(Originally 2006; introduction and postlude from 2010; slightly updated in 2015.)
Nothing else on the former DTM was linked to as much as “1973-1990,” a list of records offered up in response to Dave Douglas’s suggestion that somebody write a history of jazz since the end of the Vietnam War. The ripples spread outward to many other commentators including the New York Times and the Guardian blog. It even begat a site, behearer.com, which never took off and is now defunct.
The original post is reproduced below. For a few years years I wasn’t proud of it: I did absolutely no research before writing it, and the omissions and biases are ludicrous. No Muhal Richard Abrams? No Barry Harris? Dissing Bill Evans at the end? What was I thinking? I felt almost as bad about omitting such names as Whitney Balliett, Francis Davis, Gary Giddins and Howard Mandel. Those jazz critics (among others) are the ones who were there, the ones who did the parsing and the taste-making.
More recently I’ve been more accepting of the post’s flaws. Veronica Geng helped: In Love Trouble is My Business, Geng observes, “Usually the last thing you realize is that you are really writing about yourself.”
When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I visited her for the last time in Two Harbors, Minnesota. There was no piano, no internet, no stereo, no cell phone service, and no booze; my mother mostly slept while I read her Agatha Christie books or worked on “1973-1990.”
These were my records I was writing about. Not a critic’s or even the artist’s own but mine. As I listed them, I must have been recalling a time two decades earlier when I had also been a lonely outpost of jazz in the middle of nowhere with Mom in the next room. In my inchoate strivings to be a professional musician, this list was a primary text.
Frankly, I did almost no listening while assembling the following. I didn’t take much music with me to Two Harbors, just the names and dates hurriedly copied from my Brooklyn shelves. Why should I listen? I knew these records already.
(On a solipsistic note: I began the list with praise of the Keith Jarrett quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian. In the end I played with Redman, Haden, and Motian, and also interviewed Jarrett twice.)
If you are going to be a critic—and I have evolved into being both a practitioner and some kind of amateur critic—it’s best to acknowledge and overcome personal and irrational prejudices. After the original emotional salvo, “Redux” has more measured thoughts on music that should have been included the first time around.
(from summer 2006)
Dave Douglas asked recently, “Is there a writer who can take on the project of an unbiased overview of [jazz] music since the end of the Vietnam War?”
I offer up a list of records that I copied off my shelves last week when The Bad Plus was taking a break. I’m going to cheat a little bit: instead of the end of Vietnam, I’m going to start in 1973 (the year of my birth) in order to sneak in a few more records.
I have given the year albums were recorded, not released. A few items are marked with an asterisk (*). That means they are a relatively recent acquisition—since 2000 or so. The rest of them I have considered for 15 to 20 years: I bought them between the ages of 11 and 18, and have kept them in my collection ever since.
To begin with, I believe the courageous, outlandish, down and dirty music played together by Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian to be shamefully underrated and misunderstood. Jarrett was the leader and they were informally called the “American quartet.” They left a large body of work: Birth (1971, Atlantic), El Juicio (1971, Atlantic) , The Mourning of a Star (1971, Atlantic), Expectations (1972, Columbia) , Fort Yawuh (1973, MCA-Impulse), Backhand (1974, MCA-Impulse), Treasure Island (1974, MCA-Impulse), Death and the Flower (1974, MCA-Impulse) , Shades (1975, MCA-Impulse), Mysteries (1975, MCA-Impulse), Eyes of the Heart (1976, ECM), The Survivor’s Suite (1976, ECM), Byablue (1976, MCA-Impulse), Bop-Be (1976, MCA-Impulse).
Reid Anderson and David King also consider this to be one of the great jazz groups, right up there with the Coltrane quartet, assorted Miles Davis bands, Ornette bands, Duke Ellington bands, Basie bands, Monk bands, and whatever else. It was unusually easy for the three of us to get all the “American quartet” records in our teens: every person who loved the The Köln Concert as dinner music unsuspectingly bought a Dewey/Charlie/Paul album. Horrified, they would sell the offending item to Cheapo the next day, and we could pick ’em up ten years later for two bucks or less.
I loved this band then, but as I’ve grown up, they seem to have gotten even better. (This is not true of all the music on the list below.) My pick as their best are the recordings for MCA-Impulse, now collected in two wonderful Impulse boxes. However, any of these albums have the juice.
Here’s the rest of the list.
1973: Herbie Hancock, Headhunters (Columbia). One of the best-selling jazz albums ever is still a great party record. *Cecil Taylor, Spring of Two Blue Js (Unit Core/J-for-Jazz). Two tracks: a solo piece and a quartet with Jimmy Lyons, Alan Silva, and Andrew Cyrille. These are more tonal than you might expect: the solo begins with a couple of minutes in B minor, and the quartet is in E major before settling into a long time of F# drone in the bass and piano. Sam Rivers, Trio Sessions (Impulse). I had all the Seventies Rivers records once. My favorite was The Quest with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, but it’s not on CD and my LP is long-gone. Trio Sessions is a CD reissue of a two-record set. It’s completely free, but they are listening hard, and when Rivers picks up the tenor the music really takes off. Very good Cecil McBee on the first session, and Altschul was the perfect drummer for Rivers, Paul Bley, and Anthony Braxton. Dewey Redman, The Ear of the Behearer (Impulse). The first tune, “Innerconnections,” has a shredding solo by Dewey on alto—one of the few recordings with him on that instrument. *Cedar Walton, Naima (Savoy). Originally on Muse as Live at Boomers. With the great Sam Jones, Louis Hayes, and Clifford Jordan. Walton sounds as strong as Bud Powell on “Cheryl” and “I’ll Remember April.” Any Cedar/Clifford Jordan quartet is going to be the real deal. Hayes is right in there, but ya gotta hear Billy Higgins play with Cedar, too. They are a recent passion; Ben Street showed me the light.
