I spend my days writing. So I tend to listen to a lot of jazz in a 15-hour period. Like you, my choices often are influenced by the day of the week, the weather and even the season. But then there are albums that are so good I'm drawn to them repeatedly, regardless of my mood or the temperature outside. Digital favorites are labeled in all caps in my iTunes library while preferred CDs sit eagerly next to my player rather than filed away on the shelf.
I call these exceptional albums "replays." My choices aren't necessarily new releases. In most cases they are recordings that I recently purchased or have revisited. All are timeless. Here then are the 10 albums I've listened to most over the past three months and where you can find them:
1. Complete Studio Recordings—Dodo Marmarosa Trio (LoneHill Jazz). Between 1943 and 1944, pianist Marmarosa recorded with the orchestras of Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Lester Young. But by the end of 1945, Marmarosa was an early bebopper, playing and recording in Los Angeles with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. For the balance of the 1940s, Marmarosa was a highly sought-after bop pianist. This double-CD features Marmarosa leading a trio during two different periods. The first disc is a compilation of sessions between 1946 and 1950. Disc No. 2 is the one I haven't stopped playing. These dates are from 1961-62 and feature bassist Richard Evans and drummer Marshall Thompson on half the tracks and bassist Sam Jones replacing Evans on the balance. By the early-1960s, Marmarosa's had developed a lush, relaxed bop approach as evidenced by April Played the Fiddle, Me and My Shadow, The Song Is You and other standards and originals. For me, this two-year period is Dodo at his peak. The CD is here.
2. Glass Bead Games—Clifford Jordan Quartet (Harvest Song). After writing about this album back in early June, I couldn't put the CD away. Despite listening to this album about 10 times prior to writing about it, I still didn't feel as if I knew it completely. I still have that feeling. The album by the late tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan is so complex and fascinating that it never grows old or cliche. I hear something new each time, which is why the album will likely remain out for the time being. The CD is available only here.
3. Trombones & Flute—Frank Wess (Savoy). I had to pay about $30 for this out-of-print CD, but I don't regret the expense one bit. The album from 1956 sounds more exciting each time I play it. Frank Wess had a golden ear and a gorgeous pen in the mid-1950s, whether assembling and arranging dates for Savoy or writing for Count Basie. There's such a muscular strength and sophistication in Wess' compositions and playing. On this album, he had Benny Powell, Henry Coker, Jimmy Cleveland and Bill Hughes on trombones while he played only flute. The contrast is fabulous, the musical equivalent of four elephants moving in unison as a butterfly flutters around them. Every track is a winner. Wanting You is especially strong, starting out as an impressionistic ballad but shifting to an up-tempo swinger 1:23 into the track. The CD is available here used for about $31.
4. What's New?—Sonny Rollins (RCA). Maybe because it's summer I've been playing What's New? more than usual. While Sonny's The Bridge (January 1962) is his best-known recording with guitarist Jim Hall, the pair also recorded What's New? three months later. For me, What's New has a warmer feel than the edgier The Bridge, and there's more of an equal give-and-take between Sonny and Jim Hall. Among the standouts on this album are If Ever I Would Leave You and a Key Largo-esque The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. The balance of the album is a tribute to Sonny's Caribbean roots, and he has a great time on Don't Stop the Carnival, Bluesongo and Brownskin Girl. The only track that has more of a Cuban feel is Jungoso. The CD is available here.
5. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not—Chris Connor (Atlantic). While researching Chris Connor in advance of our interview, I
listened to virtually all of her recordings, with an emphasis on her Atlantic period (1956-1962). During the process, I fell madly in love with this 1956 album. Arranged by Ralph Burns, every track is a winner, from 'Round Midnight and Thursday's Child to I Miss You So and About the Blues. It also didn't surprise me when Chris said this album was her own personal favorite. If you're having any doubt about Chris or feel she sounds too similar to June Christy or Anita O'Day, this album will certainly change your view. About a week ago, I ran the album by Ronnell Bright, Sarah Vaughan's accompanist in the 1950s and early 1960s. He was blown away: "I forgot how honest and pure her voice was. Man, I wish I had recorded with her." The album is available at iTunes or as a CD here. Do yourself a favor and download or buy it.
