Peter Brötzmann Octet - Machine Gun - FMP
Peter Brötzmann (ts, bar s), Evan Parker, Willem Breuker (ts), Fred Van Hove (p), Peter Kowald, Buschi Niebergall (b), Han Bennink and Sven Johansson (d). Rec. May 1968
Political statement, samizdat reflection on events or Janovian primal scream? Surely one of the most extreme albums ever recorded it’s a musical manifesto from the European free jazz underground, an answering call to like-minds across the Atlantic and rallying cry for those at home. The title track features “solos” by the three horn players and pianist Van Hove, each as ferocious as the other. ‘Responsible’, for all its atonal howling, ends with a fabulous latin vamp while ‘Music For Han Bennink’ squeals and yelps with joy. Machine Gun leaves you shaken to the core. (DH)
Coleman Hawkins - Body And Soul - RCA Bluebird
Hawkins (ts) and many others. Rec. 1939-56
The trouble with Hawk is the same one faced by someone looking for an ideal single-set introduction to maverick genius Sidney Bechet – in such a long and protean career, how do you get all the best bits on one label? With Bechet it’s still impossible. With Hawk, you can just about do it. The great man’s original ‘Body And Soul’ masterpiece from 1939 is here, plus a telling number of tracks showing how he paced all the changes in jazz with ease and continued to grow artistically through the decades. The best of the later Hawk is on Verve, but this intro is nicely rounded. (KS)
Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet - Clifford Brown and Max Roach - EmArcy
Brown (t), Harold Land (ts), Richie Powell (p), George Morrow (b) and Max Roach (d). Rec. 1954
Timing is everything. For two years this group was the cutting edge of modern jazz: by spring 1956 they had Sonny Rollins as the resident tenor alongside Clifford Brown’s dazzlingly innovative trumpet: Miles and Coltrane were still playing catch-up in their quintet. Then, a car crash claimed Brown and pianist Richie Powell and it was all over. This powerful set, containing classic interpretations of post-bop standards such as ‘Daahaud’, ‘Joy Spring’ and ‘Parisienne Thoroughfare’ is still the starting-point for post-Parker bop and mandatory listening for any subsequent trumpeter. The CD contains two alternative takes adding 10 more minutes of music. (KS)
Horace Silver - Song For My Father - Blue Note
Silver (p), Blue Mitchell, Carmell Jones (t), Junior Cook, Joe Henderson (ts), Gene Taylor, Teddy Smith (b), Roy Brooks and Roger Humphries (d). Rec. 1963-64
For the five years he held his Junior Cook-Blue Mitchell quintet together, Silver had the perfect combination of his high-quality tunes and a band that had a magic interpretative touch. They all played for each other to such an extent that the group became one of the true 1960s greats. Song For My Father features this group on two tracks, but not on the famous title tune, which instead ushers in the brilliant but short-lived quintet featuring Joe Henderson and Carmell Jones. No cause to fear: all remains in place for a classic that still casts its spell. (KS)
Art Ensemble of Chicago - A Jackson in Your House - BYG/Actuel
Lester Bowie (t, flhn, perc), Roscoe Mitchell (ss, as, bs, cl, fl, whistles, steel drum, perc), Joseph Jarman (ss, as, cl, oboe, mba, siren, g) and Malachi Favors (b, el b, banjo, log drum and perc). Rec. 1969
A spin on a fairground carousel that nevertheless stays on the side of art rather than entertainment. This was the record that showed that the sonic riot of the avant-garde wasn’t incompatible with riotous humour. Using anything from Dixieland riffs to bluesy drawls to classical intermezzi, AEoC create a mix-tape in which tempo, mood and idiom become shifting sands on a strange and beautiful landscape. Imagine William Burroughs cutting up sheet music instead of text and having skilled players somehow make the fragments sound coherent. A deeply subversive but sophisticated work that must have been highly informative to anyone from Zappa to Zorn. (KLG)
John Coltrane - Ascension - Impulse!