1974: Weather Report, Mysterious Traveler (Columbia). Several great tunes, including the title track, “Nubian Sundance,” and the beautiful duet on “Blackthorn Rose.” I’ve heard a live tape of Zawinul, Shorter, Jaco, and Alex Acuna in Detroit playing “Scarlet Woman” that featured long and inspired solos by both Shorter and Zawinul. Wayne Shorter, Native Dancer (Columbia). Milton Nascimento is introduced with a splash. Wayne’s soprano playing is outstanding.
1975: Kenny Wheeler, Gnu High (ECM). This is one of those records that everybody has. It is fascinating to hear Keith Jarrett threading the complex Wheeler harmony. Some great Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette on here too. Oliver Lake, Heavy Spirits (Arista-Freedom). The St. Louis avant-scene. The solo track, “Lonely Blacks,” is powerful. Anthony Braxton, Five Pieces 1975 (Arista). Braxton’s working band with Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul. I have immense respect for Braxton, but like Cecil Taylor, I have usually preferred hearing him solo as compared to enmeshed in his group music. Somehow this album has vanished from my collection. I’d like to hear it again, since it was the one I liked best of the half-dozen I had in high school. *Steve Lacy, Axieme (Red). Justly famous as one of the great solo saxophone recitals. Stan Getz, The Master (Columbia). A good straight-ahead record. The lesser-known Albert Dailey never sounded better than he does here. Billy Hart’s groove is deep.
1976: Charlie Haden, The Golden Number (A&M). This is one of the very greatest jazz records, featuring duos with Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman, and Hampton Hawes. Every note is perfect. Hampton Hawes, At The Piano (Contemporary). Hawes died a few months later; this last trio date with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne is a superb valediction. It has brought me to tears. Hawes’ autobiography, Raise Up Off Me, is essential reading for those curious about “the jazz life.” Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Beaver Harris, Kent Carter, Trickles (Black Saint). A great record for Rudd, whose extraordinary solo on “Robes” is surreally enhanced by his own over-dubbed chimes. Dexter Gordon, Homecoming (Columbia). Dex plays well, Louis Hayes burns, and Woody Shaw steals the show. Old and New Dreams, Old and New Dreams (Black Saint). This is the first recording of a fearless quartet continuing the Ornette Coleman tradition. Thirty years later, Stanley Crouch’s excellent liner notes are still one of the most accurate descriptions of these four musicians and how they play together. Herbie Hancock, V.S.O.P. (Columbia). “V.S.O.P.” was the all-star band with Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. They play very differently in V.S.O.P. than they did in the Sixties. Larry Grenadier gave me the phrase “Stadium Jazz” to describe what they were doing. Some musicians dismiss it, but I really like it. There are several V.S.O.P. records, and at least two of them are called V.S.O.P., but the one I am listing here is the New York gig where they play “Eye of the Hurricane,” “Maiden Voyage,” and “Nefertiti.” I don’t want to melt too many minds, but I think this version of “Nefertiti” is better than the one with Miles Davis. Also on this two-record set are a couple of wonderful songs with Mwandishi (Hancock, Eddie Henderson, Bennie Maupin, Julian Priester, Buster Williams, and Billy Hart). They stopped recording before 1973, but Mwandishi was one of the crucial jazz bands of the Seventies. Woody Shaw, Little Red’s Fantasy (Muse). I had the whole Shaw catalog on Muse at one point. This may have been the best one. I especially liked hearing the underrated Eddie Moore on drums. Weather Report, Heavy Weather (Columbia). Every song is strong on this famous record. Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, Dancing In Your Head (A&M/Horizon) and *Body Meta (Artists House). Coleman discovers electricity. The ecstatic “Theme From a Symphony” on Dancing In Your Head should never have to stop, but at least it lasts nearly the whole record.
1977: *Air, Air Time (Nessa). There are a great many albums by this important and mysterious band. Some enterprising soul should undertake a “Dissertation and Listener’s Guide to Air.” On this album, “Keep Right On Playing Through the Mirror Over the Water” is very intense, with Fred Hopkins really throwing down. McCoy Tyner, Supertrios (Milestone). Bathe in piano power! Tyner and Tony Williams’ duo performance of “I Mean You” made a serious impression on me. When I was fifteen, I went to Geoff Keezer’s house in nearby Eau Claire. He casually sat down and played though McCoy’s entire solo of “Wave” from this record. I immediately resolved to never play a pentatonic riff over a fourth chord again. Billy Hart: Enchance (A&M). Buster Williams and Hart swing hard (they are one of the music’s famous rhythm sections) under a free-form sprawl on Oliver Lake’s “Diff Customs.” Don Pullen in particular is outrageous! No other recorded music sounds like this. *Julius Hemphill, Blue Boyé (Screwgun). I am just now really beginning to study Hemphill. I had Coon Bid’ness in high school but didn’t like it that much (I like it much more now.) Many consider Dogon A.D. from 1972 his best record, but there are plenty more Hemphill discs that I haven’t heard. Blue Boyé is very interesting and easy to find. The only musician on the two-record set is Hemphill, who uses overdubbing on most of the tracks. The highlight is “OK Rubberband” with flute, two altos, and handclaps grooving along. The Great Jazz Trio, Kindness, Joy, Love, and Happiness (Inner City). See the Hank Jones post.
1978: *Bob Brookmeyer, Back Again (Sonet). Brookmeyer is famous for his composing, but he’s also one of the great jazz trombonists. This unpretentious and swinging record has some of the best Jimmy Rowles I’ve heard, too. Anthony Braxton, Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979 (Arista). At his recent mid-size ensemble gig at Iridium, the music really took off when picked up his horn and starting blowing. This two-record set of solo Brax displays his virtuosity even more than 1969’s For Alto. The Brecker Brothers, Heavy Metal Bebop (Arista). “I keep my countenance, I remain self-possessed/Except when a street piano, mechanical and tired/Reiterates some worn-out common song/With the smell of hyacinths across the garden/Recalling things that other people have desired./Are these ideas right or wrong?”—T.S. Eliot, “Portrait of A Lady”
1979: Sir Roland Hanna, Swing Me No Waltzes (Storyville). I had this real young—when I was 12 or some such. I still think it is one of the best “mainstream” solo piano records. The World Saxophone Quartet, Steppin’ (Black Saint). “R ‘n B” is a brilliant Hemphill tune. Near the end of the track, you hear the members talking excitedly and congratulating each other. Then they count off the slow stomp coda. *Ornette Coleman, Of Human Feelings (Antilles). Some think this is the best Prime Time record. Turn it up! To get with this music, you have to dance with it. It doesn’t really groove like a pop record should, but ignore that. Human feelings don’t always groove, either.
