Jeff's Favorite Jazz Music
I really like the complex harmonies of Jazz Music. I find that I like the type of Jazz called Fusion most of all. It's sort of a blend between Progressive Rock and more standard Jazz. I've listed my 30-or-so favorite albums, each with a YouTube link so you can listen to a sample for free, and an Amazon link so you can buy the album if you'd like to. I make no money on this; I don't care where you like to buy your music. I just hope that if you do enjoy some album or another, you support the artist and enjoy the better sound quality by buying it.
If you find any broken links or items that are no longer available to buy, please send me an email so I can fix or update the link.
Anyhow, instead of talking further about the music, here is a list of my favorite Jazz albums.
My three absolute favorite Jazz albums
- Pat Metheny Group: Still Life (Talking) [YouTube] [Amazon]
Pat Metheny is a fabulous jazz guitarist. I've watched him sit down on a stool with an acoustic guitar and play a crystal clear melody while also playing the chords which accompany that melody, on one normal guitar, all live. But I love him most when he's part of the Pat Metheny Group, which existed from 1978 until 2005. The keyboardist Lyle Mays was the primary other member of the group, and together they had a couple bass players over the years, a few drummers, and several percussionists / singers / harmonica players / trumpeters / etc. I think most Pat Metheny fanatics consider 'Still Life (Talking)' their favorite Pat Metheny Group album. It's about 1/3 of the way into the group's life, and consists of seven highly-hummable tracks. It has barely any of Pat Metheny playing his guitar synthesizer which I love so much (listen to Are You Going With Me for a sample), but there's just something about this album that's highly infectuous.
- Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up [YouTube, Part2, Part3] [Amazon (studio album)] [Amazon (incredible live performance Blu-ray / DVD, my highest recommendation)]
This is the last Pat Metheny Group album, and it's hands-down my favorite jazz album of all time. It's a single hour-long composition broken up into an introduction then 3 parts. It flows between several different styles of music, but mainly, it's just 60 minutes of superb music. Every Pat Metheny fan in the world wishes this group would not have ended here, but when I listen to this album (and I do, very often), I have to agree with Pat Metheny that there was really nowhere else to go after this.
- Jean-Luc Ponty: Imaginary Voyage [YouTube] [Amazon]
This album has to be my second-favorite jazz album of all time. I first heard this on the radio in Toledo, Ohio while waiting for a pretty long train to pass through a railroad crossing one night when I was a newlywed in my very early 20's. I don't remember whether I wrote down or just remembered the name that the DJ announced at the end of the music, but I do remember that I had the album a few days later and tortured my bride by playing it over and over and over for years. I don't listen to it quite that often any more, but every couple months it's still sure nice to hear. Jean-Luc Ponty is a jazz violinist who plays electric violin on this album, backed up by an incredible fusion jazz band. The first half of the album (first side of the record, for you old-timers) has five normal length tracks, all superb. The second half of the album (second side of the record) is a single composition called 'Imaginary Voyage', in four movements, and that's what I heard that night waiting for the train to pass, and obsessed over for much of my young adult life. Imaginary Voyage begins 18:20 into the YouTube sample link, but don't ignore the tracks before that point because they're great, too.
Fusion, in Alphabetical Order
- Brian Auger's Oblivion Express: Second Wind [YouTube] [Amazon]
Yes, the vocals are a bit unrefined, and maybe you aren't a huge fan of the Hammond organ, but this music indisputably cooks like there's no tomorrow. Listen to the entire first track on YouTube and see whether you agree. I like 'Truth' and 'Somebody Help Us' best, 'Don't Look Away' and 'Just Me, Just You' are only slightly behind, and 'Freedom Jazz Dance' and 'Second Wind' are no slouches either. But I see that AllMusic.com thinks 'Freedom Jazz Dance' is one of the two best tracks, so what do I know?
