Wednesday, October 22, 2014

81 Perfect Jazz Recordings



Okay, after much deliberation, I am finally putting up my own humble list of perfect jazz recordings: 81, to be exact. If that number seems arbitrary, that's because it is; that number could have easily been twice as large and still only scratched the surface, at least by how I reckon it, by how I define perfect. I finally had to stop after a while, stop myself from just going through every single jazz recording I own, so I didn't do that...what I have done is largely from memory, plus I went through the Magic Jukebox, and supplemented it with some eyeball checks.

Like I said in my previous post, this list is a response to Richard Brody's New Yorker list and Robin Tomens' list on his blog Include Me Out. List-making strikes me as a very odd endeavor. It's fun to do, but the selection process by definition creates a sense of hierarchy that I sometimes feel guilty invoking. Let's call it a guilty pleasure. I also feel like I should put the words "perfect" and "jazz" in quotes , because I have so many caveats...so many that it almost renders a list like this pointless. But, as you can see, I made it anyway!

What is perfection? Can a recording be perfect and still have warts? Do those warts in fact help define perfection? Does perfection really mean "I wouldn't change anything about it?" Does a random squeak in a sax solo disqualify it from perfection, or does it add to its perfect character by defining it? Whatever. I like what Brody says: the tracks in his list "convey a sense of retrospective inevitability." I also like this:
The simplest definition of the list I have pulled together is that it has nothing to do with historical significance, solely to do with my own memory. They’re not only recordings that I revisit often (though I do) but recordings that come unbidden, that remember themselves, so to speak—earworms that multiply into ideas of music as such. They’re not necessarily “the best” or even the most exemplary of their performers; they’re recordings that have taken me over.
Yeah, let's go with that. I have gone here for recordings that are perfect...for me. It's not that different a list from recordings that I would call my favorites. The meaninglessness of lists like this starts to come into focus. Let's sharpen the focus by saying again that this list could be five times as long and still not exhaust the candidates. There are a lot of perfect jazz tracks out there!

Unlike the other lists that were my inspiration, I didn't restrict myself either chronologically or numerically, although I have to say my list doesn't have too much current stuff on it-- that's not a judgement on newer jazz, it's more of a statement on what floats my boat, and also on gaps in my listening. Then again, my gaps go way back too. Anyway, note also that there are a lot of predictable "classics" on this list, recordings readily venerated by scores of jazz fans before me. To that I say: they are classics for a reason.

So: here's the list, alphabetical by title. In case of multiple versions of a piece, I have tried to include the album title or the year  (or both) of the version I am listing.

1. Black Bottom Stomp (Jelly Roll Morton)
2. Body and Soul (Coleman Hawkins)
3. Bud P. (Dedicated to Bud Powell) (Muhal Richard Abrams)
4. Bulbs (Cecil Taylor)
5. Charlie M. (Art Ensemble of Chicago)
6. Chasin’ the Trane ("Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings," disc 1)  (John Coltrane)
7. Comp. No. 40B (“Six Compositions: Quartet”) (Anthony Braxton)
8. Comp. No. 51 (“Creative Orchestra Music 1976”) (Anthony Braxton)
9. Comp. No. 159 (“Willisau (Quartet) 1991”) (Anthony Braxton)
10. Coney (Tom Rainey Trio)
11. Conversation (Charles Mingus)
12. Cotton Tail (1940, Victor) (Duke Ellington)
13. Dancing Shadows (“Nothing Is”) (Sun Ra)
14. Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love (“Changes One”)  (Charles Mingus)
15. Duplicity (Andrew Hill)
16. East Coasting (Charles Mingus)
17. Filles de Kilimanjaro (Miles Davis)
18. Four Winds (Dave Holland)
19. Girl from Ipanema (Getz/Gilberto)
20. Globe Unity 70 (Globe Unity Orchestra)
21. Hat and Beard (Eric Dolphy)
22. Home (David Murray Octet)
23. Images (“Jazz in Silhouette”) (Sun Ra)
24. It Never Entered My Mind (Miles Davis)
25. Ko-Ko (Victor, 1940) (Duke Ellington)
26. Ko-Ko (Savoy, 1945) (Charlie Parker)
27. Law years (Ornette Coleman)
28. Lineform on 7 (Roscoe Mitchell)
29. Liza (1937) (Benny Goodman Quartet)
30. Love (“First Meditations”) (John Coltrane)
31. Machine Gun (2nd take) (Peter Brotzmann)
32. Man in the Green Shirt (Weather Report)
33. Me Myself and I (Billie Holiday)
34. Merry-Go-Round (1933) (Duke Ellington)
35. Merry-Go-Round (1935) (Duke Ellington)
36. Ming (David Murray Octet)
37. Mr. P.C. (1961, “Live Trane: The European Tours” disc 2) (John Coltrane)
38. Moten Swing (Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra)
39. New Now Know How (Charles Mingus)
40. Night and Day (Billie Holiday)
41. Night in Tunisia (Dial, 1946) (Charlie Parker)
42. The Ninth Room (Art Ensemble of Chicago)
43. October (Sun Ra)
44. Old Gospel (Jackie McLean)
45. One Down, One Up (“Live at the Half Note: One Down, One Up”) (John Coltrane)
46. Parker’s Mood (Charlie Parker)
47/48. Peace on Earth (“Live in Japan,” both versions) (John Coltrane)
49. The Pearls (Jelly Roll Morton)
50. A Piece of Software (Henry Threadgill Sextet)
51. Plutonian Nights (Sun Ra)
52. Possession (“Sun Song”) (Sun Ra)
53. Practice Makes Perfect (Billie Holiday)
54. Prince of Darkness (Miles Davis)
55. Quadrant 4 (Billy Cobham)
56. Reincarnation of a Lovebird (Atlantic) (Charles Mingus)
57. Reminiscing in Tempo (Duke Ellington)
58. Rumpus in Richmond (Duke Ellington)
59. The Same Old Story (Billie Holiday)
60. Saturn ("The Singles") (Sun Ra)
61. Search Light Blues (Sun Ra)
62. The 7th Day (Freddie Hubbard)
63. Snurdy McGurdy and her Dancing Shoes (Roscoe Mitchell and the Sound Ensemble)
64. So What (live Copenhagen 1960) (Miles Davis)
65. Song with Orange (Charles Mingus)
66. Spanish Key (Miles Davis)
67. Springsville (Miles Davis)
68. The Stampede (Fletcher Henderson)
69. Somewhere Else (Sun Ra)
70/71. Stardust (both takes) (Louis Armstrong)
72. Stardust (live Fargo 1940) (Duke Ellington)
73. Sugar Foot Stomp (“Hocus Pocus”) (Fletcher Henderson)
74. Taht (Cecil Taylor)
75. Theme from “The Asphalt Jungle” (“Great Paris Concert”) (Duke Ellington)
76. Thoughts under a Dark Blue Light (Sun Ra)
77. Tight Like This (Louis Armstrong)
78. West End Blues (Louis Armstrong)
79. With (Exit)  (Cecil Taylor)
80. Yes or No (Wayne Shorter)
81. You Go to My Head (Billie Holiday)

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