Musicophile’s 25 Essential Jazz Albums – Part II

Following up to part I of my 25 Essential Jazz albums, here are the entries 13-25. Again no ranking implied in the numbers, this is just a list of albums I think everybody should have heard, and to give you a good understanding of what it is I really like in Jazz.

13. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin (1958)

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Moanin Blue Note 24 192

Well, my entire mini-series on the Jazz Messengers’s spin-offs wouldn’t have been a series without this group. I’m not sure why I haven’t written about this album yet, but I eventually will.

14: Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands – Here Comes Charlie (1961)

Ella Fitzgerald Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie Verve 1961 24 192

Ella again is somebody with so many good albums to choose from. Just to give an example, the Ella and Louis series has been recommended everywhere, and I concur. The live recording Mack the Knife or her many songbook releases are also excellent.

So why this one? Well, purely subjectively again, it was one of my first I ever owned, and it’s got the outstanding 5 star track Cry Me A River.

15. Wayne Shorter: Adam’s Apple (1966)

Wayne Shorter Adam's Apple Blue Note

Already reviewed here.

16. Duke Ellington: Money Jungle (1963)

Duke Ellington Money Jungle

Duke Ellington obviously had a huge influence on Jazz, also as a composer of many standards. I’m not really into big band, but luckily he also did some albums with smaller crews, like the famous Duke Ellington & John Coltrane album, or this one, with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. I mean, what could go wrong if you combine these giants? This by the way has the best version ever of the great standard Caravan.

17. Stan Getz and Kenny Baron – People Time (1992)

Stan Getz Kenny Barron People Time The Complete Recordings

This is another example of a large box of “last concerts” recordings similar to the Bill Evans Consecration I wrote about in Part I of this post. This concert was recorded in Copenhagen very close to Stan Getz too early death.

Often duos in Jazz lack something, not here. This one is just beautiful, and a pleasure to listen to. If you don’t want to go for the full 6 box Complete Recordings, there’s also a 2 box compilation.

18. Oliver Nelson: The Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961)

Oliver Nelson Blues And The Abstract Truth 24 96

Oliver Nelson in a way is the One Hit Wonder of jazz. Or could you name any other album from him (with the possible exception of less known and less interesting part II follow-up with a different cast)?

In any case, just look at the line-up here, Evans!, Chambers!, Hubbard!, Haynes!, Dolphy! and you know you’re onto something. One of my favorite Impulse albums.

19. Oscar Peterson: Exclusively For My Friends (1968)

Oscar Peterson Exclusively For My Friends MPS 24 88

You could nominate many Oscar Peterson albums here. He is really one of the best pianists of all times. However, this set recorded in the cosy Black Forest in the personal studio of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, is probably one of the best, and most intimate. This album has recently been remastered from the original tapes.

20. Ray Brown: Summer Wind – Life At The Loa

Ray Brown Trio Summer Wind Live At The Loa Concord

You cannot talk about Oscar Peterson without mentioning Ray Brown, his legendary bassist. Ray has recorded several outstanding albums with the combo of Jeff Hamilton on drums and Gene Harris on the piano. To quote one of the tracks: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Well, this one’s got plenty.

21. Diana Krall: The Girl In The Other Room

Diana Krall The Girl in The Other Room 24 192

Talking about Jeff Hamilton, he also plays on this one.

But now you may ask me: what, 25 albums, only 3 vocal jazz among them, and you chose Krall vs. all the other alternatives? Well yes, you could argue about the choice of Krall in general, but not this album. This to me is the best she ever did, by far. The influence of her husband, Elvis Costello, on the songs is clearly there, and this is the first time in my opinion that she truly moves beyond the (very high-class) cocktail bar jazz of her previous albums. Unfortunately, she’s never again reached this level of musical depth since (I personally didn’t like her last two albums, Wallflower and Glad Rag Doll).

22. Grant Green – Idle Moments (1965)

Grant Green Idle Moments 24 192 Blue Note

I’m usually not a big fan of guitar jazz, but the nearly 15 minutes of the title track of this album with so many outstanding musicians, including Joe Henderson (see my post on him here) justifies the including here. I guarantee there’s not one minute of boredom in this slowly developing and evolving track.

