Jazz

Sun Ra “Space Is the Place” (1973)

If you like your big bands disciplined, tidy and marching together, then Sun Ra is not for you. They just don’t play that way on Saturn. It feels much more like the band are tumbling down a hill, musical instruments all over, but they are all falling in the same direction and by some miracle they never thump into each other, but are always dodging around, falling through each other’s legs. The first track, the first side, is held together by a simple rhythm played by bass, baritone sax and bass clarinet, and a singer or two repeatedly singing Space Is the Place – but then they are assaulted by percussion, keyboards, shouts and just noise, a chaos of sound that is always threatening to spin the music away into the darkness of space. At times the rhythm does break down, but it always finally returns. At first I thought the 21 minutes was a bit excessive but as I returned to the music, listening to the constantly shifting tensions within the sound, I realised that 21 minutes was exactly what it needed. The album continues with variations of this tension. The featured trumpet, tenor and piano on the second track, “Images,” are calmly normal, as though from a good 1950s hard-bop band, but again the rest of the band set out to upset things: it is as though through Sun Ra’s piano solo the band are sawing away at the piano’s leg, just waiting for the crash as it falls to the ground. “Discipline” is the most intense statement of the basic tension, the finest track (perhaps it should be titled “Discipline and its Enemies”). “On Sea of Sounds” chaos has won, we are thrown away into the darkness – and it’s up to us to go with it and move through the music or just sullenly sit down and cover our ears. The final track brings us back, gives us some ground under our feet. –Nick

Charles Mingus “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” (1963)

Charles Mingus had always incorporated elements of modern avante-garde composition into his bop-esque and free-jazz/avant garde work while holding himself firmly within the jazz idiom. Here, he cast aside all the restrictions of both genres and meshed the two into an unbelievably complex, and yet emotionally and musically stunning magnum opus. Unlike Mingus’ previous albums, rather than being merely a showcase for different tunes which may have had little to do with eachother melodically and structurally, this cd comprises the six movements of a symphony, and the music and ideas flow into eachother seamlessly. My favorite moment comes during the third track, “Group Dancers” when, after Mingus hints at an amazing melodic figure on the piano, the full ensemble plays it in all its glory. Anyone who loves music is missing something if he or she has never heard this milestone of melodic ingenuity. –Zach

Cal Tjader “Amazonas” (1976)

A great Brazilian set from Cal Tjader quite different than most of his other work of the time. Although Cal spent most of his time at Fantasy Records working in a mixture of jazz and Afro-Cuban styles, he steps off here in a very Brazilian 70’s mode one that has some great links with jazz trends going on in Brazil at the time. Production is by Airto and arrangements are by George Duke and there’s a wonderful crossing of Rio and California in the set – one that uses keyboards from Egberto Gismonti, flute from Hermeto Pascoal, guitars by David Amaro, and trombone from Raul De Souza. Dawilli Gonga aka george duke plays some especially nice keyboards on the set and titles include a great version of Joao Donato’s “Amazonas.” – orgyinrhythm

Vince Guaraldi “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)

This is a near perfect Christmas album, and is rightly considered as one of Vince Guaraldi’s greatest works. In my house at least, no Christmas can be complete without this seasonal slice of musical beauty. From the first few notes it sets a mood so completely and utterly that the spell isn’t broken until the album finishes and the room goes silent once more at its conclusion. It’s a beautiful album which is as wistful and melancholy as it is joyful. Not that the music itself is sad, but there’s something about this album which never fails to get me choked up. Perhaps it’s the fact that this music is all tied up with my childhood memories of the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which has to be one of the bleakest, most depressing television programs ever foisted upon the impressionable youth of North America. However, all this heaviness is wonderfully offset by the gorgeous “Skating”, which has always been my favourite song on this album. What more can I say? For me this is a deeply moving and emotional album despite the lurid cartoon characters which populate its cover. Beautiful, essential, golden. –Deadlybreakfast

Miles Davis “In A Silent Way” (1969)

As a teen, I fancied myself a jazz drummer, and listened to plenty of complicated-for-complicated’s sake drummers, thinking that if I could figure out how to cram eleven notes into a three note space, I’d have it all figured out. And then I discovered “In A Silent Way”, and my mind was sufficiently blown. “Shhh/Peaceful” is entirely 16th notes on the hi-hat (and nothing more) and a two note mantra on the bass, while the best collection of instrumentalists available (Hancock, Corea, Shorter, McLaughlin, Zawinul) vamp over the top. Miles himself is restrained, compared to his other recordings of this period, giving the album a late night, quiet vibe. The best elements from these extensive sessions were spliced together from tape by Teo Macero to create two massive songs, in what could be argued as an early form of remixing. Simplicity. It’s an underrated thing, especially in jazz. –Cameron

Nina Simone “Emergency Ward” (1973)

