Still getting back on track, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album was #459:
The Jazz Combo From I Want to Live
Noir jazz doesn’t get any more lurid, or any better, than this smoldering, haunted 1958 session featuring variations on Johnny Mandel’s theme from the docudrama about executed convict Barbara Graham, the last woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin, who may well have been innocent. The band, led by Gerry Mulligan and featuring Shelly Manne on piano, Art Farmer on trumpet and Bud Shank on alto sax, is first-rate. The album actually starts with the downright sexy, tiptoeing Black Nightgown before the brooding, doomed main title theme; the suspenseful Night Watch; the jaunty San Francisco nightclub scene where all the accomplices think they’ll get away with murder (they didn’t); the offhandedly wrenching, pleading Barbara’s Theme and a cruelly ironic Life’s a Funny Thing to end it. Here’s a random torrent via Groove Depository. Big shout-out to Nellie McKay for inspiring this pick – and for writing her own musical about this sad chapter in American “justice.”
As we usually do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #462:
Jazz on a Summer’s Day
This is a case where you really should get the movie: the visuals of this 1960 documentary of the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival are fascinating and often hilarious. It’s best known for Anita O’Day, stoned out of her mind, wailing her way through Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two with a great horn player’s imagination and virtuosity. That’s just the juiciest moment; there’s also a young, ducktailed Chuck Berry doing the splits on Sweet Little Sixteen; Dinah Washington making All of Me sound fresh and fun; Gerry Mulligan and his band; and cameos by George Shearing, Thelonious Monk, Big Maybelle, Chico Hamilton, a lot of Louis Armstrong and a real lot of Mahalia Jackson at her peak doing spirituals and a final stirring benediction. Some of you may scoff at how mainstream this is…until you hear what this crew does with a lot of standard fare. The random torrent here is for the movie rather than the stand-alone soundtrack.
As we usually do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #464:
Gerry Mulligan – The Concert Jazz Band at Newport 1960
This one of those recordings that went unreleased for decades, most likely because the sonics aren’t quite up to cd quality. But in the age of the mp3, it’s not as if most people can tell the difference. And the versatile, nonconformist baritone saxophonist/composer’s big band is absolutely smoking, snaking their way up Kai Winding’s Broadway, taking the Theme from I Want to Live deep into noir territory, going Out of This World and then to gypsyland with Manoir de Mes Reves. They go swinging into the blues with the Johnny Hodges homage Carrots for Rabbit, then expansive versions of Sweet and Slow, I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ and go out on a high note with Blueport. There are also a couple of bonus tracks from European shows around the same time. Here’s a random torrent via Moha Offbeat.
As we really try to do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #465:
Ella Fitzgerald – Twelve Nights in Hollywood
The “great American songbook” was the elevator music of its era – 99.99% of it is garbage. But when jazz musicians got ahold of it, magic could happen. This 2009 four-cd box set of previously unreleased 1961 and 1962 small club dates is notable for being Ella backed by a small combo – just understated piano, bass and drums – which gives her the advantage of not having to belt over the roar of a big band. So as with Sarah Vaughan (see #611 on this list), this gets the nod over the rest of her exhaustive catalog because she really gets to take it deep into the shadows. To be truthful, there is some schlock among the 77 tracks here, but there are also innumerable wee-hours gems, notably the original jazz and blues songs: Billie Holiday’s Lover Come Back to Me; Ellington’s Caravan and Squeeze Me; Ray Charles’ Hallelujah I Love Him So; Monk’s Round Midnight and Les Paul’s How High the Moon. There are also expansive versions of One for My Baby, The Lady Is a Tramp, Anything Goes, All of Me, Love For Sale (where she leaves no doubt that it’s about a hooker) and the famous moment where she decides to be a rock singer for thirty seconds before jumping back into Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot. Here’s a random torrent.
As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #467:
Cannonball Adderley – Mercy Mercy Mercy: Live at the Club
More than virtually any other artist, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley successfully bridged the gap between R&B and jazz: he was terrifically popular in the urban juke joint scene, and did his best work live. This 1966 album with a kick-ass band including brother Nate on cornet and a young Joe Zawinul on piano gets the nod because it doesn’t have any of the schlock he occasionally tried to jazz up, like stuff from Fiddler on the Roof. Right off the bat, he spirals all over the place on the opening theme, aptly titled Fun, followed by the swinging proto-funk of Games, the title track (a surprise top 20 hit), the fiery Sticks, Zawinul’s Hippodelphia and a killer, eleven-minute version of Adderley’s own Sack O’Woe, taking the set out on an exhilarating note. If you like this stuff, get to know his other 60s material: it’s pretty much all great. As Joe Strummer said, only half-sarcastically, “Don’t step on my Cannonball Adderley lp’s or cds.” Here’s a random torrent.
