9 Outstanding Live Jazz Recordings

Work and blogging

As many of you know, this really isn’t my day job. I work in a completely unrelated industry. Recently I’ve traveled on average 2-3 times per week, so my blogging has taken a back seat.

I’ll still try to get a blog post done every two weeks. The best you can do, instead of having to check back on my somewhat unreliable posting schedule, is just to sign up with your email on the right, so new updates will come to your inbox, or follow me on WordPress. Like this you don’t miss any update.

Live Jazz Recordings

Furthermore, given my workload, I’ll shamelessly steal from my own forum post here at Computer Audiophile, where I post quite regularly on music, and less so on audio gear.

I have previously written about my 25 Essential Jazz albums, but had never done a specific post on live jazz albums. Triggered by “Route66″‘s question, I went through my album library and had a look at which live albums I can particularly recommend. The  OP was particularly interested in small Jazz club-type venues, so this further limited the selection to the following 9 albums. Some of them I’ve written about previously, some of them are new to this blog.

Cannonball Adderley: Mercy Mercy Mercy – Live At “The Club” (Capitol 1966)

 

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Live at "The Club" Capitol / Blue Note 1966

I’ve previously written about this album here, and it is worth having already for the outstanding title track.

 

Bill Evans Trio: Waltz for Debby (1961)

I’ll mention Bill Evans twice on this blog post. Bill Evans during his career had three major trios (see also this blog post on his middle trio). He started, after the work with Miles Davis, with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. Unfortunately, LaFaro passed away in an accident shortly after the album below was recorded. Many still consider this early trio his best. I don’t necessarily agree, as I really love his later trios very much as well.

Bill Evans Trio Waltz for Debby

 

Waltz for Debby is part of several recordings taken by the trio live at the Village Vanguard. The Village Vanguard is one of the legendary NYC jazz clubs that is still open today. If you want more of it, you can also get The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings 1961 box, which includes the titles above. You’ll see it popping up a number of times below in this post.

The advantage of getting the individual Waltz For Debby album is that you can try to find one of the many audiophile remasters. I’ll leave it to others to debate which of the several available remasters is the best, and will recommend the HDtracks version which is already pretty good. Musically in any case, this album, is an absolute must have and really helped define the category of the Jazz Piano Trio.

My Rating: 5 stars

 

Bill Evans Trio: Consecration

Bill Evans Consecration The Final Recordings Part 2 Live At The Keystone Korner September 1980 Fantasy Recordings

Consecration is already mentioned as part of my 25 Essential Jazz albums. This is Evans’s latest trio, and actually his very final recording before his early passing.

Do I prefer Consecration over Waltz For Debby, or vice versa? Why decide? Get both!

Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio Vol. 2 – Live At the Village Vanguard (1991)

This one is a new addition to the blog.

Brad Mehldau Live At The Village Vanguard The Art Of The Trio Volume Two

 

I’ve written about my love/hate relationship with Brad Mehldau several times (see here for example), but Vol. 3 of his early series The Art Of The Trio is listed in my 25 Essential Jazz albums. This live album is not as good as the studio vol. 3, but still very much worth having. Especially for Moon River, a particular favorite of mine. Recordede at the same Village Vanguard as the Bill Evans 30 years earlier.

My rating: 4 stars

The Jazz Messengers At The Cafe Bohemia Vol. 1 (1955)

The Jazz Messengers At The Café Bohemia Vol. 1

I haven’t written about Hard Bop for a long time. Actually, I haven’t even listened to Hard Bop a lot recently, which is a pity, as this is one of my favorite genres.

I’ve even done an entire mini-series on the Jazz Messengers and their several alumni.

The above 1955 album is one of those who started it all. Look at the line-up. Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham. All of these had successful solo careers after which (check out my blog for recommended albums in the above mini series).

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any new audiophile remastering of this album, so you can probably just as well go with the regular CD remastering by Rudy Van Gelder (although I’m not a particular fan of his remasters in general).

My rating: 4 stars

Giovanni Mirabassi: Live At the Blue Note Tokyo (2010)

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Giovanni Mirabassi was also mentioned several times on this blog, including as part of my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

This album, recorded live in Toyko, is not my absolute favorite, but still a very good performance. What is nice about it that the trio takes time for each track, often 8-10 minutes, allowing melodic development and soloing.

My rating: 4 stars

Christian McBride Trio: Live At The Village Vanguard (2015)

The Christian McBride Trio Live At The Village Vanguard 2015 MackAvenue

No, I haven’t selected albums simply on the fact that they were recorded at the Vanguard. It is just simply a very popular recording spot.

I’ve written about this album previously, you’ll find my review here.

 

Enrico Pieranunzi: Live At The Village Vanguard (2013)

Yes, also Pieranunzi has recorded at the Vanguard in 2010.

