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Showing 1-3 of 3 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 3 reviews
on April 7, 2009
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...."

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."
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on October 26, 2013
I love this CD, as it has several Milt songs I haven't heard before. It is from his days on Riverside Records (no longer exists), and earlier in his career. Listening to Milt, you can only feel uplifted but sad you didn't see him in person all at the same time.
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on March 20, 2014
I have a number of Modern Jazz Quartet CD's, but I wanted to hear more of MJ independent of his calling card group sound.
His music is most soothing & enjoyuable.
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