1980: *The World Saxophone Quartet, Revue (Black Saint). The first side is all Hemphill compositions. The title song is deep blues. Old and New Dreams, Playing (ECM). Probably their best record. A must. Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell, In Willisau (Black Saint). The Red and the Black in flight. McCoy Tyner, 4 x 4 (Milestone). Another all-star date. Great appearances by Freddie Hubbard, Arthur Blythe, John Abercrombie, and Bobby Hutcherson. Jaco Pastorius, Word of Mouth (Warner Brothers). Big bands, small groups, and an outrageous solo version of the first part of Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy.” Jaco was amazing by any standard.
1981: Mal Waldron, What It Is (ENJA). Clifford Jordan sounds right at home on the extended free pieces. With Cecil McBee and some great Dannie Richmond. Freddie Hubbard, Outpost (ENJA). A solid straight-ahead date with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, and Al Foster. Their deathly slow and beautiful version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” defines “sad and romantic jazz ballad.” Tim Berne, Songs and Rituals in Real Time (Empire). The next step from an intimate of Julius Hemphill. This great early record has Paul Motian, Ed Schuller, and Mack Goldsbury. Woody Shaw, United (Columbia). One of the cleaner and more enjoyable Shaw Columbia dates. (Recently Duane Eubanks told me Rosewood is real strong, which I don’t know.) Shaw’s language is very precise, like Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman. Many musicians sort-of play in this complex style, but Shaw is more selective with note choices than most of his followers. Bill McHenry has an astounding bootleg tape of Shaw playing “Blue Bossa” and “Invitation” at a Jamey Aebersold camp. *Pat Metheny Group, Offramp (ECM). Metheny and Lyle Mays created their own tradition of American music. I’m no PMG expert, but I got Offramp recently on a whim and was really impressed. Dewey Redman, The Struggle Continues (ECM). The presence of Ed Blackwell is always encouraging. “Turn Over Baby” delivers the Texas honk. Ben Webster told Dewey: “If you can’t outplay them, outLOUD them.”
1982: Charlie Haden/Carla Bley, The Ballad of the Fallen (ECM). Weep for the dead of El Salvador! This powerful record has outstanding performances by Dewey Redman, Don Cherry, and Paul Motian. It’s still my favorite Liberation Music Orchestra record. The suite on side one is extraordinary. *Warne Marsh, Star Highs (Criss-Cross). Most Marsh fans feel that this is one of the best examples of “Late Warne.” The band is excellent: Hank Jones, George Mraz, and Mel Lewis. “Moose the Mooche” is sick. Collin Walcott, Don Cherry, Nana Vasconcelos, Codona 3 (ECM). World music, Don Cherry style. “Clicky Clacky” is Cherry’s sung and spoken-word piece about being a kid and hearing the trains. It’s rather adorable (not the usual adjective for Don Cherry). Ron Carter, Etudes (Elektra/Musician). With Art Farmer, saxophonist Bill Evans, and Tony Williams. This may be the bassist’s best record as a leader: his cute, singsong approach as composer benefits from not having a piano, and Ron and Tony together are flamboyantly fabulous. Evans told me that it was all done in first takes. It took them from 11 to 12:30 in the morning, and then they had lunch. David Murray Octet, Murray’s Steps (Black Saint). “Flowers for Albert” is a catchy/sloppy hymn to Ayler. Instead of ever getting free, they play a gentle beat throughout. Some jazz critics consider Murray’s Steps to be one of Murray’s best records. Tommy Flanagan, Thelonica (ENJA). A good Monk tribute album, with great Art Taylor. Flanagan always pulls out some twists that you didn’t expect from his bebop line. *Elvin Jones, Earth Jones (Palo Alto). A solid date with Dave Liebman and Kenny Kirkland. Surprised that there wasn’t more Elvin on this list, I checked the discography and discovered that Elvin didn’t record very much as a sideman in the Seventies and Eighties. (In the Sixties he was in the studio every week.)
1983: Pat Metheny, Rejoicing (ECM). Metheny uses Ornette Coleman tunes and musicians (Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins) to fashion an essential guitar trio record. The highlight is Metheny’s own song, “The Calling,” one of the best free jazz pieces ever recorded. If you don’t like “The Calling,” I can’t help you. Keith Jarrett, Standards, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (ECM). Jarrett’s new trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. “All The Things You Are!” Mal Waldron, You and the Night and the Music (ProJazz). The only “standards session” piano trio record with Ed Blackwell.
1984: The Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Third Decade (ECM). The “silly” AEC record. Others are probably better, but this one was a revelation for me and Dave King. “Walking in the Moonlight” is still very, very funny. Wynton Marsalis, Black Codes (from the Underground) (Columbia). Great compositions. The rhythm section of Kenny Kirkland, Charnett Moffett, and Jeff “Tain” Watts is vicious and elemental. Mark Turner has heard bootlegs of this band that he claims are even better than this classic record.
