Let’s face it: As practical as it can be to buy a gift certificate or download card for a music junkie, unwrapping one is kind of an anticlimax. If you’re going to gift music, get physical—and the more physical the better. I’m talking vinyl, 8-track, wax cylinder. Archaic formats are back with a vengence (and usually come with a download code).
In the jazz world, this means box sets. Every year, major labels like Columbia find ever-new ways to bundle every obscure outtake that Louis Armstrong played and Billy Holiday sang. Dixieland jazz fans will be psyched, then, on the Preservation Hall 50th Anniversary Collection. It’s more compilation than box set, as that historic repertory band have gone through a number of linup changes since they first began in 1962. The four-disc set includes tracks from ’62 straight up to 2012, with guest appearances by Tom Waits, Pete Seeger, Andrew Bird and others. As far as proper box sets go, fusion pioneers Weather Report just released a seven-disc bundle called The Complete Columbia Albums 1971-1975. These were the band’s peak years of studio output and the box includes a complete live set recorded in Tokyo in 1972.
There are plenty of avant-leaning artists that have received similar archival treatment this year. The Complete Remastered Recordings of Anthony Braxton is one such. Of the 100-plus records the reed man has put out, this eight-disc set revisits classics he put out on Black Saint and Soul Note Records. The Rahsaan Roland Kirk Anthology does a similar trick with the Atlantic years (1965-1976) of this great improviser’s catalog. The greatest trick, though, is that it all boils down to two CDs at $15.99. The freaky sax trinity is complete if you invest in Pharoah Sanders’ In the Beginning 1963-1964. These four discs are the artist’s very first, and include collaborations with Don Cherry, Sun Ra, Paul Bley and never-before-heard interviews with Sanders. It’s not a box set—it’s actually only two 20-plus-minute tracks—but this discussion would not be complete without mention of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Early Combinations. Both tracks are out-of-print early recordings by two separate early permutations of the group—one a demo tape and another a recorded rehearsal. Great for the heady archivist.
As far as new stuff goes, you can get your Marsalis fix courtesy of Branford Marsalis’ Four MFs Playin Tunes. Those other three MFs are Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass and drummer JustinFaulkner. It’s a no-nonsense record of modern jazz originals full of the informal spirit of its title. Pianist Vijay Iyer has become a record-a-year kind of guy, and that’s a good thing for fans of hyper-contemporary jazz. (Dude was also born in Albany, too, by the way.) His new trio record, Accelerando, was one of the only jazz records this year to get much attention from the larger rock press, landing an 8.2 on Pitchfork. Could that be because he covers Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”? Surely in part.
Saving the best for last: Go buy the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio. It’s simply one of the best records of the year, mixing bebop dexterity with hip-hop sensibilities and collaborations with the likes of Erykah Badu, yasiin bey (Mos Def), Lupe Fiasco and a bunch more. Keep the jewel case for posterity.