The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook The World

Monday, January 1, 2024

Not just another “greatest jazz albums” list of favourite recordings and biggest sellers but a fully annotated look at the albums that actually changed jazz and changed lives

The list featured below was originally published in the August 2006 issue of Jazzwise magazine and quickly established itself as a key reference for anyone interested in exploring the rich history of jazz on record.

We have now taken the concept much further with a new publication The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook The World – a 100-page definitive guide to the most important and influential jazz albums that have gone on to change and shape the course of the music from the 1920s to the present day.

The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook The World is exclusively available in print and includes new in-depth editorial on each album from Jazzwise's acclaimed team of writers, plus in-depth features on the making of the top three albums, a look at the albums that almost made the cut and a guide to buying the featured titles on LP and CD.

Order your copy today at:

2006 List


Polar Bear: Held On The Tips of Fingers (Babel) 

Sebastian Rochford (d), Pete Wareham, Mark Lockheart (ts), Tom Herbert (b), Leafcutter John (programming) plus Jonny Philips (g), Ingrid Laubrock (ts), Joe Bentley (tb), Emma Smith (v) and Hannah Marshall (c). Rec. 2004-2005

Such was the brilliance of Polar Bear’s Held On The Tips Of Fingers, the band’s second release, it almost won the 2005 Mercury Music Prize. Not only the most gifted jazz drummer of his generation, bandleader Sebastian Rochford crafted sublimely original chamber music. A stylistic crossroads where folk, avant-jazz, electronica and raw punk co-existed, Rochford’s music was aptly called “the sound of the future” even though it betrayed a love of Ellington, Monk and, yes, Napalm Death. Held On The Tips Of Fingers twisted in digital trickery to a frontline of heavyweight tenor saxophonists, dazzling with folksy anthems such as ‘Bear Town’ or the drum ’n’ bass drenched ‘Fluffy’. Groundbreaking, it gave young British jazz bands the guts to label themselves like rock bands and to stretch beyond their comfort zones. (TB)


The Bad Plus: These Are The Vistas (Columbia)

Ethan Iverson (p), Reid Anderson (b) and Dave King (d). Rec. 2003

Very few jazz groups today set out to mess with your head. You know, get inside there, push the furniture over, chuck things out of the window and generally make a nuisance of themselves. That’s what’s so refreshing about the Bad Plus. They barge in, do things a jazz piano trio isn’t supposed to do, such as play Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ or Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ To get inside these songs, and their own well thought-out originals, they may inflict a bit of grievous bodily harm on the musical structures, but at least they give you a musical experience you won’t forget easily. (SN)


Courtney Pine: Journey To The Urge Within (Antilles)

Courtney Pine (ts, ss, b-cl), Kevin Robinson (t), Ray Carless (bar s), Orphy Robinson (vb), Julian Joseph (p), Roy Carter (ky), Gary Crosby (b), Mark Mondesir (d), Cleveland Watkiss and Susaye Greene (v). Rec. 1986

Journey to the Urge Within heralded the arrival of Courtney Pine at the head of a new generation of British jazz musicians. A pied piper who led British jazz out of the trough of despond after its brilliant flowering in the 1960s, he was compared to the charismatic Wynton Marsalis in the USA as a spokesman for a new breed of technically accomplished young jazzers. Pine’s music was powerful, intense and in the tradition of the great tenor saxophonists such as Coltrane and Rollins. Figuring in the Top 40, an unprecedented achievement for a British jazz album, it went silver, helping to trigger the 1980s jazz boom. (SN)


Tomasz Stanko: Soul Of Things (ECM)

Tomasz Stanko (t), Marcin Wasilewski (p), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (b) and Michal Miskiewicz (d). Rec. 20I01

It could have been Stanko masterpieces Litania or Leosia that made this list, but Soul of Things, with a trio of young Polish musicians he mentored since their early teens, is his best selling album for ECM and more than any other brought him to the attention of international audiences. It also contributed to the growing awareness outside Europe, particularly in the United States, that important music was coming out of the old world.  An album of precisely focused moods, fragments of melody are crafted into masterful compositions shaped by the timeless elegance of Stanko’s trumpet and the copacetic playing of his young protégés. (SN)

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Medeski, Martin and Wood: Combustication (Blue Note)

John Medeski (ky), Chris Wood (b), Billy Martin (d) and DJ Logic. Rec. 1998

Since the group’s formation in 1992, many welcomed Medeski Martin and Wood as a flight from a largely conservative jazz mainstream while others believed they’d flown the coop entirely. In their own way this Hammond B-3 organ trio of the sort that has been around in jazz for at least 50 years pushed at the boundaries of jazz with rollicking grooves and extended keyboard improvisations. This might be edgy music, but it is body music just the same, try ‘Coconut Boogaloo’ or ‘Sugar Craft’ then see if you can stop popping your fingers. As they reveal here, they delight shaking up mainstream values by going back to the chicken shack, 21st century style. (SN)


Wynton Marsalis: Black Codes From The Underground (Columbia)

Wynton Marsalis (t), Branford Marsalis (ss, ts), Kenny Kirkland (p), Charnett Moffett (b) and Jeff Watts (d). Rec. 1985

Black Codes marks the time in young Wynton’s career when he moved from being a Blakey/Hancock prodigy and started to stake out his own ground. This first batch of musical territory had already been trampled underfoot by various members of the Miles Davis and John Coltrane ascendancy, including both leaders, but Marsalis brings his own considerable musical personality to bear on the situation and plays with great invention throughout. He would shift from this base in future but this sets out his aesthetic stall nicely. (KS)


Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light ’Til Dawn (Blue Note)

Cassandra Wilson (v), Charlie Burham (vn), Brandon Ross, Gib Walton, Chris Whitley (g), Kenny Davis, Lonnie Plaxico (b), Kevin Johnson, Lance Carter, Cyro Baptista and Bill McClellan (d, perc) plus others. Rec. 1993

Female jazz vocals had gone through many false dawns between the late 1960s and the arrival of Cassandra Wilson’s blue light in 1993. Jazz and blues roots have often been vocal starting points for revivals of every type, so it’s appropriate that Wilson, with her burnished alto voice, should reach in that direction to find not only a crossover audience but establish a new consensus alongside the Great American Songbook to underpin her artistic credibility. That she has more or less continued on that path suggests it works for her on every level. It also points the way for those who follow. (KS)


Jan Johanssen: Jazz Pa Svenska (Megafon)

Jan Johansson (p) and Georg Riedel (b). Rec. 1962-64

A key recording that more than any other defined the Nordic Tone in jazz, a Scandinavian kind of blues that places intensity, tone, space and meaning ahead of virtuosic athleticism. Taking ages old Swedish folk melodies from Svenska Låtar and then interpreting them from a jazz perspective, Johansson’s carefully nuanced sound, the gradation of his touch, the exquisite detail of every note revealed by the meticulous recording quality captured a unique approach to jazz that has become widely influential. Players such as Mike Brecker, Tommy Smith, Jan Garbarek, Esbjörn Svensson, Tord Gustavsen all were to come under the spell of the Nordic Tone. (SN)


Sarah Vaughan: Sarah Vaughan (EmArcy)

Sarah Vaughan (v), Clifford Brown (t), Herbie Mann (f), Paul Quinichette (ts), Jimmy Jones (p), Joe Benjamin (b) and Roy Haynes (d). Rec. 1954

Vaughan was a by-word for vocal worship among her peers and musical associates by the late 1940s, but little she recorded before this album consistently showed her true worth to jazz. Nestled in a sympathetic small-group setting, Sassy simply blossoms into an overwhelmingly seductive artist whose complete abandonment to her own idea of line and sound gives the listener a level of ecstatic pleasure delivered only by – well, by Sassy, Ella and Billie, truth be told. She may later have equalled this in other settings, but here the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down. (KS)


Music Improvisation Company: Music Improvisation Company (ECM)

Jamie Muir (perc), Hugh Davies (elec), Evan Parker (ss), Derek Bailey (el g) and Christine Jeffrey (v). Rec. Aug 1970

MIC represents the point of separation between free jazz and free improv. From their perspective, a whole series of trajectories are visible – in Evan Parker’s case the use of live electronics and increasing reliance on soprano leading eventually to the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. It marks a shift away from the creation of powerful, huge sonic edifices or of nature-imitating shapes and textures for a journey, with only a little exaggeration, into the DNA of sound itself. Less concerned with the global or cosmic, MIC explored the micro-universe through the concept of non-idiomatic improvisation. Strange, disturbing yet oddly attractive.(DH)



Charlie Haden: Liberation Music Orchestra (Impulse!)

Haden (b), Don Cherry, Michael Mantler (t), Roswell Rudd (tb), Bob Northern (Fr hn), Howard Johnson (tba), Perry Robinson (cl), Gato Barbieri, Dewey Redman (ts), Sam Brown (g), Carla Bley (p, arr), Paul Motian and Andrew Cyrille (d). Rec. 1969

Jazz and politics have always been entwined, but rarely in the music’s history have the links spelt out on record. The 1960s was a decade when that orthodoxy was reversed, with Charlie Haden’s debut album at the decade’s end being one of the most explicit endorsements of leftist sentiments to be found in the entire jazz world. Sentiments of any persuasion are no proof of quality, but the compositions – from Haden, Bley and Ornette Coleman, among others – are uniformly strong and the supporting cast fiercely inspired. For 40 minutes you could believe, if you wanted to. (KS)

Buy album from Presto Music


Jackie McLean: Let Freedom Ring (Blue Note)

Jackie McLean (as), Walter Davis (p), Herbie Lewis (b) and Billy Higgins (d). Rec. 1962

McLean had made by turns excellent and ambitious albums prior to this disc, but for one reason or another none of them had managed a completeness of conception that pushed him into the forefront of the music. This one made it through a combination of memorable compositions (‘Melody For Melonae’) an attitude towards musical freedom fed by the new politics of the day and a consistent commitment to all-out emotionalism that is so forceful it frankly leaves the rest of his group in the shade. He went on to make more completely satisfying albums but this one broke the mould. (KS)

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Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quintet: Indo-Jazz Suite (EMI Columbia)

Joe Harriott (as), Kenny Wheeler (t), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b), Allan Ganley (d), John Mayer (vn, harpsichord), Chris Taylor (f), Diwan Motihar (sitar), Chandrahas Paiganka (tambura) and Keshan Sathe (tabla). Rec. 1965

Ravi Shankar’s 1962 Improvisations, with Bud Shank, and Don Ellis’ unrecorded Hindustani Jazz Sextet from 1965 briefly pointed the way but nothing prepared you for Indo-Jazz Suite, the first full collaboration between jazz and Indian musicians that was so hip it hurt in 1966. Hailed by Melody Maker upon release as “highly provocative” it was conceived by Calcutta-born Mayer who based the pieces on the ascending and descending order of ragas with Harriott’s quintet improvising around the Indian musicians to spellbinding effect. Not as successfully integrated as their subsequent Indo-Jazz Fusions I and II, this however first put the fat in the pan for Gabor Szabo, Shakti, Trilok Gurtu, Mukta, Nitin Sawhney and the feast of Indo-Jazz that followed. (JN)


Django Reinhardt: Rétrospective 1934-53 (Saga)

