Sunday, January 23, 2011

5 Albums For a New Jazz Listener - My picks

The more I think about it, I realize just how difficult it is to come up with five introductory jazz albums. The scope of the music is so vast, and as been throguh so many changes in style, five albums isn't enough to represent that. Which period do you choose? Which artists should be included, or must be included. The style of music the prospective listener prefers would also influence the choices.

Under normal circumstances, most of us would find out those preferences of the listener and choose to compliment or contrast their normal listening pleasures. Without the benefit of that information, how would you approach the selections? Knowing if the listener was just curious about the music, wanted to understand more of the history of the music, or just start in with what is current, has a significant impact on the choices.

Since most modern styles never really seem to go away, my approach would be to stick with some of the classic releases, while trying to cover a reasonable time period, and a variety of lead instruments. Jazz has never been one dimensional, so this selection shouldn't be either. My selections cover the classic big band era, the cool period, the post-cool-pre-fusion to the early 70's, fusion, and post bop. Enough of the background, here goes.

  •  “Duke Ellington and John Coltrane”. Picture two of the biggest legends of the music in a setting where Ellington sits in with Coltrane’s quartet. The most influential composer and arranger with one of the key architects of the modern jazz. The songs are primarily Ellington compositions.
  • “Kind of Blue” – Miles Davis. This is generally considered the definitive jazz album. Davis is joined by Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, and Paul Chambers. The compositions are so simple and elegant, yet so timeless.
  • “The Great American Songbook” – Carmen McRae. At least one vocalist has to be represented. McRae has often been referred to as “the singer’s singer”. She uniquely reinterprets any song she sings. Conventional popular songs and standards alike, Carmen makes them tell their story in a fresh light.
  • “First Light” – Freddie Hubbard. This was Hubbard’s third release on the upstart CTI label. A number of session players from Blue Note and Impulse Records left those labels to become solo artists at Creed Taylor’s label. Large arrangements with full horn and brass sections, along with the sculpted engineering of the legendary Rudy Van Gelder resulted in a very radio-friendly sound for this label. The extraordinary talents of Hubbard in the forefront, this is one of the releases that took jazz from the underground into the mainstream.
  • A) “Man-Child” – Herbie Hancock, or B) “Romantic Warrior” – Return to Forever. Herbie explored the electronic fusion world of jazz with “Headhunters”, but had completely refined it by the time Man-Child was released. This was jazz meets funk in a big way. Same thing with Return to Forever. This was the third and final release for the defining alignment of RTF with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, and Lenny White. This took jazz in a rock direction. Both had artists across the genre scrambling to see how they too could capture lightning in a bottle.

So, those are mine. What are yours?

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