I’ve written previously that I consider Pieranunzi as really following the Bill Evans heritage.

Enrico Pieranunzi with Marc Johnson Paul Motian Live At The Village Vanguard

And look at the lineup here: Paul Motian was already the drummer on Waltz For Debby above, and Marc Johnson was the bass player in Evans’ middle quartet (but has later played a lot with Pieranunzi).

This is a very good live album, but doesn’t get to the intensity swing-wise of his master. It’s very much worth having still. Pieranunzi really develops the lyrical side of Bill Evans even further.

Check out this video, how Paul Motian called up Pieranunzi for this one week live gig. The text is in Italian, but you get enough excerpts of the music to get a good idea.

 

My rating: 4 stars

 

Michael Wollny Trio: Weltentraum Concert Edition – Live At The Unterfahrt

Michael Wollny Trio Live At The Unterfahrt Weltentraum Concert Edition ACT 2014 Tim Lefebvre Eric Schaefer

I’ve listed Weltentraum among my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Michael Wollny is one of the most creative pianists we have today. This is the live album of Weltentraum, recorded at the Unterfahrt jazz club in Munich in 2014. This album is really as good as the studio one, in many respects even better. Very much worth having.

My rating: 5 stars

 

You can find the newly listed albums here, for links to the other albums please go to the original blog post.

Evans Waltz For Debby: here (HDTracks)

Brad Mehldau: here (Qobuz)

Jazz Messengers: here (Qobuz)

Giovanni Mirabassi: here (Qobuz)

Enrico Pieranunzi: here (Camjazz)

Michael Wollny: here (Qobuz)

 

 

The Legacy Of The Jazz Messengers (7): Kenny Dorham’s Whistle Stop

I haven’t been continuing my Jazz Messengers Mini-Series for a while. It’s really time to change that.

Kenny Dorham is probably one of the least know Jazz Messengers, and this in spite of the fact that he played on the famous Café Bohemia sessions, and being the composer of the great standard Blue Bossa (I just love that song, check it out on Joe Henderson’s Page One or Dexter Gordon’s Biting the Apple).

He has recorded quite a number of noteworthy albums, including Afro-Cuban (1955), Quiet Kenny (1959), Matador (1962), Una Mas (1963), and Trompeta Toccata (1964), all of which are very much worth checking out.

Whistle-Stop (Blue Note 1961)

Kenny Dorham Whistle Stop Blue Note 1961

 

So why call out Whistle Stop? Well, two reasons: a) the cast is stellar, with Hank Mobley, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, and b) we have only Dorham originals on this album

My favorite song is the bluesy Buffalo, which swings nicely and gives both Dorham and Mobley enough time to develop their solos. Another nice one is the title track, Whistle Stop, faster paced, but nicely grooving. Philly Twist is not dedicated to Philly Joe Jones, the drummer.

This is well done hard-bop, and deserves to be better known.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (HDtracks)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (6): Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones

I’ve a little bit neglecting my Jazz Messengers Mini-Series, don’t really know why. Maybe it is because I consider Freddie Hubbard’s albums for example as just a little bit less essential than the artists I’ve written about so far. Well, anyway, here we go again:

Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard is considered among musicians as one of the trumpet legends. He probably is one of the typical “musician’s musician”. He has, as my title indicates, played with the Jazz Messengers, but has played with pretty much every well-known Jazz musician of the period, be it John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, you name it. He also plays on The Blues And The Abstract Truth, one of my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Hub-Tones

Why the 1962 Blue Note album Hub-Tones?

Well, I was torn for a while whether I should feature Open Sesame, Ready For Freddie (both released 1 and 2 years prior to Hub-Tones on BlueNote), or one of the two subsequent releases on Impulse, The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard, or The Body And The Soul. 

You get the picture, these years between 1960 and 1965 were highly productive for Freddie, and all of the above mentioned albums are worth having.

Freddie Hubbard Hub-Tones 24/192 Blue Note 1962

One of the reasons I chose Hub-Tones is probably the cover. Blue Note’s cover art from this period was generally excellent, but I really like the minimalist cover of this particular album.

The other reason is Herbie Hancock, which I prefer slightly to McCoy Tyner on the two previous Blue Note albums (yes, I have a piano background so those things matter to me).

Finally, this album features a lot of Hubbard originals, which I really appreciate.

Another great artist on this album is James Spaulding playing the flute and alto sax alternatively, who is not that well known these days, but has played as a sideman for a large number of Blue Note albums.

My rating: 4 stars

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (HDTracks)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (5): Wayne Shorter – Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter

Why did I wait so long, you may ask? Why write about 4 other guys before Wayne Shorter, the absolute heavyweight among the Jazz Messengers Alumni, the only one (to my knowledge) that is still alive and playing?