Django Reinhardt (g), the Quintette du Hot Club de France, Loulou Gasté, Joseph Reinhardt, Emmanuel Vées (g), Louis Vola, Coleridge Goode (b), Hubert Rostaing, André Ekyan (cl), Alix Combelle (ts), Gianni Safrred (p), Aurelia de Carolis (d) and many others. Rec. 1934-1953

The great gypsy did pretty much all his recording during the pre-album age, and while he was justly honoured by the French soon after his death, most early UK vinyl releases were haphazard collations in indifferent sound. By contrast, this compact little high-quality cardsleeve box of three CDs, accompanied by a magnificent 75-page booklet in French and English which contains lavish photographs and discographical details, is by some distance the best one-step intro Django’s staggering genius. Transfers from the original 78rpm singles are magnificent and the selection of titles is absolutely on the money, from earliest Hot Club sides to his post-war experiments with shifting personnel and electrified guitars. (KS)


Steps Ahead: Steps Ahead (Elektra/Musician)

Michael Brecker (ts), Eliane Elias (p), Mike Mainieri (vb), Eddie Gomez (b) and Peter Erskine (d). Rec. 1983

A star-studded line-up this might have been, however, by the time they came to make their debut on an American label, Steps Ahead had forged a powerful group identity that critics were dubbing “the new acoustic fusion.” Much of this was down to a repertoire comprising original, ad hoc song forms that seldom employed straight ahead rhythms. Take ‘Both Sides of the Coin’ that uses a latin rhythm and a rondo form, whereas ‘Loxodrome’ presented an advanced contemporary vehicle for improvisation. Yet promoters would still say why not just play a 12-bar blues? Staggering really for such a perfectly poised jazz chamber group, that can take your breath away. (SN)


Krzysztof Komeda: Astigmatic (Polskie - Nagrania Muza)

Krzysztof Komeda (p), Tomasz Stanko (t), Zbigniew Namyslowski (as), Gunter Lenz (b) and Rune Carlson (d). Rec. 1965

Astigmatic is one of the most important contributions to the shaping of a European aesthetic in jazz composition. Stanko himself has said that this is an album that could “never have been made in America”, pointing to Komeda’s day job as a composer for more than 40 films. “Film dictates untypical construction,” Stanko has recalled. Indeed, the quintet responds to Komeda’s compositions with audible glee – there is measured intensity here but also the unmistakable glow of inspiration. (SN) 


Anthony Braxton: For Alto (Delmark)

Anthony Braxton (as). Rec. 1969

While the song titles – dedications to innovative musicians such as John Cage, Cecil Taylor and Leroy Jenkins – gave a clear indication of where the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians iconoclast was coming from, few could have seen where, or rather how far, he was going on this landmark solo recital. Braxton’s alto saxophone is like the sound of acid dripped from the beating wings of hummingbirds, a charmingly corrosive caress. Through brilliant dynamics, lyricism, harmonic invention and pure sound trickery, Braxton showed a single horn could be a complete orchestra, paving the way for similar undertakings by Sonny Rollins among others years later. Downbeat awarded For Alto five stars and called it “revolutionary.” They were right. (KLG)


Diana Krall: Love Scenes (Impulse!)

Diana Krall (v, p), Russell Malone (g) and Christian McBride (b).

Rec. 1997Where would female jazz vocals be today without Diana Krall? An imponderable, perhaps, especially when so many undistinguished vocalists currently populate the landscape. However, Krall is the genuine article on every level, whether you’re talking about texture, taste, integrity, inventiveness or musicianship. Whatever setting she’s chosen for herself in the past decade, it’s been apposite. Love Scenes was a trio album and presaged her massive with-orchestra crossover, but it contains all the essential Krall ingredients and is a thorough convincing artistic manifesto. No wonder people listened. (KS)

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Steve Coleman And Five Elements: The Tao Of Mad Phat: Fringe Zones (RCA/Novus)

Steve Coleman (as), Andy Milne (p, ky) David Gilmore (g), Reggie Washington (el b), Roy Hargrove (t), Josh Roseman (tb), Kenny Davis (b) and Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn (perc). Rec. 1993

Jazz as funk, funk as jazz: the two lexicons entwine and merge so as to lose meaning in one of the great live records of the 1990s. Coleman had already made a splash with his JMT label output yet his playing and writing are more penetrating and focused here. Snappy, stabbing, staccato rhythmic and melodic lines are repeated to trance giving the impression of a giant musical pinball machine on a rotating floor. As well as exerting a decisive influence on anyone from the F-IRE collective to Omar Sosa, Coleman has always managed to reflect something of his times. Here he captured the hyperactivity of the burgeoning Internet age and the brash self-assertion of the hip-hop generation. (KLG)


Eberhard Weber: The Colours of Chloë (ECM)

Weber (b, cello, ocarina), Rainer Bruninghaus (p, syn), Ack van Rooyen (flhn), Peter Giger, Ralf Hübner (d, perc), and the cellos of the Südfunk Orchestra Stuttgart. Rec. 1973

Eberhard Weber’s debut album was one of the most significant opening volleys of ECM’s arrival in the jazz world as an arbiter of modern taste. Completely devoid of any of the fashionable Americanisms of the day, its music was full of light and colour derived from European modernist classical and film traditions. As such, it offered a completely fresh pool of delights to fish in. Using his sinuous bass technique to articulate melody as no-one else had before, Weber alternated a sumptuously severe string backing with little keyboard and percussion patterns to huge atmospheric effect. Entrancing. (KS)

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John Surman: Tales Of The Algonquin (Deram)

John Surman (bs, ss), John Warren (bs, f), Mike Osborne (as, cl), Alan Skidmore (ts, fl), Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett (t, flhn), John Taylor (p), Barre Phillips, Harry Miller (b), Alan Jackson and Stu Martin (d). Rec. 1971

As much Canadian John Warren’s album as fellow baritone player John Surman’s, this record said that Surman was a star in the ascendant. So many UK jazz albums could fill this slot but this gets the vote for its ecstatic, exuberant playing from Surman and company and amazing, challenging writing from Warren. This was a glorious testament to the new-found confidence of British jazz. Warren’s success lies in the way he remains within the big band tradition but extends it by incorporating elements of free playing, driving powerful polyrhythms and complex layering of his instrumental resources. An absolute and indisputable joy. (DH)


Oliver Nelson: The Blues And The Abstract Truth (Impulse!)

Oliver Nelson (as, ts), Freddie Hubbard (t), Eric Dolphy (f, as, bcl), George Barrow (bar s), Bill Evans (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Roy Haynes (d). Rec. 1961

For almost all his career Nelson was a hugely talented journeyman musician who did everything well and not a great deal memorably. This is the exception. Helped by a cast that included Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy and Bill Evans, Nelson delivered a set of profound meditations on the blues (including ‘Stolen Moments’) and then backed that up by playing the tenor saxophone with such force and inventiveness that he stood as an equal with the heavyweights listed above. In managing it even once he at least gave us a stone classic modern jazz blues and roots album that is free of all hard bop cliché. (KS)

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Betty Carter: The Audience With Betty Carter (Betcar)

Betty Carter (v), John Hicks (p), Curtis Lundy (b) and Kenny Washington (d). Rec. 1979

Listening to this album is a cathartic experience. ‘Sounds’ is a tour de force of scat through shifting tempos and meters that lasts 25 minutes where at one point, Carter, Hicks, Lundy and Washington each play in a different meter. The album highlight is ‘My Favorite Things’ taken at a brisk tempo with Hicks at his most explosive as his accompaniment blossoms into a counterline to Carter’s singing and by the coda who can say whether voice or piano predominates? To say this is one of the finest jazz vocal albums ever made is limiting; it numbers among the great contemporary jazz albums. (SN) 


Art Tatum: The Genius of Art Tatum No.1 (Clef 1953)

Art Tatum (p). Rec. 1953

For decades Tatum was every jazz pianist’s first choice as the greatest piano of all but by the early 1950s his public profile was still minute compared with some of his contemporaries. Norman Granz decided to fix that: between 1953 and Tatum’s death in 1956 Granz recorded well over 200 selections and issued them on Clef and Verve. Tatum’s popular and critical reputation has been secure ever since, his baroque creations simultaneously exciting and terrifying the listener. This first of the series is a solo recital. All the Tatum Clefs and Verves are now available on Granz’s last-owned label, Pablo. (KS)


Charles Lloyd: Dream Weaver (Atlantic)

Charles Lloyd (ts, f), Keith Jarrett (p), Cecil McBee (b) and Jack DeJohnette (d). Rec. 1966

Voted “new star” by Downbeat in 1965, the emergence of the Charles Lloyd Quartet took jazz by storm in 1966, expanding musical horizons with a challenging eclectic amalgam of modal and free jazz with Eastern textures and Spanish soul. Dream Weaver also introduced Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette to the world before Lloyd’s subsequent LPs Forest Flower and Love-In became two of jazz’s biggest sellers. However, this was the album that first got tongues wagging, echoing the free spirit of the psychedelic 1960s and landing them an early slot at The Fillmore. Miles noticed too, quickly snatching Jarrett and DeJohnette for his own jazz-rock experiments that ushered in the dawn of a new era. (JN) 

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Oscar Peterson: Night Train (Verve)  

Oscar Peterson (p), Ray Brown b) and Ed Thigpen (d). Rec. 1962

By 1962 Peterson’s trio was one of the top draws in jazz worldwide and Peterson himself habitually won every jazz piano popularity poll going. Why? Well, the change in 1958 from piano-bass-guitar to piano-bass-drums had allowed him room to develop the group’s leaner, grittier side and emphasise melody rather than bullish pyrotechnics. Night Train is the epitome of this approach: cool, funky, incredibly concentrated and well thought-through, it hangs together as a perfect modernist tribute to the funky roots of jazz, covering tracks from ‘C Jam Blues’ to ‘Moten Swing’ and ‘The Hucklebuck’. Canadiana Suite may be Peterson’s creative high water point, but Night Train defines him. (KS)

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Herbie Hancock: The New Standard (Verve)

Herbie Hancock (p), Michael Brecker (ts), John Scofield (g), Dave Holland (b), Jack DeJohnette (d) and Don Alias (perc). Rec. 1996

From the opening ‘New York Minute’ this album bursts with energy and creativity. Hancock soars and Brecker burns. Yet while the playing is exemplary, the choice of repertoire makes this album stand apart. ‘New York Minute’ is from the Don Henley album The End of The Innocence and songs by the likes of Steely Dan, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and Prince make this one of the first albums after 1990 to return to songs from popular culture once more as a basis for jazz improvisation. Yet they all end up as impeccable, burning New York-style jazz of the highest order and press the green light for other artists to follow suit. (SN)

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Roland Kirk: Rip, Rig & Panic (Limelight)

Roland Kirk (f, mzo, stritch, ts), Jaki Byard (p), Richard Davis (b) and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1965

Many maintain that Kirk never made the perfect album: if so, this one comes closer than any other, mostly because Elvin Jones is consistently lighting a fire under the quartet generally and Kirk in particular. The multi-reed man is also self-evidently inspired by pianist Jaki Byard’s playing and is consistently taking risks in everything he’s doing. I Talk With The Spirits, his flute album, came next and gave the world ‘Serenade to a Cuckoo’, while 1968’s Volunteered Slavery allowed Kirk to assault Burt Bacharach among others while giving him a new audience, but this one is the stone jazzer’s delight. (KS)


