Jazz aficionados will revel in this massive volume, an absolute essential for anyone looking to bone up on their jazz knowledge or to expand an already well stocked collection. With revised listings, the fifth edition of this classic weighs in at a whopping 1,618 pages, and that's without the lengthy and detailed index.
The depth of the book's listings varies, depending on the artist, but entries range in length from a quarter of a page -- the standard for newcomers, obscure players, one-hit wonders, or established musicians in other genres who dabbled in jazz -- to several pages for more prolific artists. Each artist entry is accompanied by a short biography and a list of recordings, complete with the names of all the musicians featured on the recording. While some readers may find the star system for rating albums rather cursory or inadequate, it is clearly necessary for a book of this magnitude. And, in fact, the number of recordings that also have more in-depth critiques is astonishing, considering the amount of ground that is covered.
A refreshingly worldly perspective is brought to the table by editors Richard Cook and Brian Morton. Both are based in the United Kingdom, and they avoid falling into the common trap of viewing jazz as a musical form in which all the important players are American. And so, sprinkled among the entries for Armstrong and Coltrane, Davis and Goodman, are entries for South African trumpeter and vocalist Hugh Masekela, Swedish sax player Krister Andersson, and Russian trumpeter Valery Ponomarev, among others.
The meticulous research into the broad genre of jazz that went into the compilation of the book is evident on every page. This, combined with discerning critiques and inclusive scope, makes The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD a truly authoritative guide to recorded jazz music. (Karen Burns)