The guy who got a letter of recommendation by saxophone god John Coltrane to join the Jazz’ Jupiter (big boss of the gods) Miles Davis. Who helped kick off (sadly to my mind, but who am I to judge) the Jazz-Rock and Fusion movement with the group Weather Report he co-founded, and even played with the Stones at some point?

Well, don’t know really. Two issues come to mind: a) respect: what can I still say about such a genius that hasn’t been said before (didn’t stop me in the other posts you may argue, and you’re right). b) choice: So far in my little series on the Jazz Messengers I’ve always picked one, the most enjoyable album, only. That was still kind of doable with the other 4 guys I’ve mentioned here, but which one do you choose for Wayne? At least 3 albums spring to mind that need to be mentioned!

You know what, I’ll just take the liberty (it’s my blog after all, I can do what I want, ain’t it nice?) and do several posts about Wayne, each one with one of my favorite albums.

Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter Adam's Apple

Why start with Adam’s Apple? Well, alphabetically it comes first.

No, just kidding, even easier: It is simply the album that got the most plays of all Shorter albums in the last five years. Computer audio is amazing, I not only know what you did last summer (sorry for the stupid movie pun), but thanks to iTunes I can be my own personal NSA and check what I was listening on November 4th, 2011, 8pm for example (Ton Koopman’s Bach cantatas vol. 6, if you’re interested).

Back to Adam’s Apple. I mean, look at the rhythm section, there’s another genius, Herbie Hancock on piano. He’s probably the key reason why I like this album so much. Also, in spite of being released in 1966 (usually a bit “late” for me), it is still very much a proper hard bop album, no fusion or other on here.

And then there are two songs that are worth highlighting as I can’t get enough of them. First there is the title track, it is just swinging and grooving as hard bop should be. Even the guys a blue note tell me on this album Shorter “finds the Groove”, check out this link, it’s got interesting background info on the album.

And then there is the magical (to me) Footprints. Apparently it is not a Jazz waltz (the experts tell me, as this is 6/8 and not 3/4, plus the song keeps changing meter), but still I’d put in one line with the great Jazz Waltzes I really appreciate (probably I need to write another top ten list here). On top of that, Herbie Hancock’s playing here reminds me a lot of Maiden Voyage. 

In short: I really hesitate between 4 and 5 stars here. On one hand it’s Shorter, and has two outstanding songs, on the other hand some of the other songs are not at the same level.

Well if I have to decide: 4 stars in total. 

You can find it here and here. I strongly suggest you go for the recent 24/96 remaster if you care about sound quality (skip the more expensive 24/192), as it is significantly better than the RVG remaster CD released in the 2000’s.

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (4): Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder

Part 4 now of my mini-series on the Jazz Messengers’ spin-offs.

Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan was famous even before the Jazz Messengers, as he’d already played with Dizzie Gillespie. But his stardom even rose further after playing on the famous Moanin‘ album from the Messengers, which I still need to write about.

The Sidewinder

I was a bit hesitant at first whether I should really write about this particular 1963 album, which obviously is by far his largest commercial success as a leader. Doesn’t he have many other great albums, like The GigoloDelightfulee, Vol. 3, Tom Cat, The Cooker, or Cornbread, all of which I’d highly recommend.

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Well even though I wanted to be creative, and not recommend an album that made it into the Billboard pop charts (heresy!) I gave up in the end. There is something just magical about the bluesy groove of The Sidewinder’s 10:28 title track, that I just had to recommend this first. It may not be the most creative album, nor the most artistically developed, but hey, it is just addictive.

A great rhythm section

Obviously, a great deal of this addictiveness stems from the rhythm section (especially Harris, but also Crenshaw, Higgins), but we also get another taste of Joe Henderson (although his solo on the title track is not very memorable, he get’s better on Totem Pole).

And then there is Lee himself, his playing is fantastic, and he actually wrote all the songs himself. A little bit of trivia on Morgan: he died a rather unusual death for a Jazz musician of the time (i.e. not of drugs or alcohol), but was shot by his long-term girlfriend of the time in 1971 for unclear reasons.

Luckily, this is not a “one-hit-wonder” album, all the other tracks of the album are very good, I particularly like Gary’s Notebook.

Overall rating: Groovy, Baby! (formerly known as 5 stars)

Addendum: Reader Bob Ryan kindly commented here that I omitted to mention “Search For The New Land” as one of the must have albums for Lee Morgan. I absolutely concur with his opinion.

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (3): Joe Henderson – Inner Urge

Not properly speaking a Jazz Messenger Alumni

Putting Joe Henderson into my little Jazz Messengers mini series is probably slightly incorrect, I don’t think Henderson ever played directly at the Jazz Messengers, but he started playing quite a bit with Kenny Dorham, another Messengers alumni, and he also contributes to my previously mentioned Horace Silver album “Song for my Father“, and the hardbop classic “Sidewinder” by Lee Morgan (more about this later).