Thelonious Monk: The Genius Of Modern Music, Vol. 1 (Blue Note)

Thelonious Monk (p), Idrees Sulieman/George Taitt (t), Danny Quebec West/Sahib Shihab (as), Billy Smith (ts), Gene Ramey/Bob Paige (b) and Art Blakey (d). Rec. 1947

These early Monk sides almost sank without trace when first issued as 78rpm singles, and it was only because of a LP selection under this title in the mid-1950s that more than a handful of punters took any notice. Blue Note, though, were so into Monk that they’d done these three sessions in little more than a month, just to get the first small-group versions of ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Ruby My Dear’, ‘Thelonious’ and ‘In Walked Bud’ among others. With the possible exception of Idrees, the soloists weren’t up to the pianist’s level. Yet the miraculous Blakey is at his early best. (BP)

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Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil (Blue Note)

Wayne Shorter (ts), Freddie Hubbard (t), Herbie Hancock (p), Ron Carter (b) and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1964

Recorded a few months into his stint with Miles, this date finds Shorter on the cusp of his mature compositional and improvisatory styles and in the congenial company of Hancock and Carter, with Elvin Jones keeping it honest at the back and Hubbard providing his usual perfect foil at the front. In a sense this is Shorter’s essay on groove, but his angularity never makes it likely that the whole album would attain that ineffable level, or that he’d even want that. Herbie, of course, would do it without him a few months later on Maiden Voyage. So? Vive le difference, we say… (KS)

Feature: Wayne Shorter – Music of the Spheres

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Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim): African Marketplace (Elektra/Musician)

Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) (ss, kys, p), Gary Chandler (t), Malindi Blyth Mbityana, Craig Harris (tb), Carlos Ward (as), Jeff Jaywarrah King, Dwayne Armstrong (ts), Kenny Rogers (bs), Lawrence Lucie (bjo), Cecil McBee (b), Miguel Pomier and Andre Strobert (d, perc). Rec. 1980

Duke Ellington discovered and recorded pianist-composer Dollar Brand aka Abdullah Ibrahim in 1963 playing in a more or less conventional jazz manner, but it took a long time for the South African township music he evolved in the 1970s to be accepted outside of Africa. This album was one of the very first to be made in America and its impact was immense, its melodicism, warmth and simplicity brought something new and refreshing to the often overheated, testosterone-filled gladiatorial pit of small group improvising to established harmonic patterns. As Jelly Roll Morton had shown 50 years earlier, sometimes the best comes from a truly group effort. (KS)


Stan Tracey: Jazz Suite Inspired By Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood (EMI/Columbia)

Stan Tracey (p), Bobby Wellins (ts), Jeff Clyne (b) and Jackie Dougan (d). Rec. 8 May 1965

Tracey is indispensable, a one-man mission statement. Here he showed how much could be achieved within the basic jazz quartet format. Reaction at the time seems to have been along the lines of where on earth did this come from? Coherent, vital and mind-stretching, Tracey’s eight pieces provide a remarkable insight into Thomas’ great work but also into the creative process itself and the myriad sources jazz could explore for inspiration. With its jaunty, picaresque tunes and assured playing that reflected Thomas’ saucy, roguish book, the album is a wonderfully humorous work that extended the boundaries in a hugely subtle way. After this, there would always be more to jazz than just blowing. (DH)


Esbjörn Svensson Trio: From Gagarin’s Point Of View (ACT)

Esbjörn Svensson (p), Dan Berglund (b) and Magnus Öström (d). Rec. 1999

It was not as if the Esbjörn Svensson Trio came out of nowhere. They’ve been around since 1991 refining a distinctive collective voice that prompted a name change to EST. It took the UK, who habitually look to the USA for its jazz heroes, longer than most European countries to come under their spell, but this is the album that did it. Their attachment to deeply felt melody, unhurried intensity, framed with the Nordic Tone, and the comparatively unconventional, pop-like structures of their compositions endeared them to jazz and non-jazz fans alike, in the honest humanity of their playing. (SN)

Feature EST – Three Falling Three


John Handy: Live At Monterey Jazz Festival (Columbia)

John Handy (as), Mike White (el vn), Jerry Hahn (g), Don Thompson (b) and Terry Clarke (d). Rec. 1965

Fresh from the Charles Mingus band, Handy tore Monterey apart in September 1965 with this startling hypnotic modal performance that got him signed to Columbia, sending shock waves out to Charles Lloyd, Gabor Szabo, Miles Davis and John McLaughlin. Rooted in the free flow of Coltrane’s classic quintet with Eric Dolphy, the two side-long pieces open with Handy’s mesmerising unaccompanied alto statement that, four decades later still sends shivers, before Hahn and White erupt into fiery flamenco, middle eastern and rock-tinged directions unheard of at the time. Little wonder that in December 1965 they were the first jazz act ever to play San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium paving the way for The Fourth Way and the sonic zeitgeist that followed. (JN) 


Gil Evans: The Individualism of Gil Evans (Verve)

Gil Evans (p, arr, comp) with, among others, Johnny Coles, Ernie Royal, Thad Jones, Bernie Glow (t), Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland (tb), Julius Watkins, Bob Northern (Fr h), Bill Barber (tba), Steve Lacy (ss), Eric Dolphy (f, as, bcl), Wayne Shorter (ts), Garvin Bushell, Jerome Richardson (reeds), Kenny Burrell (g), Milt Hinton, Paul Chambers, Gary Peacock, Ron Carter (b) and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1963-4

A diffident self-promoter, Evans was only rarely coaxed into the recording studios to deliver albums that reflected fully his own musical visions away from the stars he wrapped in his sonic delights. This album is his most ambitious and deeply satisfying, covering his love of Kurt Weill, the blues, Spanish music and swaggering self-penned pieces, all of them dripping in the translucent arrangements that make you feel you’ve entered a uniquely magical musical land the moment the orchestra makes a sound. Seamlessly featuring soloists like Wayne Shorter, Johnny Coles and Phil Woods, this album is pure musical alchemy from a total original. The CD is a happily expanded version of the original vinyl, adding 27 minutes of excellent previously unreleased new music. (KS)

Buy album from Presto Music


Gerry Mulligan: Gerry Mulligan Quartet (Pacific Jazz)

Gerry Milligan (bar s), Chet Baker (t), Bobby Whitlock (b) and Chico Hamilton (d). Rec. 1952

Mulligan first made a significant contribution to recorded jazz through his arrangements for Miles’ so-called Birth of the Cool sessions for Capitol, but it was the 1952 pianoless quartet that hit the headlines and made him (as well as trumpeter sidekick Chet Baker) virtually overnight jazz celebrities. This album covers the initial (and best) sides the Mulligan Quartet cut, for Pacific Jazz, including ‘Bernie’s Tune’, ‘Freeway’ and ‘Walkin’ Shoes’, where the uncanny empathy between Mulligan and Baker is constantly underlined by the firmly resilient beat of Chico Hamilton. West coast jazz in its infancy and at its most joyously infectious. This is a Japanese CD reissue which more than doubles the original vinyl playing time. (KS)


Brad Mehldau: Art Of The Trio Vol.3 (Warner)

Brad Mehldau (p), Larry Grenadier (b) and Jorge Rossy (d). Rec. 1998

Voted best jazz album of 1998 by The Guardian and part three of a musical odyssey that comprises five volumes stretching from 1996-2000. More so than his previous albums, this was the one that put him on the map, as much for a version of ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ that turned Radiohead into Beethoven as his deeply haunting version of Nick Drake’s ‘River Man’ that hipped a legion of young jazzers to two fresh new sources of repertoire. Here Mehldau’s improvisations appear as variations upon variations upon variations, remote from their source maybe but entirely personal. In the process they lay to rest Bill Evans soundalike comparisons once and for all. (SN)

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Archie Shepp: Four For Trane (Impulse!)

Archie Shepp (ts, arr), Alan Shorter (flhn), Roswell Rudd (tb), John Tchicai (as), Reggie Workman (b) and Charles Moffett (d). Rec. 1964

Shepp was a member of Cecil Taylor’s 1960/1 unit that cut sides for Candid and Impulse!, but his first mature playing on disc is on the virtually unobtainable 1962 Archie Shepp – Bill Dixon Quartet album released on Savoy. Four For Trane demonstrates not only a shift in allegiance to Coltrane but a real gift for arrangement and a thoroughly original approach to his own playing at a time when everyone was copying Trane or Rollins. He may have got more radical later, but this was a 100 per cent proof shot of the new on its initial release. (KS)

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Count Basie: The Atomic Mr Basie (Roulette)

Count Basie (p), Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Wendell Culley, Snooky Young (t), Benny Powell, Henry Coker, Al Grey (tb), Marshall Royal (as, cl), Frank Wess (as, ts), Frank Foster, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (ts), Charlie Fowlkes (bar s), Freddie Green (g), Eddie Jones (b), Sonny Payne (d) and Neal Hefti (arr). Rec. 1957

First issued simply as Basie and illustrated with “a tasteful” mushroom cloud it certainly had an explosive enough impact as it was his first album to capture the rich ensemble sound as well as the beat. Some of the charts wear better than others, but the overall feel is timeless. ‘Kid From Red Bank’ featuring stride piano from the leader and ‘Whirly-Bird’’s shouting tenor saxophone by Lockjaw epitomise the uptempos, while ‘Splanky’ and Newman-and-Thad’s ‘Duet’ do it for the blues. And ‘Li’l Darlin‚’ proves emphatically that smoochy doesn’t have to mean smoo-ooth. (BP)

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Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Capitol)

Miles Davis (t), Lee Konitz (as), Gerry Mulligan (bar s), JJ Johnson (tb), Kai Winding (tb), Junior Collins (Fr hn), Gunther Schuller (Fr hn), Sandy Siegelstein (Fr hn), Billy Barber (tba), John Barber (tba), Nelson Boyd (b), Joe Shulman (b), Al McKibbon (b), Al Haig (p), John Lewis (p), Kenny Clarke (d),  Max Roach (d), Gil Evans (arr), Johnny Carisi (arr) and Kenny Hagood (v). Rec. 1949-50

The wonder of Miles’ career is the sheer amount of times he seized the moment, grabbed the right people, and got them to deliver their best creative thoughts for him. The first time was with Charlie Parker, but by the time he landed a contract with Capitol for some modern jazz sides with an augmented group, he was able to operate freely, pulling in the restless writing talents of Gil Evans, John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan and John Carisi to create a unified and superbly subtle backdrop for his emergent lyricism. The world is changed, part one. (KS)

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Peter Brötzmann Octet: Machine Gun (FMP)

Peter Brötzmann (ts, bar s), Evan Parker, Willem Breuker (ts), Fred Van Hove (p), Peter Kowald, Buschi Niebergall (b), Han Bennink and Sven Johansson (d). Rec. May 1968

Political statement, samizdat reflection on events or Janovian primal scream? Surely one of the most extreme albums ever recorded it’s a musical manifesto from the European free jazz underground, an answering call to like-minds across the Atlantic and rallying cry for those at home. The title track features “solos” by the three horn players and pianist Van Hove, each as ferocious as the other. ‘Responsible’, for all its atonal howling, ends with a fabulous latin vamp while ‘Music For Han Bennink’ squeals and yelps with joy. Machine Gun leaves you shaken to the core. (DH)


