To say that this limited-edition six-LP Mosaic box is overflowing with classics is an understatement. Included are a variety of small-group sessions (with overlapping personnel) from the early days of Blue Note. The Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet has five songs that are the only existing examples of Charlie Christian playing acoustic guitar; clarinetist Hall, Meade Lux Lewis (on celeste), and bassist Israel Crosby complete the unique group. The king of stride piano, James P. Johnson, is heard on eight solos; other combos are led by Johnson, Hall (who heads four groups in all), trumpeter Sidney DeParis, and trombonist Vic Dickenson (heard in a 1952 quartet with organist Bill Doggett).
Centered around the Byrd/Adams Blue Note dates Byrd in Hand, Chant, Royal Flush, The Cat Walk, and Off to the Races, Mosaic's Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Studio Sessions finds the Detroit natives at the top of their game during 1959-1962. Writing and performing some of the most original and tight hard bop around, Byrd and Adams led a variety of combos that featured the likes of Herbie Hancock (his first session), Wynton Kelly, Duke Pearson (who also contributed material), Charlie Rouse, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins. From distinct covers ("Lover Come Back to Me") to seamlessly complex originals ("Bronze Dance"), Byrd's pure-toned trumpet and Adams' angular baritone unexpectedly make a perfect match. And beyond a wealth of sides that prove the point, the collection also features – in typically thorough and classy Mosaic fashion – some stunning session photos by Blue Note lensman Francis Wolff and an extensive essay by Bob Blumenthal. A hard bop experience of the highest order.
The Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions is an attractive six-disc box set featuring all of Dexter Gordon's '60s recordings for the label in chronological order. Such classic albums as Dexter Calling and Go! were recorded during these years, and they are presented in their entirety, as are two complete sessions that have been previously unavailable on CD and several unreleased alternate takes. For serious Gordon fans and musicologists, it's an essential collection, but its very thoroughness makes it less appealing to casual fans, who would be better off acquiring the individual albums.
During his comeback years (1959-62) after a decade mostly off the scene, tenor saxophonist Ike Quebec recorded frequently for Blue Note. He started off with a session aimed at the 45 jukebox market and, although he eventually made a few full-length albums for the label, Quebec cut four 45 dates over a two-and-a-half-year period. This double-disc set has all of the jukebox sessions. Most of the 26 selections clock in between four and seven minutes and have long melody statements in addition to concise and soulful solos. Quebec, who was in consistently prime form during his last period, is joined by groups featuring either Skeeter Best or Willie Jones on guitar and Edwin Swanston, Sir Charles Thompson, or Earl Van Dyke on organ. Fun, loose and highly enjoyable music.
Drummer Art Blakey led many great editions of the Jazz Messengers from the inaugural mid-'50s sessions until his death in the '90s. While arguments rage regarding which was his best, there is no doubt that the 1960-1961 unit figures in the debate. This wonderful six-disc set, notated with care and painstaking detail by Bob Blumenthal, covers studio and live sessions from March 6, 1960, to May 27, 1961, with the same personnel on all but two songs. Producer Michael Cuscuna used only first issue dates, and while he included some alternate takes, he did not litter the discs with second-rate vault material. They smoothly detail the band's evolution, cohesion, and maturation. This set, as with all Mosaic boxes, goes beyond essential. Get it post haste.