Jazz

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

Brand X “Moroccan Roll” (1977)

Any band or artist that was blessed with Phil Collins presence on the drums in the 70’s would instantly improve their sound. Brand X, of course, was no exception. In fact, If I had to choose one band to prove the greatness of Phil Collins behind the drum kit, it would be Brand X. As much as I love Genesis, it’s here that he seems most confident to create whatever he feels like and to develop a style with no restrictions. In Genesis he was brilliant on the drums, but he was always conscious of the boundaries imposed by Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks compositions. In Brand X he sounds like there’s nothing he can’t do. The other guys are brilliant as well, but it’s Phil Collins that makes them sound so tight.

The music is unmistakingly late 70’s funk-prog-fusion with a jazzy flavor. This is fusion that never becomes tiring and self-absorbed. It’s music for people who love to get lost in a sound filled with intricate patterns and cool atmospheres created by musicians in perfect control of their own vision and who know how to explore new boundaries without losing their sense of fun on the way! —Som

Eberhard Weber “The Colours of Chloë” (1974)

In the documentary Jazz by Ken Burns, Wynton Marsalis says that Jazz Fusion was a dead end, so Burns, ever a dupe of authority, leaves most of the great work of the 1970’s out of the documentary as if it never existed.

He and Ken Burns ought to have listened to this great album, a work of subtly, grace, and ethereal moods, using not just jazz instruments, but a complete range of orchestral colors. A masterpiece of style, and a template for the ECM sound as well, a place where jazz’s best attributes, technique, melodic playing, experimental strides, and lack of cliche, moved Jazz in a truly new direction. —Mark

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?
A Rock Listener’s Guide to Exploring Jazz

Growing up with rock, I heard some of my favorite bands incorporate jazz into their sound. From The Stones’ heavy use of brass in the mid-seventies to the The Dead’s free-form improvisations and the jazz-infused rock of Zappa and Traffic, the influence of jazz was all around me. Meanwhile a bridge from the rock section to jazz remained elusive. I owned the prerequisite recordings: Miles’s Kind of Blue and Brubeck’s Take Five, along with a handfull of jazz-funk classics like Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. While these records served as a decent introduction, the real appeal of jazz still mystified me and free jazz made me cringe in terror. Ornette Coleman would have quickly send me running back to the sanctuary of my Kinks records.

I decided to make an effort to broaden my knowledge and appreciation for jazz. I temporarily set aside my cherished rock records, emptied my iPod of all that I knew and loved, and I proceeded to feed myself a steady diet of things jazz: from big band and bop, to free-jazz and fusion. I knew that I’d walk away from the experiment with some new insight and possibly even rekindle my romance with rock & roll after our trial separation. My real hope was that I might unlock some of the mysteries of jazz and discover some new favorite artists and albums and I did! My feelings towards jazz slowly changed from curiosity to an insatiable appetite for all forms of the genre. I quickly learned that jazz, like rock, is a broad term with many definitions. Several of the artists (Ornette Coleman included) that initially caused me to scramble for my mute button have since become favorites. As this new language became more familiar I began to hear beauty where once I had heard noise.

For the purpose of this guide, I’ll concentrate on some of my very early favorites: All of these suggestions are experimental while remaining accessible. All of them are heavily influenced by other genres including Rock, World Music and R&B, making them early examples of fusion before that term came to mean its own genre. Collectively these records created a bridge to a world that I’m still exploring today and all of them reserve a special place in my increasingly eclectic music collection:

1. Yusef Lateef The Blue Yusef Lateef (1969). If there was ever an album to sum up the true meaning of the term “fusion”, it would have to be this one. Multi-reedman/instrumentalist Yusef Lateef blended together this collage of world music, R&B, jazz, rock, gospel, and of course the blues and came up with this astounding piece of work. With the strange instrumentation alongside some great sidemen, this album continues to evolve. From the opening track, “Juba Juba” – ghostly female vocal chants in the background of a pounding drumbeat and crying harmonica that beckons the blues in its purest, to the crazy vocal scatting and frantic flute fluctuations of “Moon Cup”. Another bonus is guitarist Kenny Burrell, who shows up with some gritty and swinging licks throughout. There’s something for everyone on this exceedingly overlooked and esoteric record.

