Tag Archives: lists

Top Five Jazz Albums to Play On Rapture Day

Be on the lookout for a dude named Ezekiel grabbing his trumpet and jumping into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” It’s almost time for the rapture to grab up the true believers. I’ve read where the rickety California millionaire driving the whole thing is a fan of music, both celestial and earthly. Perhaps we can assume his tacit sanctioning of these glorious jazz titles as possible soundtracks to the end-days party.

Ascension, John Coltrane (Impulse!)

The erupting horns, the tumultuous drums, the collective agitation – it won’t be an easy ride to the next world. But those who have lived with Trane’s hectic hosanna for a few decades know that the turbulence is balanced by joy – a gospel shout of a different kind. And that’s a hell of an Amen Corner that Pharoah Sanders sits in.

All Rise, Wynton Marsalis (Sony Classical)

As usual Wynton is documenting the common hardships and simple pleasures that cross our paths from cradle to grave – call it a celebration of life’s unpredictable arc.  Maybe that’s why it would make such a grand parting soundtrack: the string orchestra, jazz big band, and sizable chorus create a whomp sufficient enough to make the last glance over your shoulder have a profound emotional impact.

Goin’ Home, Archie Shepp/Horace Parlan (Steeplechase)

Of course, you don’t need a billowing orchestra to provide your celestial outro music. A simple chat between two pals could be poignant enough to get the job done. This pair’s string of duet records began with this program of church music, and the plush tone of Shepp’s tenor gets a big hug from Parlan’s piano every step of the way.

Visions of the Emerald Beyond, The Mahavishnu Orchestra (Columbia)

It takes a certain mindset to waltz towards that white light. Back in the early ’70s, it seemed the frenzied guitarist was so ready to forsake terra firma, he played a double-neck instrument to get there in half the time. Of course, some would say that gooey fantasias such as “Eternity’s Breath” are full of hot air. When prancing towards oblivion, I’ll take “Cosmic Strut” any day.

Judgement!, Andrew Hill (Blue Note)

The shadows on the cover, the music’s eerie tone, the subtle mystery of the band’s interaction – maybe the Rapture needs to deep-six all those glorious adagios and have its participants meet their maker by slipping away down a dark alley. Hill will hurry them along.

And if the planet doesn’t crack apart by 6 pm tomorrow? Come on back here, we’ve got a song suggestion for that, too.

Hey, Dave Douglas rightly included Messiaen on his Apocalypse playlist

Pete Townshend: 10 Overlooked Songs by The Who

Roger Daltry is taking Tommy on the road. That can’t be a good idea. I hope Pete is at home celebrating his 66th birthday this morning, maybe trying to finish a new song. Some of the Who‘s best work was overshadowed by their massive hits. Last week a pal sent over a listicle we made at VH1 a few years ago. The job was to celebrate all things Who. Blasting “Daddy Rolling Stone” and “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands” today should fulfill on that.  Have at it, then. Happy Birthday, Pete. Ten Great Overlooked Songs By The Who.

JD Allen’s Five Favorite Sax Trios

JD ALLEN TRIO from Les Films Jack Febus on Vimeo.

JD Allen’s trio has been refining its well-considered music for a few years now. The tenor saxophonist likes things to be pliable, and of course he follows his jazz muse to places where extrapolation thrives. But his inner editor is always riding shotgun on these trips.  Allen genuflects to the power of pith, so as he and his team examine a melody, they also sculpt it. Bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston assist the leader in nurturing such concision on Victory! (Sunnyside), the band’s third disc. Like its predecessors, it throw several punches – Allen has a yen for physical music – but always keeps an eye on clock. Being succinct is a primary virtue in their world.

“The new record documents a band that’s growing,” says the 38-year-old Allen. “We still have more learning to do about each other as people and players.  I don’t ever want to get comfortable.”

From the aggressive spills of “Motif” to the poised intricacies of “The Hungry Eye,” the chemistry is palpable, and the deep communication allows for all sorts of leeway. Allen remains inspired by his approach.

“People come up and say, ‘So you’re doing another trio project.’ I refuse that word. I don’t believe in it. When I was growing up, projects were kind of square. So, no this is not a project, it’s a band. I got some other ideas I want to get to, but I’m still in love with this format. It’s not a novelty. I think this is where the stuff is going. You can run out of those 12 notes and you can play every one of those 88 keys, but a good conversation will go on forever. And playing trio allows for that.” You can hear that tack in action when they get to Le Poisson Rouge on Wednesday night.

