The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook The World

Article Index


Weather Report - Heavy Weather - Columbia
Joe Zawinul (ky), Wayne Shorter (ts, ss), Jaco Pastorius (b), Alex Acuña (d) and Manolo Badrena (perc). Rec. 1976

Sometimes, when listening to Weather Report at their best and this is one of their very best, it’s worth pinching yourself as a reminder that at their heart, this band comprised one of jazz’s most basic jazz configurations. It’s simply, saxophone, piano, bass, drums and percussion. Then, listen to ‘Birdland’, later covered by Manhattan Transfer and Maynard Ferguson, and wonder. Listen to the boost Pastorius gives the band, especially on his own compositions ‘Havona’ and ‘Teen Town.’ Reaching number 30 on the Billboard album chart, even today Heavy Weather remains as stunning in its overall effect as the day it was made. (SN)

Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz - Atlantic
Ornette Coleman (as), Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry (t), Eric Dolphy (b cl), Scott LaFaro, Charlie Haden (b), Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins (d). Rec. 1960

This one turned everyone around. Ornette set the musicians up in two parallel quartets, arranged some loose themes and collective playing to book end the entire performance as well as section off each solo, then let the musicians loose for a collective bout of improvisation that lasts well over half an hour reinventing the possibilities of jazz as it does so. The overall marvel of this record is that, while it proved to be so pregnant with ideas for those who followed in the next decades, the music grips the listener as excitingly as ever today. Some CD issues of this album contain the 17-minute rehearsal version of ‘Free Jazz’, called ‘First Take’, as a bonus. (KS)

Dave Brubeck - Time Out - Columbia
Brubeck (p), Paul Desmond (as), Eugene Wright (b) and Joe Morello (d). Rec. 1959

Brubeck rarely gets his due. A shame, because his good qualities are pretty special. For starters, he knew exactly the way to get the best from Paul Desmond, and for that we should all be down on our knees in thanks. Secondly, he’s a distinctive composer with a knack for melody, as this fine album demonstrates, even if the defining tune, ‘Take Five’, is a Desmond composition. It’s also important to stress Brubeck’s commitment to collective invention within his group: still an unusual thing in jazz in 1959. Put that all together and the unusual time signatures that mark this album out tend to pale in significance while the music remains convincing. (KS)

Review The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (50th Anniversary Legacy Edition)

Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters - Columbia
Herbie Hancock (ky), Bennie Maupin (saxes, fl, b cl), Paul Jackson (b), Harvey Mason (d) and Bill Summers (perc). Rec. 1973

It may have been jazz-rock after Bitches Brew, but after Head Hunters jazz-funk was the flavour de jour. Inspired by Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’ there’s even a tribute track on it called ‘Sly’. The release represented a u-turn of spectacular proportions from the more esoteric direction mapped out on Crossings and Sextant to an album aimed squarely at the dance floor which is where it scored. ‘Chameleon’, the single taken from the album (also a biggie for Maynard Ferguson), sped up the Billboard chart to number 13 and made this one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time. (SN)

‘It was the new frontier, I guess. Some people just aren’t afraid, they love pushing boundaries’
Courtney Pine on Head Hunters (Jazzwise 100, August 2006)

Review Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity - ESP-Disk
Ayler (ts), Gary Peacock (b) and Sunny Murray (d). Rec. 1964

Ayler made a couple of revolutionary records in Europe two years prior to this but the first ESP-Disk was the one that made the breakthrough in terms of reaching out and changing absolutely everything. The sheer wildness of Ayler’s sound, execution and ideas (hysterical trilling way above the normal range of the saxophone combined with body-blow honks and sonic booms from its very depths) was unprecedented, as was the frenetic free-rhythm accompaniment from Peacock and Murray. It was only later that his musical forms were grasped and understood. On release, the record changed every conception of what constituted cutting-edge jazz overnight and unleashed generations of imitators. But Albert did it first, and did it best. (KS)

Mahavishnu Orchestra - Inner Mounting Flame - Columbia
John McLaughlin (g), Jerry Goodman (vln), Jan Hammer (key), Rick Laird (b) and Billy Cobham (d). Rec. 1972

