THE 50 BEST: A HUNDRED YEARS OF THE SOUNDS OF MUSIC
Saturday 04 December 1999
10 BEST JAZZ
10 BEST ROCK AND POP
10 BEST CLASSICAL
10 BEST BLACK AMERICAN
5 BEST OPERA
5 BEST INTERNATIONAL
Guy Barker is a celebrated trumpeter. Andrew Clarke is music critic of The Information. Richard Cook is author of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD and editor of the Jazz Review. Rob Cowan is a classical music critic of The Independent. Anne Dudley is a composer, arranger and member of Art of Noise. Andy Gill is rock critic of The Independent. Charlie Gillett is a radio presenter and A&R man. Phil Johnson is jazz critic of The Independent. Mat Snow was editor of Mojo magazine for the past five years. Mark Anthony Turnage is a composer.
NOTE: CDs ARE AVAILABLE FROM HMV OR ONLINE AT WWW.HMV.CO.UK
NEXT WEEK: ANTHONY ROSE'S 50 BEST WINES FOR WINTER
Kind of Blue
1959: the year in which modernism achieved perfect quietude. Kind of Blue was the product of a period of creative freewheeling for Davis. This sextet session was govern-ed aesthetically to a large extent by pianist Bill Evans's introvert sensibilities, but given light, shade and depth by the contrasting voices of Miles, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. "From the opening of `So What' to the last reluctant cymbal tick on `Flamenco Sketches', the album seems to float by in a dreamy haze," says Phil Johnson, "like the Zen watercolours Bill Evans refers to in his liner notes." "The definitive modern jazz album," concludes Guy Barker. "The epitome of cool."
He was a truck driver, his favourite colour combo was pink and black, and he loved his mum. And when he entered Sun Studios in Memphis to make his first proper recordings in 1954, aged 19, his intention was to enjoy himself cutting a few blues and country songs and then see what happened. The results changed the world. This thought is hard to square with the sound of the music, which is jerry-built from the up-against- it interplay of three echo-drenched instruments and a magnificent voice abandoned to pleasure. But there it is. Mat Snow: "The birth not just of a legend, nor even of a new musical genre, but of the entire youth revolution."
The Rite of Spring
Columbia SO/Stravinsky 1960/61
Startling, atmospheric, loud, horny - but then this is orchestral music concerned with atavistic impulses. "There's something about the primitive energy of what is, arguably, the century's most innovative work that seems to defy transfer to disc," says Andrew Clarke. "Few have succeeded in capturing the full scope of the score. But the composer remains its ideal interpretor, particularly with the astonishing playing of the Columbia orchestra." Guy Barker has a telling anecdote: "During one rehearsal, Stravinsky turned to the orchestra and said, `Ladies and gentlemen, you're playing this beautifully. Don't.'"
Best of the Atlantic Years
If you were to pick one individual responsible for distilling the black American musics of the mid-century into one bubbling, honeyed mash, Ray Charles was that bootlegger. Mat Snow has no doubts about the status of Atlantic's blind "genius". "This singer-pianist-bandleader started the Fifties as a disciple of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown," he observes. "He ended the decade as the pre-eminent pioneer of jazz-blues-gospel crossover (with country stylings and a massive influence on rock'n'roll just round the corner). How can music this sophisticated pack so gritty a punch?" How indeed? Charlie Gillett is pithier still. "The pivotal artist of the 20th century," he declares.
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Nilsson, Flagstad, Fischer-Dieskau,
Vienna Phil/Solti 1958-66
The "Ring cycle" is the great epic of German opera. It's big, it's Nordic, it's mythological, and it goes on for 16 hours. Andrew Clarke: "Despite all the great Wagner recordings by conductors such as Furtwangler, Knappertsbusch and Bohm, Sir Georg Solti's ambitious project to record this greatest of all opera cycles stands out as the first time the four component works had been recorded in the studio. Superb soloists - all on top form, glorious playing and a richly responsive sound make this one one of the most important achievements of the pre-CD era."