23. Michael Wollny Trio – Weltentraum (2014)

OK, so ECM, the great German jazz label, got their share of albums here. Let’s make sure we add another great German jazz label, ACT.

Michael Wollny is one of the great German talents of today, and both the 2014 album Weltentraum as well as this live version are creative, inspired, and fun to listen to.

Michael Wollny Trio Weltentraum Live ACT

24. Alboran Trio – Near Gale (2008)

Alboran Trio Near Gale

Another ACT album. The Italian Alboran Trio seems to have completely disappeared since this 2008 album, and it’s equally great predecessor, Meltemi (2006). What a pity, this is again to me the epitome of a piano trio album.

25. Keith Jarrett: Solo Concerts Bremen-Lausanne (1973)

Keith Jarrett Solo Concerts Bremen Lausann

Yes, I’m cheating. I said in my own rules only one album per artist.

Well, but first of all I make the rules on my own blog, and then this blog has Keith Jarrett in the subtitle. I couldn’t walk away from this without a Jarrett Solo Concerto, given that this was the topic of my very first blog that started this entire adventure entry here.

I could have chosen the Köln Concert, and yes that is a must have for everybody. But so are the Sun Bear Concerts, Bremen Lausanne, The Carnegie Hall Concert or pretty much any other of his solo albums for that matter.

I still have the original vinyl of the excellent Bremen Lausanne, and it is basically just a placeholder for his entire solo works. If I have enough time, I’ll try eventually to review in detail all Keith Jarrett solo concerts.

So, that’s it folks, looking forward to your feedback!

Download sources:

Moanin: here (Qobuz)

Here comes Charlie: here (Qobuz)

People Time: here (Qobuz)

Oliver Nelson: here (Qobuz)

Oscar Peterson: here (Highresaudio)

Ray Brown: here (HDTracks)

Diana Krall: here (Qobuz)

Chick Corea: here (Qobuz)

Bremen-Lausanne: here (Qobuz)

Michael Wollny: here (Qobuz)

Alboran Trio: here (Qobuz)

Keith Jarrett live in Lucerne May 22, 2015

So, first entry. I had created this blog some time ago, thinking I’ll probably never write anything. The subtitle, from Jarrett to Brahms, I created with the site some time ago. Now I attended yesterday my first ever Keith Jarrett solo concert, so do I really have an excuse not to write about it? Why would you want to read this? No idea, I’m basically writing this for myself. I do love music, and I care about it very much and like sharing it, so if you share my passion, and maybe at least partially my taste, it maybe worth reading anyhow.

So back to the officially named “Kunst- und Kulturzentrum Luzern”, better known by its acronym, KKL. It is a beautiful building in on the shore of lake Lucerne, created by the French architect Jean Nouvel. In spite of heaving a leaky roof (google it if you want to find out more), it is a beautiful space, with loads of glass and steel. Inside you have a museum, some restaurants and cafés, a nice open roof top terrace with an amazing view over the old town and the lake, and most importantly, the main concert hall. It is a beautiful affair, and has excellent acoustics. It is mainly known for hosting the famous Lucerne Festival, but beyond classical you can attend contemporary music and the occasional Jazz concert here as well. They even go into mainstream by having some orchestra play the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean and other stuff (why somebody would want to hear THAT in concert, escapes me, but I digress).

So back to me being in front of this beautiful building. You should know that being disorganized and traveling a lot for work I wasn’t part of the crowd who bought ALL of the tickets in the 48h after they became available. I went nevertheless, trying my luck on the grey market. And lucky I was (well if you consider overpaying 25% over the already pretty ludicrous (Switzerland is a rich country) list price of the ticket.) Note that normally I would have ethically objected to supporting the grey market on this kind of stuff, but for such a rare bird as a Keith Jarrett solo concert, my conscience quickly shut up.

