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Jazz Box Sets from Veterans and Legends


Owing to his superb taste and refined touch, Roy Haynes has spent six decades as a drummer of choice for jazz stars like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Pat Metheny.

All of them appear on A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story, a new anthology spread over three CDs and a DVD. It's less a showcase for aggressive drumming than a reminder of how much good and great music Haynes has contributed to as a team player between 1949 and 2006. That makes this the rare drummer's retrospective that may actually leave you wishing for more drum solos.

Haynes did get a bit waylaid in the '70s, unsure where to turn next. Trading in bebop's odd bass-drum accents for disco's relentless thump was his answer.

Happily, that phase didn't last, and Haynes went back to the bop-based music he still plays. The DVD includes a recent performance with his band, a vintage drum solo, and Haynes talking at length about his life and music. All in all, A Life in Time is a solid winner.

Von Freeman

So is another anthology devoted to a great veteran still going strong in his 80s: tenor saxophonist Von Freeman. Except this set — two CDs and a DVD — starts in 1996, when Freeman was already 73.

The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition comes from the Chicago label that's made documenting this hometown hero a priority. There's plenty of bebop and blues, a couple of lovely unaccompanied tenor ballads, and fine support from pianists Richard Wyands and Jason Moran, drummer Jimmy Cobb and guitarist Mike Allemana, among others.

The DVD includes a long public interview, which would be worth it just for the 15 minutes Freeman spends talking about bandleader Sun Ra. There's also a hilarious verbal improvisation in which Freeman makes a few remarks in 2002, when a stretch of Chicago's 75th Street was named for him. His comments include some pet licks and unexpected detours, like a Freeman saxophone solo.

Chicagoans would throw themselves on a hand grenade for Von Freeman; with this set, the rest of the world will know why.

Jazz Icons

Of straight jazz DVDs this season, the obvious choices are the second batch in the Jazz Icons series. These concert and studio performances from the 1950s and '60s were filmed or taped for European television, which features way more jazz than American TV has since the '50s.

There isn't a loser in the bunch: Guitarist Wes Montgomery bounces off the rhythms of Dutch drummer Han Bennink on one disc, while John Coltrane mixes it up with fellow saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Stan Getz on another. There's singer Sarah Vaughan in her late-'50s/early-'60s prime, as well as Dexter Gordon, Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus in fine form.

If I had to choose one, it'd be Duke Ellington's orchestra caught on a very good night at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw in 1958. But any of these shows should make a jazz fan's eyes light up like some kind of festive, decorated tree.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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