The Black Saint & the Sinner Lady
It was Mingus's stated intention to explore the quickenings of the human soul, with a small-to-medium modern jazz group playing hell- for-leather in the ensemble style. This 1963 masterpiece may not have been delivered by his most potent line-up on paper, but it is without peer for intensity, sophistication and dynamic oomph. Mingus was Ellington's true heir. Mat Snow: "It boils with bluesy melody, declamatory surges and dramatic shadows. You cannot tear your ears from it." Mark Anthony Turnage is moved by the collective vibe: "No one else has got a band to sound this alive and in-your-face in a studio." Guy Barker: "My hero, as far as jazz composition is concerned."
The pure pop album of the Sixties? There are three contenders: the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, the Beatles' Sgt Pepper, and this one. Revolver wins by dint of being first, by having the most good songs, and by not being overegged in the studio. In fact, the argument for Revolver need develop no further than a selective track-listing: "For No One", "And Your Bird Can Sing", "She Said She Said", "Got to Get You Into My Life", "Eleanor Rigby". QED. Mat Snow: "This was an evolutionary leap for The Beatles: in came string sextets, soul brass and psychedelics, while their songcraft reached its eclectic zenith." "What's more," adds Anne Dudley, "it works as an album, which was unusual at the time."
St Matthew Passion
Haefliger, Seefried, Fischer-Dieskau; Munich Bach Chorus & Orchestra/Richter 1958
Bach's St Matthew Passion is a cornerstone of Western art. It is as indivisible from the canon as Easter is from spring. And, of course, your choice of Passion depends on how you like to hear your great stories told: whether "authentically", operatically, with gentle sanctity, or in the high German style - slow, vast, austere, magnificently Protestant. This profoundly devout interpretation is closest in tone to the latter. Rob Cowan considers it "a life-changing experience, with superb singing and a mastery of style that - while technically predating the option of `period instruments' - spells `authentic' in every bar."
If ever the blues needed an heroic, yet suitably alarming, figure to represent it in the pantheon of 20th-century Big Boys, Chester "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett was made for the job. And this compilation of his singles (LPs did not exist then) is the best way to sidle up to him. What caused the Back Door Man to loom so large? "The lupine roar of the greatest voice in the blues," says Richard Cook, "his clanking minimal guitar working alongside. This is `the Best', but he never made a poor record, ever." "The most menacing performer I ever saw," agrees Charlie Gillett. "You'd never know what he'd do next. And that voice: it was huge, raw, and he meant every word he sang." No arguments please.
Grundheber, Behrens, Haugland,
Langridge; Vienna Phil/Abbado 1987
Imagine a composer given over wholly to the lyrical sweep of Mahler, yet also sold on the "12-tone" compositional strictures of Arnold Schoenberg, and what you get is the Austrian Alban Berg. "Theatrically, Wozzeck is the most exciting opera I can think of,"enthuses Mark Anthony Turnage. It's faultless, it always works, and it's full of beautiful post-Mahlerian lyricism. It's incredibly influential. Neither Peter Grimes nor Porgy & Bess would have come out the same without it." Guy Barker: "The sounds Berg gets out of the orchestra are amazing. The whole thing is an adventure."
Change of the Century
This wasn't the first of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's revolutionary piano-less records of the late Fifties and early Sixties, but it's probably the best, certainly the most accessible. It's both sweet and sour, shrill and diaphonous. "The change was no chords, no harmony, just free-flying melody over gracious swing," says Richard Cook. "At the time, it seemed like a shock; now it sounds as natural as breathing." "An extraordinarily fresh-sounding record," agrees Mark Anthony Turnage. "Special mention must go to Charlie Haden's earthy bass playing." Charlie Gillett: "For a record that was regarded as hard to listen to at the time, it's amazingly full of tunes."
