There are the obvious gifts that youâ€™ve probably already seen recommended in many guides like this. Legacyâ€™s completion of its series of Miles Davis box sets covering his Columbia studio sessions up to his 1975 sabbatical, The Complete On the Corner Sessions, is certainly another commendable entry, with six CDs documenting 16 1972-75 sessions that revolutionized jazz as much as anything else Davis had done â€“ though this radical rethink certainly met more resistance at the time. But Miles fans already have a lot of it. The same problem crops up with Rhinoâ€™s fourth in its series of Nuggets boxes, Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970. While it looks wonderful, any fan of psychedelia will already own at least a third of the material on its four CDs. Neophytes, however, will receive an excellent introduction, and the book it comes in is exemplary in its track-by-track documentation. So what follows are four things you might not have thought of.
While nothing U2 does can really fly under the radar, The Joshua Tree: 20th Anniversary Edition (Universal) didnâ€™t appear until just a month ago, to surprisingly little fanfare. There are multiple editions, including a vinyl one, but the one to go for as far as gift-giving is clearly the one with two CDs and a DVD. Disc One is the original album remastered; basically itâ€™s mastered at a higher level, but I couldnâ€™t hear any other difference. The higher level makes things a bit clearer, though. Disc Two offers a plethora of additional material, and they did a great job picking it. Devoted fans will know some of the B-sides already: the original version of "Sweetest Thing" (not the re-recording on The Best of 1980-1990) and â€œRace Against Timeâ€ from the single â€œWhere the Streets Have No Name,â€ both versions of â€œSilver and Goldâ€ (B-side and the raw Bono/Keith Richard/Ron Wood take from the anti-apartheid LP Sun City), â€œSpanish Eyesâ€ and â€œDeep in the Heartâ€ from the flipside of â€œI Still Havenâ€™t Found What Iâ€™m Looking For,â€ â€œLuminous Times (Hold on to Love)â€ and â€œWalk to the Waterâ€ from the â€œWith or Without Youâ€ 7". Previously unreleased outtakes are even more crucial to hardcore fanatics despite their skeletal nature: the ethereal â€œBeautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience,â€ the brooding, piano-driven â€œWave of Sorrow (Birdland),â€ the rocking â€œDesert of Our Love,â€ â€œRise Up,â€ and the Allen Ginsberg poem setting â€œDrunk Chicken/America.â€ The DVD more than justifies going for the deluxe package (which comes in a nice book). Best is an 18-song July 4, 1987 concert in Paris, but thereâ€™s also a documentary about their American tour, a previously unreleased video of â€œRed Hill Mining Townâ€ in which Bono smolders hunkily, and a very arty alternate video of â€œWith or Without You.â€
If youâ€™re looking for a gift for the jazz fans on your list â€“ one theyâ€™re guaranteed to think highly of you for being sufficiently hip to get it for them â€“ go for the three-CD/one-DVD set A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story (Dreyfus Jazz). This is no quick cash-in by a label just cherry-picking its own vaults. Savoy, Blue Note, Verve, Prestige, Riverside, Concord, Mainstream, and more have their catalogs raided to document the career of one of the most talented men to ever hit things with a stick, and arguably the greatest living drummer. Many greats wanted him as a sideman, so starting with Lester Young in 1949, over the course of the first two CDs we get material from sessions led by Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Nat Adderley, Thelonious Monk, Etta James, Eric Dolphy, Stan Getz, Oliver Nelson, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Andrew Hill, Alice Coltrane, Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea, and more, along with three Haynes-led tracks (two with Rahsaan Roland Kirk). As that list suggests, Haynes was comfortable in setting ranging from swing and bop to freer forms, and he excels in all. Heâ€™s never lacking for power yet always avoids heavyhandedness, he has technique to burn but serves the music rather than showing off, and he thinks in a genuinely musical way rather than stringing together favorite licks (not for nothing do I consider him the best drummer Monk ever used, because their motivic thinking was well matched). Disc three covers 1970-2006 editions of Haynesâ€™s Hip Ensembles, and the DVD has an interview, a 2005 band performance, and a 1973 solo concert.
Some Christmas music beyond pop starsâ€™ rehashes of holiday hits will help sooth souls frayed by mall melees. Jeannette Sorrell, director of the period-instrument ensemble Apolloâ€™s Fire, has made one such album that came out this year: A Christmas Vespers: Music of Michael Praetorius (Koch International Classics). Praetorius (1571-1621), one of the greatest German composers of the early Baroque period, was a prolific composer and arranger of Protestant (specifically Lutheran) hymns, and his setting of the carol â€œLo, How a Rose Eâ€™er Bloomingâ€ is still sung by millions of people every Christmas. Praetorius never wrote or compiled a Vespers service, but Sorrell has drawn from four of his published collections to make a Lutheran Advent Service and a Vespers Service for Christmas Day. There is a mix of Italian-influenced complex choral pieces (sung by Apolloâ€™s Singers) and simpler hymn settings (â€œNun Komm der Heiden Heiland,â€ â€œPuer Natus in Bethlehem,â€ â€œQuem Pastores,â€ â€œO Morning Star,â€ the aforementioned â€œLo, How a Rose Eâ€™er Blooming,â€ and â€œIn dulci jubilo/Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!â€ For even more variety, thereâ€™s a solo organ piece and, somewhat incongruously, two band dances from Praetoriusâ€™ popular Terpsichore collection. The Cleveland musicians perform these programs with spice and elegance. Sorrell also wrote the booklet notes, which are both informative and witty. For instance, she points out that Praetorius included written advice before pieces, including this gem: â€œthe passages with trumpets should be performed faster than the rest, because trumpets always rush and itâ€™s best to go along with them in order not to have chaos.â€ Sorrell continues, â€œWe believe that our trumpeters may be a bit more orderly than the Town Criers with whom Praetorius worked. (At least we pay them in money rather than barrels of wineâ€¦).â€
Finally, since everyone needs a calendar â€“ and what could be better than a calendar that comes with a CD? â€“ get volume 5 of the Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920s calendar. A few years back, a cache of Paramount material â€“ blues 78s, ad art for promoting them, etc. â€“ was discovered, and Blues Image has been putting these great calendars out ever since. The CDs alone are worth the $19.95 to any serious blues fan, as previously undiscovered tracks debut on them. The 2008 edition brings two â€œnewâ€ Blind Willie McTell tracks (in duo with Mary Willis). The first 12 tracks correspond to the art for the 12 months â€“ ads for 78s by Texas Alexander, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rube Lacy, Blind Joe Reynolds, Ma Rainey, Crying Sam Collins, Banjo Joe (Gus Cannon), Mississippi Sheiks, Ida Cox, Elzadie Robinson, and two by Blind Blake; then come four bonus tracks for which there werenâ€™t ads â€“ the McTell items and more by Blake and Reynolds. Check stores or the Blues Image website. Calendars from past years are still available, along with cool T-shirts, posters, and CDs. â€“ Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based critic, poet, and composer who freelances as a developmental editor and works at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix. In the past few weeks he has spent a lot of time in that latter capacity helping people figure out what music to give as gifts, but Sound Fix doesnâ€™t have any of the above recommendations.