DESERT ISLAND LIST OF FAVORITE ALBUMS
I’ve been asked many times through the years to recommend a list of CD’s to friends and acquaintances who want to get deeper into jazz. If I were stranded on a desert island, these are the recordings I would have with me…..
SONNY ROLLINS “THE BRIDGE”
Overall, I love this record because of the feeling of completeness it has. It’s well known that Sonny took a period off from the scene to practice on the Williamsburg Bridge in solitude. The record is the result of his explorations. The whole record swings hard, but has a lightness to it that is incredibly attractive. The presences of Jim Hall and Ben Riley contribute to the creation of this vibe. Particularly unbelievable is the way Sonny plays the root of the tune (concert Eb) over and over in the first two choruses of his solo on “Without a Song.” This is the note with the least amount of harmonic tension in the tune, and he manages to create driving forward motion by moving it around rhythmically. This reminds me of the way Indian Classical music is played, which is a whole ‘nother story…….
Other recommended Rollins records: “Work Time,” “Saxophone Colossus,” “Way Out West,” “Freedom Suite,” “East Broadway Rundown”, “With the Modern Jazz Quartet.”
JOHN COLTRANE “CRESENT”
Trane played on a zillion records. Most of them are worth having. Of the ones he created as a leader, in my mind they tend to fall into two categories – “searching” records, and “finding” records. “Crescent” is the one for me that is his most consistently beautiful presentation of material that he found on his life-long search for music that had never been heard before. His playing balances long stretches of intense lines full of harmonic complexity with lyrically melodic phrases which make me exhale with pleasure. Also the level of trust among the players in this great quartet is extraordinary. The transitions from rubato playing into time in both “Crescent” and “Wise One” raise the hair on my arms even though I’ve heard them too many times to count.
Other recommended “finding” records: “A Love Supreme,” “Ballads,” “Coltrane Plays the Blues,” “Lush Life,” “Giant Steps,” “Blue Train.” Recommended “searching” records: “Live at Birdland,” “Live at the Village Vanguard,” “Transition,” “Meditations,” “Kulu Se Mama,” “The Coltrane Quartet Plays”, “Ascension.”
HANK MOBLEY “A SLICE OF THE TOP”
Hank wrote the music for this great recording while in prison, and had the unusual orchestration done for him, to be recorded when he got out. His playing is more charged than anywhere else I know of, and the compositions are tremendous. I’ve recorded most of the tunes from this record myself. James Spaulding and McCoy Tyner play inspired all the way home on this date.
Other Mobley records I love: “Workout,” “Another Workout,” “Soul Station,” “Roll Call.”
HERBIE HANCOCK “TAKING OFF”
This is Herbie’s debut recording as a leader. With Billy Higgins, Butch Warren, Dexter Gordon, and Freddie Hubbard, the music defines one of the great achievements of Jazz – five red giant superstars each managing to burn brightly, while simultaneously functioning as a team. I have recommended this album to many piano players as one of the best sources to learn about comping for horn players.
CEDAR WALTON “EASTERN REBELLION II”
This is the first record I heard Bob Berg on, and his playing here still moves me as much as anything he’s done. He’s one of the great post Coltrane voices, and plays inspired throughout the recording. I read an interview where Bob pointed out this record as one of his personal favorites when asked which of his own recorded works he liked.
Also recommended: Cedar Walton Quartet – “First Set”, “Second Set,” “Third Set,” “Eastern Rebellion I” (with George Coleman), Horace Silver – “Silver and Brass.”
TOM HARRELL “SAIL AWAY”
Tom Harrell has finally begun to get the recognition from the world at large that his genius deserves. He’s played on hundreds of records; musicians have known how great he was for years. The compositions here are all gems, and Joe Lovano sounds fantastic on this recording.
Others from Harrell: “Form,” “Labrynth,” “Passages.”
ABBEY LINCOLN “TALKING TO THE SUN”
Abbey is one of two singers who can break me up, the other is Elis Regina, listed below. This is my favorite of her records, mostly for the choice of material. I think of Abbey as a jazz musician, not as a singer. Her original compositions here are powerful, and her arrangements of standards are creative and exciting. My inspiration for recording “Whistling Away the Dark” on Live at Smalls came from this record.
I also love “The Maestro,” a Cedar Walton record featuring Abbey, and by Abbey as a leader – “You Gotta Pay the Band.”
JOE HENDERSON “STATE OF THE TENOR”
There was a time while I was living in Holland where I had barely enough money to eat, much less buy records, and one of the three records I had was this one. As a result, I know it backwards and forwards. The interplay between Joe, Ron Carter, and Al Foster here is so sympathetic, you can almost imagine them having grown up together. I think of this record as the one which started Joe’s career on the path toward the top of the new jazz industry of the late ’80’s and “90’s.
Other favorites: “Tetragon,” “Mode for Joe,” “Power to the People.”
THELONIOUS MONK “MONK AND TRANE”
For many, Monk is an acquired taste. If you think about it, though, jazz generally is an acquired taste, to the extent that real enjoyment deepens the more knowledge and experience the listener gains. For me, I didn’t get Monk for a while, but continued listening, and had an experience of understanding Monk that hit pretty much all at once. Finally his music made sense in my ears, and I’ve had tremendous pleasure listening to and learning his music ever since. (I had similar experiences with Wayne Shorter and Ornette Coleman) I highly recommend watching the Clint Eastwood production called “Straight, No Chaser,” to see Monk in action playing his own music.
I have almost all of Monk’s records at this point and recommend them all.
THAD JONES/MEL LEWIS ORCHESTRA “LIVE IN MUNICH”
This is the first album I ever recorded from LP onto cassette tape, back in the late seventies. Thad’s writing revolutionized arranging and composing for big band. I have friends in Munich who were at this live recording, and who claim it was out of this world, and that comes through on the album. I also love “Suite for Pops” among pretty much everything from the Thad/Mel band, and it’s current iteration, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
ELIS REGINA AND ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM “ELIS AND TOM”
Elis is the other singer who can make my eyes mist up and threaten to spill over, which I try, unsuccessfully, to resist, so as not to appear overly sentimental. Fact is, she gets me every time. This record has a moment where she actually giggles at the interplay she and Tom get on “Aguas de Marco.” It’s spontaneous joy, and even that makes me all unstable…..Gorgeous writing, arranging and accompaniment from Jobim, and a whole range of emotion from Elis. This is a classic not to be missed.
There is a lot more music that I have strong feelings about. Maybe I’ll create another top ten list some time down the line with a different theme so I can talk about some people not on this list like Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, Pete Christlieb………and many others.