Jazz albums round-up

Phil Johnson on box sets
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Compact-disc box sets have become one of the great publishing scams of our time, offering "luxury" rebrandings of material nobody really wants, all bulked out with superfluous packaging to create a product that appeals to our aspirations rather than our needs. Just as most of us will never read War and Peace but may keep a copy in the house just in case, so we are susceptible to great multi-decker editions of music that look good on the shelves but spend little time on the stereo. The aspiration effect means that many box sets appeal to a sense of deferred gratification, positioning themselves as "heritage" purchases; in other words, you may not even bother to take the cellophane wrapping off until your retirement.

Compact-disc box sets have become one of the great publishing scams of our time, offering "luxury" rebrandings of material nobody really wants, all bulked out with superfluous packaging to create a product that appeals to our aspirations rather than our needs. Just as most of us will never read War and Peace but may keep a copy in the house just in case, so we are susceptible to great multi-decker editions of music that look good on the shelves but spend little time on the stereo. The aspiration effect means that many box sets appeal to a sense of deferred gratification, positioning themselves as "heritage" purchases; in other words, you may not even bother to take the cellophane wrapping off until your retirement.

While the series of box sets published by Proper Records falls into the heritage category, it is exceptionally good value; for the price of one normal CD, you get four full-length discs, an informative booklet and the requisite cardboard box.

Owing, one presumes, to the exigencies of copyright law, all of the contents are at least 50 years old, but that still lets in an awful lot of great music while, in a few years' time, the golden age of the stereo LP will start to become available.

Among the latest batch of boxes, now more than 50 in number, are excellent sets devoted to the legendary Latin bandleader Machito, the soulful gospel-diva Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the bar-walking tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Ritmo Caliente by Machito and his Afro-Cubans (Properbox 48) begins with some rather polite rumbas from the early Forties, but things hot up considerably on disc two with the entry of the great bebop conga player Chano Pozo, and some fantastic 1949 broadcasts from the Royal Roost nightclub with Howard McGhee on trumpet and Brew Moore on tenor sax. Disc three concentrates on the new mambo craze, while Disc four includes Chico O'Farrill's famous "Afro Cuban Jazz Suite". Composers and arrangers include Mario Bauza, O'Farrill, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Fuller and Rene Hernandez.

Gospel music has rarely swung with the fervour of the singer and guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-73), a tremendously important figure for black music who has never received the attention she deserves, probably because she falls between the cracks of the sacred and the secular, and between gospel, jazz and blues.

Beginning with some wonderful solo performances from 1938 and moving on to her work with the Lucky Millinder and Erskine Hawkins orchestras and the Sam Price Trio, The Original Soul Sister (Properbox 51) is a must-have purchase offering immediate gratification. Imagine a 1940s version of Missy Elliott who also plays a mean blues guitar, and you'll get the picture. I doubt there'll be a more purely enjoyable box released this year.

Comments