The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook The World

Article Index



Charlie Haden - Liberation Music Orchestra  - Impulse!
Haden (b), Don Cherry, Michael Mantler (t), Roswell Rudd (tb), Bob Northern (Fr hn), Howard Johnson (tba), Perry Robinson (cl), Gato Barbieri, Dewey Redman (ts), Sam Brown (g), Carla Bley (p, arr), Paul Motian and Andrew Cyrille (d). Rec. 1969

Jazz and politics have always been entwined, but rarely in the music’s history have the links spelt out on record. The 1960s was a decade when that orthodoxy was reversed, with Charlie Haden’s debut album at the decade’s end being one of the most explicit endorsements of leftist sentiments to be found in the entire jazz world. Sentiments of any persuasion are no proof of quality, but the compositions – from Haden, Bley and Ornette Coleman, among others – are uniformly strong and the supporting cast fiercely inspired. For 40 minutes you could believe, if you wanted to. (KS)

Jackie McLean - Let Freedom Ring - Blue Note
Jackie McLean (as), Walter Davis (p), Herbie Lewis (b) and Billy Higgins (d). Rec. 1962

McLean had made by turns excellent and ambitious albums prior to this disc, but for one reason or another none of them had managed a completeness of conception that pushed him into the forefront of the music. This one made it through a combination of memorable compositions (‘Melody For Melonae’) an attitude towards musical freedom fed by the new politics of the day and a consistent commitment to all-out emotionalism that is so forceful it frankly leaves the rest of his group in the shade. He went on to make more completely satisfying albums but this one broke the mould. (KS)

Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quintet - Indo-Jazz Suite - EMI Columbia
Joe Harriott (as), Kenny Wheeler (t), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b), Allan Ganley (d), John Mayer (vn, harpsichord), Chris Taylor (f), Diwan Motihar (sitar), Chandrahas Paiganka (tambura) and Keshan Sathe (tabla). Rec. 1965

Ravi Shankar’s 1962 Improvisations, with Bud Shank, and Don Ellis’ unrecorded Hindustani Jazz Sextet from 1965 briefly pointed the way but nothing prepared you for Indo-Jazz Suite, the first full collaboration between jazz and Indian musicians that was so hip it hurt in 1966. Hailed by Melody Maker upon release as “highly provocative” it was conceived by Calcutta-born Mayer who based the pieces on the ascending and descending order of ragas with Harriott’s quintet improvising around the Indian musicians to spellbinding effect. Not as successfully integrated as their subsequent Indo-Jazz Fusions I and II, this however first put the fat in the pan for Gabor Szabo, Shakti, Trilok Gurtu, Mukta, Nitin Sawhney and the feast of Indo-Jazz that followed. (JN) Reissued on Koch CD.

Django Reinhardt - Rétrospective 1934-53 - Saga (3-CDs)
Django Reinhardt (g), the Quintette du Hot Club de France, Loulou Gasté, Joseph Reinhardt, Emmanuel Vées (g), Louis Vola, Coleridge Goode (b), Hubert Rostaing, André Ekyan (cl), Alix Combelle (ts), Gianni Safrred (p), Aurelia de Carolis (d) and many others. Rec. 1934-1953

The great gypsy did pretty much all his recording during the pre-album age, and while he was justly honoured by the French soon after his death, most early UK vinyl releases were haphazard collations in indifferent sound. By contrast, this compact little high-quality cardsleeve box of three CDs, accompanied by a magnificent 75-page booklet in French and English which contains lavish photographs and discographical details, is by some distance the best one-step intro Django’s staggering genius. Transfers from the original 78rpm singles are magnificent and the selection of titles is absolutely on the money, from earliest Hot Club sides to his post-war experiments with shifting personnel and electrified guitars. (KS)

Steps Ahead - Steps Ahead - Elektra/Musician
Michael Brecker (ts), Eliane Elias (p), Mike Mainieri (vb), Eddie Gomez (b) and Peter Erskine (d). Rec. 1983

