Wednesday Jun 26

Profiling the Best of Prestige Records

Kenny Burrell

The 2005 Prestige Profiles series of CDs merits a strong recommendation and a minor warning. Taking the latter first, you should know that these compilations are exactly the same as the corresponding Best Of... CDs that came out in 2004.

The first time these collections hit the market, they didn't get a lot of attention. The official explanation is bad timing. Fantasy Records turned them out during the period that Concord Music Group was acquiring that company and thus the series "fell through the cracks on the retail front."

Another reason that the collections didn't jump off the shelves could be that of the original batch of 18, only the ten that drew exclusively from Prestige label masters came close to meeting the "best of" standard. In my view, it's not at all coincidental that those ten are the ones that Concord repackaged for re-release. I'd call them the Best of the Best Of... And they're even better now than they were then.

When you buy one of the new Prestige Profiles versions, you get a carefully and enthusiastically selected Collector's Edition Bonus Disc in addition to the main compilation. The performances on the bonus discs are not more recordings by the artist featured on the main Profiles disc. The bonus disc that comes with the Miles Davis collection, for instance, features Chet Baker, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Red Garland, Gil Evans, John Coltrane, Art Farmer, and Donald Byrd in a program that supports, enhances, expands on, and illuminates the Miles Davis performances it accompanies.

The subjects of the other nine Prestige Profiles packages are Jackie McLean, Red Garland (from the quintet sessions featuring John Coltrane), Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Burrell, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.

Jackie McLean

I'm going to urge special consideration for two of the Prestige Profiles packages: Jackie McLean and Kenny Burrell. Both sets tend toward relaxed performances and both have spectacular bonus collections. The one with the McLean profile naturally features other alto sax stars including Gigi Gryce ("Minority"), Lee Konitz ("Subconscious-Lee"), and James Moody (the original "I'm In the Mood For Love" aka "Moody's Mood For Love"). And the Burrell bonus disc is manna from heaven for guitar lovers. Tal Farlow, George Benson, Jimmy Raney, Pat Martino, and Billy Butler all show up.

These bonus discs are rewarding because they are less obvious than so many compilations that jazz labels commonly crank out. Of course, Fantasy Jazz is working from what it unselfconsciously (and justifiably) calls "The World's Mightiest Jazz Catalog."

So here are--count 'em--ten CD extras thrown in for no additional money that come close to blowing away the main event CDs they're packaged with.

I wondered who did the selection of tracks for these super bonuses. It turned out not to be one of the "usual suspects" from Fantasy, but instead Nick Phillips, long-time producer for Concord Jazz. I can imagine his delight, his ecstasy even, at being given the keys to the Prestige vaults.
If I know Nick (and I really don't except through his selections on these bonus discs), he's been in a state of aesthetic salivation ever since the acquisition of Fantasy by Concord appeared likely to take place. I'll bet that Phillips has been longing to offer us his understanding of and insights into the important Prestige catalog and history. I'm looking forward to Phillips' fresh views of Riverside/Jazzland, Contemporary, Milestone, and Pablo.