must listen to ___ album in ___ genre

i dunno if a thread like this exists, but i figured it was good to have a thread where we discuss which albums from which genres are ‘must listens’ for a newcomer to the genre. so drop a genre and a list, say a little about each album?

my bonafides are really 90s hip hop more than anything, i mean i dabble in some other stuff – really interested in your jazz recs – but maybe i can start things off in that vein, in the next post.

1 Like

HIP HOP 1988-2015 ish

mostly hardcore, some underground. I’m going to try to keep it to a top 10, we’ll see how we do. hip-hop is almost more of a medium than a genre, you’ve got all the sub-genres and I don’t get along with or know a ton about some of them, so caveats aside –

  • Eric B. & Rakim - Paid in Full (1987)
    There is rap before Rakim - I met this little girlie, her hair was kind of curly - and then there was rap after Rakim - “I write a rhyme and graffiti in / every show you see me in / deep concentration cuz I’m no comedian.”
    Rakim pioneered internal rhyme and multisyllabic rhyme schemes, where ‘the whole setup bar rhymes with every syllable of the punchline bar’ as Vox or somebody put it. It was like a slap in the face to the whole genre. Hip-hop become the dominant music form of the 90s and 2000s, and you can date at least some of that to Rakim’s wordplay.
  • A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (1991) & Midnight Marauders (1993)
    I think of these albums together. Midnight Marauders is more cohesive qua album, but The Low End Theory has more tracks recognized as instant classics. Together, they are landmarks in laid-back, jazz-influenced lyricism about daily life. Smooth as anything.
  • Nas, Illmatic (1994)
    There’s a lot of other albums that could fit in this role, but for a 90’s classic boom-bap album focused on rugged poetic street storytelling, it’s very hard to beat the classic Illmatic. Nas is a top contender in the conversation for greatest MC’s ever, and one of the era’s prime documentarians.
    “[W]hen my rap generation started, it was about bringing you inside my apartment. It wasn’t about being a rap star; it was about anything other than. I want you to know who I am: what the streets taste like, feel like, smell like. What the cops talk like, walk like, think like. What crackheads do… It was important to me that I told the story that way because I thought that it wouldn’t be told if I didn’t tell it.” - Nas to NPR
  • Mobb Deep, The Infamous (1995)
    I’m only 19 but my mind is old / and when things get for real my warm heart turns cold. It’s bleak, it’s dark, it’s cold, relentlessly violent and lyrical. Havoc’s production on this album is one of the most haunting things to come out of NYC hardcore hip hop. Mobb Deep is the answer to the question “what if Nas was the young gangster holding the gun instead of the kid on the stoop writing in his notebook about it.”
  • DJ Shadow, Endtroducing… (1996)
    No one needs to ‘prove’ sampling is an art-form, but DJ Shadow did it anyway. Endtroducing… was produced entirely on an Akai MPC60 sampler, a Technics SL-1200 turntable, and an ADAT eight-track. The product of a life spent digging in record crates for snippets of interesting sound, often named as the first completely sample-based album, and the intersection of instrumental hip-hop, ambient, and electronic. “I am, I confess, totally confounded by it. I hear a lot of good records, but very few impossible ones… You need this record. You are incomplete without it.” - David Bennun for The Guardian
  • Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
    Wu-Tang Clan was developed as a 9-man crew after several of its members failed at careers making glitzy radio rap. It was decided that 1) fuck that noise, we’re getting paid as a crew with the freedom to make solo albums on whatever label we each decide, and 2) fuck that noise, we’re making the type of music we want to make. What proceeded sounded like it was recorded on someone’s tape deck in the back of a van. RZA, their producer and the project’s leader, set stories of warfare and violence in NYC to a soundtrack of samples of old kung fu movies, clicks, snaps, and howling wind. Each crew member was invited to display rhymes that mixed free-association references to brands, political events, and conceptual storytelling. The album somehow reached #8 on Billboard’s Hip-Hop chart and jumpstarted each of their solo careers. Check out Liquid Swords by GZA.
    "War of the masses, the outcome disastrous / Many of the victim families save their ashes …
    Another heart is torn as close ones mourn’ / Those who stray, n****s get slayed on the song."
  • DMX, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998)
    It feels like I’m running out of ways to say “hard but passionate,” but DMX was the epitome of that. He sounded like nobody else - who else barks on the track? Who else raps about being abused as a child, and rather than revel in continuing that cycle of abuse (hi Eminem), uses it to find God and foster dogs? NYC rap had become shiny and glam thanks to Puff Daddy and them, all Escalades and luxury liquors; DMX reminded folks that there was a street out there, still producing battle-rapping kids like him. The best way to understand him is to quote him, or to quote folks talking about him:
    “He was the first living rapper to have two albums go platinum in the same year, and the only one to have his first five studio albums debut at #1.”