Coleman Hawkins: Body And Soul (RCA Bluebird)

Hawkins (ts) and many others. Rec. 1939-56

The trouble with Hawk is the same one faced by someone looking for an ideal single-set introduction to maverick genius Sidney Bechet – in such a long and protean career, how do you get all the best bits on one label? With Bechet it’s still impossible. With Hawk, you can just about do it. The great man’s original ‘Body And Soul’ masterpiece from 1939 is here, plus a telling number of tracks showing how he paced all the changes in jazz with ease and continued to grow artistically through the decades. The best of the later Hawk is on Verve, but this intro is nicely rounded. (KS)


Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet: Clifford Brown and Max Roach (EmArcy)

Brown (t), Harold Land (ts), Richie Powell (p), George Morrow (b) and Max Roach (d). Rec. 1954

Timing is everything. For two years this group was the cutting edge of modern jazz: by spring 1956 they had Sonny Rollins as the resident tenor alongside Clifford Brown’s dazzlingly innovative trumpet: Miles and Coltrane were still playing catch-up in their quintet. Then, a car crash claimed Brown and pianist Richie Powell and it was all over. This powerful set, containing classic interpretations of post-bop standards such as ‘Daahaud’, ‘Joy Spring’ and ‘Parisienne Thoroughfare’ is still the starting-point for post-Parker bop and mandatory listening for any subsequent trumpeter. The CD contains two alternative takes adding 10 more minutes of music. (KS)

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Horace Silver: Song For My Father (Blue Note)

Silver (p), Blue Mitchell, Carmell Jones (t), Junior Cook, Joe Henderson (ts), Gene Taylor, Teddy Smith (b), Roy Brooks and Roger Humphries (d). Rec. 1963-64

For the five years he held his Junior Cook-Blue Mitchell quintet together, Silver had the perfect combination of his high-quality tunes and a band that had a magic interpretative touch. They all played for each other to such an extent that the group became one of the true 1960s greats. Song For My Father features this group on two tracks, but not on the famous title tune, which instead ushers in the brilliant but short-lived quintet featuring Joe Henderson and Carmell Jones. No cause to fear: all remains in place for a classic that still casts its spell. (KS)

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Art Ensemble of Chicago: A Jackson in Your House (BYG/Actuel)

Lester Bowie (t, flhn, perc), Roscoe Mitchell (ss, as, bs, cl, fl, whistles, steel drum, perc), Joseph Jarman (ss, as, cl, oboe, mba, siren, g) and Malachi Favors (b, el b, banjo, log drum and perc). Rec. 1969

A spin on a fairground carousel that nevertheless stays on the side of art rather than entertainment. This was the record that showed that the sonic riot of the avant-garde wasn’t incompatible with riotous humour. Using anything from Dixieland riffs to bluesy drawls to classical intermezzi, AEoC create a mix-tape in which tempo, mood and idiom become shifting sands on a strange and beautiful landscape. Imagine William Burroughs cutting up sheet music instead of text and having skilled players somehow make the fragments sound coherent. A deeply subversive but sophisticated work that must have been highly informative to anyone from Zappa to Zorn. (KLG)


John Coltrane: Ascension (Impulse!)

Coltrane (ts), Freddie Hubbard, Dewey Johnson (t), John Tchicai, Marion Brown (as), Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders (ts), McCoy Tyner (p), Jimmy Garrison (b) and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1965

Still an unruly, flawed, controversial, and deeply divisive album 40 years after its initial release, Ascension set the pace and the tone of the avant-garde music debate right through the back of the 1960s, quickly becoming a cutting-edge touchstone across the arts – even John Lennon told interviewers “of course I’ve heard Ascension” when asserting his late 1960s intellectual credentials alongside Yoko. Today, the music remains testingly difficult, the hell-hot fire and chaos from Trane’s supporting musicians a clear indication of the times it was made in, yet it’s a titanic date that changed jazz forever. (KS)

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Lester Young: Lester Young/Buddy Rich Trio (Verve)

Young (ts), Nat King Cole (p) and Buddy Rich (d). Rec. 1946

Young was past his creative peak by the time vinyl LPs became the norm for recording purposes, but luckily a young Norman Granz snuck this session in during 1946 while Young was signed elsewhere, then sat on it until he signed Young himself in 1952. It catches Young in absolute peak mid-career form, accompanied by Nat King Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. With the spotlight for once firmly on Young himself, the intimate date exhibits all Young’s soul, elusive melodic and rhythmic invention, down-home drive and unearthly delicacy and shows just why he was Charlie Parker’s early idol. (KS)


Pharoah Sanders: Karma (Impulse!)

Sanders (ts) Leon Thomas (v, perc), James Spaulding (fl), Julius Watkins (Fr hn), Lonnie Liston Smith (p), Richard Davis, Reggie Workman, Ron Carter (b), Freddie Waits, William Hart (d) and Nathaniel Betis (perc). Rec. 1969

What a sleeve! The saxophonist’s meditative pose against a hazy burnt orange sun posits Karma as a healing sound for love children alarmed by the bomb, the bullet and the ballot. Coming out of the universal consciousness of mentor John Coltrane and borrowing some of the celestial majesty of his widow Alice, Sanders gets modal-hymnal on the enduring ‘The Creator Has A Master Plan’ and dazzlingly abstract on ‘Colors’. These heady cosmic grooves fed the creative fire of anyone from Roy Ayers to Lonnie Liston Smith in the 1970s and inspired the more discerning purveyors of pro-tools instrumental music such as The Cinematic Orchestra in the millennium. (KLG)

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John McLaughlin: Extrapolation (Marmalade)

John McLaughlin (g), John Surman (bs, ss), Brian Odges (b) and Tony Oxley (d). Rec. 1969

The 1960s was a decade when British jazz emerged with a strong identity with classic albums from the likes of Mike Westbrook, Michael Garrick, Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet and Mike Gibbs to name but a few. But Extrapolation is the most prophetic, not only as a stepping stone in McLaughlin’s career – from Extrapolation to Tony Williams’ Lifetime to Bitches Brew to the Mahavishnu Orchestra are indeed surprisingly small strides – but for how change in jazz in the late 1960s and early 1970s would shape up. This mixture of freedom (often “time, no changes”) and structure as well as the increasing sense of identity in McLaughlin’s playing framed by Surman and Oxley make for compelling listening. (SN)


John Zorn: Naked City (Elektra/Nonesuch)

John Zorn (as), Bill Frisell (g), Wayne Horvitz (ky), Fred Frith (b) and Joey Baron (d). Rec. 1989

This is a superb example of post modern jazz. Zorn, the arch post modernist, expropriated practices, fragments and signifiers of different, sometimes alien music and relocated them within his own brash expressionism. Thus there’s fleeting references to jazz, blues, surf guitars, film noir moods, country music plus short, sharp noise shocks all made possible by Bill Frisell’s versatile guitar. Using segue-like channel zapping on TV, one mood is thrust in harsh disjunction with another. The only thing certain about postmodernism is uncertainty, so we should pay attention to this music, because uncertainty in an uncertain world is shaping all of us. (SN)


Lennie Tristano: Tristano (Atlantic)

Tristano (p), Lee Konitz (as), Peter Ind, Gene Ramey (b), Jeff Morton and Art Taylor (d). Rec. 1955

Theorist, teacher, creative thinker and virtuoso pianist, Tristano had advanced and very firmly held views about what constituted good playing practice. He expected his musicians to adhere to such views and accept whatever discipline he imposed. That it worked for others can be heard in Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, and that it was influential can be discerned through Bill Evans’s absorption of Tristano’s methods. But Tristano’s own audience remained tiny, this Atlantic album containing his moving elegy to Charlie Parker, ‘Requiem’, and his controversial multi-tracking of his own piano lines, ‘Line Up’, providing a brief moment when everyone sat up and took notice. (KS)


Dizzy Gillespie: Shaw ’Nuff (Musicraft)

Gillespie (t), Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt (as), Dexter Gordon (ts), Clyde Hart, John Lewis, Frank Paparelli (p), Milt Jackson (vb), Chuck Wayne (g), Ray Brown, Curly Russell, Slam Stewart (b), Sid Catlett, Kenny Clarke, Cozy Cole, Shelly Manne (d) and Sarah Vaughan (v) plus many others. Rec. 1945-6

Those who only know Gillespie from his 1950s efforts onwards can have no conception as to the veritable force of nature his trumpet playing was in the 1940s. This CD collation of the earliest sides under his leadership, made for tiny labels such as Guild and Musicraft, will have your jaw sagging in amazement as he consistently delivers ideas that top even those of Parker. Just to keep it interesting, Gillespie also wrote some of the most enduring bop anthems, and many of them get their first outings here. These sessions, like the Parker Savoys, are the holy tablets of bop. (KS)

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Sun Ra: The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Volume 1 (ESP-Disk)

Sun Ra (p, mba, cel, perc), Chris Capers (t), Teddy Nance (tb), Bernard Pettaway (b tb), Danny Davis (f, as), Marshall Allen (picc, as, perc), Robert Cummings (bcl, perc), John Gilmore (ts, perc), Pat Patrick (bs, perc), Ronnie Boykins (b) and Jimhmi Johnson (perc). Rec. 1965

Ra had been making albums for his own label Saturn for a decade by the time this one slipped out via ESP-Disk, but this was the first to make a wide impact due not only to the unprecedented nature of the music (some tracks sound closer to Tibetan Buddhist music than anything being played in the America at the time) but also to the fact that ESP-Disk, a tiny label making a big noise at the time, actually got distributed outside of Chicago and New York and even made a splash internationally. Ra was on the vinyl map and never looked back. Next stop, Jupiter. (KS)


Sonny Rollins: The Bridge (RCA Victor)

Rollins (ts), Jim Hall (g), Bob Cranshaw (b), Ben Riley and Harry Saunders (d). Rec. 1962

There is a curious reluctance for some to acknowledge that Rollins came back from his 1959-61 voluntary exile a more complete and fascinatingly complex musician. The Bridge is enduring testimony to that fact: he has shed all stylistic baggage, leads from the front, plays with a new poise and freshness and with a unique identity that has stayed intact up to the present day. Although late-50s Rollins may be the stuff to get the critics panting, this was the template for all future Rollins creative ventures, whether  they be avant-garde or retro or just plain Sonny. Unbeatable music. (KS)

Feature Sonny Rollins: Albums That Shook The World

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Andrew Hill: Point of Departure (Blue Note)

Hill (p), Kenny Dorham (t), Eric Dolphy (f, as, bcl), Joe Henderson (ts, f), Richard Davis (b) and Tony Williams (d). Rec. 1964

Hill’s is of course a multi-faced talent – a brilliant pianist and improviser, he is also one of jazz’s outstanding composer-arrangers. This album emphasises the latter talents: he uses his highly personal sense of composition and instrumental colour much as Jelly Roll Morton did back in the late 1920s, bringing out sensational new sonorities and ideas between the select group of musicians he is using here and goading them to some of their most eloquent playing, individually and collectively. When those musicians include the front line we have here, that makes for some very special music indeed. Depending on which CD version you come across this can be a straight version of the vinyl original or contain two extra alternative takes. (KS)

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John Coltrane: Impressions (Impulse!)

