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Wrap It Up

Music that comes in its own box

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With the recent passing of Thanksgiving, the holiday season is now in full throttle, ready or not. If you are a procrastinator of sorts and there's a music fan on your list, CL is here to provide you with a few ideas, especially if you're looking to go (and spend) beyond the usual CD or two. Certainly the novel concept of the "box set" has been around for quite some time, but there's probably never been a wider selection of artists to choose from than what is currently available. And while we couldn't check out every box set out there, here are a few reviews from some of this year's selections:

Charlie ChristianThe Genius of the Electric GuitarColumbia Legacy

Between joining Benny Goodman's band in October 1939 and his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1942, Charlie Christian established the electric guitar as a solo instrument in jazz. While the instrument had an impressive role in the 1930s in rhythm sections, particularly in the hands of Count Basie's rock-steady guitarist Freddie Green, it was Christian's supple, singing solos with Goodman that initially popularized and defined the instrument's improvisational role, and scores of other guitarists would follow. This four-CD set collects his work with Goodman's sextet, and features Lionel Hampton on vibes, Goodman on clarinet, and in later sessions, the great trumpeter Cootie Williams. Christian's playing is remarkable, and nearly every tune is a small essay in hard-driving swing, peppered with brief, buoyant, and significantly seminal guitar solos. Christian's playing was ahead of its time, and his (sadly unrecorded) jam sessions at Mintons established him as one of bebop's influential stylists; you can hear hints of this in the Goodman recordings. Christian's star burned bright but brief, and this set collects the bulk of his impressive legacy.--Gene Hyde

Miles DavisThe Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 Sony/Legacy

This massive, 20-CD collection contains all of Miles' performances at the famous Swiss jazz festival. It begins with a concert from 1973 featuring the band that would record the masterpieces Agharta and Pangaea, but that concert is an anomaly, as is the re-release of the Gil Evans material conducted by Quincy Jones. Seventeen of the 20 discs focus on the fusion of jazz, pop and funk that Davis worked on from 1984 until his death in 1991. Those who say his music from this period isn't as good as that from other periods may be correct, but those who dismiss it as inconsequential or a failed experiment just don't get it. This box is ample proof that Miles was still playing great trumpet, still finding bright young musicians, and still changing the conceptions of jazz. It's amazing, for example, to hear how his heartbreaking muted trumpet transforms Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." We also get to hear guitar work from Pete Cosey, John Scofield and Foley, which helps to tolerate Robert Irving's keyboards. And several discs feature saxophonist Kenny Garrett, Miles' most challenging, inventive, and interesting player from this period. No 20-CD box will be for everyone, but this is for more than just completists. Fans of many types of music will enjoy and learn from this thorough document of the master's final phase. --Brian Falk Iron MaidenEddie's ArchiveColumbia/Sanctuary

Perhaps it's because of the sheer unabashed doggerel spit forth by lead screamer Bruce Dickinson. Perhaps it's because of the warhorse guitar gallop that inspired many of the leading 80s speed metal bands. Perhaps it was the band's genteel, decidedly British way of "having a chat" with the fans between songs. Or maybe it's just because you were instantly cool when I grew up if you had an "Eddie" shirt, smoked, and just called them by the singular moniker "Maiden." Whatever the reason, the band always stood a (banging) head above Judas Priest and other such leather acts in my young eyes.

So how does the band age? Well, not very well, perhaps. Then again, Iron Maiden were always more like a big tankard of brew than a bottle of wine. They went down smooth, thanks to Dickinson's operatic yowl, and then walloped you before you knew it. This new six-pack of CDs (three two-CD sets: BBC Archives, Beast Over Hammersmith, and Best of the B-Sides) ought to satisfy longtime Maiden fans -- and really, who else is going to buy a six-CD set of a band they don't like -- pretty easily. The sound quality is immaculate, most of the earlier choice cuts are on there ("Iron Maiden," "Running Free," "Run to the Hills," "Children of the Damned," "22 Acacia Avenue"). Plus, the whole kit and kaboodle comes ready to exhume, courtesy an embossed, individually numbered metal Eddie casket, a crystal and pewter shot glass, a parchment scroll, and a pewter Eddie ring. Such a resurrection might not matter to most, but the believers will understand. --Timothy C. Davis

VariousLike, Omigod! The 80's Pop Culture Box (Totally) Rhino

Rhino's box set is a musical documentary of the 80s presented in the context of pop cultural history, with a 90 page booklet featuring a timeline of events tucked below descriptions of the music and the performers. Considering some of the offerings, it was nearly impossible to listen to an entire CD from this set in one sitting: There's REO Speedwagon, The Afternoon Delights ("General Hospi-tale"), Loverboy, Bonnie Tyler, Styx, New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson, .38 Special, Melissa Manchester, and Air Supply. But the documentation is impressive, even if only to remind us of how dreadful commercial radio truly was. Tucked away, however, there were plenty of pop delights, songs by the Vapors, Katrina and the Waves, the Cars, Pete Townshend, the Tom Tom Club, the B52s, Joe Jackson, Los Lobos, Oingo Boingo, Haircut 100, Men at Work, and The Dream Academy. --Gene Hyde

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