They're Bo-o-o-xed!

The virtues and vices of completeness

Blue Note had one of the best midyear boxes with Dexter Gordon: The Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions, which exudes that labor-of-love thing. Four of six discs close with monologues, and the booklet is peppered with a fascinating correspondence between Gordon and his producers. I wish they had retained the original sequencing, but this is an indispensable set, the master at his peak and beautifully mastered. More recently, Hot Jazz on Blue Note explores the label's pre-Monk past with Ed Hall, Art Hodes, George Lewis, and especially Sidney Bechet, who in a rare turnabout fared better in concert halls on the occasion of his centenary than on discs. Herbie Nichols: The Complete Blue Note Recordings suffers from an unaccountable profusion of dropouts, but don't miss Stan Getz: The Complete Roost Recordings, which has famously dim sound (apparently Roost destroyed original tapes), but who cares? The second of three discs collects the 1951 Storyville sides, which are fraught with the kind of drama Jackie McLean triggered at the Vanguard. They are often noted for the alloy of Getz and Jimmy Raney (not to mention Al Haig's memorable lyricism), but the real chemistry here is between Getz and the great drummer Tiny Kahn, who jumps on the saxophonist's Lestorian riffs, driving him mercilessly from one peak to another. Getz had not yet evolved his mature ballad attack, but he was never more gazelle-like than on ''Parker 51'' and Gigi Gryce's clever honeysuckle variation, ''Mosquito Knees.''

Rhino, which evenhandedly boxes the ridiculous and the sublime, made a strong showing with Charles Mingus: Passions of a Man, collecting his work during five years at Atlantic (1956?61), plus the subsequently released 1960 Antibes concert and a long interview conducted by Nesuhi Ertegun, though once again the original sequencing is pointlessly sacrificed to the great god Chronology. It's a strange and frequently electrifying trip, from ''Pithecanthropus Erectus,'' which was way ahead of the jazz curve, to ''Eat That Chicken,'' which was way behind it. Mingus's bass was handsomely featured in those days, and he surrounded himself with the best saxophonists. I hear people argue that Jean Shepherd's shtick on ''The Clown'' has dated badly. Unfair—it was just as preciously hip when it was first issued. Rhino's five-volume Ray Charles: Genius & Soul is a stellar survey, with a couple of minor missteps, reaching a predictable apex in the 1959?66 period, when his voice peaked in warmth and versatility. Another singer also celebrating a golden anniversary gets similar treatment from Mercury: Patti Page's A Golden Celebration tracks the nightmarish descent of the epitome of blond soul into a morass of questionably priced doggies, mockin' bird hills, and boogieing Santas. I shy away from absolutes, but ''Go On With the Wedding'' represents a nadir with few equals in any idiom. Yet what a richly expressive singer she could be with good material, her southern twang more decorous than Kay Starr's but no less resonant. Mercury's sister company, Verve, ought to collect her big band recordings, which are sampled on the last of four discs and merit rediscovery.

The Connecticut-based mail order company Mosaic (203-327-7111) is in the business of rediscovery and offered a major surprise with Classic Capitol Jazz Sessions, a 12-disc compilation of mostly forgotten singles. Some of it is pretty dire, but in this context even the dross has a certain fascination: The grab bag is so capacious that I find myself blindly running through one disc after another, marveling at the mixture of excellence, corn, and sheer desperation that went into Capitol's peculiarly regressive West Coast attempt to market jazz as metadixieland. Except for sessions by the fine clarinetist Stan Hasselgard and Red Norvo (who co-leads a Blues Band with Jesse Price that has a reed section of Dexter Gordon and Jimmy Giuffre, thus breaking the anomaly bank), this is a survey of the 1940s as they might have evolved if Charlie Parker had never been born. A few selections really are classic (e.g., Billie Holiday's ''Trav'lin' Light'' with Paul Whiteman) and some ought to be (e.g., Bobby Hackett's ''Pennies From Heaven,'' from a 1945 session on Melrose, half of which was never issued). But for the most part, we get performances by Benny Carter, Kay Starr, Mel Powell, Cootie Williams, Wingy Manone, and others that fell through the cracks, uncovering not a few gems—among them a soundstage recording of the title song from A Song Is Born, with Armstrong, Dorsey, Goodman, the Golden Gate Quartet, et al. Two other Mosaic boxes that trigger reassessments are The Complete Verve Recordings of Teddy Wilson, reclaiming the 1952?57 years as an immensely rewarding period in the career of a quintessential pianist who has been misjudged as too mannerly for modern times, and Complete Atlantic Recordings of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh, including the pianist's hypnotically Bachlike home recordings from 1954?61.

Hard to know what to make of RCA, which celebrated the 80th anniversary of the first jazz recording (the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Company) with the halfheartedness of a schizoid conglomerate that can't quite believe it has a history worth commemorating. The eight-volume RCA Victor 80th Anniversary Collector's Edition can be had boxed or in separate volumes, depending on whether you require a few enchanting anthologies—the first five, to be exact—or a lesson in entropy. Actually, volume eight is so much better than six and seven that you might think the company was turning around, but there isn't much supporting evidence. Nor is there any overall quality control. In recent months, RCA released its Complete Sonny Rollins, six discs of exceptionally well-recorded music now rendered brazen and artificial, and The Complete Paul Desmond, five discs of music that wasn't recorded nearly as well, but is now expertly remastered and a significant improvement over previous reissues. Still, the Desmond (with strings and Jim Hall) is as dry as the martini he always wanted to be, and the Rollins (with rhythm and Jim Hall) is a shot of single malt injected straight into the vein.

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