1985: Keith Jarrett, Standards Live (ECM). Both Dave King and I obsessed with this record. Chet Baker and Paul Bley, Diane (Steeplechase). Lyric poetry and deep harmonic knowledge. While it is the most conservative Bley on record, a few wild notes always peek through that only Bley dare play. Joe Henderson, State of the Tenor, Vols. 1 and 2 (Blue Note). Joe, Ron Carter, and Al Foster are a perfect match, so it doesn’t really matter that there are too many difficult arrangements of obscure material on these “Live at the Vanguard” records. Billy Hart, Oshumare (Gramavision). Check the line up: Kenny Kirkland, Kevin Eubanks, Steve Coleman, Branford Marsalis, Mark Grey, Didier Lockwood, Bill Frisell and Dave Holland. Like Enchance, Oshumare features musicians who have never played together except on this one occasion—it seems to be “The Billy Hart Concept.” Oshumare is a charismatic and energetic record. Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman, Song X (Geffen). The album that tried to introduce Ornette to the masses. “Kathelin Grey” and “Mob Job” are the famous tracks. Bootlegs of the tour are stunning. Dexter Gordon, The Other Side of Round Midnight (Blue Note). This is actually much better than the official soundtrack to the movie Round Midnight. Dex’s reading of “As Time Goes By” is spectacular. The closing “’Round Midnight” is probably Herbie Hancock’s best recorded unaccompanied solo. Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach, The Duo Live (Advance Music). Serious musicians with a serious concept. This album was transcribed in full by Bill Dobbins.
1986: Oliver Lake, Gallery (Gramavision). With Geri Allen, Fred Hopkins, and Pheeroan akLaff. I loved this record in high school. “Sad Louis” is a very beautiful composition for solo alto sax. Not yet on CD except as part of Compilation, which has other interesting music from Lake’s Gramavision years too. Branford Marsalis, Royal Garden Blues (Columbia). A cast of many, with great performances by Ron Carter, Al Foster, Kenny Kirkland (whose ballad “Dienda” is a highlight) and others. Branford really takes off on the nifty arrangement of “Strike Up the Band.” The best Branford records so far are probably the mid-Nineties trio dates. Cecil Taylor, For Olim (Soul Note). I always preferred the solo discs to the ensembles. This one has short tunes and excellent sound, which is why it always shows up on “best of” lists. Benoit Delbecq tells me the scarce solo Cecil album Garden is his favorite. Steve Kuhn, Life’s Magic (Black-Hawk). Kuhn sounds great, but I keep this record around for the band (Ron Carter and Al Foster). Andrew Hill, Shades (Soul Note). Like Waldron’s What It Is, this is a piano-led quartet that features outstanding Clifford Jordan (who played so well with Cedar Walton, too). This is possibly Hill’s most conservative album. It remains a fun listen. *Wynton Marsalis, Live At Blues Alley (Columbia). Marcus Roberts’ astonishing long solo on the blues “Juan” best displays where this school was trying to get to. “Knozz-Moe-King” has brilliant trumpet playing, and many consider Live at Blues Alley the best Marsalis record overall. I haven’t heard most of them made later, but I do know that this is the last one he made with a rhythm section that was a pack of wild dogs; his bands have been merely “tippin’” ever since. However, the future awaits, and he is an easy artist to underrate. In 2003 I heard Marsalis play tunes at the Jazz Standard with a pick-up band including Robert Hurst. Something circa-1986 ignited between him and Hurst, and suddenly the music was abstract and inspired. Ornette Coleman, In All Languages (Caravan of Dreams). The acoustic band with Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and Don Cherry is back! Ornette delivers some real Texas tenor on “Feet Music,” which also has great Coleman-Haden improvised counterpoint. Fred Hersch, Sarabande (Sunnyside). Hersch has deep knowledge of advanced jazz harmony, but on this album he also plays superb free music. Charlie Haden and Joey Baron sound so good that you wish they had done more playing together. Henry Threadgill Sextett, You Know The Number (RCA/Novus). A very bluesy record with Rasul Sadik, Frank Lacy, Pheeroan akLaff, Reggie Nicholson, Fred Hopkins, and Diedre Murray. “Theme from Thomas Cole” is the great jam. Later, Threadgill’s music became less bluesy but just as interesting. (See the “Very Very Circus” records from the Nineties.) Reid, Dave, and I all checked out various Threadgill discs when young. We have talked to many “straight-ahead” jazz musicians who have never heard a note of Threadgill, which is unfortunate for them since he is one of music’s important resources. There’s at least one great track on every Threadgill record we’ve heard. Mal Waldron/Steve Lacy, Sempre Amore (Soul Note). One of the better Ellington/Strayhorn tributes, with stark piano and angular saxophone. Miles Davis, Tutu (Warner Brothers). At age 60, the Dark Prince reinvented himself once again with Marcus Miller, a new record label, and one of his greatest album covers. I had this on LP as soon as it came out, and loved the first side and hated the second side (at 14 you can be a little too sure of yourself). The title track is still a guilty pleasure. All of the Miles albums from the Eighties have at least one interesting track, but sometimes plowing through the whole of every disc can be a bit arduous. Wayne Shorter, Phantom Navigator (Columbia). Whatever you think of the production values of any given record, Shorter’s harmonic imagination is always unique. I’d like to figure out how to cover “Mahogany Bird” some day.