Coltrane (ss, ts), Eric Dolphy (bcl, as), McCoy Tyner (p), Reggie Workman, Art Davis, Jimmy Garrison (b) and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1961 and 1963

This was Coltrane’s second scoop into the Aladdin’s cave of music he’d made at the Village Vanguard in November 1961. The first, released as At The Village Vanguard in 1962, had whipped up a storm of criticism and, through the blues ‘Chasin’ The Trane’, served notice to a new generation about the music to come. This one went even further – India threw open the floodgates to the east in jazz, while ‘Impressions’ is 14 minutes of solid gold inspiration from Trane and Elvin. The 1963 studio fillers, ‘Up Against The Wall’ and ‘After The Rain’, are two exquisite musical punctuation points. (KS)

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George Russell: The Jazz Workshop (RCA Victor)

George Russell (comp, arr, boombams), Art Farmer (t), Hal McKusick (as, f), Barry Galbraith (g), Bill Evans (p), Milt Hinton, Teddy Kotick (b), Joe Harris, Paul Motian and Osie Johnson (d). Rec. 1956

One of the most important jazz albums ever. Using just six players, Russell achieves wonderful orchestral textures within these 12 compositions, thanks partly to guitarist Galbraith, and introduces the world to modal jazz (and Bill Evans) en route. Strange new harmonies, polyrhythms, pantonality and extended composition – with Russell and Gil Evans, jazz just became a complete new zone of potentialities. More influential on the jazz community directly, on Miles, Coltrane and Oliver Nelson, than through its sales, this is the one that so many musicians still check out. A masterpiece of small group playing and a masterclass on the role of composition in the music. (DH)


Miles Davis: Sketches Of Spain (Columbia)

Davis (t, flhn), orchestra and Gil Evans (cond, arr). Rec. 1960

Miles already had two bona-fide large-group masterpieces for Columbia down in the plus column with Miles Ahead and Porgy & Bess by the time he and Gil Evans assembled this finely-drawn re-workings of classical pieces of music generally associated with Spain. At its core is the brooding central movement from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, but the poignant lyricism and incandescent colours Miles and Gil invest the other pieces, including a rare Evans original, with a singularity of vision and intent that makes this a burningly bright and unified achievement. Once more they’d broken the mould, for themselves and everyone else. (KS)

Review Miles Davis – Sketches Of Spain (50th Anniversary Edition) ★★★★★

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Stan Getz: Focus (Verve)

Getz (ts), Roy Haynes (d), chamber string group and Hershey Kay (cond). Rec. 1961

Nothing in the history of jazz soloist-plus-strings recordings could prepare the uninitiated listener for what this album delivers. Getz’s commission to his favourite arranger/composer Eddie Sauter was completely open-ended. What Sauter delivered was a suite that stood up as music independently of anything Getz might add melodically but that left him plenty of room to create the most gorgeous tapestry of sound and emotion, interweaving between all the richness of Sauter’s lean, expressive scores. Focus stands in glorious isolation even within the jazz tradition but is a certifiable classic within the genre that others still cite in awe. (KS)

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Chick Corea: Return To Forever (ECM)

Corea (el p), Joe Farrell (f, ss), Stanley Clarke (el b), Airto Moreira (d, perc) and Flora Purim (v). Rec. 1972

By the time he made this date, Corea had worked his way through a heavy avant-garde phase and out onto the sunlit plains of his own latin-based musical imagination. It had always been there in his music, but now, marrying the élan and high spirits of Flora Purim and Airto with his own naturally ebullient and melodically uplifting inclinations, Corea suddenly not only stepped forward himself past the stentorian gloom and machismo of the other fusioneers of the day, but redefined exactly what latin jazz should be about. Intoxicating music played by masters makes this an era-defining milestone. (KS)

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Billie Holiday: At JATP (Clef/Verve)

Holiday (v), Howard McGhee, Buck Clayton (t), Trummy Young (tb),Willie Smith (as), Illinois Jacquet, Wardell Gray, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young (ts), Milt Raskin, Ken Kersey, Tommy Tucker (p), Charles Mingus, Al McKibbon (b), J.C. Heard and Jackie Mills (d). Rec. 1945-47

People call Billie Holiday THE voice of jazz. However, her discography on vinyl is convoluted: her 1930s 78rpm output, where she was normally a featured singer rather than the star, had to wait until the 1960s to appear in any ordered way and the 1990s to appear substantially on CD. Ditto her 1940s Deccas. By the time she settled with Verve in 1952 her voice had darkened and lost its suppleness. This set of live performances from the mid-40s, however, finds her in good musicianly company, vocally at a peak and expressively in the mood to sweep all before her across a classic selection of material, including ‘Strange Fruit’ and ‘Billie’s Blues’. The CD configuration more than doubles the amount of material originally available on vinyl, though the sound quality on some of the “new” tracks is not exactly brilliant. (KS)


Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency! (Polydor)

Tony Williams (d), Larry Young (org) and John McLaughlin (g). Rec. 1969.

This bold attempt to expand the boundaries of jazz in a dramatic jazz, blues, rock, Hendrix, MC5 amalgam left temperate listeners shell shocked and critics speechless. Today, the mere mention of jazz-rock prompts cries from establishment critics of “sell-out,” but if this is selling-out, then maybe they should consider another line of work. This is jazz, rhythm and electricity writ large in a tumbling roller coaster of ideas. No wonder the album was called Emergency, with every member of the band having so much to say but so little time to say it. (SN) 


Cannonball Adderley: Somethin’ Else (Blue Note)

Adderley (as), Miles Davis (t), Hank Jones (p), Sam Jones (b) and Art Blakey (d). Rec. 1959

Adderley was about to push into the soul-jazz era when he made this one-off for Blue Note. In a sense it was a vale to what had passed between the altoist and Miles Davis during the time they shared the bandstand in the Miles Davis Sextet, complete with Miles’ compulsive borrowings from Ahmad Jamal and the delicate balance struck between the beautiful simplicity of the emerging modernist simplicity and Cannon’s natural ebullience. Miles got the altoist to shine through ballads and burnished blowing throughout, complementing in fine style while the rest of the crew kept a discreet distance. The Blue Note RVG version contain an extra track from this session. (KS)

Review Cannonball Adderley – Somethin' Else

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Charles Mingus: The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (Impulse!)

Rolf Ericson, Richard Williams (t), Quentin Jackson (tb), Don Butterfield (tba), Jerome Richardson (fl, ss, bar s), Dick Hafer (fl, ts), Charlie Mariano (as), Jaki Byard (p), Jay Berliner (g), Charles Mingus (b, p) and Dannie Richmond (d). Rec. 1963

Maybe you have to acquire a taste for Mingus before getting to this, but I’ve known people with significant non-Mingus backgrounds fall headlong for it at first hearing. Whether you come from Ellington or from Coltrane or from blues-bands, there’s stuff from this almost continuous suite to captivate you. Even techno fans – no sampling as such – will find early creative use of editing, recycling and overdubbing. Even more creative is the work of soloists such as Jackson, Byard and the amazing Mariano (later of ECM and all points east), and the unaccompanied flamenco guitar part apparently written note-for-note by Mingus himself. (BP)

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Ella Fitzgerald: Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (Verve)

Fitzgerald (v) and the Buddy Bregman Orchestra. Rec. 1956

Norman Granz had long cherished the ambition to have Ella recording for his label but had to wait until 1956 to make the signing. His first project for her was to record as many Cole Porter songs as they could lay their hands on in large ensemble style and release them (initially as volumes one and two) on an unsuspecting but quickly enraptured public. The idea caught on and Ella kept doing composer songbooks well into the 1960s. Nobody did it better, even though it could be said that Sinatra’s studious avoidance of such anthologies produced the greater individual legacy. (KS)

Feature Ella Fitzgerald: essential recordings

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Duke Ellington: Ellington At Newport (Columbia)

Ellington (p), Willie Cook, Ray Nance, Clark Terry, Cat Anderson (t), Britt Woodman, Quentin Jackson, John Sanders (tb), Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts), Paul Gonsalves (ts), Harry Carney (bar s), Jimmy Woode (b) and Sam Woodyard (d). Rec. 1956

Ellington often acknowledged that the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival offered him a virtual rebirth in terms of his in-person and recording career but there is little doubt as to why. Apart from the on-site near-riot after the conclusion of ‘Diminuendo And Crescendo in Blue’, this is a well-paced record for a lounge-chair audience wanting to know what the excitement was all about. The fact that 60 per cent of the original (including just about all of The Festival Suite) was recorded in the studio in the following days due to onstage microphone problems was only confirmed decades later. The original vinyl had just three tracks: this was also the original CD configuration. A later two-CD version combines much improved sound with the complete festival appearance, plus studio extras. (KS)

Feature: Such Sweet Thunder: inside Duke Ellington's literary world


Woody Herman: The Thundering Herds (Columbia)

Herman (cl, as, v) Sonny Berman, Pete Candoli, Conte Candoli, Shorty Rogers, Conrad Gozzo, Ernie Royal (t), Bill Harris (tb), Sam Marowitz, John LaPorta, Flip Phillips, Pete Mondello, Herbie Steward, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff (reeds), Margie Hyams, Red Norvo (vb), Ralph Burns, Jimmy Rowles (p), Billy Bauer, Chuck Wayne (g), Chubby Jackson (b), Dave Tough and Don Lamond (d). Rec. 1945-47

The 1945-47 Herman bands – they came to be known as the First and Second Herds – were 1940s big band punk, high on their own adrenalin, testing all the boundaries and playing stampeding music that remains some of the most exciting of the last fifty years, whatever the genre: these guys took the sophistication of Ellington, grafted it on to the bone-chilling excitement of the Gillespie big band soloists and anchored it with the insanely swinging rhythm section of bassist Chubby Jackson and drummer Dave Tough. This set, first pulled together on vinyl in the 1960s and re-jigged many times on LP and CD since, preserves the best of a truly great big band and its leader. (KS)


Jan Garbarek: Afric Pepperbird (ECM)

Jan Garbarek (ts, fl), Terje Rypdal (g), Arild Andersen (b) and Jon Christensen (d). Rec. 1970

From the opening track ‘Scarabee’, the jazz world outside Scandinavia was introduced to a Nordic sensibility in jazz, the Nordic Tone. Intensity, meaning and space are essential to understanding what is probably the most misunderstood approach to jazz improvisation. Garbarek combines the intensity of Albert Ayler and the economy of Dexter Gordon but reinscribes them with Nordic folkloric allusions, to produce, in producer Manfred Eicher’s words “an alternative to the American approach to jazz,” an approach he champions to this day. (SN)

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Jimmy Smith: A New Sound, A New Star (Blue Note)

Smith (org), Thornel Schwartz (g), Bay Perry and Donald Bailey (d). Rec. 1956

It’s that simple: Jimmy Smith invented modern jazz organ and this is the album (in fact, volume one of two quickly-released volumes recorded at the same February 1956 sessions) where he announced his arrival. From the off, Blue Note was looking for commercial success and his version of ‘The Champ’, though not the first Jimmy Smith Blue Note single (on Volume two rather than Volume one), delivered big time. By then the first album had delivered a blues-plus-bebop blueprint for the jazz organ trio that Smith would subsequently develop, refine and occasionally revise, but that stayed remarkably consistent in content and quality over the next decade. (KS)


Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life (ECM)

Pat Metheny (g), Jaco Pastorius (b) and Bob Moses (d). Rec. 1975

The first blooming of Metheny’s great talent as a recording artist in his own right came with this stunning trio which he led while teaching at Berklee School of Music and a member of Gary Burton’s group of the day. At this stage of career (he was 21) Metheny indulged Pastorius somersaulting on to the stage and doing back flips off his speaker cabinet, and this mixture of Pastorius’ exuberance and Metheny’s intensity, moderated by the impeccable taste of Bob Moses lends a freshness to this album that makes it seem as if it were recorded yesterday. (SN)

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Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto (Verve)

Getz (ts), Joao Gilberto (v, g), Antonio Carlos Jobim (p), Tommy Williams (b), Milton Banana (perc) and Astrud Gilberto (v). Rec. 1963

Funnily enough, this spring 1963 session was close to Getz’s last serious stab at bossa nova – he’d already had massive success with Jazz Samba and Jazz Samba Encore – but it turned out to be the musical perfection perhaps no-one had actually been looking for but everyone instantly recognised on the album’s release. This is perhaps the coolest, most definitively etched marriage of melody and latin rhythm ever achieved, and it was achieved by the towering genius of Tom Jobim’s tunes and spare piano accompaniment, Gilberto’s uniquely intimate voice and guitar, a rhythm section that breathes life and colour, all of it topped by the supreme melodist, Stan Getz. All that plus Joao’s wife Astrud as a last minute show stealer and you have a classic on your hands. (KS)

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Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage (Blue Note)

Freddie Hubbard (t), George Coleman (ts), Herbie Hancock (p), Ron Carter (b) and Tony Williams (d). Rec. 1965

A classic jazz album produced at a time when such albums seemed to be coming out every other day. Essentially the Miles Davis Quintet of the day with Hubbard pinch hitting for Davis (and playing as well as he would at any point of career) it contained two Hancock originals that would assume quickly the status of jazz standards. The binary 34-bar ‘Dolphin Dance’ and the modal 32-bar ‘Maiden Voyage’, with its pre-arranged rhythmic structure that is maintained throughout, will probably be played as long as jazz itself. Add to that ‘Little One’, previously recorded by Davis on ESP, and you have the concept album to end all concept albums. (SN)

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Art Blakey: Moanin’ (Blue Note)

Blakey (d), Lee Morgan (t), Benny Golson (ts), Bobby Timmons (p) and Jymie Merritt (b). Rec. 1958

Blakey was in on the ground floor when it came to the evolution of hard bop into soul jazz, having co-led the first Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver back in 1956. By 1958 he’d gone through a number of versions of the band, with this becoming the blueprint version for the next half a decade. With Benny Golson and Bobby Timmons supplying hard bop anthems such as the title tune, ‘Along Came Betty’ and ‘Blues March’, and the front line soloists refining their long, elaborate post-bop lines into the shorter and more pithy soul-based hard bop lines of the late 1950s, this Blakey band, and this Blakey album, defined soul jazz. (KS)

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Cecil Taylor: At The Café Montmartre (Debut)

Taylor (p), Jimmy Lyons (as) and Sunny Murray (d). Rec. 1962

Taylor had been a thorn in the modern US jazz world’s side since the mid 1950s with his uncompromising approach to music-making, but up until this live date recorded in Copenhagen by the Danish Debut label he’d not made the decisive steps into free playing that would revolutionise the very basis of jazz rhythm. Here, Taylor, Lyons and Murray race pell-mell into music without metric boundaries, throwing open a Pandora’s box of possibilities that would be investigated intensely by every jazz avant-gardist worldwide for the next 20 years. Additionally, Taylor’s supercharged playing on this date was the first glimpse on record of his ability to sustain such white heat over Coltrane-like stretches of playing time. (KS)


Bud Powell: The Genius of Bud Powell (Clef/Verve)

Powell (p), Ray Brown (b) and Buddy Rich (d).

Rec. 1950-51Two Herculean trio tunes – ‘Tea For Two’ and ‘Hallelujah’, both taken at breakneck speeds – make up the 1950 contribution here. With the benefit of extra CD space we get treated to two extra takes of ‘Tea For Two’, giving us an object lesson in how Powell developed his material as well as maintaining his incredible improvisational creativity. But the real jewels on this album are the eight solo selections recorded in February 1951. The level of invention Powell achieves puts this recital on equal par with anything in the recorded annals of jazz piano and makes it basic required jazz listening. (KS)


Modern Jazz Quartet: Fontessa (Atlantic)

John Lewis (p), Milt Jackson (vb), Percy Heath (b) and Connie Kay (d). Rec. 1956

It’s difficult at this distance, with so much noise and fury intervening, to credit the radicalism of John Lewis’ brief for the Modern Jazz Quartet, but back in 1956 they were doing stunningly new things in jazz in just about every musical area – form, content, arrangement, interplay and theory. They also had a secret weapon in that all four musicians were steeped in the blues and could wail whenever they needed to, thus obviating any tendency to effete noodling when things got a little formal. Fontessa was their first for Atlantic with the fully integrated line-up including Connie Kay: it delivered a perfect blueprint for the many MJQ advances of the next decade. (KS)


Wes Montgomery: The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (Riverside)

Wes Montgomery (g), Tommy Flanagan (p), Percy Heath (b) and Albert Heath (d). Rec. 1960

Wes Montgomery simply played differently from all the others. He picked the strings with his thumb instead of a plectrum, creating a fresh, warm sound – sensitive on ballads but incisive on fast tempos. His solos would move through three stages, beginning with single-line improvisation, then shifting up a gear with passages in unison octaves, before building to a climax with lines stated in block chords. The effect was stunning and like Charlie Christian two decades earlier, his innovations were to open up new possibilities for the guitar and be the inspiration for a new generation of guitar players, including George Benson, Pat Martino and Larry Coryell, who once played Wes’ own solo on ‘D Natural Blues’ to a surprised Wes. Every track on this album is a classic and his songs ‘West Coast Blues’ and ‘Four on Six’ have become part of the jazz canon. (CA)

Review Wes Montgomery – The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery ★★★★★

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Frank Sinatra: Songs For Swingin’ Lovers (Capitol)

Frank Sinatra (v), Nelson Riddle (arr, cond) and big band. Rec. 1955-56

Sinatra the jazz singer? There are vast swathes of Sinatra recordings that could never be remotely described as jazz, but the man himself credits Tommy Dorsey and Billie Holiday as his musical mentors and, when he put his mind to it, he could phrase and swing with the best. Additionally – and crucially – he influenced just about every jazz singer and musician worthy of the name between the 1940s and today, including such people as Lester Young, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, all of whom had listened very closely indeed to Sinatra’s balladry. This classic mid-50s session puts Frankie’s jazz credentials perfectly in order and throws down the gauntlet for everyone else. (KS)

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Jelly Roll Morton: Volume 1 (JSP)

Morton (p, comp, arr), George Mitchell (c), Edward Kid Ory (tb), Omer Simeon, Barney Bigard, Darnell Howard, Johnny Dodds (cl), Stump Evans (as), Johnny St Cyr (bj), John Lindsay (b), Andrew Hilaire, Baby Dodds (d) and others. Rec. 1926-28

As with Sidney Bechet, it’s devilishly hard to find a single compilation of Morton that covers all the essentials. This one doesn’t quite, but does it better than most, and also does it under the auspices of remastering from original 78s by John R.T. Davies, whose expertise in this area is legendary. Morton’s miraculous flowering in this period has to be heard to be believed, with his arrangements of his own and others’ tunes so multi-faceted, so imaginative and full of incredible creative drive as to be a collective body of genius to place alongside that of Ellington and – much later – Mingus or Gil Evans. Except he did it first. (KS)


Ahmad Jamal: But Not For Me - At The Pershing (Argo)

Jamal (p), Israel Crosby (b), Vernell Fournier (d). Rec. 1958

Jamal’s ideas about integrated and disciplined trio interplay had already deeply influenced jazz’s inner circle of musicians while his piano-guitar-bass trio was around throughout the early 1950s. However, things went supernova-ish when this incredible unit made and released this jazz best-seller in 1958. Nobody remained untouched by his light-but-tight approach, his winningly imaginative arrangements and his incredible attention to dynamics. The highlight may have been ‘Poinciana’, but every track is an object lesson in how to draw the best from a tune. That it was no flash in the pan is shown by the music’s drawing power and continuing fascination today, as well as its ability to influence every new generation of pianists. (KS) 


Weather Report: Heavy Weather (Columbia)

Joe Zawinul (ky), Wayne Shorter (ts, ss), Jaco Pastorius (b), Alex Acuña (d) and Manolo Badrena (perc). Rec. 1976

Sometimes, when listening to Weather Report at their best and this is one of their very best, it’s worth pinching yourself as a reminder that at their heart, this band comprised one of jazz’s most basic jazz configurations. It’s simply, saxophone, piano, bass, drums and percussion. Then, listen to ‘Birdland’, later covered by Manhattan Transfer and Maynard Ferguson, and wonder. Listen to the boost Pastorius gives the band, especially on his own compositions ‘Havona’ and ‘Teen Town.’ Reaching number 30 on the Billboard album chart, even today Heavy Weather remains as stunning in its overall effect as the day it was made. (SN)

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Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz (Atlantic)

Ornette Coleman (as), Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry (t), Eric Dolphy (b cl), Scott LaFaro, Charlie Haden (b), Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins (d). Rec. 1960

This one turned everyone around. Ornette set the musicians up in two parallel quartets, arranged some loose themes and collective playing to book end the entire performance as well as section off each solo, then let the musicians loose for a collective bout of improvisation that lasts well over half an hour reinventing the possibilities of jazz as it does so. The overall marvel of this record is that, while it proved to be so pregnant with ideas for those who followed in the next decades, the music grips the listener as excitingly as ever today. Some CD issues of this album contain the 17-minute rehearsal version of ‘Free Jazz’, called ‘First Take’, as a bonus. (KS)

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Dave Brubeck: Time Out (Columbia)

Brubeck (p), Paul Desmond (as), Eugene Wright (b) and Joe Morello (d). Rec. 1959

Brubeck rarely gets his due. A shame, because his good qualities are pretty special. For starters, he knew exactly the way to get the best from Paul Desmond, and for that we should all be down on our knees in thanks. Secondly, he’s a distinctive composer with a knack for melody, as this fine album demonstrates, even if the defining tune, ‘Take Five’, is a Desmond composition. It’s also important to stress Brubeck’s commitment to collective invention within his group: still an unusual thing in jazz in 1959. Put that all together and the unusual time signatures that mark this album out tend to pale in significance while the music remains convincing. (KS)

Review The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (50th Anniversary Legacy Edition) ★★★★★

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Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters (Columbia)

Herbie Hancock (ky), Bennie Maupin (saxes, fl, b cl), Paul Jackson (b), Harvey Mason (d) and Bill Summers (perc). Rec. 1973

