This double-CD set should not be confused with the similarly named mid-'90s, 47-song compilation from BMG, which was good in its time but is outclassed by this entry in Sony Music's (now Sony BMG's) Essential
series. Wisely ignoring a by-release-date-order approach, producer Barry Feldman
has instead opted for a track lineup that, plain and simple, sells the Glenn Miller sound to modern ears -- so the summer 1939 "In the Mood" is the first cut on the set, and "Moonlight Serenade," from four months earlier, is held back, to the last slot among the Miller commercial recordings, thus allowing the listener to meander delightfully across three years of hits -- across 1940, 1941, and the first half of 1942, zigging and zagging through various "hot" and "sweet" instrumentals and vocal numbers, alternately featuring Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke
, Marion Hutton
, and the Modernaires
. The last seven slots on the second disc are reserved for sides that Miller recorded during the final two years of his life, leading the Army Air Force Overseas Orchestra, which show off the richer, lusher sound that he achieved as a bandleader serving the war effort during WWII. Modern listeners will probably be astounded to hear the Eberle-sung rendition of "Blueberry Hill" from 1940, so thoroughly has the song become identified with Fats Domino
over the past five decades, but the real treat upon hearing this set is the sound quality -- the latest remastering brings out the internal detail of the arrangements on the Miller sides better than anyone has heard them since the day they were recorded on lacquer masters more than 60 years ago; you can actually make out the rhythm-playing, and the voicings of the reeds at the center of the Miller sound have never been more vivid. There are no surprises here, just incredibly sophisticated yet animated, and downright busy playing -- given the smoothness of the results -- that still seduces and overwhelms the listener nearly seven decades later. With his chestnuts "Little Brown Jug" and "Tuxedo Junction" at the head of the list; they're so clean and sharp here that it's refreshing to hear them once again, for the ka-gillionth time, sounding better and more rewarding than ever, and without a trace of noise; "Tuxedo Junction," in particular, on its middle section, sounds about 40 years newer than it would seem to have a right to. The liner notes are also excellent, endeavoring (and largely succeeding) at explaining an era of entertainment that is only known today from the late-'30s and early-'40s movies that are increasingly not shown on cable (and have all-but-vanished from broadcast television, except for a token presence on public TV stations). If the double-CD price is a little off-putting, it's worth the plunge anyway -- you may own 30 Miller CDs and still justify buying this set -- because no single disc can capture Miller's best. and his legacy as well -- and the box set is also a great way to become a fan, in case someone hasn't yet been sold on him, one listen to the playing -- as good as you'd find in any symphony orchestra this side of Vienna or Berlin -- and the arrangements (which were just hot enough to keep Miller relevant to jazz) will make the sale.