Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Riches in Store

OT (music again): Just FYI, iTunes is offering a nice opportunity in the form of "Jazz 101 on Sale," five pages of great classic albums for sale at $6 and $7 each. If you're like me you'll have most of these already, although I did pick up Joe Lovano's Rush Hour and a couple of other things. However, if you're not yet a jazz fan but have been meaning to give it a try, a lot of iTunes' selections would make anybody's top 100.

Not all great jazz is easy to get into for non-jazz-listeners, and a lot of "introductory" lists and articles make the mistake of recommending the wrong things to beginners. Among the more easily digestible things here, The Complete Atomic Basie is a must-have, as is Art Blakey's most famous record, A Night in Tunisia. Giant Steps and My Favorite Things are John Coltrane (below left) at his most accessible. Gene Ammons' Boss Tenor (that's Gene in the picture, above right) and Kenny Dorham's Quiet Kenny are both masterpieces, and not difficult. Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool is a great bargain for $6. Django and Brilliant Corners are stone must-haves for any jazz collection. Sonny Rollins' mighty twin peaks, Saxophone Colossus and Tenor Madness, both on the list, are among the best-sounding jazz albums ever recorded—I actually have two different pressings of Saxophone Colossus on vinyl and two CD versions, and all of them sound fantastic. Horace Silver's Song for My Father is one of my own all-time favorites, as is Mulligan Meets Monk. Monk's Music is there; that one would go with any jazz fan to the apocryphal desert island (wonder where we'd get electricty? Oh well, you know what I mean).

There are a few (relative) dogs. For instance, I'd stay away from The Great Summit: The Master Takes unless you know what you're getting into. It's accorded great reverence because it's the only time that Ken Burns's heroes of choice, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, recorded together, but it's actually only a fair Armstrong record and might as well not have Ellington on it at all, considering how little of his brilliance or personality comes through. (This is another of those jazz albums that people "buy to try" and come away from feeling vaguely disappointed. There are a lot of those in jazz. A Love Supreme is many peoples' first Coltrane record, which is unfortunate because it then becomes their last. Not that it's not a great record, but it should be peoples' eighth or tenth Coltrane CD, and their 200th jazz recording rather than their second*.)

For the more adventuresome, try Andrew Hill's great first album; Stan Kenton's classically-tinged City of Glass; Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (shouldn't be your first Monk album, though); or Eric Dolphy's wonderful Out There.

I have a lot of these titles on vinyl, CD, or both, and in various "audiophile" iterations, and some of these records are now as familiar as the Beatles and the Stones to me (and a quiet shout here to my younger brother Scott, who first got me into jazz, years ago). But this sale gives me a strange feeling...of envy, toward those who have yet to discover all these fantastic treasures. Anyone who has the lion's share of this music still in their future has riches in store.


*And what's their first? Kind of Blue, of course, the overwhelming all-time #1 choice of People Who Only Have One Jazz Record. Fortunately that one's a great—and safe—recommendation for jazz fans and non-jazz-fans alike.

Featured Comment by Bob Burnett: This sale is worth it for the Monk and Miles alone! Here are a few more thoughts for people looking for a place to jump in:

Change of the Century: Ornette Coleman: A-list Coleman. This represents that glorious late '50s-early '60s moment when his quartet was the talk of the jazz world.

Sunday at the Village Vanguard/Waltz with Debbie: See my review on C60 of the full day of music—at $6.99 these are a perfect way to find out about that legendary and fabled summer day in NYC.

Memphis Underground: Herbie Mann: A surprise album that features Sonny Sharrock on guitar in the early days of his re-shaping the range of what guitar playing can be. Sharrock is often called the Jimi Hendrix of jazz.

Art Pepper: Smooth, drifting, savory stuff here. Plus it wins the award for jazz artist in the worst throes of heroin withdrawal album cover photo session. And you guys think it's tough doing a northern light photo session with a CEO! Pepper wrote wonderfully about this cover photo session in his autobiography, Straight Life.

UPDATE: We've just posted a review of Monk's Music (written by Bob) at the C60 site. —Mike

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