- Chick Corea Elektric Band: The Elektric Band [YouTube] [Amazon]
Chick Corea is a modern Jazz keyboardist with 50 years of success in many groups to his credit. To my ears, this is the best Chick Corea album ever. The melodies are really interesting, the sounds are highly inventive, and the arrangements are ingenious. I like nearly every track, particularly 'City Gate', 'Cool Weasel Boogie', 'Elektric City', 'All Love' and 'Silver Temple'.
- Chick Corea and Return to Forever: Returns [YouTube] [Amazon]
OK, Maybe this one's even better, being a reunion of Chick Corea's hugely popular group 'Return to Forever'. My favorites on this live album are 'Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy', 'Vulcan Worlds', 'Sorceress', 'Song to the Pharoah Kings', 'Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant' and '500 Miles High'. Thanks to the proprietor of Anchor Bay Aquarium, who had this album playing while my wife and I were shopping for new fish for her aquarium. And thanks to my wife for taking so much time there so I could hear a lot of this album and decide I needed to own it.
- Jerry Goodman: It's Alive [YouTube] [Amazon]
You've probably never heard of Jerry Goodman, but this concert had some awesome music. Jerry Goodman plays violin with a rock-like backup band in this live album. Every track's a winner.
- Wayne Johnson Trio: Everybody's Painting Pictures [YouTube, one track only, not the full album, and not even the best track] [Amazon]
You've probably never heard of Wayne Johnson, either. I admit that I have some very strange taste in music. If you like the sample YouTube track and can't find the album or can no longer play vinyl, send me an email.
- Pat Metheny Group: First Circle [YouTube] [Amazon]
Every Pat Metheny Group album is one of my favorite music albums, but it would be silly to list them all here, so I'm just listing my few favorites. The best two are at the top of this page, and a few more of the very best are listed here. If you like these few albums I've listed, you can rest assured that you'll like them all. Oh, and just skip the terrible first track on First Circle; it was apparently a very poor joke. But the rest of the album is killer, especially 'Yolanda, You Learn', 'The First Circle', 'Tell it All' and 'End of the Game'.
- Pat Metheny Group: Letter From Home [YouTube] [Amazon]
Every track on 'Letter From Home' is great. Perhaps my favorites are 'Have you Heard', 'Every Summer Night', '5-5-7' and 'Dream of the Return'.
- Pat Metheny Group: Imaginary Day [YouTube] [Amazon]
Once again, every track on 'Imaginary Day' is great. That's why it's made my list of the top-5 Pat Metheny Group albums.
- Jean-Luc Ponty: Enigmatic Ocean [YouTube] [Amazon]
This is many people's favorite Jean-Luc Ponty album from the '70s, but for me, nothing will ever beat Imaginary Voyage, at the top of the page. Still, 'Mirage' and 'Nostalgic Lady' are truly gorgeous songs, and the four-part 'Enigmatic Ocean' is a really good extended composition. If you happen to like Imaginary Voyage and Enigmatic Ocean, check out his Aurora album at this Youtube link. If you decide you want all three albums and still do CDs, this Amazon link looks like a good deal.
- Jean-Luc Ponty: Storytelling [YouTube] [Amazon]
Fifteen years after Aurora/Imaginary Voyage/Enigmatic Ocean, this album of excellent shorter tracks (none of the 20-minute epics any more) appeared and became one of my favorites.
- John Scofield: Blue Matter [YouTube] [Amazon]
John Scofield is a guitarist who is great at improvisation and has a rock-and-roll sound. 'Blue Matter' is my favorite John Scofield album, and 'Trim' is my favorite track on that album. It's just perfect jazz fusion and I can put it on repeat in the car and be happy letting it play over and over. 'So You Say' and 'Make Me' are also great tracks. Those three are super high energy songs, and their rhythm and harmonies just resonate with me perfectly.
- John Scofield: Still Warm [YouTube] [Amazon]
'Still Warm' is probably a better album overall than 'Blue Matter', but unfortunately, there is no track here comparable to 'Trim'. But 'Still Warm', 'High and Mighty', 'Protocol', and 'Picks and Pans' are all tunes that won't disappoint. They're lower energy than the best tracks on 'Blue Matter', but they're more beautiful and better developed.
