon served as Jazztone's director of research. The Jazztone label issued one LP recording per month from 1955 to 1957, after which it went out of business. These recordings were subsequently reissued in Germany, France, and the U.S. under other labels. Of the 30 to 40 titles issued by Jazztone, some were recorded exclusively for the label, while others were reissues of recordings previously minted by Dial, Savoy, Prestige, and other companies. Some of these recordings showcased music from the Dixieland/Chicago period, but the majority of them centered on a type of "mainstream" jazz that mingles the traditions of swing, bop, and "cool-school."

Jazztone's production values comprised a maddening mixture of excellence and mediocrity. The discs were nice, thick, fairly heavyweight pieces, and (judging from the six that I own) uncommonly generous (the "Timeless Jazz" LP, for instance, clocks in at an astounding 55:39!). But they were encased in flimsy cardboard envelopes with wax-paper sleeves. The jacket art was interesting; it consisted of a monochrome, doubly-exposed photograph superposing an image of jazz musicians atop another image of New York skyscrapers at night. Depending on the recording in question, the monochrome would be printed in one of a variety of Atomic-Age colors: magenta, orange, olive drab, turquoise-green, gray, mustard-yellow, etc. ("Timeless Jazz" has an orange jacket. You can also type "jazztone" into the Amazon search bar to see what some of these albums looked like.) The packaging pièce de résistance, however, was the Jazztone logo--a highly stylized line drawing of a jazz keyboardist that very compactly conveys a remarkable sense of urban grit and ultra-cool '50s hipness.

Unfortunately, Jazztone's sound quality did not stack up well against the best jazz recordings of the period. I would characterize the "Jazztone sound" as being forward with horns and winds, but having weak dynamics throughout the instruments in the rhythm section, as well as a rather flat soundstage overall. To the best of my knowledge, only four or five of Jazztone's worthiest original-release titles have ever been digitally remastered and transferred to compact disc, all of them by Fresh Sound Records of Spain. There is every reason to speculate that Jazztone's entire repository of master tapes and metal dies was either allowed to deteriorate, or was lost or destroyed, and that Fresh Sound transferred these recordings to digital using extant LPs. The remasters that I've heard (I own all but one of these discs at the moment) show improved bass response and subjectively seem to have brought the piano slightly forward. Most important, they have eliminated virtually all surface noise. Although these improvements are only incremental, and clearly lack the vividness, depth and detail of, say, the best of Rudy Van Gelder's remasters, the engineers at Fresh Sound probably did the best they could with the materials on hand.

Information about the Jazztone label is extremely hard to come by, even online. A great deal of it is anecdotal, and is posted on various blogs. After much searching on the Internet, I was unable to come up with even a single posting of Jazztone's complete catalog. Sadly, the Jazztone story appears to have largely died along with the people who originally maintained it. But that only adds to the mystique and peculiar appeal of this label. The important point is that much buried treasure remains to be excavated there, if one will but have patience, and bear with the funky recording quality and mixed production standards.


Best of Milt Jackson
Best of Milt Jackson
Price: $12.62
28 used & new from $4.45

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Should have been titled "Riverside Profiles: Milt Jackson", April 7, 2009
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This review is from: Best of Milt Jackson (Audio CD)
In his "Concise Guide to Jazz" (2nd ed.) (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998, pp. 214-216), Mark Gridley, not one to pull any punches when it comes to jazz criticism, warns of the perils of buying anthologies of works by particular jazz artists. Here are some salient excerpts:

"Be suspicious of titles for compilations. Let's examine reasons for caution with two categories of compilations: (a) Greatest Hits, and (b) The Best of, The Indispensable, and The Essential. Problems for both categories often occur when the compilation comes from only one company's recordings, and that particular company did not record the artist during his creative peak, or during his height of popularity....

"A second set of problems arises when musicians have had several different styles during their careers and a creative peak for each. They may have been recording for a different company during each important period....

"A third set of problems results when musicians made their best recordings as sidemen in the bands of others, not as bandleaders, yet the compilation draws only from recording sessions where they were bandleaders....

"A fourth reason for approaching compilation titles with caution is that sometimes compilers are not qualified for their task. This means that even if an artist recorded solely for one company during his creative peak, a "Best of" album might omit his best work because the person in charge of preparing the compilation was not familiar enough with all the artist's work for that firm. The compiler might not have had sufficiently developed taste, either, or he did not realize how much he needed to call upon the taste and knowledge of consultants....