2. Rahsaan Roland Kirk Inflated Tear (1967). The blind, multi-reedman (sometimes playing several horns at once!) covers a broad spectrum of styles on this record and is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Set aside any preconceptions you have about jazz and strap yourself in. This record is a wild ride!  Inflated Tear incorporates New Orleans roots, swing and bebop, call and response blues and gospel, double sax playing, and strange whistle noises, and the abstraction of the 1960s and 1970s avant-garde.

3. Les McCann Layers (1973). This is one of McCann’s more experimental records offering a smooth funkiness (Lets Play) juxtaposed alongside some eccentric tone poems performed on the moog synthesizer (Interlude) creating a soulful, psychedelic mood. All of the elements on this album still sound fresh while expertly blurring the lines between jazz, rock, and soul. Equally impressive is that McCann plays nearly every instrument due to his new found passion, the Arp 2600 Synthesizer.

4. Gabor Szabo Dreams (1969) Hungarian guitarist, Gabor Szabo, reaches a creative high on Dreams, a psychedelic-tinged, jazz-rock hybrid that will definitely please the rock listeners reading this guide. The record features a combination of rock covers and jazz originals along with the interesting flourishes of Hungarian and Indian melodies that would resurface throughout his career. This is a beautiful, haunting record and the Aubrey Beardsley-inspired artwork on its cover suits the mysterious music inside perfectly.

5. Miles Davis Jack Johnson (1971). This is a given for any rock-based jazz recommendation. Davis’ soundtrack for the movie/documentary about the boxer Jack Johnson feels like you took a right hook to the chin as soon as the needle hits the wax. This record is Miles’ hardest rocking and biting of all of his electric work, thanks to John McLaughlin’s barking guitar riffs and drummer Billy Cobham’s changing tempos and R&B grooves. Herbie Hancock provides atmospheric organ textures that make it spacey and slightly psychedelic. This is a lot more stripped down than his earlier (and later) electric work and manages to swing with rocking vigor. This is a great rock record that fits in the jazz bins.

6. Herbie Mann Stone Flute (1970). This long-time Jive Time favorite is a departure for the famous, furry flautist. Known mostly for his accessible, light instrumental R&B and pop covers, Mann comes out with this trippy record; Mellow, with a dark, placid theme, this album drones and simmers with a cast of veterans. Guitarist Sonny Sharrock plays dissonant minor chords while Ron Carter aimlessly plucks and bows searching bass lines. Roy Ayers’ vibes provide a breezy element bringing irony to the melancholic feel.  It’s all held together with a small string section in the background that always seems to show up at the wrong time- in the right way. If you have to own one Mann record, this is the one.  A somber, twisted interpretation of The Beatles’ “Flying” is an interesting highlight.

7. Duke Ellington Far East Suite (1966). As the title suggests, the exotic melodies on this record will make one rethink their preconceptions of Duke Ellington and big band jazz. The King continued to explore and stay relevant into the sixties recording with exploring luminaries such as Coltrane and Mingus. As an already established jazz legend, Far East Suite is an example of how Ellington was not only a master composer and interpreter but was fearless and exploratory.  The music on Far East Suite is at the same time accessible yet sinister and noir-esque. It was also years ahead of its time rhythmically — you can almost hear hip-hop beats on “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues).”

For further listening: More than any other artist, Miles Davis, helped bridge the gap between rock and jazz and his entire discography is worthy of exploration. Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew get the lion’s share of the press but I prefer the spacious A Silent Way, the funky Miles in the Sky, and the dark jazz-funk-rock hybrid On The Corner (which still manages to sound unlike anything else I’ve heard before or since), along with Jack Johnson listed above. We could dedicate an entire guide to John Coltrane but his seldom mentioned Atlantic recording Olé is a Jive Time favorite and it fits neatly in this list with it’s haunting, eighteen minute title track featuring Coltrane and Eric Dolphy shaping some amazing tones around the drone and pulse of two basses. Larry Young is best known for this hard-bop recordings for Blue Note but I suggest tracking down the obscure The Lawrence of Newark on Perception, one of the finest examples of jazz-rock fusion I’ve found. Another route would be to explore ECM Records’ catalog. ECM sometimes gets a bad rap for straying into New Age territory , but for those interested in early examples of fusion this German label offers some of the very finest examples. (Read our guide to ECM jazz, Quiet Chaos.)