    All I know is pain / all I feel is rain /How can I maintain / with that shit on my brain? …
    Home of the brave / my home is a cage / Ayo I’ma slave / 'til my home is a grave.

    Just witness the outpouring of love when he passed away this past year. Makes me wanna cry. RIP DMX.
  • Outkast, Stankonia (2000)
    Does there need to be Outkast on this list? Almost certainly. Which album? It’s hard (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a strong shout, and I went back and forth) but Stankonia is the one that cemented them in the mainstream of American music. Consider the hits, which you will have heard on the radio in the early 2000’s: “Ms. Jackson,” “So Fresh So Clean,” “Bombs Over Baghdad,” “We Luv Deez Hoez.” Nothing else sounded like Outkast back then. Andre 3000 was some kind of jazz genius with the harmonies and syrupy lyrics, to take nothing away from Big Boi (who had a great solo album in Sir Lucious Leftfoot later on).
  • Madvillain (Madlib & MF Doom), Madvillainy (2004)
    The hip-hop underground has to be on this list, MF Doom has to be on this list, and the best thing I can think of for it is Madvillainy. The weirdo comic-book rapper with the perfect punchlines who never took his metal mask off, ‘your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,’ meets his counterpart in Madlib’s perfectly-vintage-animation sampling. RIP Doom. “slapdash and dilapidated, wholly unconcerned with making sense” - Clash magazine
  • The Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
    The Clipse weren’t Pharrell’s origin story, but they were maybe his finest work. Pusha T went on to have a solid solo career. The Clipse’s discography is a testament to how cleverly you can rap about selling drugs, and they are brilliant: I yell “Re-up” til I’m locked like Mumia, And get it cross-state with the grace of Maria… Fuck the Bureau, rather be spending Euros, We get fed grapes, fuck hoes in plurals. The production by Pharrell presages modern trap in its groovey electronic minimalism.
  • J Dilla, Donuts (2007)
    Everyone in hip-hop fandom probably knows the story: a virtuoso producer bursts from the Detroit underground, making underwater-sounding sampled beats with off-kilter drums that punch thru like hits on the heavy bag, chopping and re-purposing jazzy samples that seem to yearn for the heavens. It comes out that he is dying of a rare blood disorder. He composes a final 31-track beat tape from his deathbed, using a handheld SP-404. I don’t think Donuts is Dilla’s most representative work, but it’s maybe his most thrilling - the tracks, each between 1 and 2 minutes, seem to hint towards a higher fulfillment of a life cut short. Some of the beats eventually did get repurposed into released tracks by other groups. It’s also a great way to get interested in who this guy was, and why he became ‘your favorite producer’s favorite producer.’ “[Dilla] invented the sound we call neo-soul” - Questlove, of the Roots.
  • Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
    Kanye is an interesting one. He dropped two amazing albums in the early 2000’s (The College Dropout and Late Registration) that could easily be on this list and absolutely changed the game for radio hip-hop, with his trademark production style of sped-up soul samples and rapping about working bullshit service-industry jobs in capitalist america, dreaming of making it big. he as much as Common or anybody helped to put Chicago hip-hop on the map, and his lush producing provided the power behind artists like Common and Jay-Z. then he got experimental; 2008’s hugely successful Graduation began to integrate house and arena rock influences while his lyrics moved towards rapping about being a famous rapper. 808’s and Heartbreak got especially weird with it, moving in an extremely electronic autotuned direction, and Kanye became a lightning rod for his various antics, including the famous feud with Taylor Swift. MBDTF was his integration album, bringing together the various directions he’d been trying out, and going fully maximalist with it; orchestral string arrangements, rapping about his celebrity, drug use, relationships, and the terrible things his life has done to him and the people around him. More than anything it’s his magnum opus. “Picasso-like, fulfilling the Cubist mandate of rearranging form, texture, color and space to suggest new ways of viewing things” - Ann Powers for the LA Times

epilepsy warning!!! --------- Kanye West - All Of The Lights ft. Rihanna, Kid Cudi - YouTube

  • Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
    It’s Kendrick, it’s good, you know Kendrick, it’s about racism in America and has received many accolades. “Alright” became a BLM protest anthem. To me, TPaB feels like a time capsule conveyinga desperate sincerity that stands a little at odds with our jokerfied present state of affairs. But that’s just maybe where I was at in my life when I heard it. Regardless, Kendrick is essential, and of his albums this one is the most essential.
  • Vince Staples, Summertime '06 (2015)
    To me, Vince exploded on the scene when he dropped this album. A supremely confident West Coast MC who rapped not only about the pleasures of driving around with the top down smoking weed, but about the brutality of the poverty and state abandonment, the thing it does to a person’s mindstate, the armor you have to wear to make it through gang violence. Where Kendrick speaks at the system level, Vince brings through deeply personal lyrics. “Cut class cause it wasn’t bout cash / School wasn’t no fun, couldn’t bring my gun / Know a change gon’ come like Obama an’ them say / But they shootin everyday ‘round my mama an’ them way.”

Honorable(?) Mentions:

Despite how undeniably talented he was, I don’t think future generations will need to know Eminem’s whole deal - try The Marshall Mathers LP or watch 8 Mile. Post-2005, Jay-Z hasn’t cared to show off how sometimesgood he is at rapping - if you like this freestyle, try Reasonable Doubt. The Roots are amazing, but there’s no one album I can point to as the must-listen - Rising Down gets closest, but Game Theory is bookended by Dilla beats. Blu & Exile’s Beyond the Heavens was my AotY 2007 but never had the influence or reception it should have. Dr. Dre is fine, Tupac I never really fell in love with: All Eyez on Me is overstuffed so I’d go with Me Against the World. The Fugees could have gone on the list, but their influences largely moves to other genres imo. I was tempted to put Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star on the list, but it’s a little bit of a singular achievement without influencing the genre as a whole. “Be (intro)” is the best song Common ever did. Check out Lupe Fiasco Food & Liquor. A lot of the modern stuff isn’t written as albums anymore. If you’ve ever been to a house party, you already know as much about Biggie as you need to know.

13 Likes

I think the only legit jazz head on the forum is @meauxdal, my knowledge is pitiful, also it is 3:54 am. But jazz lives on standards and canons and anything you’ve heard of you’ve probably heard of for a reason. Also it hasn’t really produced “albums” for most of its history in the rockist sense, a lot of important jazz comes from pre-album eras and even afterwards a lot of albums are just collections of whatever they were playing at the time rather than coherent sets of tracks. Intensely club-, gig-based music. Big repertoire that gets replayed regularly and the genius is in the subtle detail of constant reinterpretation.

This is all to say that while jazz heads will obsess over this particular performance on that particular album, I’ve had a lot of success just looking up names of musicians and grabbing the first thing that seems interesting. Like is there a best Thelonius Monk album? A best Herbie Hancock album? A best Oscar Peterson album? Someone probably thinks so, but I think that kind of misses the point. Each of the Big Names is on something like three or four dozen records, it’s just a whole different way of creating and producing music.