1987: Charlie Haden/Paul Motian featuring Geri Allen, Etudes (Soul Note). One of the better versions of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman” is on this album. Allen is real strong throughout, and I’ll listen to anything with Haden and Motian together. They made other albums as a trio, but this was their first and probably their best. Gary Peacock, Guamba (ECM). I cruelly played this to Happy Apple as part of a recent blindfold test. King sat there quiet, listening for five minutes, before jumping up and yelling “Peter Erskine!” True dat. The other players on this dreamy album are Palle Mikkelborg and Jan Garbarek. Tim Berne, Sanctified Dreams (Columbia). Burning music—all the Berne/Joey Baron albums are serious. In a really lovely way, Herb Robertson doesn’t seem to think when he plays—the madness just comes out. Mark Dresser and Hank Roberts are on it too, all recent bloods strutting their stuff. “Blue Alpha” is a great tune. The Bill Frisell Band, Lookout For Hope (ECM). This was Frisell’s first “band” album, with Hank Roberts, Kermit Driscoll, and Joey Baron. It stands the test of time. Frisell’s work is vitally important to the Bad Plus. Dave Holland Quintet, The Razor’s Edge (ECM). Steve Coleman and Holland had some important years together. Kenny Wheeler is really strong (“4,5,6”). Joe Henderson, An Evening with Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, and Al Foster (Red). This is many tenor players’ favorite Joe record. It’s one of Foster’s best, too. Mark Helias, The Current Set (ENJA). Helias is a tuneful and contrapuntal composer. Here he unites a diverse group of horn players (Tim Berne, Greg Osby, Herb Robertson, Robin Eubanks) and tethers them against the deep feel of straight-ahead master Victor Lewis. The Current Set is another serious reference for me; I know every note. Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, Virgin Beauty (Portrait/Columbia). “Unknown Artist” is mostly unaccompanied alto. If only he would grace us with an entire album of solo saxophone! Ornette Coleman is one of the two greatest composers of melody in the history of music. The other is Franz Schubert. Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires, Second Sight (ECM). John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Peter Erskine all contribute interesting tunes to a fun record. There is real stylistic diversity on display: straight rock on “Twister,” abstract modal swing on “Thrill Seeker,” and atmospheric groove on “Sweet Soul.” Paul Motian Trio featuring Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, One Time Out (Soul Note). One Time Out should be better known, since it has their most intense free playing on record. If you only know the recent I Have the Room Above Her, you might be surprised at how raw and aggressive One Time Out is. “The Storyteller” is a beautiful tune. A signal event for me and Dave was seeing this band live at the Walker Art Center in 1989. Michael Brecker, Michael Brecker (Impulse). If you are curious about what the phrase “virtuoso saxophone” means, try Brecker’s first record as a leader. It’s also a must for Kenny Kirkland and Jack DeJohnette fans (their playing together on “Syzygy” is ferocious). A very influential record.
1988: Dave Holland Trio, Triplicate (ECM). With Steve Coleman and Jack DeJohnette. At the time, Jack’s playing on “Take the Coltrane” seemed as advanced as jazz drumming was going to get. Coleman tears up the blues and “Segment” in a completely personal style, drawing on the threading styles of Coltrane, Shorter, and Konitz. Don Pullen, New Beginnings (Blue Note). Pullen had great rhythm and drew a deep, dark, bluesy sound out of the piano. This trio record with Gary Peacock and Tony Williams is the best Pullen I have heard. Paul Motian, On Broadway Volume One (JMT). Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden, and Motian show how much they love the old songs. Motian’s drums explode during his intro to “Liza.” The three tender Cole Porter songs—“My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “So In Love,” and “I Concentrate On You”—are especially fine.
1989: Tim Berne, Fractured Fairy Tales (JMT). Joey Baron again. This album is so good, I thought everybody would know it when I moved to New York in 1991. (That didn’t exactly turn out to be true.) It features the band from Sanctified Dreams plus the devious Mark Feldman. Paul Bley, The Nearness of You (Steeplechase). Billy Hart undulates peacefully beneath the madman as he rummages though the past (it’s hard to believe Bley is playing “Lullaby of Birdland”). *Charlie Haden with Joe Henderson and Al Foster, The Montreal Tapes (Verve). “Passport” is the only long Henderson solo on rhythm changes that I know about. It is magnificent. Kenny Werner, Introducing the Trio (Sunnyside). With Ratzo Harris and Tom Rainey. The six-minute “Free Piece” was a revelation. Excellent recorded sound by Michael McDonald. John Zorn, Naked City (Nonesuch). Zorn brilliantly juxtaposed “straight” bits (Henri Mancini’s theme for A Shot in the Dark) and thrash (the terrifying vocalist Yamatsuka Eye). Take the paint off the walls with this one. With Eye, Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, Wayne Horvitz, and Fred Frith. Mulgrew Miller, The Countdown (Landmark). With Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Joe Henderson. Mulgrew had a good relationship with Tony Williams. I remember seeing the Williams quintet play at the Artist’s Quarter in Minneapolis. When Mulgrew took a solo, Williams played busy and hard but at an acceptable volume. When the horns soloed, Tony played like he just wanted to bury them. I recently re-listened to Countdown and found it good.
1990: Steve Coleman, Black Science (Novus). This was the first M-Base album with all-acoustic piano (no keyboards). Coleman developed a unique compositional language based on multi-layered rhythmic cycles and refracted pentatonic melodies. I studied with him a little bit at the Banff summer workshop in the summer of ’90 and was impressed with how thorough his conception was.
The list now ends, since after I moved to New York in the fall of 1991 to go to college, I was broke. If I had any money, I spent it on seeing the music live, not buying records. But since he started all this, let me tip my hat:
1993: Dave Douglas, Parallel Worlds (Soul Note). I was at many of the ’92-’93 Douglas gigs in New York. (I remember a trio hit at C.B.G.B.’s Gallery with Mark Dresser and Mike Sarin, where they played a very long and beautiful version of Monk’s “Introspection” that was completely abstracted.) When I got his first record, I already knew the tunes from seeing this band live. Douglas took the string ensemble off of Tim Berne’s Fractured Fairy Tales and added twelve-tone music and Duke Ellington. It is intricately detailed but passionate music.
I could have made this list much longer, but how many Paul Bley and Mal Waldron records can you put on a list without looking silly? Or Weather Report or Wayne Shorter; I own almost everything, but only the albums that resonated the most with me made the cut. I’ve left some people out entirely, like Lee Konitz and Sonny Rollins, both of whom surely made some great music during this time frame that I haven’t heard. (Maybe “What is your favorite Milestone album by Sonny Rollins and why?” should be a blog invitational.) My apologies also the entire European free jazz scene, but I just don’t know those records yet. Neither volume of Mingus Changes ever spoke to me; I’ll have to relisten someday. (I will, however, lay down my life for Let My Children Hear Music from 1971.) No one is without some bias. Someone else will need to fill in Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Seventies-era Miles Davis, Mahavishnu, and other worthy artists that I have always rejected.
Last things first…
The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings (1975 and 1976, Fantasy) Mostly I prefer jazz singers with more of a straight or cabaret approach (Bennett is one of the best) to those who try to become part of the modern jazz ensemble. I’m not saying the latter approach never works—it does—but most of the time voice + lyrics instantly makes it a different genre.
