By Matthew Kassel and Alex W. Rodriguez
Yesterday’s much celebrated “Ten Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die” post was a starter course, an easily digestible, rudimentary entry into the storied genre that not one person on the planet disagreed with. But today, we go further. Because for every Blue Train or Kind of Blue there’s a jazz album that’s as good, or better, but infinitely more obscure. Here are 10 of them, culled from about 100 years.
10. Louis Armstrong Satchmo at Symphony Hall Louis Armstrong’s triumphant return to the small-ensemble format came with the trumpeter at the peak of his powers, and surrounded by virtuoso sidemen. In addition to Armstrong’s updated renditions of his classic repertoire, clarinetist Barney Bigard and trombonist Jack Teagarden give inspired performances during their respective features, making this a singular document of these original jazz giants at their absolute best.
9. Sidney Bechet Moasic Select: Sidney Bechet Sidney Bechet’s completely inimitable style is in full force on these remastered takes of his work with Columbia from the 1920s to the 1940s. Really, any record that features Bechet’s wild virtuosity and shuddering vibrato is worth a listen; this boxed set just happens to feature some of the most carefully-restored examples of it, which can be difficult to find. Or, you can hear his “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” as the opening cut on the Midnight in Paris soundtrack — we can always leave it to Woody Allen to give the early jazz greats their due.
8. The Quintet Jazz at Massey Hall On May 15, 1953, the world heavy weight champion Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott to defend his title in a boxing match in Chicago. That same night Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach got on a stage in Toronto and played bebop standards with the same vigor with which a pugilist might throw his prize-winning punch. More people watched the boxing match 50 years ago, but you’d do well to check out this album now. Listen to Gillespie impetuously shrieking “salt PEE-nuts!” as Parker enters his solo.
7. Nancy Wilson with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley Nancy Wilson was only 24 years old when she joined Cannonball Adderley and his quintet to make this beautiful record. She sounds in complete command. Four of the tracks on this CD are instrumental, and they’re good post-bop numbers — featuring Louis Hayes on drums, Sam Jones on bass, Joe Zawinul on piano and Cannonball’s brother, Nat, on trumpet. But the group is at its best working behind Wilson, accentuating her impeccable voice.
6. Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Charles Mingus Money Jungle If you think of Duke Ellington as an even-tempered artist, then listen to Money Jungle, which he recorded in 1962 with Max Roach and Charles Mingus, and reconsider. This is an odd record, but its no exaggeration to say that it is one of the greatest piano trio recordings ever made. And if you’re looking for an album which showcases Ellington’s abilities as a pianist, this is the one to check out.
5. John Coltrane Quartet Crescent In 1964, John Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme — his most exalted album — to express his admiration for God. It deserves every bit of the attention it gets. But Crescent, made earlier that very year, with the same unflappable quartet of McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass, may be the saxophonist’s deepest and most affecting CD.
4. Count Basie Count Basie Live at the Sands No jazz list is complete without a big band, and Count Basie’s New Testament band of the 1950s and ’60s is one of the form’s most dynamic and hard-swinging exponents. This album, a live take of one of Basie’s popular Las Vegas shows, opening for Frank Sinatra, serves up a satisfying blend of classic Frank Foster charts, clever re-workings of pop tunes like Ray Charles’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and in-the-pocket solos from star sidemen such as trombonist Al Grey and trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison.
3. Julius Hemphill Dogon A.D. On Dogon A.D. — one of the finest examples of loft jazz out there, from 1972 — you’ll hear complex funk, repeated melodic patterns and spare instrumentation. Like Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, who founded the World Saxophone Quartet, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in the 1930s, and he never abandoned his attachment to the blues, even at his most experimental. In 2011 this record was reissued in limited supply by the International Phonograph Inc. label after years of being out of print.
2. Maceo Parker Life on Planet Groove This unfathomably funky set of music comes from the horn section that helped make James Brown famous: Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, and Fred Wesley. This live recording captures a brilliant highlight of their post-Brown careers, featuring adventurous improvisation alongside passionate showmanship. Parker described the music as “two percent jazz, 98 percent funky stuff,” and he and his bandmates cooked up a potent mix of creative blowing and unstoppable groove.
1. Claudia Quintet Royal Toast There have been dozens of great jazz releases cut during the past few years that could make up a worthy list of must-hear musical titles, but this one from The Claudia Quintet stands out in particular. Drummer and composer John Hollenbeck’s mesmerizing loops and the group’s constant polyrhythmic interplay offer a compelling example of what 21st century jazz can sound like: both maddeningly complex and irresistibly hard-grooving, performed by dexterous improvisers who inject something new into every take.