Oliver Nelson “The Blues and the Abstract Truth” (1961)

This is one of those jazz recordings that managed to capture lightning — that is to say, recording magic — in a bottle. Its pacing is perfect, its arrangements sublime, and the first-rate players, all of whom would be worth listening to on their worst day, offer inspired work.

Nelson, a fine tenor player in his own right, is surrounded by extraordinary talent: Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Haynes. But this is Nelson’s album: not only does he play beautifully himself, he contributed the compositions and the arrangements, all of which have a note-perfect quality that could only be achieved by an artist in absolute command of his material.

Each tune is a joy in its own right, but the highlight for me (just ahead of the joyful “Hoedown”) is “Stolen Moments,” which has rightfully become a jazz standard. It’s a tune that never fails to remind me of the difference between a true jazz composition and a blowing session. In the latter, solos are taken for their own sake. In “Stolen Moments,” the solos are flawless, but each player extends on the previous statement. For example, the transition chord that Bill Evans plays between Oliver Nelson’s solo and his own is a perfect reply that shows how carefully he was listening to Oliver’s playing. The communication deepens the pleasure of listening to the performance.

Like Miles’ “Kind of Blue” and a handful of other jazz albums, “Blues and the Abstract Truth” could be put into a vault for listeners a thousand years hence to find. I’m sure they’d be just as impressed as the rest of us have been. —Tyler

Spellbinder “Gabor Szabo” (1966)

Take a Latin rhythm section and add a Hungarian immigrant with formal musical training and a love of Jazz and Gypsies. Then place in a recording studio in 1966 with a producer with the courage and deep pockets to let the music happen largely unplanned. Now add a touch of genius and a sprinkling of bad taste and you have Spellbinder. I have to say that I can easily forgive the vocal because it is so charming. It really is disarmingly silly. And the overdubs are out of place. BUT Spellbinder and Gypsies Queen are well worth the price of admission, and most of the other tunes are very moving as well. This is one of the most enjoyable, spontaneous and heartfelt guitar albums of the 60s. No, Gabor Szabo is not Jimi Hendrix or Johnny Smith. Let’s say he is to Hendrix or Smith as Scriabin is to Brahms. It is a wild and magical trip complete with an occasional Hungarian guttural. Relax. Close your eyes. Let it happen. Take the trip. —Mitchell

Nick Mason “Fictitious Sports” (1981)

One of the best Pink Floyd solo albums, but it’s not really fair to characterize it as such as it’s really a Carla Bley album that Mason agreed to put his name on in the hope of shifting more copies. (We can see how well that worked! Maybe if they had thrown a flying pig on…)

Anyway, it’s a superb record, and considering Wyatt was in sort of semi-retirement at the time this was recorded (he did very, very little between the ’75 Henry Cow gigs and the Rough Trade singles that formed the basis of “Nothing Can Stop Us”) it’s a great pleasure to hear his voice on the majority of the album. “I’m A Mineralist”, a simultaneous parody of sexual perversion and Philip Glass, is often cited as the highlight and indeed it is a very good song, but there’s honestly not anything bad on tap anywhere. Recommended to Wyatt and Bley fans. For anyone buying this hoping to hear some of the excitement and thrills of “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party”… WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? —David

Bill Cosby “Badfoot Brown & The Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band” (1970)

Believe it or not, this ultra-obscure 35-minute shot of heady psychedelic jazz-funk came from the mind and soul of Bill Cosby. Yes, THAT Bill Cosby!

A crate-digger’s delight, the album was originally released in 1971 and features two extended tracks (“Martin’s Funeral” and “Hybish Shybish”) the album does a remarkable job of bringing to musical life the tense, tumultuous, but ultimately invigorating era in which it was recorded. Cosby is no slouch on the keys; and though he is galaxies away from the man, the comedian’s bursts of electric piano at times recall Sun Ra. An oddity given its association with Cosby, the album remains an excellent slab of heavy, spaced-out jazz funk and will be of interest to any fan of the style.

Larry Young “Lawrence of Newark” (1973)

Even by Larry Young standards this is a strange album, which is to say this is a very very strange album, but also a very good one. There seems to be two different styles present on this album. Half of the songs are in a mystical psychedelic African fusion style, and the other half seem to be Young’s unique take on minimalism, with the different instruments in his large ensemble playing repeating riffs in forceful, and sometimes almost chaotic fashion. The unifying factor throughout this album is a very low-fi production and purposefully sloppy mixing that has instruments at strangely mismatched volumes. Always one to chart his own course, Larry seems to be trying to strip any gloss or sheen off his music by not allowing any sort of post production work. On a couple of tunes you can actually hear the tape machine start up mid-jam while the band is already playing.