I was a bit reluctant with this at first, mainly because this album is like 80% George Harrison, but GH was the true talent of the Beatles, so I guess if you’re gonna cover songs of one of the fab four, his make the most sense. God forbid she chose Ringo…. Somehow, I feel a 20 minute version of “Octopus’s Garden” wouldn’t hold the same potency as the belting gospel driven take on “My Sweet Lord”. For me though, it’s her take on “Isn’t It a Pity” that does it for me. This song is Nina Simone at the absolute height of her soul powers. Beautiful subtle vamping, super subtle bass for the melody to glide along, and her sublime warm and heartfelt, half spoken, half sung vocals. You really won’t find many tunes that melt the heart like her take on this one. –Ben

Wayne Shorter “Juju” (1964)

Modal jazz meets brilliant songwriting on this unbelievably strong effort from a young Wayne Shorter. Abstract at first, but completely catchy and whistleable after a listen or two, there’s just a sort of magic that happens when you combine this blend of otherworldly experimentation and clever, nearly pop blues-based hooks. Songs like “Deluge” and “Mahjong” play around with a theme just long enough to make you forget it, and then bring it back like a chorus. “Twelve More Bars To Go” is bright and airy blues in a familiar format, but the interplay and abstraction allow the soloists to wander away from the structure, to test the waters, and then return comfortably. Shorter’s tone is fantastic, his lines are lyrical, he along with the band creates a light and spacious mood that is bluesy, relaxed and on occasion serious, but is always engaging. The back-and-forth between he and McCoy Tyner is sublime, and the tempos are bouncy and spry without being pushy or demanding. Drummer Elvin Jones is at the top of his game, really showing some amazing soft-handed speed on the title track. All in all, a perfect post-bop record. –Cameron

Archie Shepp “Attica Blues” (1972)

Thunderous, joyous, angry, sad beautiful and swinging. All of this in forty minutes of music from Shepp. This is a remarkable record that has so many flavors. The free jazz of his earlier work is replaced by gospel, blues and R&B. The opener is an all out assault that literally screams from the speakers. The fact that his can be followed by a ballad of such tenderness as Steam shows the genius of Shepp. Human rights form a common theme throughout and may explain some of the energy within. Shepp himself sounds so much more fulfilling in a bluesy role. –Jon

Seriously funky! The title track makes Sly Stone look like Kenny Rogers. The rest reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron occasionally straying into freaky Melvin Van Peebles territory. Expecting jazz, this album really blew my mind the first time I heard it. –David

Roy Ayers “He’s Coming” (1972)

It takes about 20 seconds for you to realise that this is one heavy record. The opening keys and vocals on the reverential opener “He’s a Superstar” just kill it and the music doesn’t let up too much on the rest of the LP. So many great moments from Roy and Harry Whitaker here. I mean “We Live In Brooklyn Baby” is as good as it gets and “Sweet Tears” is one of those Roy Ayers jams designed to get you moving. In the 70’s this pairing had a formula down and worked it to the maximum without ever sounding tired or, amazingly for that matter, repetetive. One of the great songwriting partnerships in music. There are so many great Ubiquity LP’s from this period and you cannot go wrong with any of the classics as they all contain a killer track or two. I would say that this and the less heralded Virgo Red are the pick though. –Jon

Donald Byrd “Places and Spaces” (1975)

Donald Byrd made the transition from Bop trumpeter to jazz funk artist seemlessly and in the mid seventies he teamed up with the hottest producers in the genre, the Mizell brothers. This is the peak of their work together and is a jazz funk classic. Some traditional jazz critics never forgave Byrd for the switch accusing him of selling out. Nonsense and a narrow minded approach. Sure this is not jazz music but it doesn’t pretend to be either. It is simply fantastic jazz funk with the signature Mizell sound. As with all Mizell productions it is essentially their show and the sound is as familiar as ever. Characteristic vocal harmonies and well placed horn and string arrangements all feature heavily. What makes this Mizell LP stand out though is Byrd’s work on the trumpet. He had fully embraced this new genre by now and was the perfect player for this session. There are too many classics here to discuss but special mention must go to the opening two cuts “Dominoes” and “Change (makes You Want To Hustle).” –Jon

John Coltrane “A Love Supreme” (1965)

For the curious: This is the greatest jazz album ever recorded. For those in the know: This is not the greatest jazz album ever recorded. For Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Charlie Mingus, and Miles: You know I love you guys, but… the curious might be on to something… –Will

Terry Callier “What Color Is Love” (1973)

Quite simply one of the greatest records ever made. I cannot believe that it does not get greater attention. It really is the perfect marriage of soul and folk. Callier’s songs are at times joyous and at others surreal and almost sad. They are all delivered in one of the most gentle yet expressive voices there is. Another major part of this album is the production and arrangement of Charles Stepney who was the producer at Chess/Cadet records at the time. He has a wonderful sound that has influenced the likes of 4 Hero heavily in todays age. He is also heard producing the Rotary Connection classics from the same label. –Jon