Top ten jazz albums

Another top ten. Because they’re Google-friendly, and part of this blog is about me experimenting to see what returns the most hits. Also, I’ve not posted in a few days and haven’t got any pressing ideas, having been making pancakes, watching Gilmore Girls, listening to British Sea Power and very little else this week.

Anyway, there was a little meme on Facebook that flurried through a load of the music writers and geeks I know just before Christmas, where people were listing their favourite 15 jazz albums. I got tagged in a lot of these lists, so I suppose people were vaguely interested to see what mine were. Or, y’know, wanted as many people to see and comment on their own lists as possible, to give them some positive affirmation regarding their own taste in jazz.

One thing that struck me about all those lists (all half-a-dozen or so that I saw) was how old they were, and how American. Which is pretty unsurprising given that jazz is an American idiom and the “golden age” is very, very widely considered to have passed a long time ago.

But even so, the people making these lists were people who I would imagine consider themselves to be very into new music, and the idea of slavishly picking 15 favourite rock records and them all being from the 60s and 70s would probably be anathema to them. Do they not listen to any new jazz? Any European jazz? Or is all new or European jazz actually just rubbish when compared to Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane?

Well I never really got Ornette or Coltrane anyway, and a lot of my most-listened-to jazz is both recent and European, so I thought I’d make my list. I am not, by any means, an aficionado or an expert; I decided to get into jazz at the age of 19 at the same time as I decided to get into red wine, my interest is superficial and my musicological understanding is very, very limited. But I know what I like. Here is some of it.

Dave Brubeck – Time Out
I owe a big deal of my affection for this to my dad, who isn’t really into music much but who does love this record, which can make him get excited about a drummer. If you knew my dad, you’d know that him getting excited about a drummer is a big deal. He loves this record because it’s awesome. I agree.

Miles Davis – In A Silent Way
I wrote about this for Stylus back in the day, and someone decided it was worthy of using as a quote in the Wikipedia page on Teo Macero, which still astonishes me because I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas
Obviously I’ve waxed lyrical about this plenty lately; it’s not just the best Christmas album ever, it’s actually just a really great, tuneful, enjoyable jazz album, too.

Polar Bear – Held On The Tips Of Fingers
I also wrote about this for Stylus too; my affection for Polar Bear continues, and I think this is, just about, their best album, still.

Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin
Oh look. Still radical, still exciting.

Charles Mingus – The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady
Unlike any other jazz I’ve ever heard, this is like stumbling across a band of gypsies in a forest performing some weird ritualistic play. With brass. And swinging bass.

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
So in awe of this record was I at university that one day, drunk, I spent £50 I didn’t have on the big metal-bound box. Which I subsequently sold off again because I needed money to live. Or, more likely, buy more records. It’s sprawling, cosmopolitan, metropolitan, it reminds me (now I’ve been there) of Manhattan. People comparing Kanye’s latest record to this disgust me. This is amazing and exploratory, provocative on its musical merits, not some tawdry shock-fest.

Louis Sclavis – L’imparfait Des Langues
When I ran a film & music library I was in charge of a massive collection of American music, mainly jazz and blues, and looking after that while in the company of someone who knew a little more than I about jazz was a wonderful way in to a lot of stuff. Sclavis isn’t American, but for one year a jazz course was run, and the lecturer ordered in a load of European stuff, including plenty of Sclavis, who I got really into. This came out after that course had stopped, and I bought it for myself; it’s dreamlike, unusual, astonishingly well recorded, and fascinating.

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay
A really awesome piece of understated, underplayed fusion; very cool, very groovy, very modern. Even if a hobbit likes it.

Cannonball Adderly – Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
A “fake” live album – they recorded it in a studio and overdubbed themselves applauding later, or something – this has awesome energy and tunefulness too, and showcases a time when a jazz song could be a radio hit. Those days are very much long gone.

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4 responses to “Top ten jazz albums

  1. Hold on — there are people who compare My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Bitches Brew?? Really?

  2. Yeah, I’ve seen at least a couple of people / reviewers do that. Can’t remember exactly who; probably because I’ve struck them from my memory.

  3. Re the Cannonball album: it was recorded in an LA studio with a live audience, but credited to ‘The Club’ cause the owner was a friend. ‘Sack o’ Woe’ is awesome.

  4. Why did I not put Tuesday Wonderland by e.s.t here? Or Modern Day Jazz Stories by Cortney Pine? Or Empirical’s eponymous debut? Idiot.

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