Jazz

Santana “Welcome” (1973)

Welcome stands between two popular Santana LPs, Caravanserei and Borboletta, and it’s perhaps the most underrated Santana album. Like the previous LP, Welcome has a recording sound which can easily match today’s standards. This band had it all. The album opens with an instrumental meditation dominated by Alice Coltrane’s organ sound. The first highlight is Samba de Sausalito with a marvelous undercurrent of percussion and a good e-piano solo by Tom Coster. The next song, When I Look Into Your Eyes is a light Pop tune greatly upvalued by Joe Farrell’s lovely flute solo and the band’s accompaniment and the adventurous production: Leon Thomas uses his yodel as a sound effect and Richard Kermode comes in with a super-funky keyboard riff on which the song fades out. Next is one of my all-time Santana favorites, Yours Is The Light featuring Flora Purim, a Brazilian rhythm, Leon Thomas’ whistling and a very disciplined yet inspired solo by Carlos himself. Side Two starts with another great instrumental, Mother Africa recalling Earth, Wind & Fire’s Head To The Sky from the same year, Coltrane (Jules Brussard’s soprano solo) and McCoy Tyner. Light Of Life evokes the atmosphere of Gato Barbieri’s soundtrack, Last Tango In Paris. And now, the most ambitious instrumental piece on the set, Flame-Sky introducing John McLaughlin. In the face of this guitar giant, however, Carlos does not shy away, he opens with a typical yet inspired solo; the band shows they hold up to any challenge and finally, the Mahavishnu does what he does so well until they duet. The title song closes the circle of this marvelous LP in a quiet way with a meditation. A fantastic LP from beginning to end. The sound engineer can’t be praised too high. Welcome sounds as good today as it sounded back then, a musical adventure and one of the best Rock albums of the 70s. –Yofriend

McCoy Tyner “The Real McCoy” (1967)

Yes! Here we have the album that lifts Tyner out of the shadow of Coltrane and propels him to deity status in jazz. A formidable pianist with a unique style Tyner was the defining muscular pianist whose hard aggressive block right hand chords and subtle left hand work made him eay to recognise and even easier to admire. With this album he simply explodes in every sense. His playing has never been bettered and it seems that all shackles are off. What also stands out is the stunning maturity of his compostion. This has the best opening of any jazz album with the romping Passion Dance and the perfectly titled Contemplation. Ron Carter has never sounded better either and Jones has a telepathic understanding with Tyner as is to be expected after so many years together. This would be in my ten jazz albums as a collection starter for any new or aspiring jazz fan. –Jon

Sam Rivers “Contours” (1965)

Along with True Blue by Tina Brooks this is one of those Blue Note LPs that is painfully rare and unheard. What a shame as it is an absolute classic. Very different in feel to Brooks but just as essential. Avant Garde yet never forgetting to swing and what a line up: Hubbard, Hancock, Carter and Chambers! That should be worth the price of the LP alone but Rivers stamps his authority all over the set which is no mean feat in this company. His solos are at times tempered and sensitive and at other times scream with bursts of noise from the speakers. Carter and Hubbard are also on great form. The album also highlights what a great composer Rivers was. –Jon

Gil Scott-Heron “Pieces of a Man” (1971)

