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Building a Jazz Library

Tag Team Jazz, Part 2-2

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Jazz has always celebrated rugged individuality, praising those who appreciate others but stay on their own path. So what happens when two (or more intelligent and original musicians come together? Most of the time, pure magic. Stellar tag teams have made some of the finest records in jazz history.

Lester Young: Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio (Norgran, 1954)
One of Young's greatest sessions, with Prez in the more than formidable company of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Barney Kessel. Classic takes of Prez displaying his quantum coolness on "Stardust," "I Can't Get Started," "These Foolish Things," "I'm Confessin,'" "Just You, Just Me," and the hilarious "(It Takes) Two to Tango" in which Prez decides to take an ad lib vocal. This should be in every jazz listeners' library.
Wes Montgomery & Jimmy Smith: The Dynamic Duo (Verve, 1966)
A stellar session combining the groove-oriented organ of Jimmy Smith, and the fluid guitar of Wes Montgomery with arrangements by the one and only Oliver Nelson. Full of outstanding tracks such as "Down By the Riverside," "The Dynamic Duo," and "Night Train."
Lee Konitz / Brad Mehldau / Charlie Haden: Alone Together (Blue Note, 1996)
A most unique session, not for the faint of ear. Don't be fooled by the names in this trio or the fact that every tune is a "standard." This album is extremely exploratory, and that is its unique beauty. Every track is a new journey, and on that journey any and every jazz cliche jazz seems forbidden. It is very intriguing to see how this great trio approaches these standards from an uber-cerebral point-of-view. On the highest tier of cerebral jazz.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Ella and Louis (Verve, 1956)
Another prime and pristine example of two perfect musicians coming together for an outstanding album. Boasting a sense that they are just having fun and are totally relaxed, every tune is a gem. "Can't We Be Friends?," "Cheek to Cheek," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "April in Paris" are the elite of the exceptional. You haven't experienced what jazz can truly be until you've heard these two together.
Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock: Corea / Hancock (Polydor, 1978)
The definitely rare occurance of two genius minds, who play the same instrument, coming together to make beautiful combined music. More than exceptional tracks include "Bouquet," "Maiden Voyage," and "Fiesta." Even though they played together in some of Miles Davis' 1970s bands, this is totally different and not like that at all. Definitely a diamond.
Duke Ellington & Count Basie: First Time! The Count Meets the Duke (Columbia, 1961)
What an amazing idea for an album: In one channel, the Duke Ellington Orchestra; in the other channel, the Count Basie Orchestra; each playing four compositions from Ellington's and Basie's repertoire. The soloists blow fiercely, as if this was a "Battle of the Bands." This is obviously a draw, as both bands are more than quintessential to jazz. Keep your ears peeled for Frank Foster and Paul Gonsalves. Wow! A "must have" for all jazz collectors. After all, where else can you hear Ellington's orchestra play "Jumpin' at the Woodside" and then Basie's band play "Take the 'A' Train"?
John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman: John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1963)
There is only one flaw to this recording: It only contains six tracks. Each track is luscious and tender, most especially "My One and Only Love," "Lush Life," and "You Are Too Beautiful." This album presents Coltrane's more mellow ballad phrasing paired with Hartman's sensual smoky vocals. Each sounds like that thin strain of smoke that's left over after the all night jam session has concluded.
Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins: Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins (Prestige, 1953)
Another exceptional session of Monk with one of the great tenor titans of the time, yet totally different than the Coltrane session with Monk, so don't misconstrue. This pairing finds Monk and Rollins playing through "Friday the 13th," "Nutty," and "The Way You Look Tonight" with dazzling pizazz. A great complement to the Monk with Coltrane session, demonstrating how Monk approaches each of these heavyweight differently.
Charlie Haden & Kenny Barron: Night and the City (Verve, 1996)
An extremely underrated session by two consumate masters, with Barron and Haden playing seven poignant tracks with the greatest of sustained intensity. Most of the album is quiet and reflective; you might never guess that this was recorded live in 1996. Two greats are so immersed within the beauty of each song and complementing each other that you might feel as if you are eavesdropping on a very private conversation (to borrow a line from the great Nat Hentoff).
Charlie Christian / Dizzy Gillespie: After Hours (Esoteric, 1941)
A very historic 1941 session that combines the talents of the swing master and electric guitar pioneer with the bebop innovator. It is still a treasure to hear these giants play such outstanding takes of "Stardust," "Kerouac," "Stompin' at the Savoy," as well as a version of "Swing to Bop" which sums up the album most appropriately. A prize that collectors will enjoy time and time again.
Jim Hall & Ron Carter: Alone Together (Milestone, 1972)
What a duo this meeting turned out to be: One of the most influential and tasteful jazz guitarists of all time paired with the more-than-solid bassist. This live setting captures such classics as "Alone Together," "I'll Remember April," "Autumn Leaves," "Prelude to a Kiss," and "St. Thomas." Some impromtu glass clinking adds to the merry sound of the FUN that Hall and Carter were having while playing together. Guaranteed to stay in your player for a couple of months.
The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall (Debut, 1953)
Billed as the greatest jazz concert of all time, and with due respect it will last as one of the absolute best. With the stellar quintet ofMax Roach on drums, Bud Powell on piano, Charles Mingus on bass, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and "Charlie Chan" (Charlie Parker) on alto sax, how could this be anything but exhalting? Recorded live at a 1953 Toronto concert, the quintet explores definitive versions of the classics "Salt Peanuts," "A Night in Tunisia," "Perdido," "Hot House," and "All the Things You Are." Heaven came to this earth for about an hour, at Toronto's Massey Hall in 1953, and luckily for all of us, it was recorded. More than a "must have." Quintessential.


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