- Steps Ahead: Modern Times [YouTube] [Amazon]
Steps Ahead introduced sounds to me in 1984's Modern Times that really felt fresh and new to me. The music is still probably unusual to someone who's never heard it, so I'm recommending it even today. I just really love 'Safari', 'Oops', 'Self Portrait', and especially 'Modern Times' and 'Now You Know'. If you like this album, you might also like my other favorite Steps Ahead albums: Steps Ahead, Magnetic, and Holding Together.
- Kazumi Watanabe: Mobo Splash [No Youtube sample of the album] [Amazon]
Kazumi Watanabe is a superbly inventive Japanese jazz guitarist. I'm not sure whether he just has a great sense of humor, or whether Japanese Jazz culture is just so very different from that in America, but a lot of his music makes me smile, and a lot of it has intensely Japanese sounds that really breathe fresh air into his music for me. This youtube link is for some performance (not from the album) of one of the better songs on the album, and is truer to the version on the album (which is much more refined) than this other performance. Here's another one. I think these videos give a reasonable suggestion of what you're in for if you buy 'Mobo Splash'.
- Kazumi Watanabe: Mobo Club [YouTube, this is only the first track, which is the 4th best track on the album, ] [Amazon]
I don't remember what ever made me buy my first Kazumi Watanabe album, which I believe was this one, but jeez this is terrific music. I must admit I don't understand how music like this was ever conceived, but I'm sure glad it was and that I happened upon it. This is an earlier album than 'Mobo Splash'; the music is more raw and less refined, and more interesting, but that one YouTube sample is the only one I could find. If anybody wants a sample of this album, please send me an email.
- Kazumi Watanabe: The Spice of Life [YouTube1 YouTube2 YouTube3 YouTube4 YouTube5] [Amazon]
Once again, the Youtube samples are for a different performance of some of the songs on the album. If you want a sample of this superb album, please send me an email.
- Weather Report: Heavy Weather [YouTube] [Amazon]
1977's Heavy Weather is one of the landmark fusion albums. There is just so much to like here in Weather Report's best album. My favorites are 'Birdland', 'A Remark You Made', 'Palladium' and 'Havanna'. Except for the 2-minute 'Rumba Mama', the other 3 tracks are nearly as good.
Non-Fusion, in Alphabetical Order
- Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia [YouTube] [Amazon]
Superb post-bop jazz with Arabic influence in the opening track, by a band led by a lady trumpeter. My favorite is the second track, Ruby Bridges, then the first track, Lahan al-Mansour.
- Claude Bolling: Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano Trio [YouTube] [Amazon]
I love the mix of a classical form of chamber music and the instrumentation that would be used in that form of music, with the beat, swing, and chording of this really fine Jazz. Claude Bolling wrote/performed several similar pieces of music, but this one is the best in my opinion.
- Dave Brubeck: Time Changes [YouTube] [Amazon]
I recommend this album for the side-B 16-minute performance of 'Elementals', which features the Dave Brubeck Quartet accompanied by a symphony orchestra. On the YouTube link, this track starts at about 18:30. Elementals was recorded a few other times, but this version is my favorite. AllMusic.com missed the boat on this album; Elementals on this album is Brubeck's best track ever.
- Dave Brubeck's Greatest Hits [YouTube] [Amazon]
Like it says, this one's loaded with Dave Brubeck's Greatest Hits, including 'Take Five', 'The Duke', 'It's a Raggy Waltz', 'Unsquare Dance', and 'Blue Rondo a la Turk'. If you don't know these titles, you should really treat yourself with a listen. If you do know them, then you probably already have this album and are nodding your head.
- John Coltrane: Giant Steps [YouTube] [Amazon]
If you don't know why John Coltrane is usually considered the best improvisational Jazz saxophonist of all time, this album will explain it all.
