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Various Artists: Jazz Piano Anthology

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At Laserlight’s modest prices, these two anthologies are wonderful values for beginners anxious to experience the broad scope of the piano and saxophone in jazz. The first, I believe, is the better, or more representative of the vital, innovative core. The artists are, of course, determined to a large extent by the material available to Laserlight. Helped by reinforcements from labels like Delmark and Savoy, the company has done very well, for over 30 significant players are featured. The most notable absentees are The Lion, Nat Cole, Pete Johnson, Jay McShann and Ralph Sutton.

In the saxophone set, the omissions seem more numerous, but that is understandable enough, given the greater number of “stars” to consider. Nevertheless, the absence of men like Sidney Bechet, Harry Carney, Chu Berry, Bud Freeman, Herschel Evans, Paul Gonsalves, Buddy Tate, Budd Johnson, Arnett Cobb and Scott Hamilton is a serious matter.

The CDs are available singly as well as in the boxes, on which all contents are detailed. In the piano set, the five discs are titled In the Beginning, Bop, Swingers, The Magic Touch and Modern Evolutions. The categorization thus implied is loose, but in the first, for example, there are two titles each by James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller, and three each by Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson. The five saxophone sets are titled: The Masters, Bebop and Beyond, Classic Sounds, Explore! and Impressions. In the first of these, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Benny Carter, Don Byas and Stan Getz do their admirable stuff. Among others, Charlie Parker and Phil Woods are in the second, Johnny Hodges and Illinois Jacquet in the third, John Coltrane and Gerry Mulligan in the fourth and Joe Lovano and Joe Henderson in the last.

Sound varies a little from source to source (details of which are given), but is generally acceptable enough. For newcomers, both sets can be strongly recommended as introductions. For older hands, they can be valuable reminders and, if listened to without reference to the printed matter, an intriguing experience in identification. There is intelligent annotation by Roy Shakked and Barry Levenson for the piano booklets and by Shakked and Hermann Lara for the others.