Like you, I'm constantly prowling for jazz recordings that are new to me or are from an artist's period I may not have fully explored or appreciated.
Hearing a great jazz album (old or new) for the first time is tremendously exciting. There's nothing like it. You almost can't believe your ears, and you immediately want to tell everyone you know about your discovery. Or play it for them if they live nearby.
As you might imagine, I listen to upward of 10 CDs and/or LPs a day. One of the perks of being a writer is the freedom to listen to jazz while I work. That adds up to a lot of CDs piled up on shelves. Which can make finding what I want a little tricky, not to mention time-consuming.
So not long ago, for convenience sake, I started a stack of CDs purchased recently that I enjoy playing over and over again. Yesterday I realized this "replay" stack would make a neat list of favorite albums of the year.
With that said, let me unveil my first annual Top 10 JazzWax "Replays" of 2007. Note that this list isn't about contemporary artists or CDs released this year. It's simply a list of albums that I heard for the first time in 2007 and continue to play on a regular basis:
1.Teddy Charles: Coolin' (1957)—This high-energy album remains rich with ideas from beginning to end. The out-of-print CD features vibraphonist Teddy Charles, trumpeter Idrees Sulieman and pianist Mal Waldron. Teddy also produced this Prestige date. I discovered the album while blogging about Teddy in the fall. Concord Records, the new owner of the Prestige label, really should re-issue it.
2. John Coltrane: Stardust (1958). Coltrane was still with the Miles Davis Quintet, when he recorded for Prestige in July and December 1958. But by early the following year, Coltrane had signed with Atlantic Records, and the Prestige recordings weren't released at the time. Four of the Prestige tracks eventually were released as Stardust in 1963—four years after Coltrane left the label. (The balance came out on The Believer.) Each of the tracks on Stardust is special and foreshadows Coltrane's impending Atlantic sound.
3. Eddie Bert: Crosstown (1955). The beauty of Eddie is that he's two parts swing, one part bop—which makes for a great combination. On record dates, he was always patient with his solos, thinking about what he was playing rather than how many notes he could squeeze off per measure. Eddie's blowing is cool all the way through on this double CD, which combines three different albums from 1955. All of the tracks feature smart playing, and Eddie is accompanied throughout by Hank Jones on piano and Kenny Clarke on drums.
4. Clifford Brown: Complete Metronome & Vogue Mater Takes (1953). This is Brownie at his best, just before he and Max Roach formed their influential hard bop quintet and began recording for EmArcy. Every track is a masterpiece.
5. Zoot Sims: Plays Tenor and 4 Altos (1956-57). This CD combines two albums from the 1950s—Zoot! and Zoot Plays Four Altos. If you've ever wondered why all jazz musicians cite Lester Young and Zoot Sims as the real deals back in the day, this CD says it all. And arranger George Handy was no slouch, either.
6. John Benson Brooks: Alabama Concerto (1958). Brooks was an arranger in the Gil Evans mode, and this album is one of the most overlooked recording sessions in jazz. It showcases Cannonball Adderley and Art Farmer on their only small-group date. The recording features Adderley's alto sax, Farmer's trumpet, guitarist Barry Galbraith and bassist Milt Hinton—with only a hint of Brooks' piano on one track.
7. Hal McKusick: Triple Exposure (1957). Hal never recorded a bad note, and this album may well be his best, in my estimation. In addition to Hal's golden honey sound on alto, tenor and clarinet, there's fine session work by trombonist Billy Byers, pianist Eddie Costa, bassis Paul Chambers and drummer Charlie Persip. It's perfectly crafted work on many levels.
8. Tina Brooks: Back to the Tracks (1960). Tina Brooks is always more interesting than you think. I never bothered to pick up Back to the Tracks until I blogged about True Blue earlier in the fall. While I still think True Blue is Brooks' best outing, Back to the Tracks features rich hard bop originals by the tenor saxophonist and superb solo work by trumpeter Blue Mitchell, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and pianist Kenny Drew.
9. Lester Young: The Complete Savoy Recordings (1944-50). All are tenor sax essentials from Prez. While I've long been familiar with the studio dates, I was less familiar with the 1950 live Savoy recordings. Even though the sound on the live sessions isn't the best, I still love Lester's ideas on Body and Soul, Pennies From Heaven, I Can't Get Started and others.
10. Miles Davis: Big Fun (1974). Much has been written about the release earlier this year of The Complete On the Corner Sessions— some good and some not so good. A more mature and interesting Miles album of the same period is the lesser-known Big Fun. I heard the double album for the first time over the summer at the art studio of a friend. He insisted, despite my objections, and I was blown away. Recorded between 1969 and 1972, it's Miles in the thick of his Sly Stone-fusion period. It's fascinating music just the same—and perfect before listening to Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters (1973) or Thrust (1974).