Catching Up With Modern Jazz, Part One

As many readers know, I’m a relative latecomer to appreciation of jazz. Other than a copy of Weather Report‘s Heavy Weather LP, my record collection was all but jazz-free until I picked up a good condition (monaural) vinyl copy of Cannonball Adderley‘s Somethin’ Else at a garage sale sometime in the early 90s. Though it may read like hyperbole, that record truly did change my life. It connected with me in a way that was very different from all of the rock, prog, new wave etc. I loved (and still love). And Adderley’s musically populist, accessible approach, as it turns out, was the perfect means to draw me into a growing love and appreciation for jazz.

But it has only been these last five or six years that my jazz library has really begun to grow. Thank in large part to the work of three labels in particular (and to Pandora), my exposure to this quintessentially American musical art form is expanding at a delightful rate. (Speaking of which, my interviews with Ulli Pfau of Jazzhaus Music and with Concord’s Chris Clough shed some light on what two of those labels are up to.)

Speaking of those two labels, both have recenly put out a spate of excellent and notable material; Concord has added to its The Very Best Of… series with new single-disc compilations covering the Fantasy, Prestige and/or Riverside work of Adderley, The Bill Evans Trio, Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck. I’ll cover those in a separate entry, and in yet another post I’ll take a look at three previously-unreleased archival live recordings on Jazzhaus, sets from The Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, The Albert Mangelsdorff Quintett and Zoot Sims.

Meanwhile, and aside from those titles, a stack of phenomenal jazz has been piling up on my desk, giving me countless hours of enjoyment. Here’s a brief rundown of these titles, and why I strongly recommend each of them to anyone interested in expanding their jazz horizons. (Jazz aficionados will, I hope, forgive my restating of the crushingly obvious here.)

Larry Young – Unity (Blue Note)
John Coltrane – Blue Trane (Blue Note)
Horace Silver – Song for My Father (Blue Note)
Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (Blue Note)
Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch (Blue Note)
Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (Blue Note) rates every single one of these six landmark albums as five-star releases. I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by attempting – with my limited background in jazz – to explain the musical, cultural and historical importance of these records. What I will do is insist that even if you own them already, you need these new releases from Blue Note. And if you don’t have this music, well, start your self-schooling in some of the genre’s very best by choosing the finest in audio quality.

Download culture has had its many up-sides, but the most serious indictment of it has been the loss in audio quality. Why, people wonder, with all of the technological advances in audio and digital technology, do we listen to crappy lossy, MP3 versions of our music? But the people at Blue Note have addressed this issue in the most intelligent way possible, in a manner that takes full advantage of the advances while sidestepping the downside. And their approach can – or at least should – point the way toward the future, even as major labels keep promising to cease production of physical CDs.

What they’re doing ,and why you’ll want these versions, is providing (via secure online purchase and download) super-high-resolution audio files. Forget MP3. Hell, forget CD-quality WAV files. What you get here are what they call HD Tracks audiophile files. These are (your choice of) 192kHz or 96kHz, 24-bit FLAC files. Note for comparison that your standard CD audio file resolution is a mere 44.1kHz and 16-bit. As Nigel Tufnel might say, these are eight bits louder. But seriously, these classic jazz albums are presented in the most stunningly pristine manner possible. And some very nice liner notes (with artwork) are included as PDF files with each album. Of course you’ll need some decent speakers or headphones for your computer to get the full effect, but the investment will have been worth it.

I’ll continue my survey of recent and notable jazz reissues/compilations in my next post.

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