For years, if you were a woman and you wrote and sang songs, you were identified as a "female singer-songwriter" and marketed accordingly, as a cosy by-product of folk music; even Joni Mitchell, who is one of the great singers and songwriters of the century, and just happens to be female. Our panel was pretty evenly divided over which is her most formidable work, but Blue shaded it from Hejira. Blue marked the point, in 1971, at which she began to transcend her hippy/folk roots. Mark Anthony Turnage: "It's all so raw, simple and honest. But she is also a truly great musician, by anyone's standards."
Jorg Demus 1965
Austrian and German romantics of the early 19th century were terribly keen on long, dark journeys of the soul. This song-cycle is among the the most arduous, and is arguably the greatest, of such journeys. It is starkly scored for solo tenor voice and piano. Listen to a good Winterreise, and you begin to feel that it's as cold within as it is without, but that there's always hope for redemption, just ahead, through the trees. "Schubert's `Winter Journey' encompasses a vast range of poetic images," says Rob Cowan, "from frozen tears, through courage and deception, here reported with unstinting musical intuition."
Legends of the 20th Century
Where did rock 'n'roll come from, and what kind of beasts created the conditions in which it might flourish? Beasts like this one, who predated rock'n' roll yet had the feeling already boiling in their veins. Let Richard Cook explain: "New Orleans rhythm and horns, the pounding piano, the strange nasal voice - somehow he was at a tangent to rock 'n' roll. But every track rocks, absolutely." Charlie Gillett has dug the Fat Man and his peculiar ways from the very beginning. "I loved his voice and the weird way he pronounces words. And the sax solos. At the time, this was as jazzy as I ever needed to get. But really this was the friendly face of rock'n'roll."
LE MYSTeRE DES VOIX BULGARES
According to Andy Gill, this was "the album that lit the fuse of the Eighties `world music' revival. Perched on the cusp of Western and Eastern modes, the austere diaphonic harmonies of Bulgarian choral music have a distinctive emotional pungency without parallel in music." Anne Dudley is equally enraptured: "You don't understand a single word, yet they have the capacity to move you to tears. It's an extraordinary combination of the exotic and the familiar. You connect with the passion in the voices, but the harmony and arrangements just amaze you. If you haven't got it, you should have. It's part of the music of our times."
Jazz at Massey Hall
Hard, intricate, fast, macho, difficult, razor-sharp, chilled, ultra-modern: this is bebop. Mat Snow: "A genuine super-session live in Toronto, in May 1953, in which bebop's dream band swung through `Salt Peanuts', `A Night In Tunisia' and other classics of nervy, flip, hepped-up urban cool." Andy Gill: "That rarity, a successful supergroup show, capturing the point at which the collective talents of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach reached their most satisfying collusion." Guy Barker: "It gives you the chance to hear what these guys were really like when they played live. Everything bebop was about is here."
Blonde on Blonde
It would be daft to suggest that without Bob Dylan, pop music would still be rhyming "moon" with "June". But it's certainly not de trop to claim that without him, pop might never have learned how to be truly, hiply poetical. Andy Gill: "The highwater mark of a career that touches several rarefied peaks, this double helping of the electric Dylan offered a heady swirl of stifling Chicago blues, rowdy drug anthems, labyrinthine love poetry and music as thrillingly diverse as any pop had encountered by 1966."
Daphnis et Chloe
Boston SO, New England
Conservatory & Alumni Choir/Munch 1955
In the delicate hands of Maurice Ravel, French 19th century romanticism becomes deliciously modern in tone. Mark Anthony Turnage: "Oddly enough, the formal restrictions placed by choreographers on composers of ballet music often provide a useful challenge to the composer. They can find it liberating. This is great orchestration - very sexy, incredibly sensuous. And, unlike a lot of Ravel, it's not miniature. This is a big, big piece." Andrew Clarke reckons that "despite stiff competition, Ravel's ravishingly beautiful score has never been so headily seductive as it is in the hands of Charles Munch."
