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Weekly Alibi Ho Ho Holiday

By Michael Henningsen

JANUARY 19, 1999:  Few years have been as good to the jazz fan as 1998. So many great boxed sets came out that choosing among the high-ticket items becomes genuinely difficult and dangerous to budgets. If you've forgotten to get a gift to yourself, or you just didn't know which jazz set was worth those hard-earned dimes, here's a quick run-down.

John Coltrane The Classic Quartet (Impulse!)

This eight-CD colossus box of beautifully re-mastered discs catches the sax genius in the crucial period of transformation between 1962 and 1965. During this period, his inspiration switched from melody to spirit. Featuring McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass, the early discs cover Coltrane's "pretty" period, while in the middle he starts moving toward--though never fully reaches--outer space. The entire "A Love Supreme" suite is included as is a final disc of previously unreleased material. Many favorites, however, including "My Favorite Things," "Afro-Blue Impressions" and "Blue Train," along with the Duke Ellington sessions, must be found elsewhere.

Miles Davis Complete Miles Davis Quintet (Columbia Records)

Columbia opened the Miles Davis vaults to release two boxed sets this year. The first is the ambitious Complete Miles Davis Quintet. Everything the band recorded between 1965 and 1968 is here from the famed quintet featuring Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Ron Carter. One of the most influential groups in jazz history, this band's efforts were a fountain of light and music, flowing in millions of new directions. The new studio collection, spanning more than 12 official album releases, will take any serious listener at least a year to digest.

Various Artists The Complete Jazz at the Philharmonic on Verve: 1944-1949 (Verve) The Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington Cote D'Azur on Verve (Verve)

Not to be left out, Verve released two fine boxed sets from its deep war chest of jazzy weapons. The JATP concerts were labors of love for energetic producer Norman Granz, and featured everyone from Charlie Parker to Dizzy Gillespie, Nat "King" Cole, Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet and many, many others.

The box is a veritable embarrassment of riches bringing together these historic performances under one roof. Much of it was previously unreleased. Some of it was available only on 78-rpm records, and some appeared only on Armed Forces Radio. The Ella is elegantly packaged. And, more than 80 percent of this music will be new even to fanatics, and there's a bonus CD with an Ellington rehearsal on it.

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