I may never have the same visceral response to jazz the way I do sentimental favorites Back in BlackExile on Main St or Village Green, but I enjoy jazz in a much different way. Jazz relies less on immediate accessibility, it challenges the listener, leaving it open to the individual’s own interpretation. Best of all, my exploration of this vast genre has recaptured some of the excitement that I experienced when I first discovered rock and punk as a teenager. —David

Rahsaan Roland Kirk “Prepare Thyself to Deal With a Miracle” (1973)

If Rahsaan Roland Kirk truly was a god (you’ll have to grant me this assumption), Prepare Thyself is his book of Isaiah, a document that ties together the history of his people, their current challenges and predicaments, all the while pointing to a glorious future. Classical, blues, Romantic, free, modal, bop: Kirk masters it all, tamps and shapes it into a heroic, tender Black Music.

“Saxophone Concerto” is the fireworks show on the record; Kirk blows for 20 minutes continually amid a din of dancing styles. In places it sounds like circus music, but really, Kirk’s running you down with the whole troupe (bop, chant, free), pointing out the mastery in the chaos with his fiery sax leads. It’s a story of awakening, of talent leading to craftsmanship leading to personal and cosmic freedom. The end is an ocean of drone and liberty. I’m straining here- listen to the record. There’s more. “Salvation and Reminiscing” is a ghost’s workout, his vocalists hauntingly echo his minor-key phrases, before a roiling string section (complete with chimes and timpani) chases Kirk through the woods. He goes through a tonal workout before echoing the strings’ theme, which then gets resolved in a most cinematic manner. There’s still more. “Seasons” puts every post-rock band to shame with its main section. After a folksy duet ‘tween nose flute and what sounds like finger cymbals, Rahsaan coos softly above a plucked bass, lurching between the same two or three evocative notes. Soon, Kirk is pushing the limits of his flute, aspirating loudly, groaning and muttering like a floor-bound Pentacostal. But it’s all joy. I hear snips of what could be him saying “aw yeah”; regardless, he sounds happy as hell, completely peaceful and in control of a fucking cloud machine. For ten minutes, he captivates with an expression of pure awe and a simplistic background that puts today’s guitar-bound clods to shame. I can’t recommend this record enough. —Silent Mike

Miles Davis “Dark Magus” (1977)

Imagine this – on one shoulder sits Curtis Mayfield, with white wings, white robe, pointing Miles in the direction of Heaven, on the other sits Charlie Parker caked in darkness, promising Miles the sun, moon, anything he wants if he will give in to temptation only once more. Then it begins. Underground Davis, at this grey grisly juncture, cuts a reclusive figure, like someone who shuts the door as soon as the music stops, dealing with his own externally silent internally pounding vices and saviours. His band, long departed from days of inch wide ties and handmade leather shoes sound like they were dragged from ‘Live and Let Die’, those intoxicating rhythmic thrusts evocative of severed goat heads and glistening snakes, Michael Henderson hypnotising himself on his own heavy fingered, staccato bass lines, Davis appearing from behind a headstone to insert his conniving fills and then return to his organ to mediate to his darkness and light sponsors. Just think, anyone one of these guys could grab you just like that and you might never be the same again if you are lucky to return, Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey’s guitar lines soundtrack to rainy November night terrors, Azar Lawrence’s tenor sax so stifling in tone you could pass out. Joking aside if it got any more nauseatingly bleak it would make ‘Bitches Brew’ sound like an episode of ‘The Brady Bunch’. —KildareJohn

Herbie Mann “Stone Flute” (1970)

One of the pleasures of working in a record store are those quiet weekday afternoons when you can randomly throw on forgotten records in hopes of unearthing a buried gem. Stone Flute is one of those gems. It’s also a far cry from the middle-of-the-road soul-jazz I generally associate with the furry Mr. Mann. (For all it’s guilty, funky pleasure, this is no Push Push. It’s one of the few records Mann recorded for his own Embryo labe, best known for its moody, trippy jazz and jazz-rock, and Stone Flute is no exception.