To move on to the meat: I was disingenuous in my dismissal of Evans at the end of the adolescent list. What I was really saying was how hard I had to work to avoid his omnipresent influence, which I regard as potentially dangerous. And the Bill Evans of the Seventies simply isn’t my favorite Bill Evans. However, you have to have a heart of stone not to love Evans’s way with a rubato standard, and his accompaniment behind Bennett is perfection—it sounds like the piano is lit from within.
Continuing to backpedal from that tart last sentence: I’m sure there’s plenty of awesome Mahavishnu and 1970s Miles out there. However, of the fusion artists, I most regret not including Allan Holdsworth, who is seriously underrated. I also grew up on the initial self-titled releases Steps Ahead and Lyle Mays, both of which are fusion classics in their own right and are probably even better as “jazz gateway drug” discs.
But: I make far less apologia for my rejection of Corea than I do for my rejection of Evans. While Corea’s a phenomenally talented musician with precise time and commanding virtuosity (I enjoy listening to his youthful enthusiasm on the 1967 Vanguard jam sessions, the mastery of Tones for Jones Bones and Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, and the exciting collabs with the Circle circle), after he discovered Scientology and/or fusion I am frequently turned off by something I perceive as cold or emotionally false. This is a minority opinion, of course. If Corea were less celebrated and successful I would never complain.
Recently I went through the two Joe Henderson quartet records with Corea, Mirror, Mirror and Relaxing at the Camarillo. There is a moment on the Bird blues “Camarillo” that helps explain why I wish somebody else was holding down the piano chair.
During the second chorus bassist Tony Dumas begins responding to Corea’s open explorations by breaking up the time with some nice supensions. The pianist freaks out and shouts, “Dumas, walk!” (It’s about at the 30-second mark of the excerpt below.)
Dumas immediately falls in line and the moment is lost.
I simply can’t imagine any of my piano heroes on this page—including Bill Evans—barking at a bassist in the studio like this. Part of jazz is going with the moment, and Corea, for all his former excellence as a free jazz pianist (try “Drone” with Holland and Altschul), apparently evolved into someone who worries about always looking good and professional even while just playing a blues. Still, Paul Motian told me he loved playing with Corea for two weeks at the Blue Note this past spring, so what do I know? And, to his credit, Corea did more than anybody else in this era to get Roy Haynes high-profile gigs.
Hermeto Pascoal, Só não toca quem não quer (1987, Intuition) Besides having no vocalists and just token nods to fusion, my adolescent list omitted European jazz, Cuban jazz, Brazilian jazz, big bands, and many other genres not “American small-group acoustic instrumental jazz” (which was what my list should have been called, anyway). Two of my favorite contemporary bandleaders, Guillermo Klein and Django Bates, are obviously indebted to Pascoal. Guillermo recommended this album to me, especially the profound track “Suite Mundo Grande,” four minutes of through-composed brilliance that ends with successful spoken word. I saw Pascoal live only once, in the Allen Room at JALC, and it was one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever attended. His whole band (all names I didn’t know—I think they are a family, like Ellington or Sun Ra) was great. Live at Montreux captures some of the magic, but seriously, if you have a chance to see Hermeto in concert, you must not miss it.
The hivemind was most upset about the omission of Muhal Richard Abrams and other AACM musicians. I tried to make it up to them with a carefully compiled list of tracks that I thought were important. That list took me about a year but was a very helpful and educational task. In A Power Stronger Than Itself, George Lewis cites Whitney Balliett’s 1977 New Yorker review of an AACM festival, writing that it “provides what is perhaps one of the most meticulous and richly contextualized accounts of AACM musical performances to appear in any American publication.”
Another heartless omission was the vibrant European scene, especially the major free jazz practicioners. I still don’t know enough, but just last week I bought an all-star FMP date, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, and Paul Lovens on the Schlippenbach Trio’s Elf Bagatellen (1990, FMP) (my first FMP album ever, I’m sad to say) from Destination: OUT!’s new mp3 store. It’s pretty awesome. Sometimes I don’t appreciate the parody elements of the European conceptualists (covering Monk tunes in a jokey way, for example) but here these three just hunker down and channel the mysteries. Evan Parker is a true master.
Abdul Wadud, By Myself (1977, Bisharra) The discography lists 48 sessions with Wadud from 1972 to 1992. It would be a great project to go through them all. There’s a good number of Julius Hemphill records and also dates with Anthony Davis, Arthur Blythe, James Newton, David Murray, Frank Lowe, and lots of other musicians whose work I should know better than I do. (This is where Mandel, Giddins, and F. Davis could really help.) Wadud could play basslines in good time and also bring the free jazz heat. His one solo disc is phenomenal: You’ve got to hear this if you love experimental jazz. He’s like the most avant-garde folk musician in history or something.
Another mysterious force worth exploring is guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson. He was part of a certain group of significant musicians that made about a dozen albums in different configurations. The core group is heard on the excellent live disc Oliver Lake, Zaki (1979, Hat Art) with Pheeroan Ak Laff.
Lee Konitz, Lone-Lee (1974, Steeplechase) I’ve finally heard a lot Konitz’s output from this era, and Lone-Lee has my vote as one of the best. Sam Newsome told me to check it out just recently. It is Lee’s post-Tristano manifesto in a concentrated form, improvising pure melody with maximum passion, restraint, authority, and vulnerability. On Lone-Lee the tempos move around and sometimes he has to awkwardly restart an idea. But the two extended tracks just keep getting better as they go along. I’ve noticed that the longer he plays, the more intense it gets. Konitz is one musician who should always take an extra chorus or three. When he is inspired, he’s one of the greatest living soloists in the context of conventional chord changes and common practice jazz rhythm. On a related topic, Sal Mosca, For You (1979, Choice) is the best Mosca I’ve heard. When he plays in time Mosca can sound a little labored, but the rubato explorations and ballads are stunning.
Bobby Hutcherson, Solo/Quartet (1982, Contemporary) I had McCoy Tyner and Hutcherson together on 4 x 4, but nothing under Hutcherson’s leadership. Ben Street told me about this one, which really should be better known. The overdubbed solo selections showcase Hutcherson’s magnificent rhythm, and the pianist and vibraphonist phrase melodies exactly together in a terrific quartet with Herbie Lewis and Billy Higgins.
