The first disc presents three trio tracks, to be followed by the first incarnation of the Jazz Messengers and the early classics "The Preacher" and "Doodlin." Several quintets from the late '50s are then heard with further hits such as "Senor Blues", "Cookin' at the Continental", and "Home Cookin'." Even at this early stage, Silver's knack for writing memorable charts for the basic hard bop line-up puts him in a class unto himself. Of course, such "name" players as Hank Mobley, Art Farmer, Louis Haynes, Blue Mitchell, and Clifford Jordan are on hand to insure quality too.
From 1959 to 1963, Silver was able to keep together a working band that despite a few changes in drummers remained stable and stood him in good steed over the course of several noteworthy albums. Disc two is fully devoted to this unit. While it's hard to choose among the many recorded highlights of this period, one can hardly fault such selections as "Sister Sadie," "Nica's Dream," "Filthy McNasty," and "Strollin'." Particularly superlative are two cuts from the oft-neglected Tokyo Blues. A singular piece among Silver's discography, his way of crafting oriental-sounding melodies on top of various Latin grooves reaches its pinnacle with the lengthy and incendiary "Sayonara Blues."
Although the middle to the end of the decade would be a time of transition in terms of changing fads and unsteady personnel, the majority of Silver's music was no less valuable than what had proceeded it. In truth, his biggest commercial success would come in the form of a true jazz classic, "Song For My Father." As essential a hit as it was, it also served to overshadow subsequent releases such as the masterful Cape Verdean Blues, represented here by the title track and "Nutville." Woody Shaw had taken over the trumpet chair at this point and it's a delight to hear him during the spring of his career, just sample his delectable solo on "Mexican Hip Dance" for a taste of his genius.
Closing out disc three and filling the last disc are probably the least understood and most obscure pieces from the catalog. With only a few selected titles appearing in Japan, Silver's recordings from the '70s have yet to make it to reissue and that's a shame because there's a lot to admire here and these sets are the only documents we have of Silver's writing being arranged for large ensembles. The six cuts sampled that come from the Silver 'N... series are meaty and chock full of stimulating melodic ideas, choice solos, and well-developed charts. They deserve a much better fate and are arguably some of the better mainstream jazz performances of the '70s.
While the packaging on this set is largely no-frills, two slim-line jewel cases are housed in a box that also includes a 50-page booklet with track-by-track commentary provided by writer Zan Stewart. In addition, a healthy number of Frank Wolff photos from the actual sessions appear, many being published for the first time. Either as a worthy introduction for the novice or as a gap filler for the initiated (especially in terms of disc four), The Horace Silver Retrospective can easily be recommended without reservations, aside from the hope that Blue Note will get around to reissuing Silver's work from the '70s in the near future.