I love jazz but completely understand why somebody would not. Roughly 95 percent of music in the genre is self-indulgent, regressive crap, but that other 5 percent rules hard enough to possibly convert haters. Here are the six best jazz records for people who hate jazz.
6. Mary Halvorson, Saturn Sings Of all the words in the music-critique lexicon, there is no more appropriate adjective for guitarist Mary Halvorson than "badass." Saturn Sings is not far removed from a Deerhoof record. It trades between consonant melody and chaotic abandon and is one of few current jazz albums to break into that vague territory of "heavy."
5. Bobby Hutcherson, Dialogue
Bobby Hutcherson plays vibraphone, an instrument that is notorious in jazz circles for being clunky. On Dialogue he takes turns transcending this aspect of his instrument and accentuating it. The secret weapon here is pianist Andrew Hill, who passed away a few years ago. Hill wrote the tunes for Dialogue, which range from spy-movie bossa nova ("Catta") to woozy blues ("Ghetto Lights") to classical-leaning free improv ("Les Noirs Marchant"). Everywhere Dialogue lands stylistically is dripping with cool. 4. Miles Davis, Bitches Brew The key to breaking through Bitches Brew is to start with the second half of the famous double LP, where the songs are shorter (meaning not twenty minutes each) and more easily absorbed. "Sanctuary" is painful and gorgeous, "John McLaughlin" is unrelenting and "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is legitimately funky. Bitches Brew has a reputation as being Miles Davis' weirdo album and his rock album. Really it is neither; it is alien music that only a true genius would attempt.
3. Chicago Underground Duo, Synesthesia Calling Chicago Underground Duo's 2000 album Synesthesia a jazz record is fairly limiting. The pair consisting of drummer Chad Taylor and trumpeter Rob Mazurek (both of whom multitask impressively) is firmly grounded in jazz and electronic music, and they blend the two tastefully and effortlessly. Mazurek has played trumpet on records by fellow Chicagoan Tortoise, and the same jazz infusion exists throughout Synesthesia, albeit more intense. 2. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme Of all entries on this list, A Love Supreme is the one a jazz-curious listener is most likely to have heard. It is one of the most emotionally powerful instrumental records ever made, with the music coming directly from John Coltrane's loves of God and heroin. Coltrane plays as if heaven is dangling a few inches in front of him and he is in search of the key to the front gate. The support system -- pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Jimmy Garrison -- doesn't as much keep him grounded as enable his journey. Some jazz classics (Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue comes to mind) can be underwhelming gateways for outsiders, but A Love Supreme is powerful and immediate and lives up to its own hype.
1. Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! Eric Dolphy has a way of playing that makes the world seem as though it is ending, like he is triggering the apocalypse with whatever instrument he happens to be holding -- alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet. Out to Lunch! is his masterwork, thanks to a beyond solid band of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, drummer Tony Williams, bassist Richard Davis and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. The musicians' interplay feels less like communication cues and more like they're egging each other on. Out to Lunch! is disjointed but contained, with a pulse underlying even the moments that crashed in from space (i.e., the majority of opener "Hat and Beard"). Eric Dolphy passed away within a year of Out to Lunch!, which contributes to the record's notoriety. Judging by his playing and the overall accomplishment of assembling the album, I bet Dolphy died happy.
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