It’s been a while since I’ve been on this blog! This has probably been more related to me not having much insightful to say on the music. So what better way to getting back into blogposting than to do a review on a genre I love but have even less to talk about!
Jazz has been a constant with me for a few years now on such favourite scenarios as: on the tube, while cooking, when sitting in the bath. They have the great quality have filling any scene so colourfully. Hell I’ve even got into reading about jazz! I got through Miles Davis’ autobiography, which was good if you could try navigating around all the times he beat his wives. I also read Geoff Dyer’s excellent ‘But Beautiful’ a collection of vignettes of some of the jazz greats’ sad lives.
So I’ve managed to whittle down to 10 the albums have stuck with me well this past year, hope you enjoy them!
10. Chick Corea- Now He Sings, Now He Sobs
Once you get past the insanely emotional/cheesy album title, you encounter a unique piece of work which immediately struck me on first listen. It also serves as a handy bookmark where Corea moves from the standards to the later fusion work that he’s better known for.
9. Ornette Coleman- Change of the Century
To start if there was a list of cockiest album titles ever Coleman would be miles ahead (lol). And it’s even funnier to think that Change of the Century almost seems to be competing with its predecessor The Shape of Jazz to Come in terms of overstatement. But what struck me about this album is that it was not so much trying to depart from the shape of jazz as Coleman would later do in Free Jazz or Ornette! but actually try to find his place in its canon. And it’s genuinely a pleasant experience, with his atonal style entirely at the forefront, to hear Coleman channel the music of greats like Dizzy Gillespie to create his own catchy vision.
8. Charles Mingus – Tijuana Moods
I had seemed to have gone off of Mingus for some reason last year. Maybe I wanted something a bit more subtle to hard-hitters of Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and Mingus Ah-Um. Well Tijuana Moods certainly wasn’t the subtle answer. But it is so full in its vision, range and theme that, in perfect fitting with Mingus himself, it was impossible to ignore.
7. Dexter Gordon– Our Man in Paris
Now while there’s some jazz musicians who I admire for their singularity and experimentation, Dexter Gordon I’d put as someone who plays the standards very very well. Our Man in Paris just has an enormous sense of good old fun in it.
6. Max Roach- We Insist! Freedom Now Suite
I discovered this album while watching Ken Burns’ excellent ‘Jazz’ series with Abbey Lincoln’s encapsulating the suffering of the Civil Rights movement in a piercing wail. I can’t think of any album more pointedly political, and with it more moving than We Insist. It is also an incredible concept album in its such as the triptych ‘Prayer/Protest/Peace as the best example, which makes for certainly uncomfortable listening.
5. Sonny Rollins- A Night at the Village Vanguard
Sonny Rollins has been my greatest jazz musician discovery this year. His live album A Night at the Village Vanguard perhaps best encapsulates his style. In one way his sound is so minimal that it almost seems nihilistic, as if he was teetering on the edge of a great abyss of nothingness (see ‘A Night in Tunisia’). But then why does it sound like they’re having so much fun as well (see ‘Old Devil Moon)? So though perhaps not intended to, this album is incredibly chilling and also one of the most refined examples of Rollins’ singular sound.
4. Coleman Hawkins- Body & Soul
Body & Soul really hit the spot for me of old-school jazz. Wonderfully slow and brimming with character with such numbers as ‘Beans Talking Again’ and ‘Woodyn You’. This compilation of Hawkins’ early works inhabits a beautiful world and its still a pleasure going back into it every time.
3. Ahmad Jamal- At the Pershing/But Not For Me
This was already a hot record for me at the end of last year, but it has just kept on giving. Jamal forges his own unique piano style, which takes the almost trickier route of standing out not through its abrasiveness but through calm precise assuredness. Every track on here stands out as a masterpiece, while also adds to creating this album that you almost have to pinch yourself that such perfection is in fact a live album.
2. Keith Jarrett- The Koln Concert
The Koln Concert is supposedly the best-selling live jazz recording ever. However, it’s so unique that you’d almost hesitate in calling it a jazz record. With a second-rate piano, Keith Jarrett spills his heart out over a live performance to such an extent you can hear his moans of ecstasy over the piano. It is just amazing to think that an hour of potentially the most graceful moment in someone’s life was recorded so clearly, so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
1. Herbie Hancock- Maiden Voyage
This is probably my favourite album of any genre this year, and also baffling to think that Hancock only recorded this when he was 24 years old (my current age by the way). Maiden Voyage is experimental without being overtly so, and instead seems to find subtle ways in time signature and scales to create a new world in this concept journey. Like the best albums I’ve found something new to it after every listen. Similarly it never lets you get entirely comfortable, but is always challenging your perception of what jazz is and should be. I love that I still can’t entirely place it, but as my friends know I can very easily recommend it. Special mention should also go to Hancock’s previous album Empyrean Isles which is mostly a prototype of what’s to come on Maiden Voyage and wonderful extension of the journey.