It may have been jazz-rock after Bitches Brew, but after Head Hunters jazz-funk was the flavour de jour. Inspired by Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’ there’s even a tribute track on it called ‘Sly’. The release represented a u-turn of spectacular proportions from the more esoteric direction mapped out on Crossings and Sextant to an album aimed squarely at the dance floor which is where it scored. ‘Chameleon’, the single taken from the album (also a biggie for Maynard Ferguson), sped up the Billboard chart to number 13 and made this one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time. (SN)

Review Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

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Albert Ayler Trio: Spiritual Unity (ESP-Disk)

Ayler (ts), Gary Peacock (b) and Sunny Murray (d). Rec. 1964

Ayler made a couple of revolutionary records in Europe two years prior to this but the first ESP-Disk was the one that made the breakthrough in terms of reaching out and changing absolutely everything. The sheer wildness of Ayler’s sound, execution and ideas (hysterical trilling way above the normal range of the saxophone combined with body-blow honks and sonic booms from its very depths) was unprecedented, as was the frenetic free-rhythm accompaniment from Peacock and Murray. It was only later that his musical forms were grasped and understood. On release, the record changed every conception of what constituted cutting-edge jazz overnight and unleashed generations of imitators. But Albert did it first, and did it best. (KS)


Mahavishnu Orchestra: Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia)

John McLaughlin (g), Jerry Goodman (vln), Jan Hammer (key), Rick Laird (b) and Billy Cobham (d). Rec. 1972

Formed in 1971, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra remains guitarist John McLaughlin’s greatest achievement. It lit up the night sky for almost two years, everything was played at 500mph with the Marshall stacks turned up to eleven. It left audiences in awe, then suddenly was gone. McLaughlin redefined the role of guitar in jazz, Cobham the drums and the band set new standards in ensemble cohesion. They did it without sounding glib, a trick their legion of followers never fathomed. They also sold albums in pop numbers and played arena rock stadiums. Even they didn’t realise how great they were until it was all over. (SN)

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Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band (RCA Bluebird)

Ellington (p), Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Ray Nance (t), Rex Stewart (ct), Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown (tb), Juan Tizol (v tb), Barney Bigard (cl), Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick (as), Ben Webster (ts), Harry Carney (bs, bcl) Fred Guy (g), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Blanton (b), Sonny Greer (d), Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries (v) and others. Rec. 1940-1942

This 3-CD pack was first issued in the mid-1980s spotlighting Ellington’s most fertile and ground-breaking music. During the three years covered by this set Ellington and his musical doppelgänger Billy Strayhorn turned jazz composition and arranging inside out, often using the simplest of ideas and materials, as only genius can, but also presenting immensely sophisticated ideas in a guise instantly grasped by their legions of fans. That they had the assistance of such stars as Hodges, Williams, Bigard, Webster and Blanton only added to the music’s lustre: it remains an imperishable treasure. The slimline 3-CD 2003 RCA reissue titled Never No Lament: The Blanton Webster Band benefits from the latest remastering and research and is the version to get. (KS)


Louis Armstrong: Complete Hot Fives and Sevens (Columbia)

Armstrong (ct, v), Honore Dutrey, Edward Kid Ory, J.C. Higginbotham, Jack Teagarden (tb), Johnny Dodds, Don Redman, Jimmie Noone (cl), Barney Bigard, Happy Caldwell (ts), Lonnie Johnson (g), Johnny St Cyr (bj), Lil Hardin, Earl Hines (p), Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton (d) and others. Rec. 1925-1930

If Jelly Roll Morton represents the high water of New Orleans polyphony through his Red Hot Peppers recordings of around this same time, Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens reach out into the music’s future by allowing the incredible improvisatory genius of Armstrong to reach its first outrageous flowering. This music is bursting at the seams with vitality, Armstrong’s every solo seeming to overflow with uncontrollable invention delivered with an urgency that is never manic, always confident, forever breathtaking in its conception. Within this admirably packaged 4-CD set from 2000 (easily the best collective incarnation of this music on disc) Armstrong’s accompanying groups expand to meet his conception as the years go by while Louis himself keeps making that big picture bigger. (KS)

Feature Ten of the best Louis Armstrong albums


Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch (Blue Note)

Dolphy (f, as, b cl), Freddie Hubbard (t), Bobby Hutcherson (vb), Richard Davis (b) and Tony Williams (d). Rec. 1964

Funnily enough, although Out To Lunch has the iconic cover and evolutionary reputation, the real breakthrough Dolphy disc, Conversations, was made the previous summer, 1963, for the tiny FM label. Among other wonders, it contained the revolutionary 14-minute Dolphy-Richard Davis duet on ‘Alone Together’. Be that as it may, Out To Lunch represents another side of the Dolphy genius, showing him as a musician-leader intent on involving his entire group in the improvisatory process at every level and at all times. Of course, he remains the group’s most gripping player (he wrote all the material too) and his imitation of a drunk on ‘Straight Up And Down’ remains unsurpassed except by himself. What would he have done next? (KS)

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John Coltrane: Giant Steps (Atlantic)

Coltrane (ts), Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton, Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b), Lex Humphries, Art Taylor and Jimmy Cobb (d). Rec. 1959|

It’s pretty difficult to overestimate the influence this single album – or even more narrowly, its title track – has had on the development of jazz since its release: certainly the saxophone-bearing members of the world’s jazz community have found it and endlessly renewing font of inspiration. More recently, pianists have delved into re-arrangements of Coltrane’s elegant and distinctive compositions. The great man himself knew that this album was a culmination rather than a new beginning, but that probably accounts for its consummate artistry as much as any other reason: Coltrane was the most thorough of players. Some CD versions have as many as eight bonus tracks. (KS)

Feature John Coltrane – Giant Steps

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Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert (ECM)

Keith Jarrett (p). Rec. 1975

Jarrett burst onto the international jazz scene as part of the ground-breaking Charles Lloyd Quartet of the latter 1960s, moved on to running his own trio, briefly joined in with the Miles Davis electronic voodoo soups of the early 1970s, then retreated to acoustic music and a re-examination of what he was attempting to achieve in his music. This led to something of a temporary eclipse in his profile in the first half of the 1970s, although his creativity continued to diversify and deepen. An adept at solo recitals (his Facing You for ECM in 1970 was a strong harbinger), he began a series of in-concert recitals for Manfred Eicher’s label that attracted acclaim and increasing public interest, but no-one was prepared for what happened to The Köln Concert when it appeared. A long series of intensely rhythmical improvisations that became hypnotic and endlessly repeatable on turntables throughout the world, the album became a runaway bestseller by word of mouth, rapidly escaping the confines of the jazz listeners’ community and spreading into the living rooms of people who never ever listened to, let alone owned, another jazz album. This remains the case with Jarrett and with the record, which is not only a jazz turning-point in its own right but one of the biggest-selling discs in the genre. (KS)

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Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Columbia)

Miles Davis (t), Wayne Shorter (ss), Bennie Maupin (b cl), Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea (el p), John McLaughlin (g), Dave Holland (b), Harvey Brooks (el b), Lenny White, Jack DeJohnette (d), Don Alias (perc) and Jumma Santos (shaker). Rec. 1969

From whatever perspective you choose to view the 1960s – from the Cuba Missile Crisis to the rise of the counter culture movement, the student riots in Paris in May 1968 to the growing anti-Vietnam protests across the USA, the advent of the pill to the rise of rock music – established values were being openly questioned, upturned and in general shaken up. So in a decade when the leitmotif was change, it’s arguable that Bitches Brew was the album that shook the music world up most. After all, combining jazz and rock? Yes, there had been albums before Bitches Brew that did just that, but Miles Davis’ position in the jazz world sanctioned the union between two seemingly opposed bedfellows. With Bitches Brew the jazz-rock message was handed down from the mount on tablets of stone. From the title track with Davis, Shorter and Maupin emerging from the matrix of the mix before being swallowed up by this swirling electrical brew, to ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down’ with the trumpeter on the heels of Hendrix, the sound of jazz was changed forever. (SN)

Review Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) ★★★★★

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Charlie Parker: Bird: The Complete Original Master Takes. The Savoy Recordings (Savoy Jazz)

Parker (as, ts), Miles Davis (t), Dizzy Gillespie, Argonne Thornton, Clyde Hart, Bud Powell, John Lewis, Duke Jordan (p), Tiny Grimes (g, v), Curley Russell, Tommy Potter (b), Harold West and Max Roach (d) plus others. Rec. 1945-48

Parker, of course, made his most innovatory music on record prior to the invention of the LP, so every collection of his brilliant music from the 1940s is a latter-day compilation of the original 78rpm singles. Early vinyl attempts to collate his best material were haphazard at best, especially from the original Savoy company, so it wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that things got in any way organised and proper chronological reissues were successfully brought to market. These days, you can buy the complete Parker Savoys and Dials in a lavish multiple CD set, but you get all the breakdown, alternative takes and other bits and pieces, making it a trial for all but the committed Parker enthusiast. For those who want to know and shiver to the thrills of encountering earth-moving genius for the first time, master takes only, then this 2-CD set from the 1980s is the best entry point: you get Parker’s own approved performance, you get just the Savoys and you get superior remastering across just two CDs rather than five or six. Undiluted precedent-breaking music from Parker, aided and abetted by the best and most sympathetic colleagues of the day. (KS)

Feature Charlie Parker – Bird Lives!


Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um (Columbia)

Mingus (b), Jimmy Knepper/Willie Dennis (tb), John Handy (as, ts), Shafi Hadi (as), Booker Ervin (ts), Horace Parlan (p) and Dannie Richmond (d). Rec. 1959

Just as with the Monk at number six, this classic album also represented a career breakthrough. Recorded not long after his Blues And Roots, but Atlantic deliberately held that back for over a year because the bassist had signed his first contract with Columbia, the major whose distribution, especially to the white audience, was much more powerful. Ah Um’s release came in the same year as his first evening appearance at the Newport Festival and the start of his record-breaking residency with Eric Dolphy.