"Ultimately you need to remember...that the main reason for buying compilations and samplers is to become familiar with a wide range of music for a small price. But also bear in mind that just because selections on the samplers are critically acclaimed or generally popular does not guarantee you will like them...."
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The very title of the album under review--"The Best of Milt Jackson"--underscores much of what Gridley has to say about anthologies. There are AT LEAST TWO albums entitled "The Best of Milt Jackson," another of which was released by Pablo Records. There may be others still. This album would have benefited from merely being (more objectively) retitled "Riverside Profiles: Milt Jackson." Since Riverside also has a "Profiles" series along with Prestige Records, I'm puzzled as to why this album was not included in that series.

All that said, this is a mostly good collection of items from the portion of Jackson's career spanning 1954 to 1963. Happily, the collection steers clear of some of the pitfalls outlined above. The compilers--Orrin Keepnews and Bob Weinstock (on tracks 1 and 2)--cannot be faulted for lack of expertise or knowledge in making their selections. Both worked very closely with Jackson during this part of his career. Certainly a wide range of exceptional jazz artists is represented: Horace Silver, Percy Heath, Kenny Clarke, Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly, Art Blakey, Wes Montgomery, Sam Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Dorham, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, Melba Liston, Clark Terry, Hank Jones, Snooky Young, and others.

Of the 14 tracks on this album, I think four deserve special praise: the familiar Horace Silver tune, "Opus de Funk," "Blues Oriental" (which Jackson recorded as a sideman with Cannonball Adderley in an album that some consider to have otherwise been a bit lackluster for Adderley), and "Gemini" and "Ignunt Oil," the latter two of which originally appeared in "Milt Jackson Quintet: Live at the Village Gate," a 1963 release that has now been obscured and mostly forgotten. "Blues Oriental" makes skillful use of minor chords and a pentatonic scale for the main theme, and Blakey's mallet work on side drum and cymbal evokes the sounds of a Chinese gong. The effect overall is one of slightly sinister unsettlement (in a tasty, bluesy sort of way, of course). The two Village Gate selections are hard-charging bop pieces that feature superb solos by Jimmy Heath on tenor as well as exemplary playing by Jackson.

Tracks 8 through 12 are where this collection begins to fall flat, in my estimation. All of them are big-band arrangements recorded during two sessions in 1962 and 1963, and in some ways they exemplify what began to go wrong with big-band arranging in the '60s. All of these selections are competently played, and pleasant enough to listen to, especially as background music. But to my ears they are overly slick and overly bland, almost as if they were pushed through some kind of "jazz food processor" and puréed to make them seem more palatable to a larger audience of people who really can't dig jazz. They don't challenge, they don't inspire, and they seem to have much of the improvisational air sucked right out of them. Track 9 in particular, "'Round Midnight," sounds so homogenized, so painted-over and listless, that one can scarcely recall Thelonious Monk's intentions for the piece when he composed it. (On the plus side, some of these tracks showcase the work of Melba Liston as trombonist and big-band arranger, at a time when women, much less African-American women, could scarcely be conceived to be jazz instrumentalists, much less jazz arrangers.)

Don't let my reservations about the big-band tracks dissuade you, however. Milt Jackson was one of the greatest jazz soloists and improvisers on any instrument, and as a vibraphonist he is probably without peer. This collection does mostly well by him, and if you're just getting into Jackson's work, this may be a good place to start. But you should also look into Jackson's early output for Blue Note, especially "Milt Jackson: Wizard of the Vibes."


Thelonious Monk Trio: Rudy Van Gelder Remasters
Thelonious Monk Trio: Rudy Van Gelder Remasters
Price: $12.55
48 used & new from $4.48

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Purist's Monk, March 22, 2009
Face it--if you're not predisposed to liking the compositions and/or piano stylings of Thelonious Monk, you're not going to buy this album anyway. But since you're on this webpage, it's presumed that either you haven't heard much of Monk if any, and are curious to investigate; or you already have some Monk in your collection and are wondering whether this distillation of Monk into trio form is worth your investment. On both counts, I say there is no question. And if you're new to Monk, it's hard to think of a better starting-point than this album.

