The second round of Concord Music Group’s Very Best of series continues with another group of five compilations. The idea here is to provide a cost effective point of entry for jazz fans to begin exploring the bodies of work left by these great musicians. Think of them as samplers, rather than comprehensive collections. Of the five featured artists, all but one (Cannonball Adderley) play piano. Additionally, all but one passed away many years ago at relatively young ages (only Dave Brubeck, at 91 years of age, is still with us).
The Very Best of Cannonball Adderley offers 63 minutes of the alto saxophonist’s joyous hard bop and soul jazz. Most of the ten tracks are from the late '50s and early '60s, but two were recorded near the end of Adderley’s life. “Jive Samba,” featuring electric piano and synthesizer playing by George Duke, was cut just months before the sax player’s premature death in 1975. “Inside Straight” is a funky piece from 1973. As with most of the tracks here, it features Cannonball’s brother Nat Adderley on cornet. Exceptions include a pair of tunes recorded with Bill Evans on piano, Adderley’s “A Little Taste” and Evans’s “Know What I Mean?”
Speaking of Evans, we have The Very Best of The Bill Evans Trio. The 11 tracks feature the pianist accompanied by Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. All the music here comes from four albums, all recorded within an 18-month period spanning December, 1959 to June, 1961. Bassist LaFaro tragically died at age 25 in an automobile accident less than two weeks after the recording of the live albums Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. Five tunes are included from those records, including a spritely run through Miles Davis’ “Solar” that closes the compilation. This is a solid set of material from one of the greatest trios in jazz history.
The Very Best of Thelonious Monk contains ten tracks by the inimitable piano great. All but two are Monk compositions, or co-compositions in the case of “’Round Midnight” and “Bemsha Swing” (featuring spirited tenor sax playing by Sonny Rollins, part of Concord’s last batch of Very Best of releases). From Thelonious Monk Plays Ellington, we get Monk’s idiosyncratic version of “Sophisticated Lady.” The other non-original is “Honeysuckle Rose,” with Oscar Pettiford on bass and Art Blakey on drums, from The Unique Thelonious Monk. The ten tracks are culled from almost as many albums—nine in total, recorded from 1954-58.
Vince Guaraldi wrote some of the most instantly recognizable jazz tunes ever recorded, even if many casual listeners may not recognize his name or even categorize the music as jazz. Guaraldi scored no less than 17 Peanuts animated specials. His classic theme “Linus and Lucy” has become a holiday perennial, as have “Christmas is Coming” and “Christmas Time is Here.” All of these, plus “Charlie Brown Theme,” are included on The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi, ensuring this compilation’s mainstream appeal. The other ten tracks are not to be overlooked, however, including his Grammy-winning, pre-Peanuts breakthrough single, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Guaraldi, who died in 1976 at age 47, was a brilliant pianist and this collection offers a great selection of his work.
Again, the sole surviving artist among this group of compilations is pianist Dave Brubeck (born December 6, 1920). Known for his experiments with unusual time signatures, Brubeck will always be most associated with “Take Five,” a tune recorded in 5/4 time and written by his sax player, Paul Desmond. Don’t look for that 1959 recording on The Very Best of Dave Brubeck: The Fantasy Era 1949-1953. As the title makes clear, these 15 tunes are taken from an earlier period in Brubeck’s career. Most of these are standards, including the Rogers and Hart tunes “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (recorded with his first trio, Ron Crotty on bass and Cal Tjader on drums) and the solo piano reading of “My Heard Stood Still.” Desmond is featured on alto throughout most of the set, sounding particularly sweet on a live version of “Give a Little Whistle” (the Pinocchio song).
Unlike many budget-priced compilations, each release in Concord’s Very Best of... series includes a new essay with biographical information about the subject, plus recording session details for each tune. You can’t go wrong if you have an interest in any of these artists.