by Phil Freeman
Apparently April 30 is International Jazz Day. So as a way of subverting the canon-building exercises that are sure to go on across the jazz internet today, I’ve come up with a list of my own, based on the contents of my own iPod and CD tower. Here, just because I like you, are…
50 Jazz Albums Unlikely To Make Other Lists Of 50 Jazz Albums You Will Read On International Jazz Day 2012
- JD Allen Trio, Victory! – 12 tracks in 36 minutes. Concise, thoughtful trio playing led by one of the best young tenor saxophonists around. (Much more here.)
- Fred Anderson/Kidd Jordan/William Parker/Hamid Drake, 2 Days in April – A double disc of sprawling, sputtering, ferocious liveage featuring two killer, veteran saxophonists and maybe the best rhythm team in early ’00s free jazz. A high-water mark for everyone involved.
- Borbetomagus, Barbed Wire Maggots – This one’ll take your face right off. One of their most metallic, jagged albums, and with these guys that’s really saying something. Two saxes and a guitar; many, many pedals; no mercy.
- Anthony Braxton, New York, Fall 1974 – One of his friendliest albums. It was either this or The Montreux/Berlin Concerts, but “Opus 23B,” the wildly swinging album opener, closed the deal.
- Peter Brötzmann, Nothung – The legendary German reed-eater brings his saxophone to a blindfolded three-way kickboxing match with bassist William Parker (yeah, him again) and drummer Michael Wertmüller.
- Clifford Brown & Max Roach, Clifford Brown & Max Roach – Not everything on this list is gonna be skronky or intense. If you can’t get with “Delilah,” we can’t be friends.
- Don Cherry, Eternal Rhythm – A confluence of Euros, plus guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Two extended jams, two chances to peel the top of your skull off and let the sky in.
- Ornette Coleman, To Whom Who Keeps a Record – A collection of brilliant leftovers by the 1959-61 quartet, for some reason bequeathed to the Japanese until it was assimilated into the mind-crushingly awesome Beauty is a Rare Thing box. It’s been reissued by itself since, so you’ve got no excuse.
- Alice Coltrane, Lord of Lords – The greatest version of Stravinsky‘s “The Firebird” you’ll ever hear. (More here.)
10. John Coltrane, Meditations – Two side-long explorations, one harsh, one mournful and beautiful, both the sound of Coltrane ushering Pharoah Sanders into the spotlight.
11. Miles Davis, Nefertiti – The moodiest (and my favorite) album by the 1965-68 acoustic quintet.
12. Stacy Dillard, Good and Bad Memories – A young tenor player who reminds me of Hank Mobley. (More here.)
13. Bill Dixon, Thoughts – Trumpet, alto sax, tuba, two basses and drums. A series of subdued but sometimes heart-stoppingly beautiful pieces that bring autumn with them.
14. Charles Gayle/William Parker/Rashied Ali, Touchin’ On Trane – If ’90s free jazz has an ultimate statement, this album is probably it. (Much more here.)
15. Dexter Gordon, A Swingin’ Affair – Gordon is one of my favorite saxophonists, and this is tied with Dexter Blows Hot and Cool for my favorite album of his.
16. Grant Green, The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark – Green’s stinging guitar tone perfectly mates with Clark’s light, yet bluesy, touch on the piano. The 10-minute version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” here is eyebrow-searing.
17. Tim Hagans, Animation/Imagination – Trumpeter Hagans and producer Bob Belden meld jazz, drum ‘n’ bass, and raw energy into something totally unique. This album still represents an unexplored potential future.
18. Julius Hemphill, Dogon A.D. – Indescribable, really. Earthy funk meets nerve-jangling abstraction. A total classic, finally getting its due. (More here.)
19. Joe Henderson, Inner Urge – The fiercest (and the only quartet disc) among Henderson’s mid ’60s run of Blue Note albums, all of which are essential. “El Barrio” prefigures David S. Ware‘s entire career.
20. Andrew Hill, Compulsion – Extra percussion brings out the beast in Mr. Hill.
21. Noah Howard, Noah Howard Quartet – The alto saxophonist’s slightly Ornette-ish, arty debut, for ESP-Disk.
22. Bobby Hutcherson, Dialogue – More brilliance from Blue Note’s mid ’60s crop of post-hard bop innovators. Sam Rivers enlivens things.
23. Keith Jarrett, Fort Yawuh – A double live CD with plenty of groove and fervor, by one of the best bands of the 1970s (Dewey Redman on sax, Charlie Haden on bass, Paul Motian on drums).
