Horace Silver, Retrospective (Blue Note, four CDs, 7243-4-95576-2-3).
One of the the great jazz disc sets of a season (pre-holiday, lest we forget) that will produce more than its share. While his current music is user-friendly, if a tad jingoistic, his music from 1952 to 1970 was a glorious and still irresistible cornerstone of modern jazz. And that's what you have here. The period covered is actually from 1952 to 1978, but the great years are the '50s and early '60s, when Silver was the virtual inventor and ecstatic leading apostle of soul bop, the style that is still bewitching young jazz listeners and musicians today. It goes without saying that all Silver's jazz "hits" and standards are here: "Doodlin'," "The Preacher," "Senor Blues," "Sister Sadie," "Cookin' at the Continental," "Peace," "Filthy McNasty," "Song for My Father," "The Jody Grind," "Serenade to a Soul Sister." So, too, though, are there lesser-known gems -- "The Cape Verdean Blues" (my nomination for the most infectious Silver groove of them all), "The Baghdad Blues" and some interesting early '70s work from the period when psychedelic rock bore down hard on everyone. It also goes without saying that his clawed-out piano solos can sometimes be perfect in their way, and that his sidemen did classic work with him -- most notably Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, George Coleman, Stanley Turrentine and singer Andy Bey, but also such working-class jazz musicians as Bob Berg, Junior Cook and Blue Mitchell. This is both great jazz and the priceless grammar for an entire jazz dialect. Rating: *****
-- Jeff Simon
Puff Daddy, Forever (Bad Boy/Arista 73033).
Will Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs be the next MC Hammer? Earlier this decade, Hammer sold millions of CDs and dominated the record charts before fading into obscurity because of overexposure and hype. Combs, an astute businessman and record producer, would seem able to avoid those pitfalls, but Puffy's lackluster new album creates doubts. Combs has never been a master songwriter or performer -- his skill is sampling and working with other artists, and this time out he needs more help. Puffy seems determined to restablish his street credibility, but the hardcore raps fall short. "P.E. 2000," a tribute track to Public Enemy and Chuck D, kicks in with a heavy beat but never quite feels like the real thing. He's still at his best on dance tracks such as "I'll Do This for You," with Kelly Price. The most appealing track is "Journey Through Life," a slickly produced number that would have been right at home on Puffy's multimillion-selling "No Way Out" CD. That kind of song is the exception rather than the rule this time. Rating: **
-- Anthony Violanti
Woody Guthrie, The Asch Recordings Vols. 1-4 (Smithsonian Folkways 40112).
Woody Guthrie's contribution to American culture extends far beyond music. His folk songs from the Depression era through the 1940s were also important for their social activism and their humanity. A remarkable four-CD set just issued by the Smithsonian Folkways label covers four segments of Guthrie's legacy, including his best-known songs, traditional folk songs, songs about topical events and songs about the cowboys and outlaws Guthrie knew so well. His scratchy voice and sparse banjo and guitar fit the mood of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl years. He never lost hope during some pretty bleak times, and his anthem "This Land Is Your Land" may be his most lasting testament. This package is a detailed look at a singer whose music may be as relevant and revolutionary today as it was six decades ago. Rating: **** 1/2
-- Anthony Violanti
1. Unpretty, TLC (La Face).
2. She's All I Ever Had, Ricky Martin (C2).
3. Bailamos, Enrique Iglesias (Overbrook).
4. Genie in a Bottle, Christina Aguilera (RCA).
5. Summer Girls, LFO (Logic).
1. Fly, Dixie Chicks (Monument).
2. Millennium, Backstreet Boys (Jive).
3. Christina Aguilera, Christina Aguilera (RCA).
4. Supernatural, Santana (Arista).
5. Devil Without a Cause, Kid Rock (Lava).