SLY & THE
There's a Riot Goin' On
Drugs, revolution, shiny trousers and ill-contained psychological distress - hard funk with real soul. Andy Gill loves it. He says, "Besides introducing the synthetic patter of the drum-machine into pop, Sly's 1971 masterpiece offered a dark contrast to the agit-soul of contemporaries like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield: its oozing, enervated tone is the sound of social tensions and drug ravages cracking the mask of counter- culture cool." Mark Anthony Turnage: "It sounds shambolic, but it's actually incredibly controlled music. Sly knew what he was doing; he has a great sense of formal structure, plus real emotional power."
Valdengo, Nelli, Merriman; NBC SO/Toscanini 1950 (to be reissued March 2000)
The big daddy of Italian operatic giantism was this passionate son of Parma. Born before the Battle of Waterloo, he died in 1901, one of the three greatest opera composers who ever lived (hello Wagner, wotcha Mozart). Says Andrew Clarke: "Drawn from radio broadcasts, Toscanini's mono recording of Verdi's last (and possibly greatest) masterpiece is white-hot, with a superb lead performance by the baritone Giuseppe Valdengo that fully imparts both the comedy and the tragedy behind the drunken knight. Was this Toscanini's finest hour?"
The Best of...
Take the cliches and joviality out of stereotyped jazz vocal style, add an instinctive feel for the shortest route to the emotions, and what have you got? "The greatest phraser in jazz singing," says Mat Snow, "who sang every word as if it were thoroughly lived. An icon of self-destruction - not for nothing was she Frank Sinatra's idol." Mark Anthony Turnage: "I don't like jazz singers as a rule; they all seem too light. Billie is dark, melancholic and without crap embellishment." Or, to put it the Charlie Gillett way: "She was possibly the only so-called jazz singer who never strayed from the vocal melody as written. Everything is in her tone."
Songs for Swinging Lovers
Where does modern pop begin? Richard Cook suggests you might do worse than start looking here. "This is arguably the first post-war pop album and the most durable of vocal records," he says. "It's Sinatra's manifesto for a generation of worldly men and their paramours." It swings. Its theme is modern life. It's preoccupied with sex and youth. It's about being American. And it shines with money. What more do you want?
Symphony No 9
Vienna Phil/Bruno Walter 1938
The gloomy Austrian composer Gustav Mahler was one of the most imposing bridges to span the gorge that separated 19th-century high romanticism from the harder, harsher world of the 20th century. This is a symphony of giant lyricism and cruel tumult, an experience to be relished neither by the pure of classical instinct, nor the delicate of constitution. Rob Cowan has a particular feeling for this 1938 performance: "Recorded live on the eve of the Austrian Anschluss, Walter's first Mahler 9 (he recorded another years later) fits the mood of the moment like raging wind."
Sex Machine: the Best of...
He might have styled himself the "Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness", the "Godfather of Soul" and the "Original Disco Man", but what JB did, in a nutshell, was to invent the concept of dance music as it's understood today. Charlie Gillett: "I've come to recognise that Brown's great innovation was the way he used his voice as an instrument. It didn't matter what he sang - his voice was the fulcrum of the rhythm. He foretold everything that's happened since the Seventies." Mark Anthony Turnage: "A total innovator. The layers of rhythm, his drilling of his band, especially drummers - it was all completely original."
El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor)
The most popular tune of the century? Here's a contender. Charlie Gillett: "Cuban bandleader Moises Simon was asked to provide a new song for singer Rita Montaner to perform at a concert in Paris in 1928. Two years later, Don Azpiazu and Antonio Machin introduced the song at a performance in New York, and then recorded it for RCA-Victor. There was no official chart at the time, but whether measured in sales of records or sheet music, `El Manisero' was a worldwide No 1 during 1931. This was the most popular recording of it. The song has been recorded by hundreds of artists since, including Louis Armstrong and Stan Kenton, while the bass line and chord pattern underpin many more tunes throughout Latin America and Africa."
