In this heyday of the re-repackage, if you don't own Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' 1995 two-CD Anthology, skip everything in this annual Xmas-gift roundup except the Holiday and purchase that singing group's 2002 two-CD Ooo Baby Baby: The Anthology, which is slightly better and, goody, twice as space-efficient. Honored below are less redundant finds, examined statistically as well as artistically.

Ken Burns Jazz
Where MVP's Roots of Jazz Funk Volume One showcased hard bop's pop heads, here the tendency's greatest bandleader accommodates the jazz of a profusion of not-quite-pantheon improvisers. Clifford Brown, Monk, and then take your pick—Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Johnny Griffin, Bobby Timmons, Wynton Marsalis, not one a titan but here you'd never know it. Heads are pretty catchy too. Plus a whole lot of drummer. A PLUS

The Essential Leonard Cohen
Nothing's perfect, and most of his albums are worth purchasing separately, but at least this double CD picks all the indelibles off the supple 1968 Songs of Leonard Cohen, and half of them off the stark 2001 Ten New Songs. Also, true peace-on-earthers will appreciate the depressive gesture, as well as a seasonal party game: a Bush-era rewrite of the cultural-revolutionary threnody "First We Take Manhattan." Take it from: "They sentenced me to 30 days of rehab/For trying to have my coke and eat it too/I'll show those pricks the silver spoon that we have/First we take the statehouse, then we take D.C." A

The Very Best of Lee Dorsey: Working in a Coal Mine
(Music Club)
Supplanting Arista's "definitive" Wheelin' and Dealin', this duplicates "Ya Ya," "Do-Re-Mi," "Holy Cow," "Ride Your Pony," "Get Out of My Life Woman," and "Working in a Coal Mine" natch, all essential, plus the slightly less essential "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On)." Unlike the Arista it also has the essential "Yes We Can" and the slightly less essential "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley." And it's cheaper. But further comparison of its 16 tracks to the Arista's 20 establishes that it's not the "very best." Since Dorsey's lifework was grounding a handful of stone classics in a loamy swamp of beguiling oddities, there'll never be a very best. But don't you hanker for some ya ya, not to mention some do-re-mi? A

Will Shade didn't invent jug bass, which began in Louisville, but he sure professionalized it, leading an aggregation whose shifting cast of dozens recorded more than 60 tracks between 1927 and 1934. On the pop side, leaving the likes of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman out of it, they were the best small group in America before Louis Jordan's Tympany Five: prophetic going-up-the-city worldview, crowd-pleasing songbag of happy hokum and well-remembered folk tunes, infectious beat, and drolly soulful singers, topped by lowdown party girl Hattie Hart. But this former double LP, reduced in its reprogrammed 1991 digital version from 28 to 23 tracks, is a fine place to begin even if it skips the seminal bait track of Yazoo's recent and redundant The Best of the Memphis Jug Band, "Memphis Shakedown," which in turn omits both "Lindberg Hop," which leads this CD, and the metathematic "The Old Folks Started It." Haphazard-on-purpose Yazoo guarantees, however, that you'd be better off with several of the five omissions, especially "I'll See You in the Spring, When the Birds Begin to Sing," which leads the vinyl version, and the spelunking tragedy "Cave Man Blues." It's enough to make me mention the well-selected, budget-priced double-18-track of Classic Blues' The Essential Memphis Jug Band sound quality unheard. A

30 #1 Hits
By my unofficial All Music Guide tally, this makes 385 Elvis comps, some as collectible as his soundtracks themselves, not one definitive. Although pursuing his pure essence is a fool's mission, only fools gainsay The Sun Sessions. A Valentine Gift for You is something to cherish. And there's use value in the five-CD The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50's Masters, which duplicates 13 of these selections. But this chart-seeking slice-and-dice feeds off his schlock power. It validates his audience. And it suggests that his life was a continuous whole, not the tragically bifurcated mess of current convention. What holds it together? Think lightness, even on the supposedly feral "One Night." A PLUS

(Koch International)
The label is per the late, lamented CDNow, which listed this 66th of 68 Reinhardt albums for $8.49; the copy I bought my wife for Christmas a few years ago says Koch Präsent. It has a purple-and-green cover, track listings indicating years, times, and composers but not personnel, and liner notes comprising two blank squares of paper. So it goes with the Roma guitarist, whose discography is as impenetrable as any in jazz. Take for instance Bluebird's high-profile 2002 Djangology, which proves a warmed-up remaster of Bluebird's 1990 Djangology 49 in different order with prettier packaging for a few dollars more. The '49 session reunites the classic Quintet of the Hot Club of France, which means mainly violinist Stefane Grappelli, who as a Chuck and Jimi fan I like as much as the eclectic three-fingered melody master. Probably because he was getting old, I find Djangology mellower than guitar music should be. The material and players on these '36-'37 sessions are a mess, but recognizable standards are the rule, with anonymous vocalists and obstreperous big bands intruding only occasionally. More important, this CD is hot—hotter than two 2001 releases also at hand, Naxos Jazz's Vol. 2 and Music Club's Swing Jazz. Blistering, in fact—what pace. He "swings," all right—like Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie. A MINUS

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