Clifford Jordan, The Glass Bead Games (1973, Strata-East) Some musicians just sound better and better as the years go by. I can’t imagine there is a more fabulous Jordan album than this well-recorded double LP featuring two all-star quartets with either Stanley Cowell or Cedar Walton, Bill Lee or Sam Jones, and the miraculous Billy Higgins. There wasn’t anything by Cowell on the first list (for shame!) but his solo on his own “Cal Massey” here is impossible. Also hear his opening prelude on the worthy super-group album Such Great Friends (1983, Strata East) with Billy Harper, Reggie Workman, and Billy Hart.
Andrew Hill, Strange Serenade (1980, Soul Note) Unless it was someone I felt especially strong about, on the old list I had one record per leader. Hill was represented by Shades, an indisputable classic. Now I admire Strange Serenade as much or even more. Whereas Shades is in tempo throughout, Strange Serenade is completely free. They seem to represent two panels of an artist’s concept, almost like they belong together. Alan Silva never showed an interest in diversity but has remained one of the quintessential “noise” bassists. Drummer Freddie Waits played organ trios, hard-bop quintets, modal trances, and free form equally well. A few of Waits’s own valuable compositions are found on the DIW issues Trio Transition + Oliver Lake and We Three with Stanley Cowell and Buster Williams (which could use remixing). Interesting to hear Mulgrew Miller play free a little bit on the former!
Dexter Gordon, Biting the Apple (1976, Steeplechase) I had Homecoming down before. Yes, that is a classic, with amazing Woody Shaw and Louis Hayes. But the contemporaneous Biting the Apple is a better showcase for the leader, who gets to relax with peers Barry Harris, Sam Jones, and the younger master Al Foster. This was a golden era for Barry Harris: he sounds great on everything, frequently stealing the show on the Dexter blowing sessions anthologized as The Comeback, and on several sessions with Sonny Stitt, Charles McPherson, Red Rodney, Ronnie Cuber, and others. His own records are just as good: obviously Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron should be an automatic reference recording for anyone interested in the style. But The Barry Harris Trio: Live in Toyko 1976 (originally Xanadu) has Sam Jones and Leroy Williams, and those three musicians cannot dig into that beat any further. I asked Barry a couple of years ago how many trio gigs he had played without Leroy Williams since 1969. He thought for a moment and replied, “One.”
David Liebman, Richie Beirach, Ron McClure, Billy Hart, Searching for the New Sound of Bebop (1985, 1986, 1987, Storyville) Liebman’s comments on his blog concerning his major award are impressive: “I am of course quite honored to be from what I can gather the youngest single recipient yet and as it appears as well the first from my generation. Realizing that I have not been too visible on the American scene in the past decades my gut feeling is the education aspect….the books, articles, etc., had a lot to do with receiving the award. I have always contended that the ‘pen is mightier than the sword.'”
Liebman is a player first and foremost, of course, but I can attest to some truth in his words: in my youth I devoured the helpful Liebman books, Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist and, even better, Lookout Farm: A Case Study for Improvisation for Small Group. The latter had sections written by Beirach, Frank Tusa, Badal Roy, and my future friend Jeff Williams as well. (Jeff told me later, “That book was the last gig.”) On my adolescent list I had the duo album because it was transcribed by Dobbins—the mighty pen in action again. I can’t say I know Quest’s music all that well, but this recent reissue of three strong albums popped up on my radar recently and I was reminded how fluent, innovative, and crucial to the era this band was. If you admire Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland, keep in mind that Lookout Farm and Quest are part of the source.
Gary Peacock, December Poems (1977, ECM) There was ECM on my list, but probably not enough. Peacock’s collection of solos and duos with Jan Garbarek is something I’ve always enjoyed; if I hadn’t plumped for Guamba I surely would have included it. Manfred Eicher is arguably the most important commissioner of new work that combines composition and improvisation. A thematic “suite” like December Poems is unthinkable without Eicher’s influence and sonic know-how. The overdubbed bass and piano works well, and for me this is some of Garbarek’s best playing.
Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, or Art Blakey were all absent from “1973-1990” and, weirdly, I have nothing to add at this time. I know it is out there, though. I suggested to Tootie Heath recently that his Denmark work with Sonny Rollins was the last truly great Rollins and he fervently disagreed. “There’s lots of great Rollins from the Seventies,” he said. Bill Frisell also told me that seeing Rollins at the Vanguard with Albert Dailey, Larry Ridley, and David Lee was mind-blowing. Surely there are tapes of that working band (Giddins and Balliett both wrote about them, I believe) somewhere.
As for Gillespie, Silver, and Blakey, I regret to say that of what I know, much of their output of this era is poorly-recorded, bloated with questionable concepts, or weighted down by B-team sidemen taking overly-long solos. Probably I just haven’t heard the right material.
The Modern Jazz Quartet, In Memoriam (1973, Little David) After asking around a bit, I think I’m the only person to have listened to this in recent memory. But it is quite wonderful, especially the title track. Like Chick Corea, in later years John Lewis was probably too Type A for my taste. But he had great aspirations for the music, and “In Memoriam” has “classical” harmony, beautiful melodies, and a successful integration of a full string section. This album should be known.
Benny Carter Central City Sketches (1986, Musicmasters) Even more than in the MJQ, my favorite place to hear John Lewis is when he sits in to play a distilled and swinging solo on someone else’s session, like on “When Lights are Low” here, which is my favorite track on one of Benny Carter’s most celebrated albums. But Dick Katz is great on the other tracks, too, as are Ron Carter and Mel Lewis. The star, though, is Benny Carter, who sounds like he talks and preaches through his alto saxophone. (I’m not sure if there needed to be as much solo space given to the rest of the fine horns.) I am still thinking about my take on big band jazz; maybe at some point I will write about it all, including Seventies Basie, Thad/Mel, and Sun Ra. (It’s telling that the only two big band records on the adolescent list were unconventional sessions led by maverick bassists, Haden and Pastorius.)