Coltrane (ts), Freddie Hubbard, Dewey Johnson (t), John Tchicai, Marion Brown (as), Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders (ts), McCoy Tyner (p), Jimmy Garrison (b) and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1965
Still an unruly, flawed, controversial, and deeply divisive album 40 years after its initial release, Ascension set the pace and the tone of the avant-garde music debate right through the back of the 1960s, quickly becoming a cutting-edge touchstone across the arts – even John Lennon told interviewers “of course I’ve heard Ascension” when asserting his late 1960s intellectual credentials alongside Yoko. Today, the music remains testingly difficult, the hell-hot fire and chaos from Trane’s supporting musicians a clear indication of the times it was made in, yet it’s a titanic date that changed jazz forever. (KS)
Lester Young - Lester Young/Buddy Rich Trio - Verve
Young (ts), Nat King Cole (p) and Buddy Rich (d).
Young was past his creative peak by the time vinyl LPs became the norm for recording purposes, but luckily a young Norman Granz snuck this session in during 1946 while Young was signed elsewhere, then sat on it until he signed Young himself in 1952. It catches Young in absolute peak mid-career form, accompanied by Nat King Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. With the spotlight for once firmly on Young himself, the intimate date exhibits all Young’s soul, elusive melodic and rhythmic invention, down-home drive and unearthly delicacy and shows just why he was Charlie Parker’s early idol. (KS)
Pharoah Sanders - Karma - Impulse!
Sanders (ts) Leon Thomas (v, perc), James Spaulding (fl), Julius Watkins (Fr hn), Lonnie Liston Smith (p), Richard Davis, Reggie Workman, Ron Carter (b), Freddie Waits, William Hart (d) and Nathaniel Betis (perc). Rec. 1969
What a sleeve! The saxophonist’s meditative pose against a hazy burnt orange sun posits Karma as a healing sound for love children alarmed by the bomb, the bullet and the ballot. Coming out of the universal consciousness of mentor John Coltrane and borrowing some of the celestial majesty of his widow Alice, Sanders gets modal-hymnal on the enduring ‘The Creator Has A Master Plan’ and dazzlingly abstract on ‘Colors’. These heady cosmic grooves fed the creative fire of anyone from Roy Ayers to Lonnie Liston Smith in the 1970s and inspired the more discerning purveyors of pro-tools instrumental music such as The Cinematic Orchestra in the millennium.(KLG)
John McLaughlin - Extrapolation - Marmalade
John McLaughlin (g), John Surman (bs, ss), Brian Odges (b) and Tony Oxley (d). Rec. 1969
The 1960s was a decade when British jazz emerged with a strong identity with classic albums from the likes of Mike Westbrook, Michael Garrick, Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet and Mike Gibbs to name but a few. But Extrapolation is the most prophetic, not only as a stepping stone in McLaughlin’s career – from Extrapolation to Tony Williams’ Lifetime to Bitches Brew to the Mahavishnu Orchestra are indeed surprisingly small strides – but for how change in jazz in the late 1960s and early 1970s would shape up. This mixture of freedom (often “time, no changes”) and structure as well as the increasing sense of identity in McLaughlin’s playing framed by Surman and Oxley make for compelling listening. (SN) Re-issued on Polydor CD.
John Zorn - Naked City - Elektra/Nonesuch
John Zorn (as), Bill Frisell (g), Wayne Horvitz (ky), Fred Frith (b) and Joey Baron (d). Rec. 1989
This is a superb example of post modern jazz. Zorn, the arch post modernist, expropriated practices, fragments and signifiers of different, sometimes alien music and relocated them within his own brash expressionism. Thus there’s fleeting references to jazz, blues, surf guitars, film noir moods, country music plus short, sharp noise shocks all made possible by Bill Frisell’s versatile guitar. Using segue-like channel zapping on TV, one mood is thrust in harsh disjunction with another. The only thing certain about postmodernism is uncertainty, so we should pay attention to this music, because uncertainty in an uncertain world is shaping all of us. (SN)