But some of my readers complained (rightfully so) that I’ve neglected the Jazz genre a bit on this blog. So just a handful of day before Christmas, let me point you to two beautiful Christmas Jazz compilations by two great labels.
A Concord Jazz Christmas
Concord Jazz is a great label that unfortunately has a bit disappeared from the map. Nevertheless, this best of Christmas Jazz is really worth it.
My favorite titles are Scott Hamilton’s Christmas Love Song, and obviously, being a great Gene Harris fan, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. But overall, the album avoids the overly cheesy territory and rather stays on the swinging side. Note that Concord also released a V2 of this album later, which I find much less appealing (even if it has some beautiful tracks)
Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz
The legendary Verve label obviously has released a number of Christmas albums over the years. However, this must be one of the best.
Look at the list: Ella Fitzgerald (obviously), but also Kenny Burrell, Shirley Horn, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson. Kind of the Verve All Stars.
You get a beautiful version of A Child Is Born with Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans Playing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and even a great Jingle Bells by Jimmy Smith. And yes, it also includes Rudolph, The Rednose Reindeer, Ella’s Christmas classic.
Again, an album that while giving you a nice Christmas feel, avoids the sugary overkill of some more contemporary collections.
Both are highly recommended.
My rating: 4 stars
Wishing all of you some relaxing Christmas days, or whatever other holiday you’re celebrating this year end!
You can find the albums here (Concord) and here (Verve)
He has a very particular style. There is a certain perfectionism (his outstanding technique clearly helps), but it is never going towards the mechanical perfection of some virtuosos, the perfectionism, particularly about timing, is always serving the music.
Levit doesn’t tend to be a virtuoso in general, he could easily be with his mastering of the piano, but he really never shows off. In many way, it is a very introvert way of playing which makes it even more interesting.
This album in many ways shows an even more intimate side of Levit. It is a very personal selection of music, from Busoni, via Schumann, to Rzewski and even Bill Evans. The common thread of the album can be found in the title, “Life”, as this album was strongly influenced by the death of a close friend of Levit.
The album starts with two transcriptions by Busoni of Bach originals. The Chaconne is a very good example of the intimate style I described above, in many ways it is the complete opposite of the somewhat overwhelming fireworks in fascinating recording of the same work by the young Benjamin Grosvenor. EDIT Dec 2018: A reader kindly pointed out to me that the Chaconne is actually Brahms’ transcription for the left hand, a much more subdued affair than Busonis fireworks. So basically this entire paragraph is just rubbish. I’ll leave the original text on just to alert you that sometimes I could benefit from doing some more background research when writing my reviews. In the meantime, take my notes with a grain of salt.
We continue with a rarely played variations work by Schumann, which makes me really hope that Levit will record more of his work. I’d love to hear his take on the Davidsbündlertänze or the Kreisleriana.
Another highlight of this album are the two Wagner transcriptions, from Parsifal and Tristan. I must admit not being a great fan of Wagner in general (this is actually the first time this composer even appears on this blog), but he clearly has written some great harmonies.
The album wraps up with one of my favorite compositions of Bill Evans, the simple Peace Piece from the 1958 album Everybody Digs Bill Evans.
There really couldn’t be a better ending to this very particular, personal album than this solemn, simple, but breathtakingly beautiful interpretation.
My rating: 5 stars
You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Acoustic Sounds)
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)
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
I suppose every blogger knows this question: what should I write about on my blog?
Well, you could say with several thousand albums in my personal library and 30M tracks in my Qobuz streaming subscription, finding material shouldn’t really be a problem. And it actually isn’t too much of an issue.
The harder question is often: What do I write about right now?
I often get inspired by either recent releases, by reading the specialized press, or by something I just happened to play on my stereo recently.
However, tonight I was a bit clueless. I knew it was time for another blog post, but didn’t really feel inspired about anything in particular.
Then the radio on my car trip back from work came to my rescue, as they played a track from the album below. I immediately knew I had to write about it.
So here we go:
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley is probably one of the more underestimated saxophone players. He never go the reputation of a Coltrane, Bird, or even Sonny Rollins. That said, he’s done some amazing albums. Not only he played on Kind Of Blue (see my post on my 25 essential Jazz albums), but also on Something Else from 1958 which has the best version ever of Autumn Leaves on it. Not to mention many other great albums, with or without Miles Davis.
Know What I Mean – Cannonball Adderley With Bill Evans (Riverside 1961)
Adderley and Bill Evans already played together on the above-mentioned legendary album Kind Of Blue in 1959. Two years later, on the Riverside label this time, they work together again, without Miles Davis this time. You have Percy Heath on bass, and Connie Kay on drums.
And the mood is completely different to Kind Of Blue‘s intimacy, this is swinging Jazz that will make you smile immediately.
You start with the great Bill Evans standard Waltz For Debbie, a song I personally cannot get enough of. And this is probably one of the best versions out there, with Adderley really swinging like crazy.
Toy, a Clifford Jordan original, is another great uptempo track.
And then there’s the title track (which depending on which release you get, you may have several takes to compare), which starts as a beautiful ballad (Kind Of Blue‘s particular mood is popping up again), but soon turns back to softly swinging.
This is mainstream jazz (in the positive sense of the word) at its best.
Shame on me. Given how much I love this pianist, and the form of the Jazz Piano Trio that he essentially created (or at least brought it to a whole new level), this is a sin.
To be rectified right now.
