My Top Three Jazz Albums

12 August 2008

In defence of jazz, here are my top three jazz albums. I’m no expert, but I know what I like, and these three would probably find a placing in my top ten albums ever.

If you’re going to listen to jazz, listen to jazz on vinyl. If you’re going to listen to jazz on vinyl then accompany it with a jazz cigarette. If you’re going to smoke a jazz cigarette then any old bollocks will sound amazing.

Charles Mingus – The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady

My copy of this just arrived last week but I have been enjoying the mp3s for years. Six tracks of varying confusion and befuddlement. The liner notes on the sleeve are penned by a clinical psychologist who documents Charlie’s mental state at the time of recording this album.

Charles Mingus - The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady

Charles Mingus - The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady

Written as a score for a ballet, Black Saint is divided into six tracks, although this division is not really clean cut, with many tracks having no discernible gap between them.

The horns sound genuinely like they are talking to you. All the noises are so deep and textured, nothing sounds floaty or thin, yet the composition itself is actually very chaotic. I always expect the arrangements to fall to pieces and descend into DuRT-style avant-madness but it never happens, the chaos is controlled and carefully structured.

This is one of the first jazz albums which utilised overdubs, which shows that even the wackier, more unpredictable elements of this masterpiece had been very meticulously planned by Mingus as a composer.

It veers from upbeat and beautiful to slow, sparse, loud and ugly. It takes the listener from complete and utter despair to shiny hope, and that’s a pretty powerful, if cheesy, journey.

Alice Coltrane: Ptah The El Daoud

I don’t know quite what to say about this, other than Alice Coltrane’s piano playing is unbelievable. On the laid back blues inspired Turiya & Ramakrishna, the ease with which she manages to roll notes into simple refrains is staggering. This is probably one of my favourite song ever.

Nuff said.

Bad Plus – These are the Vistas

I remember exactly where I first heard this decidedly modern Jazz trio. I was at Tom Symes’s house at a party, hiding in his bedroom smoking pot and listening to Radio Three with Lottie. A slow, meandering piano part accompanied by double bass and jazz drums slowly crept into our ears, before we realised it was a cover version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana.

Upon running home, loading Soulseek and downloading the album, I realised that the Nirvana cover is a relative lowlight of this debut album.

The Bad Plus - These Are The Vistas

The Bad Plus - These Are The Vistas

Piano, double bass, drums. Quite hard to be original but I think The Bad Plus achieve just that. The drumming is more reminiscent of math-rock or electronica than trad jazz, and the piano playing is fucking retarded. The bass holds it all together but the song structures tend to include really fucking crazy messy bits along with soulful, rhythm-less sections and up beat, feel good reprises.

The undisputed highlight of this album is their cover of Aphex Twin’s Flim, where drummer David King makes Aphex’s computer sound prehistoric in comparison with his tight, technical yet charming banging. It sometimes sounds like he’s banging lots of pots and pans but it’s actually just him using the same drum in a million different ways, all within the space of a few seconds.

The cover of Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’ is nearly ruined by 3 or 4 minutes of complete sludge in the middle, but is happily rescued with a catchy upbeat 7/4 reprise which takes the song to it’s conclusion.

And there’s some pretty good originals on there too. From hectic and disjointed to slow, blues inspired fade ins, I’d be too shy to call this a masterpiece. But it is.


OK. You tell me. Look at this pic. Tell me who the pianist is, who the bass player is, and who the drummer is.

The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus

OK so the drummer and bassist are the two big fat guys, and the pianist is the little thin guy with a big nose, Right? WRONG! Skinny geek plays a fat double bass, and the big fat guy with a goatie actually fits his chunky fingers onto the piano keys. I only realised this upon their appearance on ‘Later with Jools Holland’.

Their second album was a big fat, chubby fingered disappointment.



One Response to “My Top Three Jazz Albums”

  1. MizwAh Says:

    “If you’re going to listen to jazz, listen to jazz on vinyl. If you’re going to listen to jazz on vinyl then accompany it with a jazz cigarette. If you’re going to smoke a jazz cigarette then any old bollocks will sound amazing.”
    ha ha ha

    Harry was saying about a jazz Nirvana cover yesterday. I thought he was lying. Now I know not. But I wish he had been.

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