The present album, however, was a studio venture with a specially constituted group familiar with Mingus’ working quintets. Ervin’s contributions, for instance, ‘Fables Of Faubus’‚ and the gospelised opener ‘Better Git It In Your Soul’, are a definition of “hot”, while Knepper on the deliberately old-fashioned ‘Jelly Roll’‚ makes it satirical and serious at the same time. Similar things apply to ‘Bird Calls’‚ and ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, where Handy pays oblique homage to Parker and Lester Young respectively but don’t ignore the crucial reactions of the crisply recorded Richmond. Novice producer Teo Macero’s tight editing allowed for more tunes and more user-friendly presentation than on Blues And Roots. (BP)

Review: Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (50th Anniversary Edition) ★

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Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (Riverside)

Monk (p, celeste), Ernie Henry (as), Sonny Rollins (ts), Oscar Pettiford/Paul Chambers (b), Max Roach (d) and Clark Terry (t). Rec. 1956

Recording of Brilliant Corners began 50 years ago next month, making an impact hard to imagine these days. The first new Monk album to receive more than a guarded welcome in the press, the praise was entirely justified. Unlike his first two Riverside releases, respectively of Ellington standards and a bunch of other jazz standards, this was nearly all Monk’s own tunes and three of the four were new, none more so than the extraordinary title-track which gave so much trouble to the all-star cast who’d never seen it before. Rollins and Roach, currently making a success of the newly Clifford Brown-less Roach quintet, had worked for Monk before but both were seriously challenged by his material here. The less well-known Ernie Henry was in the pianist’s regular quartet and a post-Parker deviant comparable to Jackie McLean, while Pettiford was a pioneer bopper beloved of Monk except when they disagreed. Using the bubbly Clark Terry and Paul Chambers on a subsequent session was a stroke of genius, as was the unaccompanied piano track. And the whole thing was released just as Monk began his historic group with Coltrane. (BP)

Feature Thelonious Monk: essential recordings

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Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus (Prestige)

Rollins (ts), Tommy Flanagan (p), Doug Watkins (b) and Max Roach (d). Rec. 1956

Was Sonny Rollins ready in 1956? Was he ready! Apart from this masterpiece, he also lead from the front on Plus 4, an album featuring the Brown/Roach Quintet of the day in all but name, plus Tenor Madness (the title track featuring a head-on with Coltrane) and the exquisite Plays For Bird. But Saxophone Colossus towers above them all, not only because it concentrates on a quartet setting allowing undiluted access to the creative process of Sonny at his most inspired, but because it is one of those happy coincidences where all elements came off equally well, including the use of unusual repertoire and inspired originals. Rollins himself was clearly inspired enough by such material as ‘St Thomas’ and ‘The Moritat’ from Threepenny Opera to still be playing them in concert 50 years later. Nevertheless, it is tempting to call these original recordings definitive, if only because they do in fact define the essence of Rollins’ approach to improvisation, wringing every nuance and variation he can from the theme and its associated melodic and rhythmic patterns. The blues ‘Blue 7’ was famously dissected for such methodology by Gunther Schuller back at the time of Saxophone Colossus’ initial release but that failed to stop Rollins from another two years of super-human saxophone playing before his dramatic retirement in 1959. This is still the biggest-selling jazz album of all time in Japan. (KS)

Feature Sonny Rollins: Albums That Shook The World

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Bill Evans Trio: Sunday At The Village Vanguard (Riverside)

Evans (p), Scott LaFaro (b) and Paul Motian (d). Rec. 1961

None of the three men that made this music one fine June day in 1961 had any inkling of the impact it would have down the years: on listening to the playbacks LaFaro did mention to Evans that he thought they’d got pretty close to optimum performance, but that was about it. Two weeks or so later LaFaro was dead and Evans left with the ashes of his first great group. This album became Evans’ own personal choice of what he thought best represented the trio through the spectrum of LaFaro’s prodigiously gifted bass playing. The pianist obviously had great discernment because thousands of people have concurred with him since, naming this not only their favourite Evans album but the one that changed their lives (and in some cases, their careers). Why? Not only were the three trio members individually at their peaks on that particular Village Vanguard Sunday, but they interacted with quietly fierce invention as never before, certainly not on record. Equal partners, they sustained a musical dialogue on selection after selection that has rarely been equalled within the earshot of a professional microphone, with the astonishingly inventive LaFaro perhaps meriting the sobriquet of senior partner at times, so dominant can he be. This is hardly to downgrade Evans’ own contributions, all of which retain their depth and freshness today. The various CD versions of this set come in all manner of configurations, many with as much as five bonus tracks. Original is best, however, and you will not be disappointed by a CD containing the bare LP track line-up. (KS)

Feature: Ten life-changing jazz piano trio recordings

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Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz To Come (Atlantic)

Coleman (as), Don Cherry (t), Charlie Haden (b), Billy Higgins (d). Rec. 1959

I don’t know what it was about Ornette that led record company executives to go for the overkill on the album names, but by the time Atlantic released this, the altoist’s debut on the label, he’d already had albums on Contemporary called Something Else!!!! and Tomorrow Is The Question. Anyway, few observers of the day were bothered by the hyperbole, more by the claim that Ornette had any musical worth whatsoever. Of course it was a complete red herring, because although Ornette did have a profound influence on subsequent jazz developments, it was an oblique one compared with that of Coltrane’s or Eric Dolphy’s or Miles Davis’. What this album did in fact contain and represent was a completely different and fresh set of musical signposts within the jazz vernacular, both in terms of the stunningly bright melodic patterns Ornette crystallised in his vibrant and beautiful compositions and in his off-the-wall improvisatory approach. He also brought back to jazz that rough, keening wail and constant pitch variations of the most basic blues and folk music. Later we all learned that he’d cut his musical teeth on tenor in Texas R&B bands and it all made sense: at the time it sounded as if Attila the Hun had been resurrected at the Five Spot and in Atlantic’s recording studios and was in no mood to do deals. Ornette never did, either, bless him. (KS)

Review: Ornette Coleman – Original Album Series ★

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John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (Impulse!)

Coltrane (ts, v), McCoy Tyner (p), Jimmy Garrison (b) and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1964

No matter how many times you approach this album it’s always greater than the sum of whatever parts you compile. Yes, it’s perfect, yes, it’s ambitious, yes it crosses over far from the usual jazz conceptions, yes it is couched as a suite of meditations-in-kind that give it a formal design way beyond 99 per cent of jazz albums. Yes, Coltrane plays like a man inspired by something more than the job immediately to hand, as do the other three musicians involved, and yes the themes are unremittingly sober. But that only scratches the surface of this album’s achievement. You can’t lay it at the door of Coltrane’s aspirations, because good intentions often lead to artistic disasters in music as well as every other aesthetic discipline, but it is possible that his own complete commitment to his testimony of spiritual re-birth happily coincided with a day in the studio where he was truly touched to open his soul through the medium of his saxophone, for his playing on this record is almost terrifyingly open, intense and soul-shattering, even when he is simply stating a theme.

This is a very powerful part of the album’s pull, as is the tautness of each selection’s form, and it must also account for the hold it has sustained magically over listeners who otherwise venture rarely into any form of jazz, including the progressive rock fans of the late 60s and onwards. Within jazz itself, the album ensured that the music could no longer be considered a social or cultural also-ran, the spiritual and humanistic concerns that made up its inspiration demanding that it be treated in the same way as the master creations of the art-music of any culture. Nothing could be the same again. It still isn’t.(KS)

Review: John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters ★

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Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Columbia)

Miles Davis (t), John Coltrane (ts), Cannonball Adderley (as), Wynton Kelly (p), Bill Evans (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Jimmy Cobb (d). Rec. 1959

Ashley Kahn, author of Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, explains why Kind of Blue tops the list:

How does one properly gauge impact? There’s no smouldering crater in the case of Kind of Blue, Miles’ melancholy, modal-jazz masterwork. The 1959 disc didn’t arrive with a thunderous clap, yet four decades later, at the end of the millennium, there it was at the top of any and all “best of” lists, nudging aside so many rock, pop and hip-hop recordings.

Today, there it is on Hollywood soundtracks, an incontestable signifier of hip. There it is near the sales till, still moving up to 5,000 copies a week worldwide, outselling most contemporary jazz recordings. And there it sits in at least five million CD collections. Often it’s the one jazz title owned by a metal head or a classical enthusiast, not just the jazz-focused.

But perhaps Kind of Blue is better measured by the sum of the constituent parts. Five tunes, exceedingly simple in construction, exceptionally deep in evocative power, played by seven post-bop masters, all in their prime. A once-in-a-lifetime line up that makes the term “all-star” seem inadequate: trumpeter Davis, plus sax men John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.

Certainly, Kind of Blue must be measured by musical influence. Ask any number of influential music-makers who have been around, such as Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, and the like, they all agree. At a time when the music had “gotten thick” as Miles said, Kind of Blue distilled modern jazz into a cool and detached essence.

The motivation behind going “modal” in the 1950s jazz world was to break from established harmonic patterns (melodic, too) and make way for fresh, extended improvisation. Miles was remarkably successful in marrying musical opposites: 20th century classical concepts such as harmonic simplicity, exotic scales and African rhythms all in a relaxed, swinging groove.

Kind of Blue became the improviser’s bible upon its release in late 1959. For one of its joint creators – John Coltrane – it pointed the way forward: he led much of the jazz world into the 1960s after his modal lessons with Miles. At Coltrane’s side pianist McCoy Tyner adapted Bill Evans’ innovation of quartal harmony, the use of fourths on ‘So What’, to legendary results.

At the close of the 60s, the modal idea became the foundation of fusion jazz. It proved the same for a number of rock groups, such as the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and Santana, that used the electric guitar as the solo instrument of choice, and set the standard for generations of jam-oriented bands to follow.

“I think the implications of Kind of Blue we now feel everywhere, but it wasn’t as deep as they became over time,” says saxophonist Dave Liebman. “Name me some music where you don’t hear echoes of it,” Herbie Hancock challenges.

“I hear it everywhere – it becomes hard to separate the modality that exists in rock ’n’ roll, some of it could be directly from Kind of Blue.”

Write a book with as narrow a focus as one jazz album (let’s say Kind of Blue) and, trust me, one ends up thinking and rethinking the subject years after publication. My theories on why that particular Miles album maintains its hold on the top of various charts never seem to settle comfortably on one explanation. I feel the ranking of a musical masterpiece is one that should be open to constant rethink, even if the status remains the same in the end. Yet, especially in the mainstream press, the music chosen for those “best this” and “most that” lists simply falls in line with a long-established view with no question and little explanation.

For this reason and for others, I’m not a fan of top 10 lists. Or of 20, 100, or any number that would place one recording before another. Musical value and appreciation is far too subjective a thing to be ordered neatly on a linear scale. One-dimensional exercises such as list-making seem especially un-hip and unrevealing when it comes to jazz, the most porous and democratic of musics, open to all influences, granting all styles equal value and importance. At least in my view.

Of the many ideas I gathered for my book on Kind of Blue, there is one quote in particular that comes to mind whenever the subject of relative value arises.

“If you like Kind of Blue, turn it over, look who plays on it,” says keyboardist Ben Sidran. “If you particularly like the piano, go buy a Bill Evans record, buy a Wynton Kelly record. If you like the alto playing, buy a Cannonball Adderley record. That one record – it’s not even six degrees of separation – is maybe two degrees of separation from every great jazz record.”

My own introduction to Kind of Blue took place in 1976, a time when my teenage ears were filled with post-Woodstock rock, and the first bursts of punk. Springsteen was a recent discovery as was Bob Marley. One day a mate whose musical taste I trusted implicitly yanked a worn copy of Miles’ LP out of my father’s collection – which I avoided as a matter of principle and teenage independence. Holding it out to me, he declared it a classic. I looked at it anew and came to enjoy its mood-setting atmosphere. I also came to realise how narrowly I had been casting for new sounds. I had been standing on the shore of a vast ocean of musical possibilities, yet fishing in one small inlet.

I didn’t fully realise it then, but Kind of Blue helped me see the vastness before me and rejoice in its expanse. I’ve been sailing the waters, listening and learning, ever since.

If those 5,000 per week sales figures are any indication, I’m not alone. As a measure of impact – I can think of nothing more significant than the music that first unmoors one from preconceptions and the need to stay in one place. For this alone, for serving for so many as a portal to an entire world of creative music, I agree that Kind of Blue continues to earn its status as a number one.

Feature: Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

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