Hot Fives & Sevens
Jazz trumpeter Guy Barker should know a thing or two about this charismatic hornman and his great recordings of the Twenties and Thirties. "Armstrong was the guy every-one used as a basic guide for jazz playing," he says. "He was the first great soloist, and these recordings are like the jazz bible." Richard Cook elaborates: "Each a little masterpiece of instrumental bravado, these are the majestic steps of the first great improviser in jazz. Oh, and he invents jazz singing as an afterthought."
Exile on Main Street
1971. Welcome to the rancid basement of Keith Richards' mansion in the south of France. Help yourself from a sideboard full of intoxicants, a ventilation system full of bacilli and a basket of great licks. And try to ignore the crisis in the cashflow department. These were the conditions that gave rise to the loose-limbed double album (starring "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy") that remains the Stones' most unsavoury, and greatest, achievement. Original title: Tropical Diseases. Mat Snow: "A decade's devotion to the roots music of the American South (and the louche pursuit of raffish rebellion) boiled into an hour-plus of churning, devil-may-care yet lyrical country-soul-blues-rock. They should have quit here."
String Quartet No 15
Busch Quartet 1937
"Beethoven's heartfelt thanksgiving for recovery after an illness (the slow movement) in a performance that will have you holding your breath at every note," says Rob Cowan. But then the composer's Late Quartets should always have that effect on you. They are a distillation of the anguish of a sickened man, his feelings turned outwards yet contained within the tight fabric of quartet structure. The mixture of tension and passion in this music can be close to unbearable.
Queen of Soul: the Best of...
Freakish voices and vaulting passions do not often blend well, but in Aretha they make a perfect marriage. Popular music has not produced another voice that so chills as it thrills as it lifts you up. Mat Snow: "A daughter of the church, Aretha was slightly miscast as a slick diva until Atlantic Records urged her closer to her gospel roots in 1967. A string of black (and proto-feminist) consciousness-raising classics followed, and her vocal pre-eminence in pop has never been seriously challenged since." "The gospel is in her blood," says Anne Dudley, "so you know she means everything she sings." Mark Anthony Turnage: "Great voice, great rhythm section."
Callas, di Stefano, Gobbi, La Scala, Milan/de Sabata 1955
"The ultimate diva in collaboration with the greatest Italian conductor after Toscanini. The heat is turned full on for the duration," says Rob Cowan. Which sums it up most eloquently. This is opera for those of operatic sensibilities - pulsating, soaring, volcanic, sentimental. Which is not in any way to damn it with hot language. Puccini had a genius for orchestration and that all-important quality that distinguishes the great opera composers: a genuine flair for the theatrical.
Genius of Modern Music
Monk played piano as if in two or more minds, but he wrote tunes of singular purity. Andy Gill is in no doubt: "Genius at work," he says. "These Forties performances display his brilliance both as a pianist - with a sophisticated, often baffling sense of rhythm all his own - and as a composer of the most enduring repertoire of post- war jazz tunes, including `Off Minor', `Round Midnight', `Epistrophy' and `Misterioso'." Mark Anthony Turnage: "Witty and characterful, always fresh - Monk just doesn't date. He was a total original. Where did it all come from?"
It's fair to say that Jimi Hendrix never made the recordings he was capable of. Which is extraordinary when you consider the range and impact of the three studio albums he did complete. This is the most expansive of the three, hinting at things possibly to come. (One of the great if- onlys of the musical century is the mooted but never fulfilled collaboration between Hendrix and Miles Davis.) Andy Gill: "Hendrix's third album found him expanding further upon both the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar and his own musical boundaries, which were broadened to encompass soul, jazz-rock jamming, and even a kind of proto-ambient soundscaping, alongside his trademark psychedelic blues-rock."
Pablo Casals, Czech Philharmonic/ George Szell 1937
The deep-singing cello might have been designed with Dvorak's particular brand of folkloric lyricism in mind. "Aching nostalgia expressed with dignity and a degree of narrative eloquence that, once heard, cannot possibly be forgotten," is Rob Cowan's assessment of the great Czech's second-most-famous composition (after the "New World" symphony), here given virtual iconic status by the intensity of Pablo Casals' performance.