Ok that all said, here are some album recs lol
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
John Coltrane - Blue Train
Thelonius Monk - Straight, No Chaser
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out
Charles Mingus - Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

6 Likes

i thought about the worst possible one of these i could do and here it is

Rockabilly

Here is my recommendations post for rockabilly, “the genre it’s impossible to recommend”. Rockabilly is widely loathed for a variety of factually correct reasons such as: inspiring a horrible fashion subculture, multiple waves of dreadful revival acts, the music itself managing the hXc trick of both being absurdly repetitive while also somehow still being very variable in quality, most of what’s actually good in the genre only being available on compilations called things like Swingin’ Hepcat Rock N Roll Rarities Vol 8 the cover of which is GUARANTEED to contain some combination of retro pin-up girl art, a confederate flag, a cadillac, some corny art of a skeleton with a leather jacket or similar, etc…

Additionally it’s often pretty unclear what the music itself actually is. I’m going to be very narrow and say it’s a weird hybrid form between 50s rock and country music, like rock and roll but with high jimmie rodgers vocals and a much narrower instrumental range, and at best these two styles run interference on each other - the big beat rock sound becomes something much more skittering and unsettled while the country style vocals get weirder and more frenzied the further removed they are from a traditional setting. I feel like you could also maybe describe it as like throwaway novelty country music given unexpected force and intensity by being played like rock n roll.

And that then gets lumped in with all this other stuff which is more like straight rock n roll with some mild country elements, or maybe was just made by white people, many of the bigger names sometimes associated with the term (Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson, Gene Vincent, Link Wray etc) are great but imo more in the mainline rock tradition. Which leads into another reason this stuff is hard to recommend: this is very collector nerd music, it’s for people who are happy downloading and combing thru endless 30-track compilations of mostly godawful uninspired trash in search of a single great song by someone who maybe never recorded again. So for an intro I’ll go thru 10 tracks / artists as an overview and then give some recommended albums or compilations at the end.

The Raging Sea - YouTube

  1. Gene Maltais - The Raging Sea
    The GOAT of all time for me is Gene Maltais, from New England of all places, the first description I read of this music compared it to pounding on a door and that’s what still comes to mind as I listen to it - what I like about this stuff, the sense of a rote or perfunctory structure which you can hear shake and almost topple apart as somebody rams themselves fullbore into it. Even the track he did with some revival group in the seventies has a wholly unexpected, unasked-for level of charge to it - and this in the era of the Stray Cats…! The definition of a singular accomplishment.

The Musical Linn Twins, Rockin' Out The Blues - YouTube

  1. Musical Linn Twins - Rockin’ Out The Blues
    Like a cross between Elvis and Nervous Norvus, perfect example of how even a typically rote format can gradually mutate the further it gets from home until it becomes something truly abstract and strange.

Lorrie and Larry Collins - Whistle Bait - YouTube

  1. Collins Kids - Whistle Bait
    Truly gruesome title/lyric combo redeemed by the delirious energy with which they’re screeched, like those Jonathan Swift essays where whatever point he’s ostensibly making gets mangled and submerged beneath the spleen he’s drawing upon to make it. The Collins Kids have a lot of good live performances on youtube (who took down the best video of their version of “Stagger Lee”?!) and also stand here for the weird minor tradition of delirious novelty rockabilly made by real teens, see also Ronnie Dawson’s “Action Packed”.

Elvis Presley - Milkcow Blues Boogie (1955) - YouTube

  1. Elvis - Milkcow Blues Boogie
    IDK what if any cultural standing Elvis has by now but the Sun singles are still great and weird, as idiosyncratic as anything by Buddy Holly, with his gasping high keen slipping and sliding all over the place. Elvis’s vocal mannerisms would themselves be copied and amplified to increasingly weird effect over the years and a real pleasure of this music is running into tracks by strange pseudo-Elvii like Benny Joy and Billy Barrix.

Dixie Fried * Carl Perkins - YouTube

  1. Carl Perkins - Dixie Fried
    I find a lot of the bigger name rockabilly guys kind of mid as they say but always get a kick out of Carl Perkins - the country side comes through as a tendency for the perverse, there’s always some casually weird bit of imagery that makes it in somehow.

High School Confidential - YouTube

  1. Hasil Adkins - High School Confidential
    One man band justly remembered for his weird lyrical fixations (hotdogs, decapitation) but even covering other people’s songs there’s a sense of real glee that comes through which is very infectious. Wide discography.

THE PHANTOM love me 1958 - YouTube

  1. The Phantom - Love Me
    The dream of getting to dress up in a weird costume and scream at people is perhaps the most noble of the rock n roll tradition. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy also fits this but it’s hard to top the stop-start panache of The Phantom.