To celebrate the arrival of Victory!, we asked Allen to weigh in on five sax trios he deems key to the idiom. “It was fun to consider,” he says, “but in some ways I was pretty surprised at the bands I chose!”

Lee Konitz, Motion (Verve) 

Great record. I got into it a few years ago. Mr Konitz is smoking on this. The way it was put together? Wow. He used standard forms, but put his ideas on top of them.  He fleshed out something that was not so familiar, but on a familiar form.  Considering the school of thought he came out of, I’ve always thought he brought a street element to the music. They’re swinging hard. It’s Elvin Jones here. Konitz is very melodic. It made me want to investigate those standard songs. Those are tunes we all know and love. He dealt with song forms, but still sounded wild, like on “I Remember April,” you say, “That’s what this is?” Brilliant.  I heard a recording of him with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden, and they played “Cherokee,” which is usually a macho tempo thing. They played it clever, though.  I hope I get to talk to him some day, pick his brain.

JM: Ethan Iverson spoke with him about a few of these ideas for Jazz Times. The piece just went live today.

JD: I’ll check that out.

Yusef Lateef, Into Something (Prestige)

That’s another one Elvin Jones is on. There’s one oboe cut, but the rest is straight up tenor. “Water Pistol” and all that? Beautiful. But the one that knocks me out is “When You’re Smiling.” It’s so melancholy. There’s something about the way he plays it. When I listen to this record, I go back to that track about 10 times. If I could get that right…I’ve tried to play it myself, but I think I’ve gotta get a little older before I get it right. I read that Elvin picked all the tempos. The [band] maintains the intensity level, even though each tempo is the same. The music still manages to lift up. I dare anyone to try to do a gig like that. Playing every tune at the same tempo? That sometimes happens at jam sessions, but they don’t know they’re doing it. Speak No Evil has the same kind of thing, where every song has the same tempo – although they certainly manage to knock it out the box on that one, too.

JM: This was recorded in 1961, too, like Motion. Maybe guys were trying to keep up with Rollins trio-wise after Way Out West in ’59. Sonny put a lot of stuff into play.

JD: Could be. Way Out West, that record is like a movie, man. So thematic. I see it, the cowboys, the drums, the prairie. Mr. Rollins had a theme going on.

3 Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul

Oh man, intelligence. Open ended freedom, but a really smart approach. I like what Butch Morris once said, “I’ve seen people choke on freedom.” It happens. Sam Rivers ain’t choking on anything. He’s informed. I hear the tradition in his playing, I hear adventure, I hear the search. Then he jumps on the piano. And flute. He calls it spontaneous combustion, which to me means  concentrated energy. He’s an improviser.  I went to that Columbia concert, when they got back together in 2007. I wasn’t going to miss that. Mr. Rivers is an older man, but he played with youth. He was vibrant, alive, informed. Hell of a cat, man, bad.

4 Branford Marsalis/Bob Hurst/Jeff Watts

I saw him when I was about 15 or 16 years old. First of all I couldn’t figure out how Jeff played like that and everyone could still keep their place. He played like an elephant falling down the stairs, except Branford was right there with him; they were rolling together. Later I went up and said “Pleasure to meet you Mr. Marsalis.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, call me Branford.” I got so happy. I wanted to be Branford when I was a kid. Thought he was slick. When I got older and I met him, I understood. His personality is right in the horn.  His music is his character. Comedic sense, timing, sarcasm. He always sounds like Branford. The personality shines through in various situations. Not enough people give him credit for his playing. This trio takes it to the paint. They gun it. I’m from Detroit. I grew up with the bad boys, the Pistons, you know?We like it when they play a little rough. These guys? Right to the paint.

Sonny Rollins, Live At the Village Vanguard (Blue Note) 

It’s amazing, and I mean every aspect that word implies. Amazing.  He plays older tunes but he sounds free. And the music is so raw.  “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” – it feels like a cat sneaking in somewhere, spooky sounding. It’s always in my mind. Before I got to town, before I ever went to the Vanguard, I could see the room through that song. It’s a picture of a New York club. When I got there, I was right. He described it perfectly. The pictures on the walls. I love every period of Sonny Rollins.

John Murph rocked this JazzTimes profile. 

Revivalist Interview with JD.

Will Friedwald profiles JD in the WSJ. 

Burning Ambulance interviews JD Allen 

Rasta Man Chant: Five Overlooked Bob Marley Tunes

Bob Marley is trending on Twitter today. 30 years after his death, the impact of his songs remains palpable. Sometimes it seems the only Bob tunes you hear are those that made it to Legend. Here are five somewhat overlooked Marley tracks I’d like to bump into more often.