What's Going On
Neither Gaye's most beautiful, nor his most complex music, but certainly his most impactful. What's Going On offered closure on the decade that gave rise to the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and Tamla Motown. It's a commentary on the tide of iniquity rising all about the tortured soul-poet, though perhaps most acutely on the way his record company had manipulated his career as an all-round entertainer to mass America. This, he declares mournfully over a suite of lushly orchestrated R&B grooves, is what America is really like. For a while after that, everyone in soul wanted to sing about real America.
Catch a Fire
Some argue that Bob Marley's best records were made with producer Lee Perry in 1970-71. They have reason. But this was the (1972) album that seeded the pan-global career of the first "Third World pop star", and has to be deemed the most important reggae album ever. Phil Johnson: "Producer Chris Blackwell's concern for crossover appeal may have bowdlerised Marley's intentions, but it created a new and more sensitive form of reggae in the process." "Stir it Up" is both the message and the feeling.
Ellington at Newport
The Orchestra simply ran away with the Newport Jazz Festival of 1956, in the process committing to tape perhaps the most famous crowd- rousing tenor solo in jazz history: Paul Gonsalves's famous 27 straight blues choruses. Guy Barker: "Ellington made fabulous studio recordings, but when the band was really on it live, there was nothing else to match it. This is a fantastic performance. You sense everyone's involvement, including the way the musicians are listening among themselves. A great, great moment to have captured."
The politics of race and deprivation, the rhythms of Jamaica and black America, the fetishisation of DJ technology, the underground whispers of decidedly British voices in a huff - in 1989, these Bristolians took the burning social issues of the day and disappeared with them into their bedrooms, to emerge with the defining, deeply rumbly, music of our decade. "They're a bit of a mystery because they seem to do so little," says Charlie Gillett. "But in between their [silent] spaces they use the best of reggae, rap and a hint of jazz."
English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir/Eliot Gardiner 1984 (Philips)
In the Fifties, conductors didn't much bother with historical research. Then came the "authenticity" debate, and suddenly it mattered hugely. Now the debate has subsided somewhat as "authentic" musicianship has come to match the quality of the scholarship. Andrew Clarke: "This truly great recording is not only an example of faultless musical judgment and execution, but also one of the earliest to demonstrate both the power and integrity of the early-instrument approach."
Motown Chartbusters Volume 3
"Not one great recording but several compiled onto what, for several generations, became the only party album you'd ever need," says Mat Snow. "The sound of Motown, distilled." Anne Dudley: "Motown was what turned me on to arranging: all those unexpected instruments, like piccolos, made me think about the colour of music; and all of it set to a raging backbeat." Get this for a selective track-listing: "Heard it Through the Grapevine", "This Old Heart of Mine", "Dancing In the Street", "For Once In My Life", "Get Ready", "Tracks of My Tears"...
The Magic Flute
Streich, Stader, Haefliger; Berlin RIAS/Fricsay 1954
Mozart's great opera, like Bach's St Mat-thew Passion (see No 8) and, say, Leonardo's Last Supper, is one of those creations that transcends canonical assessment. It simply is. And the odd thing is that The Magic Flute is neither gloomy nor, in subject matter, religious. "As near perfection as you could reasonably hope for," observes Rob Cowan, "with characterful singing and conducting that combines serene lyricism with bubbling vitality."
A Love Supreme
He liked a note, did Coltrane. In fact, this deeply thoughtful saxophonist liked them in their hundreds and thousands, piled up in towers, falling in sheets, swirling like burst rivers, churning like the soul in doubt and rapture. However, in Trane's mind in 1964, A Love Supreme was a simple spiritual journey to the centre of his being, with a beginning, a middle and an end. "Intense, torrential music," says Guy Barker. "I don't know what it is, but the album has a sound and a feeling all its own, like Kind of Blue has [see No 1]. It grabs you no matter what."