Warren Smith Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache - YouTube

  1. Warren Smith - Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache
    Good example of the mysteriously spacey, echoey treasures buried in the Sun Records back catalogue, Warren Smith in particular I find weirdly endearing in that I only know him from a handful of dissimilar tracks (incl “Uranium Rock”), each of which somehow manages to be better or more memorable than you’d expect.

Chuck Bowers - Pig Pen Boogie - YouTube

  1. Chuck Bowers - Pig Pen Boogie
    A good example of the country-novelty-record side of the equation and the way any sufficiently delirious example starts to resemble rock n roll instead. Listen to those horrible pig noises… delightful. See also tracks by eg the Maddox Brothers And Sister Rose.

TYRONE SCHMIDLING You're Gone, I'm Left - YouTube

  1. Tyrone Schmidling - You’re Gone I’m Left
    There are hundreds or perhaps thousands of truly dreadful rockabilly tracks to sift through, existing as so many variations on a formula, and then all of a sudden there can be one really delightful and unexpected one which jumps out, by someone you never heard of who barely recorded anything else, devoid of context, a perfect song. With some kind of weird popping percussion track as well (bongos?). That’s what you want.

SOURCES:
The albums I’d recommend are Gene Maltais - Gang War, Elvis - Sun Sessions, Carl Perkins - Sun Sessions. Most of the other tracks are scattered across anthologies, the ones I’d recommend checking out if you feel an impulse for digging through more of this stuff are
Rockin’ Bones (Rhino Records) - huge 4cd anthology with a lot of good weird cuts, probably definitive in terms of just one (or 4?) compilations.
House Of Broken Hearts (Mississippi Records) - 2-volume compilation that includes r’n’b, doo wop, country, but also a handful of the more idiosyncratic rockabilly stuff.
Lux & Ivy’s Favourites - these are fan-made compilations that people put together of every track that Lux and Ivy of The Cramps either covered or referenced in some fanzine interview, a truly crazed encyclopedic endeavour, with something like 20 entries by now, the 1st 11 of which you can download for free here: Lux and Ivy's Favorites (mp3s) - WFMU's Beware of the Blog many garish 50s and 60s novelty records to go thru, incl thorough picks of the more delirious rock or rockabilly stuff.

There are other comps like Born Bad, Desperate Rock N Roll, Rockabilly Gold, in my experience they all have at least one good thing on them all but they all also involve listening to a lot of stuff that’s bad in rote rather than surprising ways. Roll the dice… change your fate…

8 Likes

joke’s on you, i’m checking all these shits out!!

1 Like

i give praise and thanks to the holy ghosts of scotty moore and ray butts on this most auspicious of days, may they protect us all in the one to come

1 Like

@stylo you already have Donuts in your essentials hip hop list, and I think you’ll find that it’s pretty much the blueprint of a whole lot of 21st century jazz. It’s considered seminal in the same way Giant Steps is.

3 Likes

Nuuuuuu

Deftones - White Pony
Sepultura - Roots

Limp Bizkit - Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water
Korn - Follow the Leader
System of a Down - System of a Down

4 Likes

Music That Could Be Considered Comedy But Is Also Good Music, Genre Unimportant:

Neil Cicierega/Lemon Demon: Spirit Phone

This is a weird one because you could take this album mostly seriously. But the context of it being (a) Neil Cicierega, and (b) mostly about conspiracy theories and frankensteins makes it more obviously comedy. However…every single one of these songs is an absolute banger.

The closest comparison is the obvious Oingo Boingo one, but they were a much more serious band and it just turns out their greatest hits were all halloween music. This album asks the question “What if halloween music was an entire genre unto itself and taken completely seriously?” Also, “what if ancient and unknowable forces controlling our fates and lives was…actually a good thing?”

It’s genuinely spooky at times, very funny all the time, and really really empathetic. It rules, and is the best example of a pretty straightforward Comedy Album being actually incredible.


Electric Six: I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me from Being the Master

Electric Six is famous mostly for Danger! High Voltage! (or Gay Bar if you’re in the UK), but they have like six-thousand albums, and at least five good ones. This is my favorite.

Hey mister! Put a little mustard on that mustard!