Carter was just one of many swing-era and early bebop musicians who were still playing at full steam until the last two decades of the century. Somebody should have the patience to go through the endless series of Pablo blowing dates. Surely some of them are terrific, like Count Basie/Oscar Peterson Night Rider (1977, Pablo), one of the first jazz records I ever got. It’s a swinging confab and a good “gateway” disc. But even before I had a turntable, somehow I owned Harry “Sweets” Edison/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis In Copenhagen (1976, Storyville) on cassette. I just loved this album. Sweets played tart, cool phrases and Lockjaw roared through what I would later realize was some of the most convoluted, backwards-sounding stuff imaginable. They are accompanied by an A-list European rhythm section: Kenny Drew, Hugo Rassmussen, and Svend-Erik Norregaard. Trombonist John Darville sounds fine too. That’s another ocean of jazz that needs a proper critical study: blowing dates in Europe lead by canonical American swing and bebop musicians. The masters always speak no matter the context.
Since making the first list I keep getting more interested in the humble but profound fruits of the working-class modernists. They were the last generation of earthy common-practice improvisors mostly untouched by Real Books, chord scales, and jazz education in general. They came from diverse communities but congregated in New York to play the gigs and make the records.
A good starting point are the piano/bass duos that played at Bradley’s and recorded sonnets of swinging harmony: Cedar Walton and Ron Carter, Heart and Soul (1981, Timeless), Kenny Barron and either Ron or Michael Moore, 1+1+1 (1984, Blackhawk), and Jimmy Rowles and Rusty Gilder, The Special Magic of Jimmy Rowles (1974, Halycon). Cedar and Ron are the most swinging, Barron has the classical touch and amazing facility, and Jimmy R. has the Dukeish surreality. A lost era and a lost art. Just as good is Jim Hall and Ron Carter, Live at Village West (1982, Concord), another one I’ve loved since high school. I’ve no idea why I didn’t include it the first time around—maybe I thought there was too much Ron Carter already? Absurd idea: there is never enough Ron Carter. Jim Hall’s phrasing is marvelously supple, lyrical, and swinging. Speaking of the greatest bassists and duos, the real hero of my first list was Charlie Haden, and not to fess up to a lifelong obsession with Charlie Haden/Hampton Hawes, As Long As There’s Music (1976, Artists House) was just silly. It’s also the first time Haden looks at his love of West Coast jazz, a topic he was going to do much more with in the future.
The heat gets turned up when you add horns and drums. It seems that some elements of the Coltrane/Tyner modal language was assimilated by just about everyone, even if they were older. It’s often just an aura rather than the nuts and bolts. Two cool records paying tribute to NYC show what I mean: The Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet featuring Curtis Fuller, Back to the City (1986, Contemporary) have four important new compositions by the Mozart of hard-bop, and you can hear he has been thinking about modality just a teeny bit. Golson was largely inactive during the Seventies and the early Eighties, and reportedly came back to jazz thanks to the breakthrough of Wynton Marsalis, for which we should be thankful. Pianist Mickey Tucker is a good example of the kind of musician I find intriguing these days. It sounds like he knows the information only as folk music, completely untouched by introspection or intellect. (I don’t mean this as a criticism!) Charlie Rouse, The Upper Manhattan Jazz Society (1981, Enja) Rouse was most comfortable as a sideman or as a member of a collective. I like Sphere but sometimes they are a bit smooth for my taste. This comparatively unruly quintet with x-factors Benny Bailey and Albert Dailey storms the gates. Great sound, and Buster Williams and Keith Copeland swing hard.
The Upper Manhattan Jazz Society is dead center of what I find irresistible these days, especially on LP: mostly black, mostly NYC, mostly bebop-to-modal Seventies and Eighties jazz. Jazz with a capitalized, underlined, boldfaced, and italicized “J.” In one hectic period I acquired:
David “Fathead” Newman Lone Star Legend (w. high-school buddy Cedar Walton) Pepper Adams The Adams Effect (Detroit: Flanagan and Ron) Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer Live at North Sea Walter Davis Jr. Illumination Barry Harris Meets Al Cohn George Coleman Manhattan Panorama Al Haig A Tribute to Bud Powell Eddie Lockjaw Davis The Heavy Hitter John Hicks Power Trio (w. Cecil McBee and Elvin Jones) Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Ichi-Ban Tom Harrell Play of Light Art Farmer Live at Boomer’s Vol. 1 and 2 Charles Tolliver Impact Walter Bishop, Jr. Valley Land Joe Bonner Invitation Sonny Stitt Mellow (w. J. Heath and Roy Haynes) M’Boom M’Boom The Heath Brothers Marching On Bob Mover In the True Tradition (w. legend Bobby Ward) Bunky Green Places We’ve Never Been Phil Woods Heaven Hal Galper Reach Out Albert Dailey That Old Feeling George Cables Why Not? Gary Bartz Reflections of Monk – The Final Frontier Sonny Fortune Layin’ it Down Frank Strozier What’s Going On Frank Foster Well Water Elvin Jones Brother John Lew Soloff Speak Low Sam Jones Something in Common Ronnie Mathews Roots, Branches, and Dances
When summing up, I should reinforce Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson. They were the real leaders of the era.
Fortunately, all of Henderson is readily available. With Shaw it is a little tricker to track it all down. Which leads to a question: are all the master tapes of all the small labels safe?
There was good news in 2015. Bee Hive was anthologized by Mosaic and much of Xanadu is coming out again thanks to Zev Feldman. Still, more could and should be done. While Joel Dorn oversaw a decent amount of Muse reissues, there’s still gold from that vast catalog to mine (including Woody Shaw)—even if it were simply placed on a streaming site. Other valuable imprints that have generally been available digitally include Mainstream, Choice, Vanguard, Halycon, Catalyst, Gryphon… and I’m not even getting to all the important Japanese labels.
Well, if nothing else, the right collectors will always have the original vinyl. A life seeking out the best jazz from the Seventies and Eighties is a life worth living.