Recorded over three different sessions from '52 to '54, and under three different producers, this is also a collection of several permutations of the trio featuring either Gary Mapp or Percy Heath on bass, and either Art Blakey or Max Roach on drums. So why does this album charm so? Many reasons. One is that the trio format provides a true distillation of the Monk sound, with both bassists and drummers lending very fine, understanding support. (Blakey's contribution to "Bye-Ya" is particularly outstanding. Also, don't get me wrong--I think Monk's collaboration with Coltrane at Carnegie Hall in 1957 is one of the finest jazz albums ever recorded. But to my mind that album is really about Coltrane's sudden growth spurt under Monk's mentorship, within the context of one of the greatest bands Monk ever assembled.) Two, even though he had already been making waves for some seven years or so, this is very much a Monk captured early in his career. Three, many of Monk's signature tunes are offered here for the first time: "Blue Monk," "Bemsha Swing," "Reflections," "Little Rootie Tootie," "Bye-Ya," "Monk's Dream," and "Trinkle Tinkle." Four, "Just a Gigolo," one of three standards on the set, is a beautiful and poignant--almost tearful--solo performance by Monk, made even more bittersweet with his stride-style playing. Five, this album captures brilliantly the fact that Monk assimilated piano styles from many different jazz eras and mixed them together rather promiscuously, very nearly achieving a depiction of jazz as a type of American folk art. (In that regard see the note below about the out-of-tune piano on one of the sessions.) Six, the quality of the remaster is simply astonishing. You'll be hard-pressed to tell that these recordings were made almost sixty years ago. (I wish Rudy Van Gelder always got the remastering business this right.)

If all that weren't enough, this album has some of the coolest jacket art around, a drawing by Gil Melle in what appears to be India ink, crayon, and press-on type, depicting an Isamu Noguchi-like piece of Atomic-Age sculpture. (That was definitely a tipping point for me. Jacket art matters!)

Yeah, on some of the tracks you can definitely hear Monk nattering and singing rather loudly as he plays. But that's just Monk; you take it or leave it. Yeah, the piano was out-of-tune on one of the sessions, but somehow the peculiar sound only adds to the proceedings. It was a wise decision for all concerned not to worry about it.

Open-minded Monk novitiates, Monk experts, and all else in between will find a lot to like in this album. Very strongly recommended.


For All Time
For All Time
24 used & new from $17.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Brubeck Collector's Conundrum, March 16, 2009
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This review is from: For All Time (Audio CD)
As a lad of about twenty, I caught up to the Brubeck/time-signature phenomenon by purchasing a 2-LP Columbia reissue entitled "Adventures in Time." I'm sure I beat that album to a pulp on various stereo systems, along with the Don Ellis Orchestra LPs that fascinated me at the time. Purchasing this 5-disc box set was like becoming reacquainted with a lot of old friends. The music (nearly all of it in any case) is first-rate, and I can't add any commentary that hasn't already been said dozens of times by innumerable Brubeck admirers. (The remastering to digital has notably cleared up one very nasty edit--a vestige of the bad old days of razor blades and adhesive mylar tape--that appears in the vinyl versions of "Cassandra." This track was evidently a splicing-together of two separate takes recorded at noticeably different tape speeds, and no one cared to adjust the speeds accordingly!)

Other reviewers have commented unfavorably about the packaging. My own gripe with the packaging doesn't concern materials and such, but rather its concept. Columbia chose to bundle these five CDs together as-is, an approach that is no doubt expedient and cost-effective, and which actually has its benefits (for the owner can appreciate the sequence of tunes, the very fine cover art, etc., exactly as they were originally released). But this bundling (as opposed to thoroughgoing repackaging) is much too rigid. I would have liked to hear more of the Quartet's tunes recorded in concert, particularly the "Take Five" that appears in "Adventures in Time." These live recordings bespeak a heightened improvisational energy, as well as increased confidence with the unusual time signatures, that is sometimes lacking in the studio recordings of the same tunes.

Now here's where the Brubeck Collector's Conundrum comes into play. What are the odds that someone who is entirely new to Brubeck will make this box set their first purchase? Practically nil, yes? It's almost impossible for me to envision someone working up an interest in this set unless they've already invested in "Time Out," and possibly "Time Further Out." By that point they will have already owned one, maybe two albums of the five. For my own part, I confess that I purchased the set only after Amazon had slashed the price from around $45 to $25.97. For my $26 I estimate that I got approximately 2 1/2 very short CDs' worth of music after I discount "Elementals," which still doesn't ring my chimes (sorry, folks...you can recite chapter-and-verse about what a great experiment in orchestral improvisation "Elementals" is, et cetera, but it's not likely I'll ever warm up to it).

Perhaps Amazon has anticipated the conundrum ahead of me, which may explain the substantial discount. In any event, if you must have this set, I recommend that you grab it while the discount is in place. Unless, of course, Columbia decides to repackage all of this material with the now-dormant "Time Signatures" set, in which case we REALLY have a conundrum on our hands...


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