It’s Showtime is such a great opener, and then the song about an evil ronald mcdonald preventing you from going home after working all day at a McDonald’s because he’s having too raucous of a party in the parking lot…I mean, what else do you need? And that’s the first two songs!!

Ever since I met you, you were someone I knew

Dick Valentine is the master of the stupidly repetitive lyric that makes me laugh because it’s stupid. But every single one of these songs is immediately danceable and singable and it’s so good. Love it.

I wanna see who’s living between your legs
(what does this even mean???)

I think this album is a great example of how even a one-hit-wonder probably has a bunch of bangers in their back catalog if they’re prolific enough.


Captain Ahab - The End Of Irony (sorry for the spotify link but this is the best version of the album, which has at least 4 versions)

This album goes so fucking hard from beginning to end with songs such as “I Don’t Have A Dick” and “Death To False Techno”. I have no idea how to recommend this to anyone who doesn’t already want to listen to it just based on those two song titles. It’s an important album for understanding the genre though. Probably. Somehow.

Just listen to it.


MF Doom - MM…Food

Calling this a comedy album is probably contentious but MF Doom had a wicked sense of humor, a cartoonish sense of exaggeration, and such intricate lyrics that he could sometimes fit 3 jokes in a single line. I think this album is meant to be funny first, even as it’s also meant to be taken seriously. Nobody else was able to tell jokes and still be this much of a badass. Love love love this album.

4 Likes

this dreamy trip hop album ( bows - cassidy | 2001 ) is what i recommend to anyone who wants to chill through this genre but doesn’t know where to start

yeah to trace the lineage of this a little bit further - j dilla and madlib collaborated a bunch, and madlib is really interested in that cross-section between hip hop and jazz and even did a remix album of the blue note archives called shades of blue that’s worth checking out imo

4 Likes

for jazz, DISCUSS: this list

Okay, going to talk a little bit about the aforementioned hip-hop grouping before dipping into jazz, a little bit.

Firstly, I would say that even though 36 Chambers is basically the definitive Wu experience, it’s…not even in the top 3 of Wu-related albums, and that’s because there was an explosion of solo albums that are credited to individual members and associated acts; of course, all of those albums just had all the same Clan members on them. Why are these albums better? Well, a lot of it is that the production is better – all of the albums I’m going to cite here are produced by RZA and simply, he’s better at what he’s doing on these! Also the rest of the crew has improved as well and having single rappers being at the core of the creative process makes for less uneven listening experiences.

The best Wu-related album is Liquid Swords. It’s got a great thematic core, the samples from Asian grindcore flicks age a lot better than the DOIN’ STREET CRIME or “comedy” skits from contemporary albums.

Second best is Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. This album is just wall-to-wall bangers.

Ironman is more uneven than the other two of these albums (and thus more like the 36 Chambers); however, the highs are really really high, the highest being ‘Daytona 500’, featuring an incredible lineup where they sound like they’re rapping for their lives and featuring a stone-cold classic Bob James sample from ‘Nautilus’. I’ve linked the original AMV of og Speed Racer clips video for it, it has to be the Vimeo version because none of the YouTube videos are properly synced, which is awful and this is the INTENDED VIEWING EXPERIENCE GOD DAMMIT.

Other albums that I would consider ‘pantheon’ for this era:

Gangstarr - Step in the Arena
De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising

Okay, I lied, jazz next post.

1 Like

So, jazz.

There’s too much ground to cover here, really, because I can’t think of another genre so sprawling, even if what most people think of as ‘jazz’ is arguably a closed circle, or to quote one of the most influential figures in jazz:

We gotta start somewhere so where better than Davis, who’s behind the first album that Cuba listed, which also turns out to be, by far, the most popular jazz album of all time. People like to say that’s because it’s the jazz album for people who don’t actually like jazz. Lots of shade gets thrown around the jazz scene, which is frankly a real strong point in its favor.

It’s also something that covers a lot of ground, stylistically. When Kind of Blue came out, there was already 4 decades, give or take, of jazz. Jazz, for some time, was mostly dance music, music for speakeasies and people out to have a good time. Miles breaking out was part of the rise of “modal jazz”, which was some music theory stuff that I don’t want to go into; what you got though was a transition from dance music, to music that was to be sat and listened to, and this is where you get Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, eventually Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Pharoah Sanders, Bill Evans…basically the jazz loved by people who have subscriptions to jazz magazines and giant vinyl collections.

