If you’re not very familiar with jazz music I can understand the overwhelming intimidation you might get from the idea of delving deeper into its realms. Structurally, jazz is more complex than the average radio pop anthem because of its improvised nature of multiple melodies and rhythms all working together. Complex time signatures, complex syncopation, complex accents, and seemingly random scales make jazz not the easiest form of music to ‘actively’ listen to, let alone play. I say actively because we all know the stereotypical misconception that jazz is elevator music. Each note counts, yet you find so many of them. Don’t panic. Be patient, it will start to sound more relevant with each listen. But where to start?
That’s why there’s a Project Revolver.
We’re here to make you a jazz lover in 10 easy steps (..or albums). Buy, stream or download these albums (legally or not, we don’t care) and listen to them carefully; read about them and the people on them, and you’re off to go.
By Rani Nasr
Romantic Warrior – Return to Forever (1976):
Return to Forever isn’t exactly your typical jazz band, but no one can really expect what’s going to happen in jazz music. Not even the musicians themselves. Especially in collaborations. Return to Forever is a jazz super group featuring some of the biggest names in the industry. Chick Corea, write this name down on a piece of paper, changed not only jazz music and how the keyboard is played, but also changed progressive rock as well. Some fellows like to argue that progressive rock is the most technically demanding music genre and they name-drop people like Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Dream Theater. Tell them to shove it, and listen to this album. As much as the mentioned people are good, RTF are the godfathers. They practically initiated the DNA of today’s progressive rock. Featuring Stanley Clarke on bass, probably the funkiest person alive, this album is quite the ride. Al Di Meola plays the guitar like a true virtuoso, so versatile and slick. Lenny White, a Davis hero that knows these musicians by heart and adds lots of heart to the mix. This album has a medieval feel, a badass edge and some complex technical stuff that are well polished and not overdone. Groovy shit I must say.
After a long loud day at work a vintage glass of bourbon and this album would do the trick. As its name implies, it will grab all your thoughts, emotions and shenanigans and put them down into serenity and peace. It’s a peaceful, subtle, genius piece well-crafted by the greatest minds in the business. Coleman ‘Hawk’ Hawkins, being the legend that he is backed by one of the most recorded bassists in the business, Ron Carter, giving the Hawk space to soar over his solid yet fluid bass lines. Write Carter’s name down as well. He’s recorded more than 2,500 albums; you’re going to come across his name a lot more than quite a few times, if you’re in this for real. The guitar and piano on this record are the biggest surprise it holds; Kenny Burrell and Ronnell Bright are masters on their own. A genius subtle record that never fails to set your mood and hit that chill spot in your mind. It also comes in handy in many situation where you desperately need a mood setter.
Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Viaticum (2005):
This album is a more modern take on things. It combines post rock melodies, classical music build ups, and jazzy improvisational musical insanity all in one. Esbjorn Svensson died in 2008 from an unfortunate scuba diving accident, but his music will keep his flame burning until eternity. Not much can be said about this album, the line-up is your jazz standard trio, Piano, counter bass and drums. However, the music the trio makes is very far from what you’d expect from a jazz trio. One track on the album is called The Unstable Table and The Infamous Fable. Contemplate that for a bit, that what the album sounds like. Some folks like the word eargasmic, I think they’re idiots. Nevertheless, the build-ups and set downs of this album make it a truly sexual experience. It is probably the most creative album you’ll hear this decade. Use with caution, it might drive you cuckoo.
Full album not available anymore on YouTube.
Charles Mingus – Ah Um (1959):
This is the perfect place to start for any jazz beginner. It is arguably Mingus’ masterpiece and is filled with extremely well focused tunes. It is carefully engineered into a spontaneous and consistent mood presence. Emotions vary on the record, taking us on a journey of dreams however, the almost clockwork perfect musicians on this record make Mingus’ compositions razor-sharp and tight. Many instant classic tracks on this record, one of which is the spiritual 6/8 exuberance that’s punctuated by joyous gospel shouts “Better Get It In Your Soul”. Lots of nods on this album to people that influenced Mingus like Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and Lester Young that died shortly before this album was recorded and Mingus immortalized him with the classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. This album more or less defined the sound of Jazz and was an inspiration to thousands of jazz musicians around the globe. Not an easy record to grasp but once understood it’s hard to not play it all day.
Keith Jarrett Trio – Standards (1 & 2) (1983):
You can’t really talk about jazz music without mentioning the master of the piano Keith Jarrett. You can’t really talk about jazz without talking about its standards. Standards in jazz are like folk songs that almost every jazz player knows by heart and have made their own take of it. It’s what jazz players do when they jam usually, play standards to get to know each other, songs they all know the progressions of. Standards is a two volume record where Keith Jarrett alongside bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette show the world how thing are done and set some motherfucking standards. This record is the ultimate reference to standards and jazz. Keith Jarrett will take you places you never thought a piano would take you before. This man is a true wizard. He has the strongest hands that ever touched a piano backed by the biggest heart that ever felt one. His periodic moans on every note will give you a hint of what to feel when listening to this masterpiece. And a friendly tip, Keith Jarrett is one of the biggest names in music, everything with his name on it is cool. Also fetch his solo piano concertos, to die for.