Every art form - not to mention every social, political and commercial ethos - seems to go through a back-to-basics phase. But nobody has ever been there with quite the heart-stopping ferocity of the Ramone "brudders" in New York in 1976. They stripped the atavistic impulse to rock down to its basic structural components of rhythm, tune and leather jacket, wrote upliftingly dumb words to go with them, and got it all over and done with as quickly as possible. This was punk.
Concerto for Orchestra
Chicago SO/Solti 1980
Mark Anthony Turnage is very keen on this, the Hungarian modernist's last important work. He died soon after from leukaemia. "Concerto for Orchestra was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a vehicle to enable different sections of the orchestra to shine," says Mark. "It must be great to play. And it's one of the most exuberant pieces of music ever written, which is odd given that Bartok was having such a miserable life in America at the time."
Songs In the Key of Life
"The last and greatest of Stevie Wonder's five classic al-bums of the Seventies," says Mat Snow. "The demand for racial justice and universal love has never been so poignantly and contagiously communicated, nor with such exquisite musicality." Mark Anthony Turnage: "I think of this album in terms of composition. It's an amazingly consistant recording, and it all hangs together like a carefully considered suite. And what a voice."
N'DOUR ET SUPER ETOILE DE DAKAR
The prince of Senegalese mbalax. "This was not easy to deal with at first, for a British fan brought up on the simpler rhythms of Western pop," admits Charlie Gillett. "The moment of revelation came when Youssou and band played here in 1984, and I was swept up in a maelstrom of sound that seemed to include everything I had ever liked - reggae, jazz, soul - all played at the same time, combined with rhythms I had never encountered. Now it all seems so clear and easy to hear."
GERRY MULLIGAN QUARTET WITH CHET BAKER
The Best of...
Warm California sun. Baritone sax, bass, trumpet, drums, no piano; Miles Davis's 1948 "Cool" nonet in the backs of their minds. Jazz has seldom, if ever, been so full of easy delight. Richard Cook has it down: "West Coast cool cats create the ambience of a breeze coming in off the beach. Gruff baritone and doomed-young-man trumpet - timeless, inspirational, aspirational." "Rhythmic and tuneful," concedes Charlie Gillett, "which is more than you can say for a lot of jazz."
The Complete Recordings
Mystery surrounds the facts of the ur-bluesman's life and death, and mystique surrounds his extraordinary music. "Contrary to his posthumous reputation as a mad-as-hell holy primitive," says Phil Johnson, "he's among the most subtle of artists: the songs are carefully constructed; his voice coos as much as it cries; and the guitar playing - which Keith Richards used to think was the work of two men - covers bass, rhythm and lead, and still kicks like a mule."
Piano Concerto No 1
Horowitz; NBC SO/ Toscanini 1943
High romanticism does not get any higher than this: mid-20th-century musicianship applied to the work of 19th-century Russia's melodist-in- chief. Andrew Clarke says, "The sheer magnetic dynamism of Vladimir Horowitz's playing, captured live in a wartime broadcast, transcends the inevitable limitations of the recorded sound. His reading is a miraculous balance of power and lyrical insight."
When the story of late-20th-century American music is finally written from a proper distance, Waits may well emerge as its great fin de siecle songwriter. No one tackles such un-American subjects as death, decomposition and the instability of pigs on icy surfaces with quite the same flair, lyricism and economy. This was his greatest moment, in 1985. Charlie Gillett loves his singing, too. "Waits is the most experimental of his generation in the use of his voice, but a surprisingly tuneful songwriter for all that."
"You Can Get It If You Really Want", "The Harder They Come", "Rivers of Babylon", "Many Rivers to Cross", "Johnny Too Bad", "Pressure Drop", "Shanty Town"; Jimmy Cliff, The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, The Slickers, The Melodians. Reggae was always a singles music, and this compilation from the early Seventies (soundtrack to the film of the same name) was most non-Jamaicans' reggae primer. It is a pin-sharp snapshot of a sunny, dangerous moment now gone for ever.
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