We live our lives through recommendations, from the ten best Sunday roasts in Brighton’s pubs to those irritating suggestions from Amazon to buy more stuff we don’t really need. But sometimes these prompts serve a purpose, to encourage us, in this case, to hear some of the best jazz ever recorded but which we might not be that familiar with. So, month on month, I will be writing about one classic album that all jazz fans should have heard, or at least heard of. There is nothing definitive about these recommendations: rather, they are my personal choices that I can heartily recommend. Some I first listened to as a long-time reviewer for Jazz Journal, both mag and now website, others I found by myself. So, sit back, enjoy, and strongly object when I make the wrong call.
Wynton Marsalis Wynton Marsalis (Columbia)
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is a controversial character, a self-appointed arbiter of the received jazz canon who uses his directorial seat at New York’s Lincoln Center to conservative, even reactionary effect. But he is a fine musician, and nowhere better than on his eponymous debut set recorded, when he was only 20, in 1981.
Audaciously, for four of the seven tracks, Marsalis picked up Miles Davis’s rhythm section from his famous second quintet of the 1960s – pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams – alongside his own working quintet including saxophonist brother Branford, and turned out an album that could have been one of Miles’s out-takes. No wonder Miles refused to acknowledge the young whippersnapper and soon left Columbia Records altogether in a magisterial huff.
From its opening Father Time, where Marsalis punches out the notes with impeccable pose and timing, through to the album’s highlight, a gorgeous version of Williams’s evocative Sister Cheryl, this is a set of precocious excellence. Just remember, the retro Marsalis was the future of jazz, once.