By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Sun Ra, "Saturn"
In the year of Ornette Coleman's debut, no one paid much mind to the former Sonny Blount; critics sniffed at the eclecticism, the cultism, the garage sonics. Who can blame them? Compared to Coleman, Taylor, Russell, and Mingus, his bop was distilled with a touch of corn and more than a touch of doo-wop. He looked forward, back, and across the way to the r&b bars. He wrote painstaking charts and involved good musicians, but was a do-it-yourself type who bided his time until the mountain came to him. His theme song, recorded in different versions, combines a six-beat piano intro, a 14-bar contrapuntal 7/4 setup melody, and the hooky main theme (in four and based on conventional changes). The latter may sound a bit too enchanted, but it generates energetic solos from tenor John Gilmore and baritone Pat Patrick, who along with the ensemble sway merrily. *Jazz in Silhouette(Evidence)
Miles Davis, "So What"
The track (and album) opens with a hushed prelude, reportedly contributed by Gil Evans; Paul Chambers's bass prompts a three-note Bill Evans phrase, leading to a unison bass-like figure played by those two, followed by Evans's enigmatic Spanish-style chords and, finally, Chambers's introduction of a beat and a theme, which is punctuated by unison chords from the three winds. The head couldn't be more basic: a 32-bar AABA song. But instead of chord changes, it offers two scales for the improvisersD minor with an E-flat bridge. Modalism has now found an accessible context and will soon be everywhere. Davis's solo sticks to the scales and is a lyrical marvel, immaculate in form and execution. Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane are far more prolix, but they too are focused by the harmonic austerity, and Evans finishes with tightly ground chords, showing that Monk didn't have a patent on minor seconds. It's the most enduringly popular jazz album of the LP era. *Kind of Blue(Columbia)
Gil Evans, "Le Nevada"
Speaking of minimalism, Evans, nearing 50 and having gained some marquee value for his work with Miles, initiated a big band "head" arrangement, something that had rarely been heard since Basie's days in Kansas City. All he had for "Le Nevada" was a hooky four-bar riff and a tempo, yet after several unsuccessful tries, he eked out a 15-minute bobbing fantasia with exuberant improvs by Johnny Coles, Jimmy Knepper, and, chiefly, ageless tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson. Typically, Evans had strolled over to the trombone section while the recording was in progress and wrote on a matchbook a riff that sent the performance into high gear. Elvin Jones contributed, too, by shaking shakers throughout. In the year of Ornette's Free Jazzand Eric Dolphy's Out There, this performance walked a tightrope between old (which bop had become) and new, auguring the spontaneous big bands Evans perfected a decade later. *Out of the Cool(Impulse)
John Coltrane, "Chasin' the Trane"
Coltrane enjoyed an authentic hit with "My Favorite Things," and would soon foster the apex of boudoir crooning with Johnny Hartman, before achieving mythic standing with A Love Supreme. This 16-minute blues in F, though, was the Rubicon many of his old admirers could not cross. Coltrane's break with convention didn't encourage dissertations on modes or free time; it elicited ecstasy or wrath. His battle, during 80 or so choruses, against the 12-bar structure that Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison maintain with yeoman determination, is a prodigal display of unbridled emotion: a howl, a mutiny, an invocation in the higher frequenciesthe informal beginning of expressionism in jazz, and an unforgettable performance in a year brimming with them. Armstrong and Ellington, Bill Evans, Davis, Gillespie, Getz and Eddie Sauter, Lee Konitz, Mulligan, Blakey, and others all released classics. *Live at the Village Vanguard(Impulse!)
Dexter Gordon, "Love for Sale"
In a prominent year for tenorsSonny Rollins home from the bridge, Stan Getz at home with BrazilGordon, relishing one of his many comebacks, helped put the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and temporal restraints of bop back on the map, though he, too, was playing long and would soon find himself edging toward modes. He was at a personal peak for two sessions backed by a model trio (pianist Sonny Clarke, bassist Butch Warren, drummer Billy Higgins), and though their music lacked the novel lilt of bossa nova, it had the catalytic power and rousing ingenuity of musicians brimming with ideas and having tremendous fun expressing them. Dexter had Coltrane's authority without the panic. "Love for Sale" is a fast hardball hit way out of the park, yet filled with bemused and melodic details; Gordon's broadsword sound exudes dignity, and not one measure of his long solo is superfluous. *Go(Blue Note)
Jackie McLean, "Love and Hate"
McLean, a Parker acolyte who had proven his bop precocity in the '50s with pungent timbre and razor-sharp acumen, got caught up in and animated by the turbulence of the '60s. On one of his most dramatic albums, he recorded three works by trombonist Grachan Moncur III (whose Evolutionis something of a companion disc). "Love and Hate" is the most ardent and compelling. It opens with a mourning gait, accented by Bobby Hutcherson's tamped vibraphone chords. After the memorable theme, McLean's caustic alto saxophone commences with a provocative phrase and then explores the harmonically spare terrain with wounded resolve. He sustains absolute emotional pitch, which is extended by Moncur and Hutcherson, while bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Roy Haynes steer a steady course. One way or another, almost everyone was responding to the new avant-garde. *Destination Out! (Blue Note)