24. Frank Lowe, Black Beings – William Parker‘s first record, and saxophonist Lowe’s fiercest. The most recent CD reissue offers radically extended versions of pieces originally cropped for vinyl, and the brand-new The Loweski offers 40 more minutes of music from the same night.
25. Branford Marsalis, Crazy People Music – My favorite of his 1980s/1990s albums. The tunes are better, the playing more friendly and less smirky than others in his catalog…just a fun, enjoyable, non-didactic record.
26. Wynton Marsalis, J Mood – The trumpet is the sole horn on this beautiful, bluesy album.
27. Grachan Moncur III, New Africa – After multiple collaborations with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean on Blue Note, this trombonist moved to Paris and made this killer album for BYG Actuel. Soulful, fierce, percussive and compositionally surprising.
28. Thelonious Monk, Monk. – My favorite album by my favorite Monk band. I’ve always preferred the Columbia albums to anything that came before, and this is a bare-bones masterpiece.
29. Lee Morgan, Search for the New Land – The title track is a droning epic unlike anything else in this brilliant, dead-too-early trumpeter’s catalog. Everything else is blues, groove and funk.
30. David Murray Octet, New Life – A later effort by the Octet, but one that’s strong enough to knock walls down.
31. Sunny Murray, Homage to Africa – The legendary free jazz drummer brings in extra percussionists and gets meditative, without losing his fierce edge.
32. Other Dimensions in Music, Now! – A tragically under-worshipped full-improv quartet who take Ornette’s ideas and Albert Ayler‘s, blend them, and launch them into the stratosphere.
33. Painkiller, Guts of a Virgin – John Zorn goes grindcore with help from Bill Laswell and Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris.
34. William Parker Trio, Painter’s Spring – A hard-swinging date featuring Other Dimensions in Music‘s Daniel Carter on sax. Proof that free jazz also offers the freedom to not scream in the listener’s face.
35. Jeremy Pelt, Soul – The best album yet by one of the best trumpeters around. (Much more here.)
36. Ike Quebec, Heavy Soul – So much reverb on the leader’s saxophone, it sounds like the microphone is rolled up in the carpet, but these thick organ grooves are unstoppable. (Much more here.)
37. Joshua Redman, Compass – In which an occasionally too-glib saxophonist doubles his rhythm section and makes the best album of his career.
38. Sam Rivers, Crystals – Known for small-group freedom, saxophonist, composer and general organizer Rivers assembled a gigantic band for this collection of finely honed mini-epics.
39. Matana Roberts, Live in London – An excoriating performance by a fascinating alto saxophonist. (Interview with Roberts here.)
40. Sonny Rollins, East Broadway Run Down – Every one of his albums is muscular, but this one, with its epic title track, is a bruising workout. The ballad “We Kiss in a Shadow” is the real keeper.
41. Pharoah Sanders, Izipho Zam – There are a lot of people on this album, but in terms of raw impact, it might as well be just Sanders on sax and Sonny Sharrock on guitar.
42. Sonny Sharrock, Black Woman – And speaking of…Sharrock took “jazz guitar” to hell, and made the flames feel terrific.
43. Archie Shepp, Fire Music – Big, swinging, roaring workouts by a saxophonist with little or no sense of subtlety, but hey, sometimes you just wanna shout.
44. Wayne Shorter, The All Seeing Eye – A more interesting composer than player, saxophonist Shorter’s best Blue Note album includes some killer tunes, but the best one, “Mephisto,” is by his brother Alan.
45. Walter Smith III, III – A young saxophonist with killer trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire in his band. Smart hard bop that remembers melody and groove.
46. Cecil Taylor, The Cecil Taylor Unit – The debut album by Taylor’s best band, one that created a unique sound blending jazz, modern classical, and frequent outbursts of almost rock-like drumming from the never less than astonishing Ronald Shannon Jackson. There’s an extended article on this group in Burning Ambulance #5.
47. McCoy Tyner, Tender Moments – A larger-than-usual ensemble gives Coltrane’s pianist a chance to expand his sound. Despite its title, this is not a ballad session – it’ll knock your chair over for you.
48. Buster Williams, Pinnacle – A funky record by the bassist for Herbie Hancock‘s best band, Mwandishi. Occasional vocals can’t wreck it, so you know it’s good.
49. Frank Wright, Church Number Nine – Two album-side-long tracks during which saxophonists Wright and Noah Howard attempt to out-shout both each other and pianist Bobby Few. If gospel music sounded like this, I’d go to church.
50. Larry Young, Lawrence of Newark – Organist Young’s spaciest, most prog album, leaving his appearance on Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin‘s Love Devotion Surrender in the dust.