David Murray, Volume 3 (6 discs), Mal Waldron Volume 2 (11 discs), Max Roach, Volume 2 (6 discs), Muhal Richard Abrams (9 discs), all recorded on the Black Saint/Soul Note labels.
Something treasurable is happening here.
It all goes back to a singular figure. His name was Giovanni Bonandrini. Many, if not most, of the jazz records the Italian and his company produced were recorded in Milan. And yet in the late '70's and throughout the '80's, he was one of the greatest heroes in all of American jazz recording. Unlike ECM's founder Manfred Eicher, who all but invented new forms of chamber jazz recording in that era, Bonandrini picked some of the most creative and extraordinary jazz musicians--many of them rigorously avant-garde--and let them develop on their own on his label.
What they created for the Black Saint and Soul Note labels in that era became part of the very backbone of some of the least compromised jazz of its time. And in the amazing development displayed here, another European record company -- the the current Hyperion Classical Label -- has managed to release giant quantities of some of Black Saint and Soul Note's best in immense reissue boxes.
It's the nature of such an enterprise, of course, to do it as economically as possible so don't look for lavish booklets with these big, bursting multi-disc sets. The only notes are those reproduced in small type from the original recordings. But what Bonandrini did in 1977 when he took over from creator Giacomo Pellicciotti was indispensable to jazz. Perhaps the best are the David Murray and, surprisingly, Mal Waldron boxes, mostly because of the huge variety within. With Murray, you've got his variable but entertaining big band, terrific duets with Randy Weston and a clarinet summit with Alvin Batiste, John Carter and, yes, Jimmy Hamilton. The Waldron box is a continuous surprise, whether it's a quartet playing Monk or some remarkable duet discs with pianist Waldron and the great soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy.
Waldron is best known in jazz history as Billie Holiday's accompanist but he was a major enabler and influence himself in this jazz era. The duets in the Muhal Richard Abrams box are less pre-possessing but what you're hearing in the box are the greatest musicians in Chicago's fabled AACM -- Roscoe Mitchell, Abdul Wadud, Henry Threadgill, Steve McCall, Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton.
Oddly, the least persuasive of these huge boxes is the Max Roach box, mostly because in this era, his fine piano-less quartet often reunited with his daughter's string quartet for double quartet music of erratic quality. The music on those double quartets, of course, doesn't fail to be interesting but the whole box is less interesting than the others.
3 stars (out of four) for Roach
3 1/2 stars (out of four) for Abrams
4 stars (out of four) for Murray and Waldron.