Formed in 1971, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra remains guitarist John McLaughlin’s greatest achievement. It lit up the night sky for almost two years, everything was played at 500mph with the Marshall stacks turned up to eleven. It left audiences in awe, then suddenly was gone. McLaughlin redefined the role of guitar in jazz, Cobham the drums and the band set new standards in ensemble cohesion. They did it without sounding glib, a trick their legion of followers never fathomed. They also sold albums in pop numbers and played arena rock stadiums. Even they didn’t realise how great they were until it was all over. (SN)

Duke Ellington - The Blanton-Webster Band - RCA Bluebird
Ellington (p), Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Ray Nance (t), Rex Stewart (ct), Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown (tb), Juan Tizol (v tb), Barney Bigard (cl), Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick (as), Ben Webster (ts), Harry Carney (bs, bcl) Fred Guy (g), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Blanton (b), Sonny Greer (d), Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries (v) and others. Rec. 1940-1942

This 3-CD pack was first issued in the mid-1980s spotlighting Ellington’s most fertile and ground-breaking music. During the three years covered by this set Ellington and his musical doppelgänger Billy Strayhorn turned jazz composition and arranging inside out, often using the simplest of ideas and materials, as only genius can, but also presenting immensely sophisticated ideas in a guise instantly grasped by their legions of fans. That they had the assistance of such stars as Hodges, Williams, Bigard, Webster and Blanton only added to the music’s lustre: it remains an imperishable treasure. The slimline 3-CD 2003 RCA reissue titled Never No Lament: The Blanton Webster Band benefits from the latest remastering and research and is the version to get. (KS)

Louis Armstrong - Complete Hot Fives and Sevens - Columbia
Armstrong (ct, v), Honore Dutrey, Edward Kid Ory, J.C. Higginbotham, Jack Teagarden (tb), Johnny Dodds, Don Redman, Jimmie Noone (cl), Barney Bigard, Happy Caldwell (ts), Lonnie Johnson (g), Johnny St Cyr (bj), Lil Hardin, Earl Hines (p), Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton (d) and others. Rec. 1925-1930

If Jelly Roll Morton represents the high water of New Orleans polyphony through his Red Hot Peppers recordings of around this same time, Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens reach out into the music’s future by allowing the incredible improvisatory genius of Armstrong to reach its first outrageous flowering. This music is bursting at the seams with vitality, Armstrong’s every solo seeming to overflow with uncontrollable invention delivered with an urgency that is never manic, always confident, forever breathtaking in its conception. Within this admirably packaged 4-CD set from 2000 (easily the best collective incarnation of this music on disc) Armstrong’s accompanying groups expand to meet his conception as the years go by while Louis himself keeps making that big picture bigger. (KS)

Feature The 10 Most Memorable Louis Armstrong Moments On YouTube

Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch - Blue Note
Dolphy (f, as, b cl), Freddie Hubbard (t), Bobby Hutcherson (vb), Richard Davis (b) and Tony Williams (d). Rec. 1964

Funnily enough, although Out To Lunch has the iconic cover and evolutionary reputation, the real breakthrough Dolphy disc, Conversations, was made the previous summer, 1963, for the tiny FM label. Among other wonders, it contained the revolutionary 14-minute Dolphy-Richard Davis duet on ‘Alone Together’. Be that as it may, Out To Lunch represents another side of the Dolphy genius, showing him as a musician-leader intent on involving his entire group in the improvisatory process at every level and at all times. Of course, he remains the group’s most gripping player (he wrote all the material too) and his imitation of a drunk on ‘Straight Up And Down’ remains unsurpassed except by himself. What would he have done next? (KS)

John Coltrane - Giant Steps - Atlantic
Coltrane (ts), Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton, Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b), Lex Humphries, Art Taylor and Jimmy Cobb (d). Rec. 1959|

It’s pretty difficult to overestimate the influence this single album – or even more narrowly, its title track – has had on the development of jazz since its release: certainly the saxophone-bearing members of the world’s jazz community have found it and endlessly renewing font of inspiration. More recently, pianists have delved into re-arrangements of Coltrane’s elegant and distinctive compositions. The great man himself knew that this album was a culmination rather than a new beginning, but that probably accounts for its consummate artistry as much as any other reason: Coltrane was the most thorough of players. Some CD versions have as many as eight bonus tracks. (KS)

‘I had many heroes, at first only Coltrane. When I was 15 Giant Steps was my daily listening’
Jan Garbarek on Giant Steps (Jazzwise 80, October 2004)

John Coltrane – Giant Steps

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