6. The Bossa Nova Years—Bud Shank (Blue Moon). This stunning compilation went out of print fast after its release several years ago. The double-CD set includes several of Bud's overlooked bossa nova albums from the early 1960s, including Bud Shank and His Brazilian Friends, Brassamba and Bossa Nova Jazz Samba. Each track is a soaring, rhythmic masterpiece with Bud on alto sax and flute and a wide range of jazz and Brazilian artists behind him. The material is a nice counterpoint to Stan Getz's more familiar bossa nova work on tenor sax. As you listen to Bud's work, you realize that the alto sax is a more natural fit with feathery bossa nova melody lines than the tenor sax. Which is probably why Getz favored playing the tenor in the high register on his bossa nova recordings. Bud and Linda Shank told me yesterday that the CD is available again through their site here. Also, I noticed two copies from independent sellers here.
7. The Turnaround—Hank Mobley (Blue Note). All of Mobley's albums are fabulous because the tenor saxophonist could shift seamlessly between hard bop executions and a smokey Coltrane-like intensity on ballads. One album that offers a prime example of this split personality is The Turnaround (1965). The hard bop offerings here are funky and fabulous (The Turnaround, East of the Village and Straight Ahead); the sole standard, The Good Life, is superb; the ballad, My Sin, is something else; and the hard bop closer, Pat 'N' Chat, is fierce. Plus, Freddie Hubbard joins Mobley on trumpet. The album can be downloaded at iTunes or Amazon, or is available as a CD here.
8. '58 Miles—Miles Davis (Columbia). I've always felt that much of the material included on this CD was among the best produced by the Miles Davis Sextet, probably because Bill Evans was in play rather than meekly playing in the background. The first four selections—On Green Dolphin Street, Fran-dance, Stella by Starlight and Love for Sale all first appeared on Jazz Track, an album that combined these with part of Miles' work for the soundtrack to Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud. As a result, LP sales were relatively flat, since many Miles fans already owned the movie soundtrack. '58 Miles was released on CD in 1991, so it suffers from less than superb audio quality. You can assemble much of the album in improved fidelity by downloading tracks from the Complete Columbia Recordings: Miles Davis & John Coltrane box and Jazz at the Plaza Vol. 1. Or you will find the 1991 CD here—and Jazz Track here.
9. Complete TV Action Jazz—Mundell Lowe (LoneHill Jazz). You'd think from the title that this would be one of those slick 1960s soundtracky albums with little in the way of substance. In fact, this album features smart, straight-up jazz based on TV themes of the period. The single CD combines two albums recorded in 1959 and 1960. Arranged by guitarist Lowe, the first album included Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Herbie Mann (flute, tenor sax), Tony Scott (clarinet and baritone sax), Eddie Costa (piano and vibes), Lowe (guitar), Don Payne (bass) and Ed Shaughnessy (drums). The second album has a little more punch and featured Clark Terry (trumpet); Willie Dennis, Urbie Green and Frank Rehak (trombones); Rod Levitt (bass trombone); Phil Bodner (reeds); Eddie Costa (piano and vibes); Lowe (guitar); George Duvivier (bass); and Ed Shaughnessy (drums). The CD is out of print and going for $75 used here. But I located the CD at another site here for just $13.
10. Lucky Moments—Lucky Thompson (Ocium). Like Don Byas, Lucky Thompson was a tenor saxophonist who could play in any style and out-gun nearly everyone else on a recording date. Overshadowed by Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster, Lucky remained an easy-going session musician in the 1940s and 1950s, recording with bands ranging from Boyd Raeburn to Oscar Pettiford. As most Lucky fans know, a good compilation of the artist is hard to find. This one is terrific, featuring choice tracks from 1945 to 1954. Best of all, you get to hear Lucky's style mature over the nine-year period. The CD is here.