Standout tracks are the spacious, Eastern-inspired Donovan cover “In Tangier,” and the jaw-droppingly beautiful version of the Beatles’ “Flying,” which somehow manages to be even trippier than the original without sounding dated. If that wasn’t enough, the experimental “Miss Free Spirit” features jazz gods, Sonny Sharrock, Roy Ayers and and a pre-Weather Report Miroslav Vitous in top form. The album features lengthy, spacious arrangements that are difficult to digest properly with a quick listen, give it a thorough spin and you’ll discover a totally unique Herbie Mann record and one that any fan of late sixties/early seventies jazz will likely enjoy. –David

Stomu Yamash’ta “Freedom Is Frightening” (1973)

Japanese percussionist/composer Stomu Yamash’ta settled in England in 1972, after studying music in his native country and later in the USA. He worked mainly as a composer for theatre music, but his signing as a recording artist for the Island label brought his work to the attention of a wider audience, which later led to him forming the group East Wind, which recorded this exceptional album. Combining forces with some of the best British musicians at the time, the band included Yamash’ta on drums and percussion, his wife Hisako on violin, guitarist Gary Boyle (Isotope), keyboardist Brian Gascoigne, and bassist Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine). The music is a wonderful fusion of Western and Far Eastern elements as well as many cross genre excursions, from atmospheric ambient to high spirited Jazz-Rock Fusion. Although Yamash’ta became mostly known for the “Go” recordings featuring Traffic’s Steve Winwood, a few years later, this is truly his most remarkable album recorded for Island and the one that withstands the test of time most adamantly. Wholeheartedly recommended! —Adam

Herbie Mann “Live at the Whisky A Go Go” (1969)

Oh my Lordie is this record a slab of righteous funky soul jazz. With Roy Ayers and Sonny Sharrock in the lineup, how can you go wrong? Although they had been with Herbie for a while by now in variations of this lineup, this record is quite a few shades funkier than earlier efforts like Windows Opened. It’s comprised of only two long tracks on each side, with crisp engineering and production by the Atlantic team of Bill Halverson and Sr. Ertegun. The first tune is a mid-tempo sizzler, electric bass from Miroslav Vitous locking in nicely with drummer Bruno Carr, and some understated percussion work from Herbie when he’s not riffing on flute. There’s plenty of room for all the soloists to stretch out on this one, although Sharrock restrains himself to chugging along in a loose but tasty two-chord rhythm part. He lets loose his free-jazz guitar on the next track, however — the upbeat ‘Philly Dog,’ a tune written by Rufus Thomas and famously recorded by the Mar-Kays a few years earlier. Their version tops out around 3 minutes; this one stretches out about ten minutes longer than that. While Sonny Sharrock’s own work over the next few decades is undoubtedly more challenging and avant-garde than anything he recorded with Herbie Mann, I have to say I really, really enjoy his bursts of madness over the organic and tuneful funk grooves of the records they made together, when he comes blasting in like a furnace. Roy Ayers is, well, Roy Ayers, and makes the addition of anyone on keys to this live setting completely unnecessary. I tend to feel that Herbie Mann has been underappreciated in general – written-off by jazz purists early in his career as a sell-out, and often passed over by crate diggers in search of more obscure beats. He was definitely on a roll in 1969, with the amazing Memphis Underground LP also coming out that year. —flabbergasted

Don Ellis “Autumn” (1968)

Brilliant American trumpeter, composer, arranger, and bandleader, Don Ellis led a superb Big Band, which was one of the most outstanding Jazz ensembles in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Eons ahead of its time, Ellis’ fascination with uneven meters and World music influences made his music truly revolutionary and fresh and the music lost nothing of its relevance over the years. He also had a rare talent to pick up the best musicians for his band, mostly forward-thinking individuals, ideally suited for his unusual approach to music and brilliant instrumentalists. Some of the musicians playing on this album are saxophonists Frank Strozier and John Klemmer, trumpeter Glen Ferris and many more outstanding musicians. The brilliant music was all composed by Ellis, except one Charlie Parker standard. At its full might the orchestra sounds like nothing else before or since, with every instrument perfectly fulfilling its role. Two of the six tracks were recorded live and show the orchestra as one of the most exciting live acts at the time. It’s fascinating to read the album’s liner notes written by Al Kooper, who was Columbia’s A&R manager at the time, describing the Don Ellis experience at the time. This is an absolute must to Jazz  fans, but all music connoisseurs should find this music fascinating. —Adam