Art of Three – Billy Cobham, Ron Carter, Kenny Baron (2001):
Billy Cobham and Ron Carter are Miles Davis’ gift to the world. Like many other jazz legends, these 2 graduated from the school of the almighty Miles. For those of you who don’t know, Miles schooled tens of legends. Almost every musician that played with Miles grew up to become a legend on their own, if they weren’t already. Billy Cobham is one of these people. His drumming feels like his drum-set is alive and swerving. They also play some standards on this live record, however, you would feel the difference between this and Keith Jarrett’s take. This is way cleaner and groovier when Jarrett’s is more melodic and complex. Which one is better is strictly a matter of taste. They’re both a must have in your library though. Multiple listens are needed for this one. The more you listen to it, the more you find hidden gems all over it.
John Coltrane – Love Supreme (1964):
This record is probably the masterwork of saxophonist John Coltrane. It remains a cultural icon till this very day. It just resounds on all spiritual levels. A four-part suite about faith and redemption, it is more than a statement of piety, more even than the beautiful music contained within it. A Love Supreme inspired and defined a generation, who responded to Coltrane’s message of universal peace and love. The same-old hippie shit, with a master’s signature on it. It is undeniable that this is one of the most awe inspiring jazz quartets of all time: summoning supreme love with Coltrane is his student piano virtuoso McCoy Tyner, and the aggressively mellow rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. Legend has it that before making this album Coltrane was spoken to by God; and after hearing A Love Supreme that legend is not hard to believe at all. If I were God, I’ll definitely have a chit chat with Coltrane. Perks of the job. Listen to this album with an open mind and heart. It is divided into four parts: Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm. Their titles pretty much describe what they’re about.
Wes Montgomery – The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1960):
Ask any guitarist about their favorite guitar albums, (not a metalhead, those don’t count) and this one will be high up on their lists. Wes gave guitar quantum leaps stylistically and in terms of listener acceptance. He made the guitar a virtuoso instrument. Mind you, Wes is a self taught guitarist. Until this very day, no one could play it as gracefully as Wes. On this all-time classic recording, Wes drove away from his home Indianapolis-based organ combo with Melvin Rhyne, the California-based Montgomery Brothers band, and other studio sidemen he had been placed with briefly. Off to New York City and a date with Tommy Flanagan’s trio, and Wes found himself grooving fluently with purpose, drive, and vigor never heard of before on an electric guitar. The Incredible Jazz Guitar took the US scene by storm in the 60s, and it still sounds like something out of a jazzy fantasy land 50 years after. It has sounded similar since, of course, thanks to the legion of Montgomery-influenced players, but rarely so close to perfection.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970):
Probably the most badass record in jazz history, this album created a genre called jazz-rock fusion. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, some of whom were already established while others would become high-profile players later, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Don Alias, Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, and Lenny White among them. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around keyboard, bass, or guitar vamps, Bitches Brew is actually a recording that producer Teo Macero assembled from various jams and takes by razor blade, splice to splice, section to section. Davis breaks every rule set in music making on this record, and proves Davis is the best musician not only in jazz but also in rock. At some point during the record he pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix. What more can you ask off a jazz record? Just listen and learn.
Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Dream (1963):
Ask anyone about the Monk and they’ll tell you he plays the piano like an unorthodox elephant. Watch a couple of YouTube videos and you’ll get what that means. Monk is probably the most mysterious figure in jazz music. Although appearing like an actual disciplined monk, at times he might just get up and start dancing in the middle of a performance. He also added a lot to the standard jazz repertoire. Jazz scholars and enthusiasts alike heralded the combo he used on Monk’s Dream as the best he had been involved with for several years. Although he would perform and record supported by various other musicians, the tight – almost telepathic – dimensions that these four shared has rarely been equaled in any genre. As cheesy as it might sound, don’t just listen to this record, feel it. (I know, I know.. fuckin’ cheesy.)
This was a pretty long read, if you made it this far you’re probably stupid, just read the titles again, get the albums and start listening. Jazz is the highest form of art. If you do this right, you will never ever be bored again in your life.
And as the great Miles Davis once said: “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” (I don’t know how this is relevant here, but it’s a cool quote).
PS. We don’t claim that this is all there is to it, there’s a fuckload more albums to start with, but we thought this might be a good way to put things in perspective. Please post any suggestions that should go on this list in the comment section.
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