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Jazz Primer

Great, but obscure albums to purchase

By Published: December 9, 2004
Art Farmer—"Manhattan": I had to put something by the wonderfully mellow Art Farmer in here, and this mid-'80's recording for Soul Note seems somewhat obscure at this point.

Jimmy Giuffre—"Dragonfly" : Another mid-'80's Soul Note release. I know Giuffre's early trio sides with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow are both interesting and significant, but to be honest I play this and his other Soul Notes more often. They're sort of like Jimmy Giuffre does Weather Report—all good, but this one's my favorite because of "Moonlight," a feature for bass flute that makes me think of Snoopy sneaking across the World War II front at night in "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

Grant Green—anything, really. "Iron City," say, if you want nice simple tuneful funk, or the 2 CD "Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark" if you want something a little more ambitious that's still fun.

Tubby Hayes—"The New York Sessions": Clark Terry on trumpet, the great Horace Parlan on piano. The Columbia CD (now unfortunately out of print) has several good previously unreleased tracks.

ANDREW HILL, ANDREW HILL, ANDREW HILL—I love this guy! He has this cerebral way of circling around a melody on the piano, but he is definitely NOT some cold technician. Like no one else. Though his "Point of Departure" is rightfully viewed as a masterpiece, I would not start with that if you're unfamiliar with Hill—it's not his most accessible work. Start with "Shades," an excellent mid-'80's Soul Note with Clifford Jordan on sax (the first Hill album I bought), or his solo "Verona Rag" on the same label, or his late '80's return to Blue Note, "Eternal Spirit." All of these show a mature Hill who, while not compromising his musical vision at all, has still mellowed a little with age. A word also for "Dance with Death," recorded for Blue Note in 1968 but not released until 10 years later; despite the offputting title (the reason, I would guess, that this album is not better known) this is tuneful, fun, intelligent music.

Bobby Hutcherson—"Medina": Like (and in some cases with) Hill, Hutcherson (THE jazz vibraphonist in my book) recorded several brilliant albums for Blue Note in the mid-'60's. This representative work has just been rereleased on a CD that also includes most of "Spiral," another goodie.

J.J. Johnson—"The Complete Columbia J.J. Johnson Small Group Sessions": This 7 CD set from Mosaic Records won't come cheap but virtually everything on it is great! I'm sure many of these sets from the late '50's and early '60's by Johnson, trombonist/arranger extraordinaire, would have languished in Columbia's vaults for years to come were it not for wonderful Mosaic. (If you don't know about Mosaic, their sets are limited editions that are available only by mail. I think their web site is www.mosaicrecords.com. They save lots of wonderful music from unjustified obscurity—look 'em up!)

Elvin Jones—"Illumination": Way too much Elvin Jones awaits reissue on CD, but this excellent Impulse is now available. If you can find it, I think "Puttin' It Together" on Blue Note is even better. Elvin plays so much music on his drums that Joe Farrell on reeds and Jimmy Garrison on bass (both great) are all the support he needs.

Duke Jordan—"Duke Jordan": This Savoy reissue, which I think is also known as "Trio and Quintet," is my favorite Jordan (though his "Flight to Jordan," a 1960 Blue Note with Dizzy Reece on trumpet, is great too), if only for his lovely solo piano rendition of "Summertime."

Pete LaRoca—"Turkish Women at the Bath": Recently reissued on CD by 32 Jazz, this 1967 session with Chick Corea, as its title might suggest, interestingly evokes other cultures without straying far from mainstream jazz. Very creative.

George Lewis—"Homage to Charles Parker": I don't know if this qualifies as obscure given the almost unheard-of 5-star rating it receives in The Penguin Guide to Jazz, but it's a great combination of Lewis' trombone, interesting electronics, etc. Fascinating.

John Lewis—"The Wonderful World of Jazz": Much of this is fun for both established jazz fans and those looking for an introduction to jazz. Even my wife, not the dyed-in-the-wool fan I am, loves the opening 15-minute "Body and Soul" with the great Paul Gonsalves on sax.

Harold Mabern—"Straight Street": A solid piano trio that covers everything from lesser known Coltrane tunes ("Straight Street," "Crescent") to Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing." This is the only date under Mabern's leadership I own, but I'm convinced I must buy more.


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