Love jazz all over again with boxed sets: Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus

Just about everything in the music business comes back around at some point. Repackaging and reissues are profitable for the industry, particularly when record labels own the recordings from an artist’s catalog. It’s safe to assume landmark albums from the giants of jazz will reappear over and over, presenting sounds to new generations.

And I’m thankful for that. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reacquainted with some of the recordings that led me down this endlessly joyous path of music appreciation.

The 1957 Sonny Rollins release “Way Out West” was one of the first jazz albums I ever shelled out for from my hard-earned Burger King money as an teenager in the ’80s. The cover image of tenor saxophonist Rollins standing in the desert, wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat, impressed me enough to take the leap. The music on the LP was exciting, inspired and seemingly limitless in its invention. I’ve gifted copies of the album to friends over the years, and it’s one of the titles I suggest (along with Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”) to people who want might want to take the next step after listening to Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” a couple of hundred times.

“Way Out West” is part of a new box set, “Go West! The Contemporary Records Albums” on Craft Recordings. “West” sounds as forward-thinking as ever, with a young Rollins asserting himself alongside rock-solid bassist Ray Brown and polished drummer Shelly Manne. Rollins made the decision to record without a pianist on the date, which allowed him to play without harmonic support. The freedom of those wide-open spaces resonates throughout the music.

This album — and another in the package, “Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders” — transcends time, just like the great man himself, who will turn 93 in September. There’s also a third disc in the collection, made up of alternate takes from these sessions. It sounds terrific, too.

IT TOOK ROUGHLY a quarter of a century, but Rhino-Atlantic has finally released the second half of its massive Charles Mingus reissue project in box-set form. “Changes – The Complete 1970s Atlantic Studio Recordings” is available, like the Rollins collection, on vinyl, CD and digitally. Bassist and bandleader Mingus can best be described as an inimitable life force, even decades after his untimely 1979 passing. While his earlier recordings for Atlantic (as well as those for Columbia and Impulse!) are more celebrated, he never made substandard music, and through the lens of history, these dates are as vital as anything he created.

Over the course of seven albums, Mingus purposefully straddled the mainstream and avant-garde of the music, with moments of astounding beauty juxtaposed with seemingly unpredictable outbursts of creativity. Much of what is included here features pianist Don Pullen and saxophonist George Adams, who would go on to form one of the most accomplished quartets of the ‘80s, and they’re vital in Mingus’ company. Even when Mingus could no longer perform due to the cruelty of ALS at the end of his life, he was still composing and directing from his wheelchair. It’s all documented here, in some of the most innovative jazz-related sounds committed to tape in the ‘70s.

JAZZ IN JULY: The Matt Fuller Trio presents “Original Works” at Nocturne on July 9, and the Jenna McLean Quintet appears there every Saturday in July. … The Denver Jazz Orchestra plays Dazzle on July 10. … Bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding appears at Denver Botanic Gardens on July 11, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays there July 24. … Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue are scheduled for Vail’s Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater on July 24. … And the Evergreen Jazz Festival takes place July 28-30. Get details at

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