Joe Henderson

I nevertheless wanted to mention him here, as I believe he was heavily influenced by his first real gigs, including those above (although Henderson himself cited mainly Charlie Parker as a lead influence). He went on rather quickly to lead several albums on Blue Note. Funnily enough, apparently he was “discovered” by another great saxophone player Dexter Gordon (who I personally never particularly liked, as a side note).

The other reason for bringing him up here is that I had the pleasure of hearing 3 out of four of the musicians on the album this post will eventually get to live (albeit all individually) including Henderson himself at a gig in the late 80s in Hamburg, and Elvin Jones and McCoyTyner in the early 2000s in Paris. So there’s a (if tiny) personal connection here.

Like Hank Mobley, Henderson is maybe not one of the real A-league saxophonists, but still better known compared to the former, probably also due to the fact that he continued recording albums up to the 1990s.

Joe Henderson’s greatest albums in my humble (is it really humble? hopefully) opinion, are all on Blue Note, from a short period between 1963 and 1966 (notice a pattern here, how glorious these days were for Jazz…). Namely, Page One, In ‘n Out, Mode For Joe, and, obviously:

Inner Urge

MMBST-84189-2

Why this album? Well, being a pianist (well that’s stretching it, but let’s rather say having played the piano), my answer is called McCoy Tyner. He really does an outstanding job on this album, in the beautiful combination with Elvin Jones on drums. These two obviously knew each other well from playing with Coltrane, including on the legendary “A Love Supreme“.

The title track – Amazing

There is a very simple reason to buy the album: the eponymous title track. Nearly 12 minutes of tension and harmonic complexity that reminds me in some places of the above mentioned “A Love Supreme“. 5 stars plus for this track only.

The other tracks, with the exception of the great “El Barrio“, where Elvin Jones builds a mesmerizing latin groove, are more fillers. Isotope is swinging nicely, but not very memorable, Night and Day is a bit light for an album ending (but Jones drums manage to keep it interesting), but overall never mind, this album is worth purchasing for two tracks only. Or if you have a download site that allows purchasing by track, stick to 1 and 3 and you’re all set.

Overall rating: 5 stars (I’m a bit hesitant here and probably should rather give 4.5 stars, but I don’t want to dilute my rating system even further and just decide that the title tracks on its own is worth the 5 stars).

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (2): Hank Mobley – Soul Station

For part II of my little mini-series (well, given the number of relevant musicians that I really like, it may turn out maxi, who knows) on the Jazz Messengers, I obviously had a lot of choice. I ended up with Hank Mobley.

Hank Mobley

Why? He’s certainly one of the lesser known artists of the Jazz Messenger stable, and also one of the least well-known Tenor players (Coltrane, Shorter, Rollins, … would anybody spontaneously continue this list with Mobley?)

However, his albums are consistently good. They are never outstanding, I don’t have a single five-star album with Mobley, but I’ve rated most of his albums a very solid four star, they are just always fun to listen too. Getting to such a consistency is already a major achievement for me.

What are those four star albums? Well, you can pretty much chose blindly. Whether it is (in alphabetical order to avoid any impression of ranking) A Caddy For Daddy (what a nice title), Dippin, No Room For Squares, Hi Voltage, Roll Call, Soul Station, or Workout, they are all just a lot of fun. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Well Mobley and his several groups have plenty.

Mobley grew up learning the … piano. Apparently he starting playing the saxophone only at the age of 16. I sometimes wonder, had he started earlier, would we list him with the Coltranes of this world? If Wikipedia is to be believed,  Miles Davis had considered him as a replacement for Coltrane for a little while (what is for sure is that you’ll find Mobley on the great Miles Davis album “Someday My Prince Will Come” playing alongside Coltrane).

As part of the Messengers he also played with Horace Silver, including the nice album “Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers” I completely forgot to mention in my previous post.

Soul Station

Hank Mobley Soul Station Blue Note 24 192

 

So why did I pick his 1960 album Soul Station here? Well, there’s obviously the personnel: Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, plus Art Blakey. What could possible go wrong? In any case, I don’t seem to be alone in preferring this album (witness this very nice article about him written by the folks at BlueNote), and Jazz critic Bob Blumenthal wrote that this album could be considered his “Saxophone Colossus” or “Giant Steps”.

Luckily I didn’t even have to research the facts above, as I have a very simple system: given that I try to rate individual songs as much as possible within iTunes, I can simply check the average score of an album. While most of my Mobley albums net out at four stars throughout, Soul Station stands out just a bit at “4.33” stars.

Two exceptional tracks

The album stands out due to two exceptional tracks: This I Dig Of You and Soul Station. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these are the longest tracks on the album. I’ve noticed before that usually the really long tracks (Soul Station is 9:05) are often the best, probably because they just leave more room to the individual soloing.

Overall rating: 4 stars (well 4 1/3 mathematically…)