WHO MADE IT?
I first met Jamey Abersold when he judged a Jazz contest for a local high-school back in 1972. I have been using his "play-along" recordings years before then. Off and on I have taught music during these decades and for anyone interested in Jazz, I have always recommended JA's recordings.
His play-along records were and still are the staple of many a Jazz musician's schooling. They were generally focused on one particular subject related to soloing: Learning scales, learning standard progressions, etc. They always sounded good, even if the recordings were not of the highest audio quality or most modern production value. Now, he has outdone himself!
These recordings are State-of-the-Art! I suppose that is partly due to Jamie's long-standing production experience and the availability of digital recording equipment these days. Whatever the reasons, the production is now superb.
WHAT TUNES ARE HERE?
Instead of just playing "stock" changes, this collection features selected tunes from the real book. If you are not familiar with "The Real Book" then you SHOULD be if you want to learn Jazz. It is THE recognized 'fake book' that Jazz musicians turn to for live gigs and just learning great tunes.
The Real Book first became famous back in the 1970s as a antidote to those horribly transcribed "fake" books seen on music-store shelves back then. It was frustrating enough to try to find guys to gig with, let alone find sheet music we could all use. The off-the-shelf "fake books" had wrong chords, or NO chords, were spread out on several pages so we had to turn pages constantly, and even the melodies were sometimes wrong! AGH!
Instead of small, hard to read notation, The Real Book had LARGE hand written transcriptions that were (for the most part) VERY accurate. They always included chord-symbols, which is the easiest way to understand harmony. Reading chord charts is also the best way to teach reading notation since it does not require actual note-reading, but does train students to follow the chart and stay focused. So The REAL BOOK was the new standard that we all gravitated to.
The problem was they were illegal because they contained published versions of copyrighted works. Still, musicians found them, sometimes from the back-room at a local store, or even from the trunk of a traveling musician who had spare copies for sale. Now, Hal Leonard has bought all the publishing rights and the Real Book is legal.
I have misgivings about a single publishing giant garnering every Jazz tune in the world since ALL monopolies are evil. However, Hal Leonard has faithfully contracted with all the living composers in the Real Book, or made arrangements to pay the estates of those composers who are deceased. That's good. At least the musicians are not getting screwed as much as they usually do.
Not only that, but the Leonard Company has gone to great lengths to "improve" the existing Real Book by correcting a few minor mistakes here and there. Sometimes they even got the "proper" changes from the original artists as part of the new publishing agreement. Since I have seen the original Real Books from long ago and now own several 'legit" copies, I can tell you the "improvements" are minor.
WHY YOU NEED A REAL BOOK...
WHY BUY A PLAY-ALONG?
Off course, learning the tunes is MUCH easier and faster when you have the music in front of you. However, even for those of us who have been reading music since before kindergarden, it is ALWAYS necessary to practice with a BAND! So, The next problem for practicing musicians is having a band to practice these tunes with. In the old-days, we had to find other musicians, find a place to play or scramble for a gig, then try to arrange for everyone to show up for no or low pay. That's a difficult path to take. Enter this Play-along recording.
Like most play-along recordings, this one is designed for soloists, NOT rhythm-section players. Although any bassist, pianist or drummer could learn a thing or two by listening to it. Therefore, you must disregard any complaints from (say) a bassist who underrates this collection because there is already a bass on it. Such irrelevant complaints only indicate how ignorant that bassist is.
I have listened to about a third of the recordings so far and ALL of them are WONDERFUL! I would tell you the names of the musicians if I knew them, but there is no information on the cover or inside the little booklet that comes with this tome. Given the classy "vibe" and some of the signature licks I hear, I suspect these are players from among the Elite First-Call-Cats in Indianapolis. (Don't hold me to that, it just sounds that way.)
I have been listening to some of these guys for decades, so I recognize their styles. But that doesn't matter. It's the material that counts, and MAN is it ever here!
Easy standards are there for beginning Jazzers: Satin Doll, Girl From Ipanema, 12-bar Jazz Blues forms, etc.
Then there are fast but simple "modal" tunes like "Impressions" and "So What." As a music teacher, I have found tunes like those are the best entry into soloing for tyros, especially scale-brained guitarists. "Modal" tunes are simply tunes that use some musical mode, like Dorian. Even "pentatonic picker-heads" usually know minor scales, so those tunes are a good start in learning to follow a form and play with chord-changes.
When you are ready for more challenging tunes, they are included too! There are numerous "bop" heads including several based on Rhythm Changes. (like "Oleo")
If you are a more advanced player, you can step up to Giant Steps or Moment's Notice... And they play them FAST, at real-world Cutting-session tempos! Since I still need to practice Coltrane changes, I have practiced to those two tunes about twenty times in the last two days, and they still make my head spin, even with the music in front of me! But I LOVE IT! There are only two other cats in my town that can even play Giant Steps, and we only get about one or two gigs a year where we can stretch out like that. This play-along is my new favorite toy! It is worth the price (to me) just for those two tunes!
Throughout the recording, you'll hear experienced professional players; Players with taste, imagination, rhythmic vitality and consummate skill.
The bassist has perfect intonation and cool hip lines.
The pianist is always "in the pocket" and plays smart substitutions that inspire new ideas. (In particular, I love his tasteful interjections of Lydian substitutions at surprising moments. That makes old dog ears perk up and feel refreshed!)
The drummer swings!
The tone of each instrument is beautiful.
The recording allows us to hear everything clearly with fine balance.
All that makes this an inspiring combo to play with! I like just listening to the backing tracks and letting my musical imagination run free, then I go back and try to play those ideas. In just two days, I have discovered a handful of new licks and tricks just from practicing a few tunes! THAT is saying something for an old fart that has been playing Jazz for 45 years!
In several cases, the band has unique intros to standard tunes I have not heard before. That makes it FUN to hear the tune again even if I have played it thousands of times.
I am not the only person to LOL at Jamie for his ridiculously stiff count-offs. His bland white voice is annoying at the top of each tune. Yes, he counts in perfect rhythm and swings like a MF when he plays, but his count-offs always sound like a leisure-suited suburbanite on valium. Even a click-count would be less annoying. Other than that, I cannot whine about anything in this fabulous collection.
It is a great recording and a fantastic value. It is the BEST way for a soloist to practice and certainly is the most FUN!
I cannot recommend this strongly enough for anyone who wants to learn Jazz. I will definitely buy the next volume when it comes out. Even if you do not play any instrument, this is a great collection of jazz changes and grooves you could just zone-out and enjoy or use as the hippest background music imaginable for your gatherings.
I do not know of anywhere else you can (legally) get a great recording of 270 Jazz Classics played so well for this cheap. It is a fantastic collection that stands on its own just as a recording and absolutely the greatest practicing tool for jazz musicians imaginable.