10) Charlie Christian- The Genius of Electric Guitar
You’ve got to love the boldness of some jazz titles. Albeit this doesn’t come close to Ornette Coleman’s cockiness, it does show the direction Charlie Christian wanted the genre to take in the late 30’s and early 40’s when it was still in the moulding process into bebop. The songs flow together in an upbeat parade, but it is Christian’s shining guitar work guiding the players through that makes it sound so unique.
9) Ornette Coleman- The Complete Science Fiction Recordings
Firstly, this is hands down my favourite jazz album cover I’ve seen in 2016. I love how the fog and title blends together and informs the strange apocalyptic sounds Coleman puts you through. The most obvious thing about this album is despite Coleman’s obvious abrasiveness and own version of melody- this one is the hardest to ignore. Charlie Haden’s bass in ‘Law Years’ sounds as if it’s slapping directly on your shoulder. And Ornette and Don Cherry’s saxophone/trumpet partnership have never sounded so direct and angry.
8) Kamasi Washington- The Epic
I needed a bit of time to digest this mammoth album when it came out last year. I think I was put off by how high it was praised, and more thought it was more because it was a good jazz album in the 2010s- but wouldn’t have stood up to his influence, most obviously John Coltrane. I’m happy to say that I overcame this prejudice. Though The Epic may not exactly be breaking new ground, Kamasi and his team are obviously at the peak of their game and have carved a wonderful galaxy that I could float around in for a while.
7) The Necks- Sex
Being a single song, with the same bass line across the entire 56 minutes, you could almost mistake this for an ambient album. Hell I even managed to fall asleep to it. And it’s especially interesting how what to a new listener sounds as standard as jazz could get, with the piano going up and down a scale and everything fitting into line, this came out in the 90’s by the post-free-jazz pioneers the Necks. It accumulates a wonderful sense of peace and calm as if there was nothing left to say but the three bass notes continuing into eternity.
6) Jim Hall- Concierto
I first found Jim Hall through the Undercurrents album he did with Bill Evans. And yes, as with Evans’ piano, Hall’s guitar playing is so wonderfully white. From the crisp clean opening standard ‘You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to’ you know this album is not about pain, lovesickness or anything deeper than the guitar itself. Concierto is a wonderful album best enjoyed with a lazy Sunday breakfast.
5) Pharoah Sanders- Karma
I had the pleasure of seeing Sanders play at Ronnie Scott’s in 2016. And though he looked like he was on death’s door and mostly played standards, he did have a light breathy solo piece to start the set which made it all worthwhile. It may not have had the sheer energy as his accessible free jazz masterpiece Karma but it can from the same spiritual heart. Very quickly through the furore you can feel the love bursting through, almost more than Sanders’ spiritual partner Coltrane’s Love Supreme. And when the epic lead song ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ wanders into pure chaos you take an unusual comfort that you know Sanders will take care of you.
3) Stan Getz- Focus
If it wasn’t for me already mentioning The Epic before I would struggle to think of many concept jazz albums. And none more so than Getz’s sheer beautiful Focus that makes total sense as one. With fantastical pangs of Alice in Wonderland (‘I’m Late, I’m Late’) and childhood nostalgia (‘Once Upon a Time’ ‘A Summer’s Afternoon’) Getz pulls you down the rabbit hole and into an orchestral wonder that I can only really relate to you as like Fantasia. His tender saxophone is so clearly his, and yet so unique from the warm bossanova of Getz/Gilberto or sweaty rooms of Roost Recordings. I’m always blown away by the obvious beauty of this album and love coming back to it time and again.
=2) Alice Coltrane- Ptah the el Daoud and Journey in Satchidanada
I got into both these albums at the same time and have been inter-playing them so much it would be unfair to rate one above the other (although Journey’s artwork is about 100 times better than Ptah). After a false start with her notoriously tricky album Universal Consciousness I was immediately hooked on these two albums. They are experimental are strongly tap into Eastern vibes with ouds, harps and bells. Yet each have a strong sense of direction and don’t languish in their meditation but carve each step with a confident foothold. Ptah al Douad especially saved me on a Sunday afternoon in the autumn when I left a film that was truly so terrible and found myself hit by an existential dread of having absolutely nothing to do. That album held me together as I ended up having a great walk round the Lea River Valley.
1) Art Tatum- The Complete Pablo Group Masterpieces
I owe a fair bit to Coleman Hawkins’ Body and Soul for getting me into the old-timey jazz of pre-Davis and Coltrane. And this 6 disc body of work by piano virtuoso (and I really mean that word) Art Tatum was waiting to let me in. It may not have the power of Alice Coltrane, nor the emotion of Pharoh Sanders, nor the arrangements of Getz- but it has a deep sense of what jazz should be and what most would recognise jazz as, or at least as my dad said as we spent a great night with whiskey going through these standards. And that’s not to mean that the music is cliche or stereotypical, because it isn’t, while one pianist would play 8 notes, Tatum could squeeze in 32 and never sound the same. Instead it feels like the best kind of comfort food. Not the one that’s too rich or too exotic that too much might be overwhelming, but like really really good mashed potato, staple, warming and relatable.