Trying to describe this music is a bit tough, but let’s start with a mix consisting of a low-fi version of Santana’s Caravanserai, some of Sun Ra’s African grooves, John Cale’s rock-minimalism experiments with Terry Riley, Miles’ Bitches Brew with it’s constantly noodling instruments bubbling up from the background and possibly Keith Emerson’s distorted B3 extended psychedelic jams with the Nice. All throughout this album Larry’s Hammond B3 is run through a variety of reverbs and distortion devices, and he constantly manipulates the tone bars creating shifting psychedelic sounds that can instantly rush from a shimmering whisper to a full on roar.

This album isn’t for everybody, I think the lack of production values would be a big turn off for many, but for me the rough sound is part of this album’s appeal. Larry’s solos on here are powerful and creative as he proves he ranks high with the very best jazz fusion and progressive rock Hammond B3 artists. His massive ensemble is equally talented as the percussionists play hypnotic poly-rhythms and the saxophonists create counterpoints to Larry’s bold melodies. —JS

Miles Davis “Filles de Kilimanjaro” (1969)

Miles was cranking out about two studio works a year with this, his great 60’s quintet when “Filles De Kilimanjaro” was recorded, and he was about to embark on his groundbreaking “jazz/fusion” era of career. It’s a time of transition too with Miles adding electric piano, played here by Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, and Dave Holland providing bass on two of the cuts in place of Ron Carter. On this album, Mile’s mood seems to be much lighter than displayed on “Neffertiti” the year before. The soundscapes seem to hold much more color, and there’s even an element of funk beginning to creep in. As with just about everything this group recorded, the playing is flawless. My favorites are “Tout De Suite”, and the beautifully rambling “Mademoiselle Mabry”. This is Miles in a state of transition with his music to be sure, although I doubt there was ever a time in his career that his music wasn’t in transition. That’s part of being a genius. Here he begins to explore acoustically for the most part, the territory that he would tear wide open with electric instruments in just a few years. That alone is enough to make this great album important, but the music alone more than speaks for itself. —Tim

Chick Corea “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” (1968)

If you enjoy music, you need this album. When listening to this disc, one gets the sense that Chick is putting his entire self into the piano. The dark atonal passages delivered in perfect rhythm will send chills down your spine. The first two tracks, Steps-What Was and Matrix, are worth the price alone. Corea plays with the fury and passion of the 1960s in the language of European modernists like Bartok and Stravinsky. The interesting part is that this album also swings. Hard. Roy Haynes is absolutely fabulous as always, and has the perfect sound to accompany Chick. Miroslav Vitous provides an extremely powerful rhythmic and harmonic presence, as well as virtuosic, freaklike proficiency in his solos. This is an overlooked masterpiece, and one of the best trio performances of all time. —BKnola

Wayne Shorter “Native Dancer” (1975)

Native Dancer is a wonder of a record. Wayne Shorter is the greatest (especially soprano) sax player in the history of Jazz, and here, he plays at his best. The music is not really Jazz. Instead, Brazilian star Milton Nascimento sings and adds his unique wizardry to the lush, tropical mood of the set. There’s not a trace of Bossa Nova in this music but Nascimento’s idiosyncratic handwriting instead. The compositions sound natural, though, and not as forcefully “intelligent” as the music Shorter would record after this. The musicians (what a lineup!) cook up a unique sound; no one tries to show off, it’s all mood and sensuality. It’s useless to pick out tunes – the flow is perfect, and so is this LP.