The song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is the earliest incidence of rap that I’ve heard so far. What’s more, it features the flute playing of Hubert Laws. That’s right, flute in a rap song. The next thing that really struck me was the bass. None other than Ron Carter makes the switch to electric bass, reminding me of Jaco Pastorius a little bit. Those three musicians form a deadly trio. Hubert Laws only plays on three songs, I think. That’s not much of an issue though because he wouldn’t have really fit in many of the other songs. The style of the music varies from fusion on the first half to soul and jazz on the rest of the record. What takes the album from being good to being great is the fact that everyone can identify with the lyrics about the plight of African Americans and subjects like depression. “Lady Day and John Coltrane” feels more like a statement about the power of music in general to enhance you life, with John Coltrane and Billie Holiday used as examples. Scott-Heron has made it known on his records that he’s a huge fan of Coltrane. Kind of makes a person wonder what kind of crazy supergroup would have been inevitable had a few people not died prematurely. Let’s say Coltrane lived on. Heron might have used Ron Carter to recruit Coltrane into this band. Pretty much wherever Coltrane went, Elvin Jones followed, so they wouldn’t have had to look far for a drummer. So far we’ve got flute, vocal, drums, sax and bass. What about guitar? The only right person for the job would have Jimi Hendrix, yet another victim of too much celebrity. Maybe throw John’s talented wife Alice in on piano and harp. Voila! Potentially one of the best supergroups that will never be. It’s sad, really. What I like better about this album versus Free Will is the presence of Ron Carter and that the lyrics are still political but don’t go so far as to border on being anti-white. It’s one thing to stick up for your people but it’s other to sound like you’re verbally attacking another group in the process. Let’s not fight hate with hate. Pieces of a Man was released the same year as What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, has just as much political and social commentary, might be better, and yet gets a meager amount of recognition in comparison. Yup, that’s about how much sense I’ve come to expect from the music world. –Rob

Charles Mingus “Oh Yeah” (1962)

That Mingus had in mind to do something different on this record can be divined by the fact that he plays piano instead of bass here. And he sings … badly. Plus he hires both Roland Kirk and Booker Ervin to play sax — and if you can think of two more disparate players, send your answers on a postcard to me. The end result is one of Mingus’ earthiest, bluesiest, craziest and, well, most unhinged albums; if the songwriting isn’t up to, say, Ah Um, it makes up for it in sheer loopiness. “Passions of a Man” is the most avant-garde and complicated track here, perfectly balanced by the sleazy R&B of “Eat That Chicken”. And who can disagree with the sentiments of “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me”? Unsung hero: Dannie Richmond. Again. –Neal

Billy Cobham “Spectrum” (1973)

I might be one of the few people who ventured into this album as a Deep Purple fan more than anything else. I’d read that Tommy Bolin’s best work could be found on this album so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Since then I’ve found out some more about Mr. Cobham and from “Spectrum” alone, I’m impressed. The band sound really tight on this album and every track bursts with energy. The first track is an absolute mad dash to the end with great soloing and frenetic drumming, but my favorite tracks are “Stratus” and “Red Baron”. Both of these songs have really cool, laid back grooves and the interplay between guitar, keyboard and drums is delightful. After entering into “Spectrum” as a Tommy Bolin fan, I left as a Jan Hammer fan. The keyboard solo’s here are breath-taking, stealing focus from Bolin who is no slouch himself. –Tom

Miles Davis “Water Babies” (1976)

For an album of leftover tracks from the Quintet’s late 60s sessions, this is surprisingly cohesive. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter pens all these tracks and “Two Faced” is the best of the bunch, a stunning, mind melting improvisation featuring Chick Corea providing ethereal washes of electric piano. That track alone is worth getting this album. “Water Babies” and “Sweat Pea” sound radically rearranged from the versions available on Shorter’s solo albums. The former sounds extended and has more percussive elements, the latter transformed into a lovely ballad rather, than the short piece found on Super Nova. –Neal

John Coltrane “My Favorite Things” (1961)

If ever there was a document to the genius of Trane it is the title track here. He takes a perky little Rogers and Hammerstein number and infuses it with Indian influences and extends it to thirteen of the most intense minutes of listening pleasure ever. No wonder it become Trane’s most requested and loved piece. This album features three other standards given the Trane treatment but lets be honest My Favorite Things is the highlight. The LP also introduces us to the Soprano sax that Trane so favored at times. A hard instrument to love unless in the right hands he plays it with his usual ferocity and vigor and makes it sing and cry like no else has ever done. Also, listen to the work of McCoy Tyner on the title track. Has he ever sounded better. His work on this track makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear it. –Jon

