Jack Bruce finally succumbed to his liver woes yesterday at the age of 71. I’ll always be a fan of his most famous work with Cream, and could certainly have done a Top 10 list of just those tunes. But as a person interested in jazz, rock and the sometimes nebulous crosshairs between them, I find Jack Bruce to be a particularly important (dare I say unique?) figure, with credibility in both worlds and a long track record of exploring the intersections. This list was compiled with a particular slant towards showing his diversity in that regard.
Of course, given the role that jazz plays in our society there are only a tiny handful of albums that DON’T fit this category (“unjustly obscure jazz album” is kind of like “ice cream flavor containing dairy products”). But there are some albums that I think are exceptional and, in some cases, important in their time, that have been essentially forgotten even among the jazz intelligentsia.
I have divided this list into two categories based on availability. As such, the first ten are albums that deserve wider recognition but that (as of this writing) at least you are likely to be able to find by legitimate means through one of the various online streaming/downloading outlets or as a new CD – the other ten will require some hunting.
Joe Lovano is one of the major musical voices of his generation, having gotten there honestly through a long dues-paying process both in terms of professional apprenticeships and development of his sound. That sound is now somewhat difficult to describe in words, in part because his voice has become so distinct. I can, say, though, that his versatility (in addition to his well-documented virtuosity on tenor and soprano saxophone, he plays various other woodwinds and is actually a great drummer as well) and his vision as a composer and bandleader have been profoundly influential, and yet he continues to be able to fit seamlessly into a wide variety of scenarios.
I’m mega-excited to play with the great Victor Lewis this Saturday at the QJOG Spring Jazz Festival (and yes, nerd-police, we ARE playing “I Wanted to Say”). Looking at the breath of his career is fairly overwhelming and inspiring. If you can’t make it out on Saturday, enjoy the music on this list. If you can, then you’re in for a treat, as everyone is whenever he plays the drums.
Or maybe “Augmented Piano Trio?” I don’t know what to call it, really, but the Trio plus Chamber-Ensemble on my Ripples album have evoked a lot of questions about the inspiration and methodology behind that music. The hierarchy I had in mind is difficult to articulate. It’s not really “octet music” in the sense of the piano, bass and drums being a rhythm section. Neither, though, is the work of the rest of the ensemble purely decorative window-dressing. Essentially, the trio is the central unit with the rest of the musicians playing a supporting role, but a (hopefully) well-integrated and important one.
As a musician, it is a treat whenever the opportunity arises to play with someone who brings out your best. It is, however, a rare and special confluence when you can play with someone who brings out a “best” that you otherwise wouldn’t have even known was in there. So it has gone for ten years now with the members of my Trio, Henry Lugo and Vinnie Sperrazza.
I will be writing plenty about the musicians who contributed to the making of the Ripples album, but here I want to give a shout-out to all the other folks whose work on producing the album was essential to bringing it to fruition.
I love Tom Harrell’s trumpet playing, bandleading and composing and have enjoyed exploring his catalog to compile this list of personal favorites.
Yusef Lateef, who recently passed on at the age of 93, has had a profound influence on my music both in terms of the specific sounds in his recorded legacy and on a more conceptual level. In a world in which musicians so often have alliances that imply a certain disdain for “competing” factions, Yusef Lateef’s openness and breadth of skills and interests have been matched by few artists carrying the “jazz musician” label.
A figure as towering as the Duke does not need a schmoe like me to throw out adjectives to pump up his importance or greatness. Instead, my focus on the show was the musical qualities that have left the most indelible marks on me as a composer, pianist and bandleader.