- John Coltrane: My Favorite Things [YouTube] [Amazon]
This album has only four tracks, featuring extended solo improvisations on well-known themes. My favorites are 'My Favorite Things' (from 'The Sound of Music') and 'Summertime' (from 'Porgy and Bess'). This is Coltrane's first recording of the work (AFAIK). An interesting study of how Coltrane's version of 'My Favorite Things' evolved over time can be found here.
- Miles Davis: Kind of Blue [YouTube] [Amazon]
The coolest straight-jazz album of all time. Period. Just sit back, listen, and enjoy. This album was recorded without rehearsals; the musicians had only been given sketches of the melodies they were to improvise upon, and this album, often considered the greatest jazz album of all time, was the result.
- Pack di Lucia, Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin: The Guitar Trio [YouTube] [Amazon]
Three fiery acoustic guitars; when they get going it is a beautiful sound. My favorite tracks are 'Beyond the Mirage', 'Manha de Carnaval' and 'Cardeosa'. Wow.
- Al DiMeola: Plays Piazzola [YouTube] [Amazon]
Astor Piazzola transformed tango music into a new form which included jazz and classical music. Al DiMeola, one of Chick Corea's guitarists, became fascinated with this music and played much of it beautifully on this album. 'Tango Suite', starting at 12:10 in the Youtube link, is one of my favorites, as is 'Night Club 1960' at 34:07.
- Shirley Horn: Here's to Life [YouTube, track only, not full album] [Amazon]
This album will always have a special meaning to me, since it's one of my wife's favorite romantic albums. Shirley Horn had a way of communicating through music, akin to the way Tony Bennett can. Just amazing music.
- Diana Krall: When I Look in Your Eyes [YouTube] [Amazon]
And this is one of myfavorite romantic albums. Gosh, this is just gorgeous music, beautifully sung. Is it jazz? Who cares... just close your eyes and enjoy.
- Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners [YouTube] [Amazon]
OK, get ready for what sound like wrong notes, but after 5 listenings to this album, they become the perfect notes, the ones that actually make sense to create the mood that this music conveys. My elder daughter's first husband (life is so complicated), Jim, bought me this album, I have no idea why. I listened to it the first few times and wondered why he'd ever bought this junk for me? (Once I had it on while talking to a friend on the phone and they asked me if kids were playing a toy piano at my house.) But after a few more listenings I started to 'get it', then I had to hear it again and again until it led me into a rabbit hole of listening to all of Thelonious Monk's albums. So beware. The wrong notes, the laziness of it all, the its-a-hot-summer-day-and-I'll-play-the-notes-however-lazily-I-like-ness of it all are somehow addictive. Bop at it's best.
- Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone in San Francisco [YouTube] [Amazon]
This album shows off the communicative talent of Thelonious Monk as a solo pianist. I like the entire album, but especially 'Ruby, My Dear', 'Everything Happens to Me', 'You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart', 'Pannonica', 'There's Danger in Your Eyes' and 'Reflections'. After listening to this album a few times, I was hooked.
- Thelonious Monk: Live at the It Club, Complete [YouTube] [Amazon]
Thelonious Monk and his quartet might have been best in a live setting, and if so, this is the album that demonstrates just how good they were. My favorites are 'Rhythm-a-Ning' and 'I'm Getting Sentimental Over You'.
- Marius Neset and the Danish Radio Big Band: Tributes [YouTube] [Amazon]
Contemporary big-band jazz album led by a saxophonist. A good friend and coworker suggested this album to me, and it's been my absolute favorite album for the 5 weeks since I first listened to it until now. I love every track.
- Don Sebesky: Full Cycle [no Youtube sample available] [Amazon - beware, this is vinyl]
Every track on this big-band album is spectacular. The arrangements and harmonies are fantastic, in my opinion. This album has never been transferred to CD, so if you no longer have a vinyl playback rig, send me an email.
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