Alice Coltrane “Ptah The El Daoud” (1970)

You can tell from the album cover that this isn’t going to be your average jazz album. In fact, it’s an essential avant-garde album to own. It’s proof that John Coltrane’s wife, Alice, was very talented. Ptah, The El Daoud is a unique opportunity to hear tenor saxophone legends Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders together. The first thing that strikes you when the record starts is that Ron Carter has so much power on bass. You can almost picture the damage that his playing is doing to your speakers. He’s incredible. My only complaint is that you can’t hear Alice Coltrane play piano and harp at the same time. She’s great on both instruments. If only she had two more arms! –Rob

Jaco Pastorius “Jaco Pastorius” (1976)

To say that Jaco Pastorius lived a tumultuous life filled with incredible highs and lows would be an understatement. Cursed with mental illness and drug and alcohol problems, his life came crashing down to a violent end in 1987 after an altercation with a bouncer outside of a Florida club. I’m actually stunned just reading about this incident. The bouncer in question only received four months in prison for essentially beating a man to death. But I guess we don’t know the whole story. I hadn’t heard bass playing quite like the way Pastorius played it before I’d heard him play on Weather Report and Pat Metheny albums. He really could make the bass “sing” and sound divine. This debut solo record highlights these qualities with fast flashy playing alternating with slow contemplative passages. Pastorius had his musical roots in R&B, so the inclusion of Sam and Dave’s vocals on the funky “Come On, Come Over” is something of an homage to these roots. Another interesting highlight are the steel drums on “Opus Pocus”, which really add texture to the song. Overall, this album is a must for jazz and fusion fans, as well as a necessary lesson for electric bass students. –Neal

Andrew Hill “Black Fire” (1964)

Almost from the beginning, Andrew Hill has been a driving force of avant-garde jazz. To this very day he’s still at it, having won a best album award for Dusk in the year 2000 and multiple Best Jazz Composer awards recently. While Hill set the standard for all avant-garde jazz with the release of Point of Departure, Black Fire was his first masterpiece. He didn’t create the genre but he has certainly almost carried it on his back. This album features what may be my favorite quartet as of yet: Andrew Hill, Richard Davis, Roy Haynes and Joe Henderson. Hill’s style is hard to pinpoint. It’s sort of a cross of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, varying from classy to erratic. Joe Henderson had just gotten out of the military when this was recorded. Black Fire definitely features some of his finest tenor saxophone work. On drums, Roy Haynes is, for lack of better description, the original Tony Williams. His versatility is awesome. From what I can tell, if a person wanted to record a slightly strange jazz album in the 60s, bearing in mind that they couldn’t get Charles Mingus, Richard Davis was the next logical selection. Ron Carter would be after Davis and then somebody random if all else failed. Two of the seven songs are piano/drums/bass numbers: “Subterfuge” and “Tired Trade”. “Subterfuge” is perhaps my favorite jazz trio song. Start to finish, “Pumpkin” to the avant-garde Latin feeling “Land of Nod”, this is a classic. –Rob

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

The Blues and the Abstract Truth could very easily be called part II of the Kind of Blue trilogy. Oliver Nelson used two musicians from Kind of Blue: Bill Evans and Paul Chambers. Other notable musicians here include Roy Haynes, Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Freddie Hubbard is the best trumpet player of all time. But as usual, Eric Dolphy stands out as the star, no matter how deep an album’s lineup is. If you want to know how to distinguish between Oliver Nelson and Eric Dolphy’s playing, keep in mind that whenever somebody is playing like a complete lunatic it’s Dolphy. This album came out two years after Kind of Blue and was followed by part III and the peak of the trilogy, Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter in 1964. Not only does the lineup improve, but the music itself gets better with every chapter. Don’t miss out on Part II or III. –Rob