A flurry of box sets that celebrate legends at their best
New collections go from swinging to sublime
Two more days to both Christmas and Hanukkah. If that's an excuse to splurge on jazz box sets, here are 10 released in 2005 that are especially worth considering:
Tommy Dorsey, ''The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing: Centennial Collection," Bluebird/Legacy (3 CDs, $39.98).
Three discs trace the great swing band leader and trombonist from his sideman work with Paul Whiteman and Ethel Waters to his own band. Disc 3 is devoted to radio air checks featuring a young Frank Sinatra and one, incongruously, featuring Elvis Presley. Sinatra and Buddy Rich both idolized Dorsey, the accompanying notes tell us. This set provides a clear indication of why.
Buddy Rich, ''Classic Argo, Emarcy and Verve Small Group Buddy Rich Sessions," Mosaic (7 CDs, $119).
Rich could swing like crazy himself, and this just-released set has him doing so in assorted small-group contexts alongside the likes of Harry ''Sweets" Edison, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Frank Wess, Thad Jones, Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Freddie Green, Flip Phillips, and Dave McKenna. There are plenty of rich Rich drum solos, and the music is sublime.
Various artists, ''Columbia Small Group Swing Sessions, 1953-62," Mosaic (4 CDs, $136).
Recorded over roughly the same span of years as the Rich set, this one offers Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton, Marlowe Morris, Illinois Jacquet, Kenny Burrell, Coleman Hawkins, and others as headliners, backed by sidemen of comparable stature. Boston native Braff's two discs are superlative, and include previously unreleased material.
Bob Brookmeyer, ''Mosaic Select 9," Mosaic (3 CDs, $39).
NEC professor and NEA Jazz Master Brookmeyer's namesake contribution to the Mosaic Select series came out early this year, and contains small-group material recorded between 1954 and 1958 for such albums as ''Traditionalism Revisited" and ''Kansas City Revisited." Brookmeyer, playing valve trombone and a bit of piano, looked back at jazz's New Orleans and Kansas City roots from a modern perspective, joined by Jim Hall, Jimmie Giuffre, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Hank Jones, Freddie Green, et al.
Bill Evans, ''The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961," Fantasy (3 CDs, $29.98).
If you know the Evans albums ''Sunday at the Village Vanguard" and ''Waltz for Debby," you'll know what you're getting here. Those two records were drawn from the five sets the pianist and his exemplary trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian played at the Vanguard on June 25, 1961. Everything on them and everything else the trio played that day is included in this set, in chronological order.
Jelly Roll Morton, ''The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax," Rounder (8 CDs, $115).
The complete set of Jelly Roll Morton's famous 1938 interviews with folklorist Alan Lomax is a treasure trove of jazz history. Besides the seven discs of Morton's sometimes profane, always entertaining performances, the box set includes an eighth disc containing interviews about Morton with other musicians and a searchable file of transcripts and other archival material, a new paperback edition of Lomax's 1950 biography of Morton, ''Mister Jelly Roll," and some of Morton's own writing.
Charles Tolliver, ''Mosaic Select 20," Mosaic (3 CDs, $39).
The most recently issued Mosaic Select set features ferocious hard bop from trumpeter Tolliver, recorded live with a pair of quartets featuring pianist Stanley Cowell. A 1970 set at Slugs' Saloon in New York yielded two LPs for Tolliver's own label, Strata-East Records, and a Pearl Harbor Day performance at a Tokyo concert hall in 1973 brought forth a third. All of it is included here, along with some previously unreleased extras.
Various artists, ''Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar," Columbia/Legacy (4 CDs, $49.98).
It cheats slightly by beginning with Vess Ossman's banjo on the 1906 cut ''St. Louis Tickle," the first actual guitars included being Johnny St. Cyr and Lonnie Johnson playing ''Savoy Blues" with Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in 1927.
But virtually every great male guitarist in jazz history turns up here, along with Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana. John Scofield and his fellow producers didn't manage to squeeze in Emily Remler, Mimi Fox, or any other female guitarist, however, or born-too-late male monsters such as Ben Monder, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Julian Lage.
Miles Davis, ''The Cellar Door Sessions 1970," Columbia/Legacy (6 CDs, $109.98).
Just out this week, this set features Davis's four-night stand at a Washington, D.C., club with Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, and (for one night) John McLaughlin -- some of which had previously been included on Davis's double album ''Live/Evil." This particular ensemble was most notable for Davis prevailing upon Jarrett to play the hated Fender Rhodes and other electric keyboards, and the electrifying way in which Jarrett did so.
Chick Corea, ''Rendezvous in New York,"
Granted, these are DVDs rather than CDs. But you can watch Corea perform in nine different contexts, all plucked from a three-week celebration of Corea's 60th birthday at the Blue Note. Included are duets with Gary Burton, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and a reunion with ''Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" trio mates Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes. (Nothing with any of Corea's former Return to Forever associates, alas.)