Native Dancer has been slandered and overlooked even by Wayne Shorter fans, perhaps because it doesn’t cater for the preconceived concepts of the average Jazz connoisseur, but make no mistake, Native Dancer is a timeless classic, irrespective of the tags attached to it (Jazz/MPB). To me, it’ll always be one of the 70s’ definite highlights. —Yofriend

Miroslav Vitous “Magical Shepherd” (1976)

Magical Shepherd is one of the most significant releases in mid ’70’s electro fusion jazz music, and ironically remains largely unrecognised. It is most decidedly unlike anything that else Miroslav Vitous recorded, with funky bass lines and extensive tape looping. A collaboration with Herbie Hancock, Magical Shepherd expands beyond the usual format of fusion jazz at the time, and ends up (on side one at least) producing sounds more reminiscent of modern house and jungle music (check out the use of the disco beats and loops in New York city). The atmospheric vocals by Cheryl Grainger and Onike would fit nicely into any recordings by Goldie. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

If you like electro fusion jazz and do not have a copy, then your life is the poorer for such an omission. If you like Herbie Hancock’s electro fusion work then this album is compulsory listening. I have played it extensively on my Radio program and have always received calls from local club DJs amazed at the existence of the recording. As coordinator of [my station’s] Jazz Show it has become my personal mission to ensure that this recording gets the wide recognition that it deserves. —Peter

Charles Mingus “Let My Children Hear Music” (1972)

One of the more convincing attempts to fuse jazz with classical. Certainly an unusual album, even by Mingus’s standards (witness the sampling of an elephant in full-trumpet) but it seems to hold together in spite of the potential for catastrophe. There’s so much going on here that, however meticulously composed it may be, at times one can’t help thinking of the opening moments of Coltrane’s free-jazz masterpiece Ascension. Everyone of the instruments here is doing something worthy of attention at all times but there’s little one-upmanship. It is a collaborative effort if ever there was one. This is orchestral jazz in the most literal form. Musically there are times when it is considerably leaning more to the classical side of things than jazz, although classical in a cinematic sense. When you expect brooding horn swells, you’re never far from swinging brass bombast, and vice versa. If this is music for children, it’s for a darker kind of children’s story. The musical accompaniment to Mingus’s spoken-word story on The Chill of Death isn’t unlike an alternative film score for The Wizard of Oz, all dramatic flourishes and atmosphere in abundance, with moments of black humour throughout.

This is not a Mingus album for the jazz or Mingus neophyte, nor is it necessarily one for anyone who enjoyed Ah Um and Pithecanthropus and is looking for their next port of call. It isn’t typical of the works for which Mingus is most remembered. It is worth noting, however, that this is the album that Mingus himself was most happy with. If you trust the man’s judgement, you might find this being one of your favourites too. —Jaime

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’77 “Primal Roots” (1972)

As the title suggests, this isn’t another excursion into Brazilian pop. Here, there’s no pandering to Tropicália, disco or whatever was en vogue in 1972 -yes despite being played by the Brasil ’77, the album was actually recorded in 1972 under the alternate title “Raízes.” This is an album of traditional Brazilian music. The compositions feature traditional percussion instruments such as the gogó, cuica, pandeiro and atabaques. Much of the compositions emphasize the African origins of Brazilian music. While “Primal Roots” doesn’t sell out to commercial pressures, it is far from a field recording of traditional music. While some songs feature minimalist chanting and drumming, others feature those silky smooth female vocalists, flutes and some psychedelic keyboard work. Sergio Mendes may never be remembered in the same light as Astrud Gilberto, Airto Moreira and Gilberto Gil but “Primal Roots” will always be remembered as his ‘important album.’ —The Delite Rancher

Arthur Blythe “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” (1978)

Not just a great jazz album, but a great album, period. First of all, there’s the fact that this little masterpiece slipped out in the period in which Branford Marsalis seems to think that “jazz just kind of died” which is a nice little thing in itself. But as a record, there’s not just great tunes and great playing here, though they’re there in spades, but the way it’s constructed from the uplift of the leading cut “Down San Diego Way” down to the darker, troubling “Odessa” is a thing of note as well. Rare are the jazz guys who work hard at constructing an album as a total listening experience, so it always pleases me when it’s done well. But to go back to the beginning, and what makes this good jazz in the first place, is the playing and the tunes. Blythe has never sounded better on any record of his that I’ve heard – or anyone else’s record either. The brilliant and underrated James Newton is given loads of fine moments here, while James ‘Blood’ Ulmer is unusually restrained, playing mostly backgrounds and fills, soloing only on the closing track. Bob Stewart’s tuba gives a unique character to the ensemble, and his couple of solos are also fine. Rhythm is taken care of by the amazing Jack DeJohnette, who’s all over his kit, Guillermo Franco’s percussion complements Jack’s wild rhythms, and the amazing Cecil McBee’s bass provides the solid grounding that the whole group needs to make it fly. Simply a great album however you slice it. —Patrick