A star-studded line-up this might have been, however, by the time they came to make their debut on an American label, Steps Ahead had forged a powerful group identity that critics were dubbing “the new acoustic fusion.” Much of this was down to a repertoire comprising original, ad hoc song forms that seldom employed straight ahead rhythms. Take ‘Both Sides of the Coin’ that uses a latin rhythm and a rondo form, whereas ‘Loxodrome’ presented an advanced contemporary vehicle for improvisation. Yet promoters would still say why not just play a 12-bar blues? Staggering really for such a perfectly poised jazz chamber group, that can take your breath away. (SN)

Krzysztof Komeda - Astigmatic - Polskie - Nagrania Muza
Krzysztof Komeda (p), Tomasz Stanko (t), Zbigniew Namyslowski (as), Gunter Lenz (b) and Rune Carlson (d). Rec. 1965

Astigmatic is one of the most important contributions to the shaping of a European aesthetic in jazz composition. Stanko himself has said that this is an album that could “never have been made in America”, pointing to Komeda’s day job as a composer for more than 40 films. “Film dictates untypical construction,” Stanko has recalled. Indeed, the quintet responds to Komeda’s compositions with audible glee – there is measured intensity here but also the unmistakable glow of inspiration. (SN) Reissued on CD by Power Bros.

Anthony Braxton - For Alto - Delmark
Anthony Braxton (as). Rec. 1969

While the song titles – dedications to innovative musicians such as John Cage, Cecil Taylor and Leroy Jenkins – gave a clear indication of where the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians iconoclast was coming from, few could have seen where, or rather how far, he was going on this landmark solo recital. Braxton’s alto saxophone is like the sound of acid dripped from the beating wings of hummingbirds, a charmingly corrosive caress. Through brilliant dynamics, lyricism, harmonic invention and pure sound trickery, Braxton showed a single horn could be a complete orchestra, paving the way for similar undertakings by Sonny Rollins among others years later. Downbeat awarded For Alto five stars and called it “revolutionary.” They were right. (KLG)

Diana Krall - Love Scenes - Impulse!
Diana Krall (v, p), Russell Malone (g) and Christian McBride (b).
Rec. 1997

Where would female jazz vocals be today without Diana Krall? An imponderable, perhaps, especially when so many undistinguished vocalists currently populate the landscape. However, Krall is the genuine article on every level, whether you’re talking about texture, taste, integrity, inventiveness or musicianship. Whatever setting she’s chosen for herself in the past decade, it’s been apposite. Love Scenes was a trio album and presaged her massive with-orchestra crossover, but it contains all the essential Krall ingredients and is a thorough convincing artistic manifesto. No wonder people listened. (KS)

Feature Diana Krall – Standing in the Smoky Haze

Steve Coleman And - Five Elements - The Tao Of Mad Phat: Fringe Zones
Steve Coleman (as), Andy Milne (p, ky) David Gilmore (g), Reggie Washington (el b), Roy Hargrove (t), Josh Roseman (tb), Kenny Davis (b) and Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn (perc). Rec. 1993

Jazz as funk, funk as jazz: the two lexicons entwine and merge so as to lose meaning in one of the great live records of the 1990s. Coleman had already made a splash with his JMT label output yet his playing and writing are more penetrating and focused here. Snappy, stabbing, staccato rhythmic and melodic lines are repeated to trance giving the impression of a giant musical pinball machine on a rotating floor. As well as exerting a decisive influence on anyone from the F-IRE collective to Omar Sosa, Coleman has always managed to reflect something of his times. Here he captured the hyperactivity of the burgeoning Internet age and the brash self-assertion of the hip-hop generation. (KLG)

Eberhard Weber - The Colours of Chloë - ECM
Weber (b, cello, ocarina), Rainer Bruninghaus (p, syn), Ack van Rooyen (flhn), Peter Giger, Ralf Hübner (d, perc), and the cellos of the Südfunk Orchestra Stuttgart. Rec. 1973

Eberhard Weber’s debut album was one of the most significant opening volleys of ECM’s arrival in the jazz world as an arbiter of modern taste. Completely devoid of any of the fashionable Americanisms of the day, its music was full of light and colour derived from European modernist classical and film traditions. As such, it offered a completely fresh pool of delights to fish in. Using his sinuous bass technique to articulate melody as no-one else had before, Weber alternated a sumptuously severe string backing with little keyboard and percussion patterns to huge atmospheric effect. Entrancing. (KS)


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