Best Jazz Albums

Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz To Come

After introducing his striking saxophone and composing style on two Contemporary albums, Ornette found the perfect ensemble to bring his music to life with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. The music on their first album, made in May 1959, is bold, joyful, adventurous and refreshing. It sounds as if it were made yesterday.

Featured Track: Lonely Woman

The opening track on the album is “Lonely Woman,” a powerful piece of pain and yearning. Billy Higgins plays a steady cymbal ride in quadruple time as the band unfolds the slow, plaintive melody. Ornette’s solo is as humanizing as saxophone can be. An arresting performance.

Ornette Coleman:
Live At The Golden Circle, Volume One

In 1962, Ornette Coleman, who’d rocked the jazz world three years earlier, debuted his new trio with classical bassist David Izenson and drummer Charles Moffett, introducing an entirely new sound. Then abruptly he announced his retirement. When he re-emerged two years later, he reformed this unique trio and signed with Blue Note Records. On his first European tour, producer Francis Wolff met the trio in Stockholm and recorded them for two nights at the Golden Circle performing eight new compositions. The results were issued on two LPs that put Coleman in the forefront of jazz again.

Featured Track: Dee Dee

“Dee Dee” is one of those Ornette Coleman compositions that is somehow simultaneously both obtuse and soulful. It showcases this trio perfectly. The classically trained David Izenson is the anchor in the music as Charlie Haden had been in the first band. Charles Moffett has a wonderful sense of swing and his drum fill-ins have the same impact that Philly Joe Jones would create. His extended drum solo never wanes and his cymbal work is fresh and fascinating.

Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures

This is one of Taylor’s most important recordings, composing for a varied sextet that understands what he wants from them. Cecil had introduced most of this music with a slightly different group at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival. This album includes “Enter Evening,” “Steps,” “Unit Structures” and the piano suite “Tales (8 Whisps).” Eddie Gale (trumpet), Jimmy Lyons (alto sax), Ken McIntrye (alto sax, oboe, bass clarinet), Cecil Taylor (piano), Henry Grimes, Alan Silva (bass), Andrew Cyrille (drums).

Featured Track: Steps

“Steps” is a somewhat traditional piece in the iconoclastic world of Cecil Taylor. The written material is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s lines. This performance effectively showcases the alto saxophones of Jimmy Lyons, Taylor‘s long running associate, and Ken McIntyre. On Cecil’s frenetic solo, Andrew Cyrille keeps up with him for the duration.

Albert Ayler: Spiritual Unity

By the time of this first U.S. release by Albert Ayler, his unique, shocking style was fully formed. Writing melodies that evoke early marches and spirituals and using a raw tone on the tenor saxophone that harkens back to the sound of the early jazz brass bands. Ayler created a powerful, emotive style. This trio with Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray was his finest group.

Featured Track: Ghosts

“Ghosts” became Ayler’s theme song of sorts. Two variations appear on “Spiritual Unity.” This is Variation 1. Ayler seems to evoke the feeling of the earliest New Orleans jazz and marches of the 20th century. The saxophone was originally conceived as a brass band instrument and it is very likely that the sound of the instrument then was similar to Ayler’s hollow, metallic tone.