Tim Richards - Playlist
I was asked to compile this list of my ten favourite albums for the JAZZ VIEWS website, where it appeared for the month of March 2003. Of course, it's a very difficult choice, and there are many others I would have liked to include!
McCoy Tyner - The Real McCoy (Blue Note 0777 7 46512 2 6)
This fantastic album from 1967 was recorded a couple of years after pianist Tyner left the classic John Coltrane quartet and features Elvin Jones, Ron Carter and saxman Joe Henderson. The five tracks are all originals by McCoy (including "Passion Dance" and "Contemplation") and are so strong they have all become standards. I admire Tyner for his unique rhythmic drive and the way he completely re-invented jazz piano in the 1960s, re-voicing chords in fourths and building lines that weave in and out of the harmony using pentatonic scales and fourths. That's one of the reasons this album sounds so fresh. The other is Joe Henderson, one of my favourite tenor players, whose very personal sound and relaxed approach perfectly fit this situation, making a welcome change from McCoy's more familiar recordings with Coltrane.
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew (2 CD set - Columbia C2K 65774)
I first heard this 1969 double album as a teenager and was blown away by the hypnotic rhythms and dark sounds, especially the bass clarinet and electric pianos. I was not so impressed by Miles' trumpet playing, it sounded cold and strident to me at the time, and it wasn't until I began to explore other recordings of his that I begun to appreciate him more. But the sheer concept, and the idea of using three keyboard players (Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Larry Young) still excites me. Miles wholeheartedly embraced the unique electric sound of the Fender Rhodes piano, an instrument which even today has its enemies. I love the open-ended quality of the tracks and the way it's hard to tell what is written and what is improvised. A groundbreaking album.
Freddie King - Freddie King Sings (Modern Blues MBCD-722)
I wanted to include at least one blues album in this list, and it's a very difficult choice! I have plumped for this one because I love King's gravelly voice, perhaps even more than his great guitar playing. When you hear him sing "Have you ever loved a woman.... so much, you tremble in pain?", you KNOW he's been there. Blues is about expressing emotion. Many jazz musicians are contemptuous because it often only uses three chords, but they're missing the point...
Charlie Mingus - Mingus Ah Um (Columbia CK 65512)
In my opinion, one of the most attractive and perfectly realised jazz albums ever recorded. All the tracks are originals by the great bassist/composer, and hang together so well you wonder whether they were conceived as a suite. Mingus combines all his influences, including traditional jazz, blues and gospel, stirring them up together and creating a totally distinctive modern sound in the process. The great but underrated Booker Ervin is on tenor sax.
John Coltrane - The Complete Africa Brass Sessions (2 CD set - Impulse! 21682)
Not one of Coltranes' best known albums, but one of my favourites. The quartet with Elvin and McCoy is featured with a fifteen-piece brass orchestra (including Fredie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy and Booker Little alongside three euphoniums and five french horns!). Also innovative is Coltrane's decision to feature two bass players on the same track, which works remarkably well-one grounding everything with a simple two-note riff low down, the other playing around it higher up. The brass arrangements are incredibly atmospheric, but do not intrude on the rather loose feel of this session, which features some of Coltrane's best playing on tenor and soprano.
Abdullah Ibrahim - The Mountain (Camden CDN 1002)
South African jazz has a special place in my affections for its optimistic, uplifting qualities, although Ibrahim has his dark side too. This album has some magical compositions - the title track alone has such a lovely melody and chord sequence, it never fails to move me. There is a beautifully arranged four-piece frontline, including alto sax/ flute player Carlos Ward, whose sound, time and phrasing on the melody of "The Mountain" is very impressive. Other classic tracks include "The Wedding" and "Mannenberg".
Pharaoh Sanders - Africa (Timeless CDSJP 2530)
In my book, definitely one of the top ten tenor saxmen ever. Many people only seem to remember him from his playing on a few Coltrane albums, before he had really developed his true sound and personality. The live dates I have seen Pharoah play in London have been by far the most overwhelming gigs I have experienced. His immense sound and passionate tone seem to come from the depths of the earth! Also, he is not afraid to play just one note, where others might play a hundred, but that note makes you go weak at the knees! Go and see him while you still can! None of his records really capture the live magic, but "Africa" is as good as any, and features the wonderfully fluent John Hicks on piano.
Hampton Hawes - Trio (Contemporary OJCCD-98.640)
One of my favourite pianists, the underrated Hawes had a uniquely warm sound and an instantly recognisable touch, combining influences from Bud Powell and Charlie Parker with his own blues and gospel stylings. Although self taught, his technique and crisp delivery are very impressive, even at fast tempos, and he swings like nobody else. Listen to "I Got Rhythm", the first track on this trio recording (with Red Mitchell on bass) - it's incredible! Displays of technique alone usually leave me cold, but Hampton has such an infectious, buoyant feel that you are swept along with it. This record is Vol 1 of three trio albums by Hawes on Contemporary, and caused a sensation on its release in 1955. Another three-volume set by the trio worth checking out is "All Night Session" (with guitarist Jim Hall).
Ray Charles - The Definitive Ray Charles (2 CD set - Rhino 8122 73556-2)
Ray's piano concept was a very formative influence and I love the way he combines jazz, blues and gospel in his solos, always with impeccable taste and phrasing, and a great feel. The first disc of this compilation features material from the pianist's early years with Atlantic, generally considered his best period, and his piano is well to the fore on classic tracks like "What'd I Say", "Hallelujah I Love Her So", and "Mary-Ann". The second disc includes many of his later hits on the ABC label, such as "Eleanor Rigby", in which he started to branch away from his blues and gospel roots into mainstream entertainment. You could say his whole career has been dedicated to bringing down the boundaries between different styles of music (which are mostly imposed on us by critics and record labels); he even released several Country albums...
Bill Evans - Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Riverside OJCCD-068-2)
I just had to include a record by Bill even though there are many other pianists competing for his spot (Gene Harris, Monty Alexander, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wynton Kelly, to name a few) - ten records just isn't enough! It's difficult also to select my favourite Evans record, but on balance I have chose this early one, with the great Philly Joe Jones on drums. It's astonishing to hear how confident and original he sounded on this 1958 release, only the second under his own name. Aside from some great performances of standards like "Night & Day", it also includes two beautiful solo piano numbers - including "Peace Piece", a hypnotic improvisation over a repetitive two-chord left hand. The right hand begins very simply, becoming more and more atonal as the improvisation develops, to devastating effect. Listen to it on headphones in a dark room...