An amazing experience

8pm pretty sharp (this is Switzerland after all), sitting more or less comfortable in my seat in the middle of the first balcony (at least the black market dealer had the kindness of actually choosing one of the best seats available), lights went out, a speaker welcomed us and warned us all to shut up, switch of mobiles, and ABSOLUTELY not to take any pictures of any kind. (It seems that Keith has decided to stop concerts in the past over this) We’re left with one grand piano on the large stage that can easily hold a full Mahler 8th orchestra including Choir, and about 4 microphones (this concert being recorded for ECM, hopefully it will eventually get released). There he comes, wearing his apparently usual outfit of pretty regular pants, shirt, and sunglasses (I assume to protect him from the spotlights). I’m not a religious person at all, but this was pretty close to a catholic mass in a way, with Mr. Jarrett being our high priest. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had smelled incense.

Then it starts, and here my words start to fail me. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE! I’m a regular concert goer and have seen many great artists both in the Jazz and classical fields live, but this was outstanding. Unlike earlier may of his earlier concerts, he now seems to shy away from the 20-30 min long improvisations that fade one into the other, and he goes for smaller pieces, each 3 to less than 10 min long (I certainly didn’t check my watch…), getting up for applause every time. In a way, this is similar to his latest release solo album on ECM, Creation, where the longest piece doesn’t exceed 9:25). What a marvel each of those little gems were! Let me state first of all that I’m a sucker for melodies, being a bit simple minded, and I don’t like it very much when musicians stray to far from that. Jarrett has his occasional moments where he seems to think “who needs tonality” and just improvises on (to illustrate, take Paris/London Testament Part IX). Luckily for me, there were only two “songs” of this nature last night, and actually sitting there as part of the magical experience I didn’t even mind these parts too much. Let me state the obvious: Having been there in person doesn’t make me a very neutral judge. But what I’ve heard last night takes the best elements of the “old” concerts (Bremen/Lausanne, München/Bregenz, Sun Bear), and combines them with the greatest moments of the new concerts (Rio, Carnegie Hall). Again, I’m not religious, but I wouldn’t mind having some higher authority to pray to that ECM releases this recording (apparently, Jarrett has to ok this and is notoriously hard to please).

Jarrett having fun

I don’t have any other data points to compare to, but overall, he seemed to be in an excellent mood. He was joking with the audience, at some point once the applause faded he just said “What next? What now?”, closed the cover of the Steinway keyboard and pretended to play (“You don’t hear a lot?” was his joking comment back to the audience). Later during the concert, he even went up, walked over to a microphone that had been sitting in the dark, and told us a story about how this entire concert was for his Grandmother, and her Hungarian origins. Walking back to the piano, he rhetorically, and smilingly, asked the audience “but why would you care about this?” He even tolerated somebody very loudly coughing about 2 seconds into a new song, stopping but just joking about it (I assume me and half of the audience were afraid at that point he’d throw a tantrum instead).

Overall, the range of styles we got was amazing, from small introvert pieces that played a lot with Counterpoint (you could hear he played a lot of baroque) too much heavier, larger pieces where every finger was busy. We even got a very special tribute to BB King, with a Blues/Boogie Woogie-type improvisation. But the best (again, I’m a sucker for melodies) part came with encore number 3, a short improvisation over “When I fall in love”. I’ve only heard this from him in trio form (e.g. Live at the Blue Note, Whisper now), but never heard it solo. SOOOO BEAUTIFUL (yes I know I sound like an over excited teenager praising Justin Bieber, but what the heck). Even better than my previous encore favorite (beyond the obvious Köln Concert Part IIc), My Song from the Carnegie Hall Concert. Overall, I’m very glad I finally made it to my first live concert.

If you like his music, and there is a concert coming up even on your continent, I urge you to hop on a plane and go there, no matter how expensive the tickets are. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience. And let’s not forget, Mr. Jarrett just turned 70. We all cross fingers he’s doesn’t decide to retire any time soon,   but let’s enjoy it while it lasts. Let me stop here. In a later blog entry, I’ll talk a bit more about the other recorded live solo albums. No idea how often I’ll be able to write, but again, I just presume nobody will ever read this anyhow.