Who Needs Boxes 2005

That's not counting Johnny Cash, of course, but New Orleans finds are worth seeking out

THELONIOUS MONK
The Very Best
(Blue Note)

Everything El Supremo did for Blue Note is worth owning and these foundational recordings of his best-known tunes—13 in all, running just under 40 minutes—aren't always as forcefully shaped or incandescently accompanied as in their more practiced Prestige, Riverside, and Columbia incarnations. I miss "Skippy," Sonny Rollins, and Charlie Rouse; hell, I miss Ernie Henry. Nevertheless, there is no simpler or cheaper way to access Monk's compositional genius in its naked glory, and here more than anywhere his playing gives the Sinatra-like sense that he both knows exactly what he wants to do and is always shifting slightly at the last millisecond. A powerful thinker with a wicked sense of humor, he can't resist seeking perfection—or is it playin' with ya? A

LEE MORGAN
The Best of
(Blue Note)

Morgan's 1963 "The Sidewinder" was a perfect piece of jazz funk and very nearly his ruination. He kept trying to repeat it and couldn't, because an inspired pop-jazz instrumental is a far rarer thing than, for instance, an inspired bebop solo. Meanwhile, the bebop faithful, who were too refined for "The Sidewinder" anyway, accused him of following formula, beating his grandmother, and so forth. Capitol should assemble a collection of attempted repetitions—"Cornbread" and "Sneaky Pete" are my nominations—but this isn't it. Instead it balances a compromise on the fulcrum of the catchy-yet-complex "Ceora." Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter understood both sides like few other saxophonists, and Morgan's bright, robust trumpet deserves to remembered by "I Remember Clifford." Funky enough. A

MOTOWN CLASSICS GOLD
(Motown)

Gold is a budget-priced two-CD UniMoth reissue series that only the fallible will confuse with its Millennium/Ultimate/Chronicles predecessors/competitors. Needless to say, some entries are too much, others too little, others the wrong stuff. For instance, Disco: Gold sucks, while this entry is exactly the sameas 2000's glorious Motown: The Classic Years, except—is this possible?— cheaper. So if you missed it . . . A PLUS

CHARLIE PATTON
The Best of Charlie Patton
(Yazoo)

Although Revenant's seven-disc Patton box remains reissuedom's preeminent fetish object, its completism, including its massive documentation, turns the principled crowd-pleaser into a confusing combination of obscure great artist and pro who led the Delta in studio time. The JSP label is selling all the Patton titles on Revenant's first five CDs, in reportedly superior audio, for a fraction of Revenant's price, but you can live with a single disc like this improvement on Yazoo's Founder of the Delta Blues. The sound is no harsher or dimmer than Revenant's, and the seven new selections emphasize tune, humanizing Patton's raw power—he's a formal wellspring, but also an independent songster with a lot of ideas. Docked a notch for cutting "High Water Everywhere" off at the knees. A MINUS

PIXIES
Best of Pixies: Wave of Mutilation
(4AD)

The title tune is the catchiest of the 23, but not by much: just one more piece of sensationalism, its fingernail grip on profundity pried away by the unpretentious business sense of a comeback-keyed one-disc best-of. Proudly it claims its central place in what boils down to an amusing and nearly flawless exercise in s&m bubblegum—and not a damn thing more. A

HORACE SILVER
The Very Best
(Blue Note)

His beat stronger than Monk's, Powell's, or Jamal's, his themes as solidly catchy as any r&b master's, Silver was the soul of hard bop. As iterated by his own piano and various not-quite-scintillating trumpet-sax complements, at least five of the eight heads on this useful selection—"The Preacher," "The Jody Grind," "Doodlin', " "The Cape Verdean Blues," and, best of all, "Song for My Father"—never wear out. They're so simple they elicit gratifying solos even from his old boss Hank Mobley, which is more than Miles Davis could do. A

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