As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album was #484:
Jazz at the Philharmonic 1949
These concerts were parties, not sedate mellow jazz, and the crowd got passionately involved. For that reason (and because the recordings tended to be noisy as a result), there is a jazz element that has looked down on this annual series of recordings that went on through the 1950s. This one is probably the wildest: after promoter Norman Granz’s interminable band intros, it’s got the landmark moment where Lester Young famously leaps in during Charlie Parker’s Leap Here. There’s also Coleman Hawkins wailing on Rifftide, chilling out on Sophisticated Lady and the whole crew (especially trumpeter Fats Navarro) getting involved on The Things We Did Last Summer along with bluesy, Bird-driven versions of Lover Come Back to Me and Back Home Again in Indiana. And where can you grab a download? Nowhere! Blame the snobs, not us.
Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #497:
Hank Mobley – Soul Station
This 1961 album is sort of a tenor sax response to Almost Blue, with a similarly beautiful nocturnal vibe. Which on one hand makes perfect sense since it has Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass, with drummer Art Blakey in almost shockingly cool mode. Mobley made a name for himself playing just a hair behind the beat for maximum swing impact (something that didn’t ingratiate him to his hard-bop contemporaries), and he does that tunefully and memorably here, on their remake of the Irving Berlin ballad Remember as well as originals like the wryly soulful This I Dig of You, Dig This, the aptly titled, somewhat ambiguous Split Feelin’ and the high point of the album, the title cut. It ends on a poignant note with If I Should Lose. Who says sidemen can’t make great albums as bandleaders? Here’s a random torrent via Jazz Is My Life.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #529:
Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens
We go to the well, or to be precise, to a church in the wilds of Pennsylvania for this one, a hypnotic, often downright macabre 2009 set of originals and improvisations by this dynamic baritone sax/piano duo. Shah’s glimmering chromatics evoke Erik Satie as much as they do Keith Jarrett, livened and eclectically flavored by Evans’ panoramic lines – he uses the entirety of his range including all kinds of harmonics. Yet as bracing and strange as this is, most of it you can hum. It’s a couple of mini-suites, a playful, bluesy Jan Roth cover, and many lengthy passages alternating terse, blues-based purism with murky, often menacing suspense from both instruments. Too obscure to make it to the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Moppa Elliott’s fantastic Hot Cup Records label.
If you like this you might want to check out our brand-new wilder, crazier sister blog New York City Music Daily.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #531:
Monty Alexander – Yard Movement
What the Jamaican pianist did on this 1995 live release was pretty radical at the time, but when you think about it, all he did was basically bring reggae full circle. Consider: reggae comes from rocksteady, rocksteady from ska, ska from calypso and calypso from jazz. Alexander has been a lyrical, exuberant player for decades, and immersed in the style even if he didn’t start out playing it, so it was a natural progression for him. His equally ecstatic band here includes reggae guitar icon Ernest Ranglin (a jazzcat himself – see #903 on this list). They kick it off by winding their way up slowly and deliberately into a twelve-plus minute version of Bob Marley’s Exodus, hitting the same hypnotic groove as the original but with cascading, incisive leads by the piano instead of the guitar. The rest of the album is all Alexander originals: the more stern Regulator; the blissful ballads Crying, Love Notes and Moonlight City, his popular tribute to his favorite Jamdown spot, Strawberry Hill, and the hot closing jam, Sneaky Steppers. Pretty much everything Alexander has ever done is worth a spin, including his latest, Harlem-Kingston Express live record. This one is streaming in its entirety at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Ras Cope.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #539:
Either/Orchestra – The Calculus of Pleasure
Before Ethiopiques, before Either/Orchestra became Mulatu Astatke’s North American backing unit, they were a very clever, original, often noirish big band. When they weren’t doing cinematic, genre-defying instrumentals that bridge the gap between rock and jazz, that is. Literally everything saxophonist/composer Russ Gershon’s long-running Boston outfit has released is worth hearing; this 1992 release gets the nod because it’s probably their darkest and most cohesive. The real stunner here is a sad, elegaic ballad aptly titled Grey. There’s also the bracing, uneasy swing of Whisper Not; Bennie Moten’s Weird Nightmare, with its tongue-in-cheek Mingus echoes; the cinematic, suspenseful Consenting Adults; Ecaroh, which alternates between creepy bossa nova and swinging contentment; Unnatural Pastime, which begins as an animated jump blues but gets dark fast; and the epics Miles Away and The Hard Blues. Most of this is streaming at myspace (and surprisingly, this playlist isn’t interrupted by ads); here’s a random torrent via Six By Six.