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Monterey Jazz 1958-1980 by Various Artists

Jazz and electronics often pose as inimical territories, with all the stern boundaries, suspicious treaties, and sidelong glances ingrown to Cold War era enemies. One need only recall the confused instances of cultural cross-breeding that have attended jazz's most awkward stabs for electronic assimilation in order to sense this fundamental tension. Thus Sonny Stitt's varitone experiments are underwritten (rightly so) as blush-worthy footnotes, and Duke Ellington's brief attacks on electric keys in the late '50's (literal clench-fisted attacks) are chuckled at as cute curiosities. These, of course, are virtually schizophrenic in their inability to wed the two concepts, but they point most markedly at the jazz world's constantly upturned nose when the slightest scent of electronic modification approaches.

This is all well and good, and debatable on its own terms, but it entails one particularly dangerous conceit - that to a large extent recording quality is an irrelevant matter in the appreciation of the music. Supposedly, the cleanliness of a recording is a secondary concern; the playing is what matters, man. Again, all well and good, but such an attitude on occasion has very real and very detrimental consequences, as evidenced in this sometimes glorious, sometimes muddy-beyond-recognition 2 disc set. Perhaps the tiny Quicksilver Records does not have enough money to hire top of the line remastering engineers (or, apparently, graphic designers, either); however, it seems middle of the line might have sufficed.

Now Hold On! cry a bevy of jazz historians, educators, critics, and even musicians from the Purist wings of the Monterey Festival's main stage - What about the historical importance of such a document; doesn't this factor alone outweigh criticisms of (certainly) sometimes spotty tape material? To be sure, these defenders of the 4/4 faith have a very viable point - the sheer variety of material included here, from the Jimmy Giuffre Three's intimate and extended dissection of "Doxie," to Dizzy Gillespie's impromptu jam with the Buddy Rich orchestra, to Joe Henderson's unstoppable quartet with Bobby Hutcherson and Elvin Jones, to Jon Hendrick's scintillating vocal interpretation of a Miles Davis solo on "All of You": all this attests to the unimpeachable taste and far-reaching sights of the Monterey Jazz Festival from the year 1958 to 1980, and further illustrates that jazz's supposed mid-70's death was simply a product of not listening carefully enough or with open enough ears.

But in this case, the potential undeniably outweighs the result, and virtually irrespective of the music being played. This fact alone gives the lie to that assumption that jazz is unconcerned with electronics, but it is also the point that undermines all the obvious, first-glance conclusions about this 2 disc volume: namely, that it provides a firsthand account of the vitality, taste, and excitement that the Monterey Jazz Festival did in fact generate over this twenty-two year period. Because the recording quality is so intrusively bad on such obviously crucial tracks as the ones led by Joe Henderson or Johnny Griffin, one can never become immersed in the music in the way even top-level recordings allow, or ultimately, the actual concert experience. So that the electronic reality of this album does indeed interact with the musical product, and moreover, robs it of its prized jewel: direct emotional satisfaction. Obviously, it would be a greater tragedy if no such historical document existed at all, but the sound quality's current state remains a smaller one with more enticing but frustrating possibilities.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
  • CD Title: Monterey Jazz 1958-1980
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Quicksilver Records
  • Musicians: Groups led by: Cannonball Adderley, Toots Thielemans, Woody Herman, Joe Henderson, Jon Hendricks, Jimmy Giuffre, Johnny Griffin, Buddy Rich w/ Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Joe Williams, Benny Golson, Joanne Brackeen
  • Rating: Five Stars
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