Jazz is an area of music with no shortage of reference books. Any amount of information on it is available on the internet, but it's still a pleasure to welcome a new edition of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD. This massive volume by Richard Cook and Brian Morton must run to an impressive number of thousands of pages - they're not numbered and entries are in alphabetical order by artist - and is the definitive up-to-date guide to its subject. The Penguin Guide has come out roughly every couple of years since 1992, which makes this the seventh edition, covering jazz from its earliest recordings to 2004. As in previous years, it's been the subject of much argument between quarrelsome jazz fans. For many, that's half the fun. The Guide is much too vast to read from cover to cover, but it's a book I will be constantly referring to for at least the next 18 months. I'm familiarising myself with it by trawling through the highlighted 'Core Collection' recommendations. These - comprising about 200 discs from, by my count, about 150 artists - according to the authors, are intended to suggest 'a basic library of jazz records which readers on a budget or those who wish for only a small holding of jazz CDs, might consider as their first-priority purchases'. They are not separately indexed, and if you want to find them all you have to flip through every page in the book, which takes about an afternoon. An entertaining afternoon, mind you, if, like me, you enjoy that sort of thing, because many of the choices aren't obvious. The usual suspects are all here, of course, but not all are highlighted. Cook and Morton could hardly have not selected Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue or John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, but Fats Waller is missed out of the collection altogether, while Weather Report's most famous album, Heavy Weather, is dismissed in favour of Mysterious Traveller. Core Collection honours are sparingly dispensed. Few artists qualify for more than one, and none gets more than three. This creates a problem with artists who were influential and prolific over long careers, such as Duke Ellington and Davis. On the other hand, you couldn't argue that Never No Lament, At Newport and New Orleans Suite are not good introductions to Ellington or Milestones, Kind of Blue and In A Silent Way to Davis. But it's difficult to imagine a well-balanced Miles collection not containing Birth of the Cool or Sketches of Spain. Many lesser-known figures are also singled out as having made albums that a Core Collection could or should contain, and few jazz fans except those with the most eclectic tastes would be familiar with them all. Some pains have been taken to remain even-handed on styles, eras and sides of the Atlantic, and this would, I suspect, be a rather different book if the co-authors had been American. Few natives of jazz's homeland would dispute that Django Reinhardt belongs in a Core Collection of great jazz, but I somehow doubt - fine musicians though they are - that they would regard Humphrey Lyttelton or Chris Barber as absolutely essential listening. Venturing outside the Core choices, you will find virtually every British, European and Scandinavian jazz musician of note with a CD currently in print referred to, and all the significant North Americans, but I couldn't help feeling that Asia, Australia and Africa get rather short shrift. There are a couple of Vietnamese musicians included, although trumpeter Cuong Vu and Nguyen Le made their names in the US and Europe respectively. Otherwise Asia's role seems to have been cut back to Japanese players who have enjoyed some success in the US, so I sought in vain for Jeremy Monteiro, Ted Lo, Eugene Pao and so on. In the latter case, it struck me as a little unjust that Danish bassist Mads Vinding has three CDs cited, but Eugene Pao and the Mads Vinding Trio, although internationally distributed, do not appear. The authors seem to have drawn sensible lines between pop and jazz, so no Norah Jones or Jamie Cullum, although you will find Diana Krall and Jane Monheit. George Benson and Nat King Cole are represented by their jazz work with their most commercially successful recordings deemed outside the scope of the book. Blues and rock musicians who have moved towards jazz have also had the door barred to them, although jazz musicians who have shifted in the other direction have not. As a result, while various albums including jazz tributes to Jimi Hendrix are to be found, Hendrix does not have an entry, despite his undoubted influence on jazz rock. Frank Zappa is also missing, but as the authors say lines have to be drawn. Any collector of jazz CDs, will find this book, although pricey at $375 from Dymocks where I picked it up, a worthwhile investment. Along with intelligent critical assessments of the music, there is sound advice on the mastering quality of different editions and guidance on whether particular recordings are for obsessive collectors or suitable for the casually curious. Opinions that are purely personal are easy to distinguish from ones that represent a broad critical consensus, and the authors are frank about critical revisions of earlier editions. Given the plethora of new releases, deletions, reissues and so on, Cook and Morton are probably already at work on the eighth edition. Until its release, the information here should be more than enough to be getting on with.