Bill’s Three Trios
Bill Evans essentially had three trios over time. He started with the mythic combination of Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian in the 1950s and early 60s, until Scott died tragically in a car accident. If you don’t have Live At The Village Vanguard or Waltz for Debbie, you have missed some outstanding recordings.
For many Bill Evans purists, there is no true Bill Evans after LaFaro’s death. Some may concede that his last trio with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera did some outstanding recordings (and I’d agree, hence them being listed in my above mentioned 25 essential Jazz albums with Consecration.
However, the trio that Evans ended up playing the longest time, with Eddie Gomez and several different drummers, doesn’t get the same level of awareness.
Which is a pity as there are some true gems, and Gomez has a very particular sound to his bass, which suits Evans really well.
You Must Believe In Spring (Rhino/Warner 1977/1981)
This is the last album that Evans played with Gomez before he left the trio. On drums we feature Eliot Zigmund.
Why do I love this album so much? Well, as mentioned above, Gomez has a really nice sound, and this being a decent studio recording it really comes across very well.
Furthermore there is the title song You Must Believe In Spring, written by the great Michel Legrand for the musical movie Les Demoiselles de Rochefort by the French Director Jacques Demy.
It is taken from one of the most cheesy scenes of the entire movie, the young sailor singing about his troubles trying to find his dream girl, also known as La Chanson de Maxence:
For comparison, here’s Bill Evans version:
For context, I usually hate musicals, and any kind of movie where people all over sudden start singing (sorry, Bollywood), but somehow this movie is different. Probably this is due to the fact that I saw it during my student days in an old Roman theatre in the middle of summer in an open air cinema with good friends.
The entire atmosphere was so nice that I cannot help myself but having positive memories with this movie, and therefore having a Jazz version of this song helps (Note that I had the album before I even saw the movie, and somehow my subconscious recognized the melody when I saw the film for the first time).
The rest of the album is nice mixture of late Bill Evans standards like the famous Theme From M.A.S.H but also some lesser know compositions. All are very enjoyable.
To be fair, I could never live with only 25 albums, I’d be totally bored at some point. There is too much great music out there to discover, that’s why I’m purchasing a lot of new music every month.
But if I had to choose my personal favorite 25 Jazz artists and list one of their albums (didn’t go for top 10 as this would have really been TOO narrow), I’d go for these. I wouldn’t call this a “must have” list, this is obviously completely subjective, as all of the rest of my blog. But you wouldn’t go wrong in checking them out and see if you like them. There are some obvious candidates in there that you’ll find in every TopXX list out there (I checked many, to make sure I don’t miss anything), some hopefully less obvious personal choices as well. They range from 1958 to 2013.
By the way, I’m cheating a bit, I’m talking about 25 albums, not CDs, so you’ll find a couple of multi-CD albums in there. In the age of the digital download, it doesn’t make any difference anyhow.
The ordering is completely random, I just numbered them so I don’t lose track. As said before, I try to limit to one album per artists, as you could easily build a list of top 25 albums with Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans on their own (maybe this will come in a future post).
Well, obviously my selection had to have a Keith Jarrett album. As I wanted to choose only one per artist, I’m really under pressure here. With so many good Jarrett trio albums out there, which one do you choose? This choice is a bit arbitrary, and could change tomorrow, but I find myself to go back to this album very very often. However, it could have been easily as well Standards Live, Standards in Norway, Whisper Not, or Inside Out.
This album is mastered by the same Jan Erik Kongshaug, that also is responsible for Badgers and other Beings by Helge Lien (see my review here) and many other audiophile treasures.
2. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)
Sorry, BIG no brainer alarm here. But this is just so freakingly good (thanks probably mainly to Bill Evans), that no matter how often you listen, you just get drawn into the atmosphere over and over again.
Plus, the recent 24/192 remaster (available in mono or stereo, I personally prefer the stereo version) sounds so great that you think you’re sitting in the studio with the guys.
3. Giovanni Mirabassi – Architectures (1998)
I haven’t written about Mirabassi on my blog yet. What a shame. Will rectify that soon. In the meantime, this is trio jazz at its best (a guitar is added in some songs).
Mirabassi is still one of my favorite musicians, especially live, however, I still prefer his earlier albums to the more recent ones. Again, more to come.
5. Bill Evans – Consecration – The Final Recordings Part 2 (1980)
Bill Evans, another genius, and I haven’t even mentioned him on this blog yet (except for above in the Kind of Blue entry). What a sin. Again, plenty of outstanding albums to choose from. Which trio? LaFaro and Motian, Gomez and Morell, or Johnson and LaBarbera? Well, all are great, so hard to judge. I nevertheless have a particularly strong relationship to this album, as a 1 CD compilation of this last concert series of his was among my first even Bill Evans albums.
Is it really necessary to purchase this 8CD box? And to e.g. get 5 different versions of “Your Story” (the album has takes from different days, so quite some repeats in the playlist). And it get’s even worse, “The Last Waltz” is another 8CD box from the same setting. Well, maybe not universally. And there is obviously the great tragedy of knowing that shortly after these concerts this genius was finally killed by his drug habits.
But when you listen to these recordings, there is so much intimacy, so much creativity, so much melancholy, that you can’t help but be fully absorbed by the music.
Anyway, more to come on Bill Evans on my blog in the future.
My favorite Hancock album for the famous title track and Dolphin Dance.
11. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (1961)
Well, obviously Coltrane had to be there. I hesitated quite a bit if I should nominate A Love Supreme or Giant Steps, but somehow this album personally touches me even more, both for the title track and one of my favorite versions of Summertime.