16. Steve Lacy-Only Monk recorded 1985 Soul Note Records
Steve Lacy was the first to truly pioneer the soprano saxophone and left a recorded legacy that is deep and wide. He composed all sorts of differing musics, but to me it's his solo recordings of Thelonius Monk's music that stand out as landmarks. Solo saxophone is one difficult beast to tame, made all the more difficult when going that route on soprano saxophone with its notoriously difficult to manage timbre and intonation. This recording, and it's companion recording More Monk, show a side of Lacy that is bracing and exploratory while still maintaining order and form, things that can be difficult to discern in his more avant garde work. It will help if you are familiar with Monk's music as you will then be able to follow Lacy's direction here a little easier, but it's not a requisite to enjoying this music. Lacy was truly committed and eager to take on the challenges of the soprano sax, something he championed his whole life. A great artist and great compositions paired in these recordings. Here is a sample, Steve Lacy playing Monk's classic Misterioso.
17. Michael Brecker- Michael Brecker 1987 Impulse Records
Mike Brecker was very highly regarded by the time this, his first solo recording as a leader, came out. Known for his virtuoso work with the Brecker Brothers band, and his studio prowess backing all sorts of pop and jazz musicians in the 1970's and 80's, Michael put together this stellar lineup of musicians and knocked everyone out with this classic recording. Each musician's distinctive sound is on display here; Pat Metheny is a perfect foil to Michael, and his guitar synthesizer work on this record, along with Michael's Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) work are what make this recording special and original. We all marveled at this recording back then, and I still do today. Setting this high a bar and living up to it for another 20 years is what made Michael the legend that he is today. Long live Mike Brecker's music.
Check out Mike's tune Seaglass here, it's just to great to ignore.
18. Kenny Garrett-Pursuance: The Music Of John Coltrane 1996 Warner Brothers Records
Kenny Garrett came to prominence as member of Miles Davis' group in the 1980's and then embarked on a solo career that continues to this day. This powerful document showcases not only Coltrane's tunes but the incredible playing (again) of Pat Metheny paired with Brian Blade on drums, a personal favorite of mine. Kenny delves into Coltrane's music here and truly makes it his own. I honestly have no idea why a recording of this stature does not have a Wikipedia page for it is definitive Kenny Garrett in my opinion. Here he totally burns down the difficult Coltrane tune Countdown. Check it out, it's superb.
19. Gary Bartz-The Blues Chronicles 1996 Atlantic Records
Gary Bartz also came to prominence with Miles Davis, albeit it in the mid 1970's, and he too embarked on an interesting and fruitful solo career. It's easy to hear how Gary was a huge influence on the aforementioned Kenny Garrett. Again there is no Wikipedia entry for this unique recording, which is a tutorial of sorts on jazz history. Oblique references to Charlie Parker begin the recording, but it's the heavy grooving band and the truly soulful and funky playing of Bartz that takes center stage here. Bartz combines the harmonic sophistication of Coltrane with the modern stylistic twists of a man versed in the entire jazz language. A true master improviser and saxophonist, this recording presents a great introduction to his work. There is funk, hip hop, jazz, blues, rock, soul and a good dash of Bartz's wry humor all integrated into this production.
You can hear the full album here, check out the first few minutes where Gary narrates his take on Bird, and see how the band burns this track down while Gary fires on all cylinders.
20. Jan Garbarek-Rites 1998 ECM Records
I must end this blog post and series with a nod to one of the most unique and individual voices on the saxophone the world has ever heard. Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek is not often recognized here in the States, but he is a huge star in Europe and has been since the early 1970's. Known for his work with Keith Jarrett's European Quartet, his multitude of recordings for ECM are staggering in their breadth and depth, and much can be gleaned from his amazing command of the saxophone and his non-jazz approach to playing. Jan is often considered the voice of Scandinavia, with his icy tone and at times processed saxophone sound. He may to some be an acquired taste, yet he's managed to be incredibly influential over the last 50 years. Rites goes in so many different directions, and I chose this recording for that very reason. You get every mood that Jan has ever devised on this recording, and to me the funky tune It's High Time that starts the second CD of this two CD set is very satisfying, sort of a Norwegian dance style groove that is infectious and sublime. All of Jan's ECM recordings are worth the effort to track down and give a listen to. He's about as far away from an American saxophonist that you could ever find. To me that's his appeal.
Here's a live version of It's High Time, check this one out....man, l love it. The band is incredibly energetic here.
It's certainly been fun coming back to these recordings after many years of neglect on my part. It was a difficult process selecting these recordings and a lot of thought went into the presentation. I hope you enjoyed this four part series of posts and that you possibly found out about some recordings that you hadn't been aware of previously. Jazz as an art form continues to thrive in different ways and with new faces. I have no doubt that in the next 20 years we'll welcome some new recordings to lists such as this that will make our ears perk up and our minds expand.
As always, thanks for dropping by my Blog....Markos