And if you love jazz, there’s just so damn much of it. On another forum I’m on, there’s this guy, I think he’s German, he’s been posting multiple jazz tracks per day during the pandemic in this thread that’s mainly just him. I think he’s up to 1700-some tracks at this point? From every continent, every style, just on and on and on. It’s a well that will never run dry, that you will never reach the bottom of, even if you assign a cutoff date like 1982. There’ll always be more. So I’m going to stop trying to grasp at this giant, diaphanous thing that I’ll never be able to grasp and instead jump in, restricting myself to a few landmark albums/tracks that I think are good stepping stones.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Moanin’ – So this group is a fun one because basically it feels like if you were somebody in jazz during its most fertile period, you were part of the Jazz Messengers, who only had drummer Art Blakey as a permanent member. The other players? Upward of 150 different ones, by most reckonings. When they were most relevant, they were part of the “hard jazz/hard bop” era, a halfway step stylistically between jazz’s past as dance music and its future as an Important Piece of Art.

Miles Davis - Bitches Brew – While Davis had been moving away from “traditional” jazz since Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew was the album that blew everybody’s mind (although it is not the best Davis album, or even the best Davis album of that era) because of what it did that was “not jazz”. More specifically, Davis used, groan, shudder, moan…rock music structures. And [grinds teeth] electronic sounds. This is the Rubicon of jazz, for better or for worse, depending on your point of view. If you want to get into jazz, and you have even-slightly-vague idea of what “jazz” sounds like, you can listen to this album and tell where you want to go from there. Is this shit just…noise? Head backward, my friend, especially if you liked Moanin’.

Herbie Hancock - Headhunters – And, once those floodgates opened, jazz entered into its fusion period, with all sorts of wild cross-pollinations happening between genres and styles, to a degree that for “real jazz heads” the period has a real bad stink to it, like people got too out there, too sloppy, too freeform…it’s not a coincidence that this was followed by a reactionary period in the 80s, where jazz went back to a reflection of what it was in the 60s, with Wynton Marsalis being kind of one of the leaders of that movement. Which is fine! If you like that, that’s fine. That said, the fusion era produced some of the most amazing pieces of music put to tape and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters is one of those. Hancock started out learning from Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins before joining Davis’ band, then started getting more and more into electronic sounds, leading to this jazz/funk/synth…masterpiece. Probably a word that gets thrown around too much, this album fucking cooks though.

Jeff Parker - Suite for Max Brown - ‘Build a Nest’ - I played this for my wife’s stepdad, who has two subscriptions to jazz magazines and he was like “I’m not sure that I would call this jazz exactly”. Which speaks to a few things, one, you could say that this song has more “elements of jazz” consisting of the quick guitar solos and a piano melody that are both definitely “jazz-y”, except they’re placed in a larger structure that really sounds more like a hip-hop beat with some soul-inspired vocals. Two, what the fuck exactly is jazz at this point? This is not to throw my father-in-law under the bus, he’s a great dude, it’s just a good example of how the genre has splintered that something like this might not even be recognized as such by a self-professed fan of said genre. Anyway, this particular artist, Jeff Parker, was a member of the Chicago group Tortoise, which is best described as post-jazz? Avant-jazz-rock? Anyway, his last couple albums have been real real good and have a real mixtape vibe to them.

Fuck, I forgot to talk about Sun Ra. Future post, future post.

3 Likes

trumpet jazz mandatory album

3 Likes

this is really before the album era, but re: jazz, there are two absolutely untouchable jazz tunes that i think everyone should hear

i would write more about how absolutely mindbogglingly perfect these two recordings are and how much they changed my life and continue to influence me but

seriously just listen to 'em, they are short and sweet

honestly i would say i had no idea what jazz was before i imbibed these musicks. i never “got” it before then

4 Likes

love my jazzy butts

2 Likes

Also Django is also from BA (Before Albums) but listen to some of his stuff with Stephane Grappelli to hear the peak of one whole dimension of jazz that the 40s and 50s left behind

4 Likes