Small Axe

Lots of people flock to reggae because the beats are so supple, so elastic. Here’s a great example of the Wailers’ rhythm section bending the action every which way. Of course Marley’s lyric of liberation drives the freedom fighting vibe, too.

Simmer Down

Before the sage philosophy came the jumping grooves, and this early ska track reminds us that Saint Bob enjoyed a good party now and then. And it’s got a legacy, too. The Specials and the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones both covered it. Irresistible.

Trench Town Rock

Marley’s lyrics always cut to the chase, and this song’s opening line is one of his most famous: “One good thing about music — when it hits, you feel no pain.” The 1971 track bristles with ghetto authority, urging listeners to revel in the healing power of song. No surprise it was the best-selling single in Jamaica that year, setting the stage for his global stardom.

Who The Cap Fit 

Treachery was in the air when he penned this gem from Rastaman Vibration. But even this kind of indictment is delivered with a gentle lilt.

Rastman Chant

The final track on Burnin’ is a hymn that floats in the air forever, with a pulsing groove that has a little Booker T & the MGs in it.

Here’s an old “Great Marley Tracks” list a colleague and I made at VH1 years ago.

Here are some nifty shots of Marley in action. 

Mood Indigo: 15 Great Ellington Ballads

Sure, every right-thinking human likes to get slapped around by “Cotton Tail,” “Harlem Air Shaft,” and “Braggin’ In Brass.” But one of my prized possessions is a mixed tape that unites a scad of Duke Ellington’s softer scenarios. Our hero had a penetrating way with setting a somber mood, as well as myriad approaches towards getting the job done. I particularly like the wordless vocal style applied to jewels such as “On A Turquoise Cloud” and “Transblucency.” Here are 15 ballads that should transport you to “other planes of there,” as Ellington fan Sun Ra once put it. It’s all in celebration of the maestro’s 112th birthday on April 29.

1. In A Sentimental Mood, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse!)

The mild dissonance of the pianist’s opening lick, the piercing sense of loss brought by the saxophonist – here’s a great start to a wistful episode.

2. Warm Valley, The Blanton/Webster Band (RCA)

Johnny Hodges couldn’t sound any more inviting as he distributes his heart to all within earshot.

3. On A Turquoise Cloud, The Duke: Essential Collection 1927-62 (Columbia)

Disturbingly gorgeous, with Kay Davis chanteusing her way through the theme.

4. Isfahan, The Far East Suite (RCA)

Billy Strayhorn set his sights on eerie reverie when he penned this nugget, and Hodges makes the melody as  dreamy as possible.

5. Solitude, The Duke (Columbia)

The full band saunters through it with aplomb, but the Ellington solo intro on this version brings the forlorn feelings front and center.

6. Fleurette Africaine, Money Jungle (Blue Note) 

The experimentalist tinge was in full effect when Ellington connected with Charles Mingus and Max Roach for this trio session. Spare and seductive, it brims with the drummer’s tapping and the bassist’s inspired noodles.

7. Awful Sad, Early Ellington (Decca/GRP)

It moves a tad faster than a ballad might, but it conjures regret again and again. Don’t forget Jenny Scheinman‘s version.

8. A Lull At Dawn, Caravan (Giants of Jazz)

A moment of reflection before the day begins…or is it as the night ends?

9. Lotus BlossomAnd His Mother Called Him Bill (RCA)

Strays moves into comtemplationville, a place where he definitely knows the lay of the land.

10. Creole Love Call, Love Songs (Columbia)

Saucy trumpet, stately tempo and angelic trilling from Kay Davis. Is this a foxtrot?

11. Azure, The Ultimate Collection, (Burning Fire)

A deep atmosphere, no doubt. Substitute Ella’s sublime guitar/voice rendition if you must. “Always haunted by the dream I own…”

12. Dusk, Never No Lament: The Blanton/Webster Band (RCA)

Eloquence and poise are neck and neck on this one, cut in the spring of 1940.

13. Passion Flower, Live At the Blue Note (Blue Note)

This version, for the way the horns float behind Hodges as he wafts through Strayhorn’s homage to romance, and for the flourish at the finale.

14. A Hundred Dreams Ago, Piano In the Foreground (Columbia)

It glistens with a wealth of emotions, from the mournful to the mysterious. The entire record is enchanting.

15.  Melancholia, Piano Reflections (Blue Note)

With his bassist bowing right along with him, Ellington lets his moony side take over. Graceful and gorgeous.

New Yorker profile 

Chatting with Swedish TV