This week – and in no particular order – my eight favourite jazz albums. (Was meant to be five, but clearly I’m not that decisive.)
I married music with guitars, verses and choruses at such a young age. I was too young. But these last seven or eight years, I’ve been sneaking around behind its back more and more. Yeah, I fell for jazz pretty hard… and now I think it might be love.
What a long way we’ve come together! Twenty-some years ago I only had ears for Queen’s The Show Must Go On (the first song I remember actively seeking out), and the Beatles Best Of on tape cassette. For the longest time, jazz was passé. It was fruity, tooty, ripe. And only for the sort of aging men who wear straw hats and blazers, and who call everyone “my boy,” like poor old Uncle Monty in Withnail & I.
Until, finally, aged about 23 in Boston, I figured I’d give Miles Davis a go. In the long-since closed Virgin Megastore on the corner of Newbury Street and Massachusetts Avenue (now just another Best Buy), I bought the peerless Kind of Blue. It was the first ever time me and jazz caught each other’s gaze, and my heart skipped a beat. The first of many…
Two tracks, 38 minutes long, but not one single second wasted. In A Silent Way is so insistent, mysterious, and hypnotic, it floors me every time. And it makes me think just a little bit of what used to be my favourite pub in Canterbury, for the three years I called that beautiful city home. Simple Simon’s was as old as the moon, a touch dark, and forever redolent of midnight and smoke (from two log fires, mind, more than cigarettes). They’d always be music playing – often live, mostly blues or jazz – and for as long as you were huddled together in a squat corner, talking and drinking, there never seemed any other place in the world worth seeking out instead.
You can’t really not move from Miles to Coltrane. And for me it wasn’t too long after that that I sought out Ascension, in the hopes of getting something authentically ragged and wild. It’s a fearsome racket, alright… a screeching, unruly din… and, of course, all the better for it. Hearing this I never feel more alive. If you wanted something similar but didn’t have it to hand, you’d probably have to plunge your face into icy water then throw it back again and start howling like a dog.
…On the other end of the spectrum altogether: this, an album that puts me in mind of those Ray Ban sunglasses that Jean-Luc Godard always used to wear in the course of being a tireless and brilliant filmmaker. Never out of fashion, enigmatic, and, sure enough, cool. No wonder it can be heard in a New Wave French film or two (can’t remember how I know that, yet somehow I do) – this album, like those 60s movies, is just-so and stylish, always sure of where it’s going but never in an unseemly sort of rush.
Similarly insouciant but with its own distinctive latin-American accent is Getz/Gilberto. If Out of the Cool is the perfect soundtrack for sipping drinks in a classy joint the night before, this calmer, carefree album is ready for the morning after. Imagine two lovers waking up together, maybe for the first time. The rising sun peeking through, bodies slowly stirring, small-talk, and coffee. Them feeling like they own the day and can bend it to their will – just each other, ruffled hair, and no other place to be. This is what they’d be listening to if they looked anything like, I don’t know, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, circa 1960.
If you like this, why not try…
- AllMusic.com review of In A Silent Way
- AllMusic.com review of Ascension
- AllMusic.com review of Out of the Cool
- AllMusic.com review of Getz/Gilberto
And, in the meantime, for albums five through eight I’ll see you back here sooner than you can make an ugly parping noise on a borrowed trumpet. (And no that’s not a euphemism.)