Can’t remember who I made this mixed tape for. It’s yours now. Maybe I’ll use it on the radio show on WRIU.org. Weds nights at 9pm ET
Herbie Nichols – House Party Starting (1955) – The dust that fell from Thelonious Monk’s chalk board was swept up and put to use by Nichols, a respected NYC pianist whose incredible sense of melody trumped his agile rhythmic approach. He made his greatest dates on Blue Note around this time. “House Party Starting” is one of those tunes you’ll have in your head forever.
Max Roach – Mr. X (1956) – Hard bop perfection. Aggressive, pithy, and loaded with swag. With saxophonist Sonny Rollins standing shoulder to shoulder with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, there’s plenty of firepower blowing from the speakers. But authority trumps flash in jazz, and the real hero is the bandleader/drummer. Listen to him control the action.
Charles Mingus – Eat That Chicken (1961) – The iconic composer/bassist was a poet when it came to gloom, and a fierce architect of turbulence, but Mingus loved him some down home gutbucket stomp, too – the blues is everywhere in his music. Hard to tell if this romp is an indictment of stereotypes or just a flat-out frolic.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk – The Inflated Tear (1968) – The maestro was known for playing multiple saxes at once, and wowing audiences (including rock audiences during this particular era) with his abilities. This is where his writing matched his playing, and the sense of dread couldn’t be more chilling.
Betty Carter & Ray Bryant – Moonlight in Vermont (1955) – The virtuoso vocalist was in her mid-20s when she cut this with pianist Bryant. Between her abstract tone and the way she shapes the notes, it’s easy to forget that it’s a human voice driving the action. Somehow it reminds me of a romantic parallel to that Kirk sound above.
Marty Ehrlich – The All Told Alto Blues (1997) – This skilled boomer sax player learned the blues in St. Louis and then hit New York ready to expand the lingo into more expressionistic terrain, a la his mentors, Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill. One of his most entertaining albums, Pliant Plaint, finds him swooping around joyously with his front-line partner Stan Strickland.
Scott Wendholt+Adam Kolker Quartet – Blue Chimneys (2014) – A great example of the way mainstream jazz sounds these days, at least in New York: seep swing, frontloaded lyricism, and a sense of frolic derived from absorbing the joys of free jazz. Two superb players, the trumpeter and saxophonist tackle their hero Monk’s chestnut and bounce loads of ideas around. The essence of jazz.
Various Artists: Conjure Rhythm in Philosophy (1985) – NYC bandleader Kip Hanrahan had a big spike of critical success when he dropped his first records, Coup de Tete and Desire Develops an Edge, in the early 80s. The Bronx native is an organizer/lyricist rather than an instrumentalist, and his victories were built around a deeply insightful sense of groove, a contagious sense of intrigue and very cool Rolodex. A few years later he turned his cast loose on the lyrics of writer/poet Ishmael Reed, and Conjure was heralded as yet another masterful move. DO check the entire album. For this mix, I peppered a few short tracks of Reed himself reading his work.
The Modern Jazz Quartet – Django (1956) – John Lewis’ timeless jewel, a lament that blends blues and Euro sensibilities into one of the bittersweet melodies in American music.
Abbey Lincoln – Mr. Tambourine Man (1996) – One of jazz’s most distinctive voices cuts to the heart of Dylan’s sidewalk reverie. Lincoln takes every one of the master’s images to heart and sells them with more élan than anyone else who’s tried their hand at it. And listen to the band shift to accommodate all her nuances. Dylan’s lyrics often sound silly coming from another’s mouth. Abbey owns them.
Jason Moran – Big Stuff (2010) – The pianist started earning accolades early – as soon as he hit Greg Osby’s band it was obvious he was going all the way. He’s a killer technician and a guy with a vision. Now he’s the Artistic Director of the Kennedy Center besides being the leader of a trio deemed The Bandwagon. During performances of this Billie Holiday nugget (penned by Leonard Bernstein for his Fancy Free ballet) he occasionally spins her recording and has his trio weave in and out of it. Sage.
Dexter Gordon – The Jumpin’ Blues (1970) – Virile, melodic, inventive, precise. One of jazz’s tenor titans makes Jay McShann’s somewhat ordinary blues theme quite extraordinary.
Various Artists: Conjure – St. Louis Women (1988) – More Reed. This one’s from Hanrahan’s second Conjure compilation, Cab Calloway Stands In For The Moon.
Bill Frisell – Little Jenny Dow (1992) – Stephen Foster’s second-tier ditty gets a big gush of joy from the remarkable guitar stylist, a guy who’s sound – whether plaintive or explosive – couldn’t sound more American. This is from his Have a Little Faith album where he also covers Madonna’s “Live to Tell.”
Jenny Scheinman – Johnsburgh, Illinois (2010) – Tom Waits’ life fully changed when he met his wife, Kathleen Brennan, and his valentine to her roots sounds wonderful being sung by Frisell associate Scheinman. She’s known as an intrepid violinist, but she’s also starting releasing albums of song songs. They’re pretty damn good.
Sonny Rollins – Valse Hot (1956) – With trumpeter Clifford Brown, the mighty saxophonist swoops and soars around a tune that’s as graceful as anything jazz. Propelled by Max Roach. See how the mid-5os is one of the threads in this list?
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross – What Am I Here For (1961) – The existential blues. The preeminent jazz vocal trio tackles an Ellington gem and ponders the big questions.
Tribalistas – Carnalismo (2002) – A Brazilian supergroup sorts – Marisa Monte, Arnaldo Antunes and Carlhinos Brown united to cut one album, and it’s a beaut from start to finish. This one has a music box simplicity.
Various Artists: Conjure – Judas (1986) – Reed again. Imagine Mr. Iscariot in a corduroy suit made in Poland and $30 shoes.
Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra – Forever (2005) – The ever-determined bassist began his politically-charged in 1969, using Carla Bley’s arrangements to turn people’s heads. They connected intermittently through the years, and on this outing, delivered the same kind of passion that fueled them from the start.