Richard “Groove” Holmes – “Red Onion” (1973)
Hell yes. No tears here, just sweetness. Bernard “Pretty” Purdie slamming the funky drums, a tight bass-flute-percussion combo, lean guitar lines and well-tempered brass, and Holmes rolling his Hammond: this is a track to make even the Meters and the JBs weak in the knees.
Harold Ousley – “Come Get It, I Got It” (1972)
“Come Get It, I Got It” is just a laid back bit of swagger, a low-key stew of jazz and funk with a little bit of Meters-ish southern twang and a no-pussyfooting hip-hop beat. Harold Ousley was an slightly older cat getting hip to the funky young sounds of the late 60s and early 70s–having gotten started in the 40s, recording with Billie Holiday, and still playing with Count Basie in the 70s–but clearly he got it good. No “fusion” here, nothing avant garde or experimental (though there is one sound in common with ‘On The Corner’ Miles here), but it’s a sweet thing indeed.
Henri Texier – “Le Piroguier” (1976)
This is music that can only be called genre-free–spare, pure, feeling equal parts experimental and folk-made, calling to mind only other iconoclasts like Brigitte Fontaine & Areski or Emmanuelle Parrenin in its spooky stillness-through-rhythm. Consisting solely of acoustic and organic sounds–handclaps, wordless vocals, single-note bowed strings, and upright bass played in a whirling fashion–it feels vaguely Turkish or Moroccan. It’s elemental and at the same time futuristic, small and yet suggesting wide-open space. Simply beautiful–and inexplicably out of print, so grab it at the ever-essential Mutant Sounds.
Pharoah Sanders – “Astral Traveling” (1971)
This is jazz that escapes the entrenched dichotomy one might associate with 1971. It’s neither “traditional” nor “fusion” or “experimental” per se. It has a compositional feeling and an exploratory vibe that feels “astral” indeed, but it’s not necessarily head music, and there’s no funk or rock foundation. It is contemplative in a way that feels like a classic jazz ballad, but there’s no piano here, and the instrumentation is small-group but not strictly standard. It’s simply rich, beautiful, spiritually resonant music, effortlessly both accessible and experimental. [Sanders is featured in a Sensory Replication Series mix at Musicophilia.]
Miles Davis – “He Loved Him Madly” (1974)
Don’t miss this one. This is deep, intense listening, and it won’t grab you if you don’t have the attention (and about half an hour) to devote. But I promise, it rewards the effort. This is beyond the cosmic-exploration of the Germans we love; this is an exploration of the infinite spirit, the depths of mourning, the heights of love. It is minimal, subtle, undulating, meditative, careful, above all beautiful. Anyone who questioned Davis’ motives for “abandoning jazz” and going fusion couldn’t have maintained that incredulity if their ears were open to the sheer expressiveness of this music. This wasn’t booty-funk, this wasn’t stoner-rock, though its elements are guitar, flute, drum kit, keyboards, electric bass, and echo effects: this is simply, utterly human music. Give it the time, give it your ears, and it will build itself slowly through you. [The glory of “Judas” Miles Davis is featured here, here and here at Musicophilia.]
Bill Evans Trio – “Jade Visions” (1961)
Hopefully you know the Bill Evans Trio‘s four albums from 1961, but if you don’t this is a fine introduction. This track, written by the ill-fated bassist Scot LaFaro (who would die tragically mere days after this gig), embodies everything that is wonderful about the records: Motian’s drums, LaFaro’s bass and Evans’ piano are all “lead” instruments, but not in the free-jazz sort of way; they dance with one another perfectly, always balanced, always careful, but full of understated passion. “Jade Visions” in particular still gives me goosebumps, after literally hundreds of listens. The only downside is that you may spend years searching the jazz aisles and find few other sessions that reach this sort of sublime stillness. (If you don’t own ‘Sunday at the Village Vanguard’ and ‘Waltz for Debby,’ I recommend you go ahead and purchase ‘The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings‘.)
Nina Simone – “Black Is the Color Of My True Love’s Hair” (1966)
Of all the Queens of vocal jazz, when she’s at her best (and with the most sympathetic production) nobody tops Nina Simone, for me. Her voice isn’t the unbelievably singular instrument of Lady Day, nor does she have the stylishness of Sarah Vaughan; but the tremble, shake, just-controlled fire and depth of her voice makes the emotional impact of her ballads greater than anyone else. Hers is the voice of wisdom, hard-won, of grace amidst the day-to-day. This is one of those tracks that makes my hair quite literally stand on end every time, and brings a lump to my throat, imbuing a traditional tune with immense heartbreak and a sense of meaningfulness (in political context) that is astonishing. The use of space in the mix is absolutely mastered here.
Eddie Gale – “Black Rhythm Happening” (1969)
For those who don’t quite buy the defiantly unpopular Art Ensemble of Chicago’s claim to making “Great Black Music,” the Sun Ra Arkestra might instead capture what AEC were after. Here Arkestra trumpeter Eddie Gale lays claim to “Black Rhythm happening everywhere,” and here it takes the form of a chorus’ voice dancing in call and response around a snaking guitar line, snare-heavy drums and hand percussion, all enveloped in a warm wide reverb. Not quite funk, not quite jazz, laid back and open-ended, happening it certainly is.
Moondog – “Toot Suite, 3rd Movement” (1994)
Every incarnation of Moondog puts a smile on my face, from the early oddball percussion works to the vocal rounds with his daughter to the orchestral works, always with his signature playfulness and humor. This later track from 1994 combines elements of all of them, with a jazzy swing and Stan Getz-esque sax playing in canon-like melodies that are unmistakably Moondog. Joy in three minutes. [Moondog is featured here and here in mixes at Musicophilia in all his effervescent beauty.]
Billie Holiday with Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan – “Fine & Mellow” (1957)
Despite being visibly emaciated and quite possibly stoned in this very late performance (from CBS’ ambitious ‘The Sound of Jazz‘) all the musical strength and grace is there. The one good thing that came of Ken Burns’ horribly skewed ‘Jazz’ documentary for me was seeing the context to this performance, and realising just how emotional a moment it must have been for Holiday and Young, estranged for so long, performing together one last time. It’s all there in the music, and in her eyes.
Bill Cosby’s Badfoot Brown & The Bunyon’s Bradford – “Martin’s Funeral” (1971)
Unless you’ve heard other non-standup Bill Cosby records, and maybe even then, I can almost guarantee this is not what you’ll expect. Stewed deep in the heady musical freedoms of 1971, “Martin’s Funeral” is Free Funk, with what sounds like a pretty large group of jazz/soul/funk players stretching out and able to roam and coalesce at will over a strong second-line rythmic foundation, ending up sounding almost like a funk take on Terry Riley’s “In C” (which does exist, and which you’ll hear here soon. . .). It’s emotional and something of a roller-coaster, but it maintains an underlying grace and nobility that befits its namesake and inspiration (Dr. King) via an uplifting four-chord cycle. In print last year on Dusty Groove’s reissue label, you should definitely pick this one up.