Monk is one of those pianists who you can recognize within 5 seconds of a record playing. His off-beat and syncopated style is truly one of a kind. The first time you hear a Monk record you might think “is my record scratched, did it just skip a beat?”. Calm down, there’s nothing wrong – it’s just Monk. He’s like the Picasso of the jazz world – he takes every element of a piece, twists and bends it around to create a masterpiece of his own. This particular album is Monk’s first for Columbia Records and is accompanied by a fantastic set of musicians – Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, John Ore on bass and Frankie Dunlop on drums. They’re absolutely fantastic and every layer upon layer of musical complexity fits in just perfectly to give us this incredible recording. Not only that, but you’ve also got some solo pieces by Monk such as Just a Gigolo, which you probably won’t hear played like this by anyone else.
10 of the 11 songs on Otis Blue were recorded within 24 hours. Who is in this super efficient band you ask? Stax Record’s very own best of the best – Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn. That being said, don’t think for a second that anything here has been rushed. The album is complex and covers so much ground in terms of style. From the very up-beat cover of the Rolling Stone’s Satisfaction, to the raw, groaning soul that Otis displays on I’ve Been Loving You Too Long. Otis’s untimely death in 1967 was a tragedy and the only thing we can think of when I hear this album is – what else could there have been? We should count our blessings and simply be grateful that part of what we were left with was such a perfectly packed album as Otis Blue.
The level of hype around this concert is difficult to put into words considering the line-up – Charlie Parker, Dizz, Mingus, Max Roach and Bud Powell. Frankly, this was the best of the best of bebop. Bebop started as a style for cult musicians who were by no means the big names they are today. It was an underground genre which accidentally set the foundation for the rest of modern jazz. The rapport the musicians have on this record is incredible, notwithstanding the challenges present. Parker, afflicted by a heroin addiction, by this point had a strenuous relationship with Dizz who rumour has it kept popping off stage to watch the Marciano-Walcott championship fight happening at the same time. Max Roach was quoted in 1985 saying “The atmosphere was pretty difficult, but when you look at the people in that dressing room and the issues and problems they all had, it would need a whole conference of psychologists to work it all out. People should just be grateful that the music was made and recorded at all”.
What’s truly extraordinary about Antonio Carlos Jobim is that we think he single-handedly managed to shape an entire genre. Jobim’s entire body of works is distinguished by so many phenomenal pieces that his name isn’t out of place alongside a Gershwin, Cole Porter or Duke Ellington. There really hasn’t been anyone apart from Jobim (and João Gilberto, who we’ll get to in another monthly release) who was able to attract so much attention for Bossa Nova genre, and attain a large international following. This is the perfect vinyl to play in the evening over a dinner or a drink, preferably with a significant other - get lost in these melodies and the bittersweet love stories that the song’s lyrics tell. So, without further ado, play the record and let Jobim teleport you down to the sandy beaches of Ipanema in the warm summer breeze.
Bill Evans is arguably one of the most influential figures in jazz piano. The Village Vanguard sessions, recorded throughout June 1961, are the unquestionable proof. It was in these recordings that the phenomenal ability of Bill's young bassist Scott LaFaro really shone through. In fact, this specific line up of the trio is often seen to have been the best. Tragically, LaFaro was killed in an automobile accident just 10 days after these sessions were recorded, making this record just that little bit more special. The flow between the performers is unparalleled and the fact that you can hear the audience throughout, picking up glasses and whispering to each other makes the album that much warmer. No jazz collection would be complete without Bill Evans, and this is certainly the album to own.
When we think of female soul singers some of the names that come to mind are Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Mavis Staples, to name a few. Well, here is Ann Peebles, and oh boy this woman had some real soul that typified that Memphis sound which we love so much. Ann was signed to Hi Records – one of the fantastic labels in Memphis in the late 60s / early 70s. Unfortunately for Ann, this was also the label which signed Al Green ,and it’s fair to say that he overshadowed a lot of the other talent which was on the roster, especially considering that Let’s Stay Together was released the year after this album. It’s hard to find a fault with the record in terms of the actual material or the sound. The only thing we would say is that we wish it was longer than the meagre 26 minutes it offers.
From the very moment the needle drops on this LP you will be hooked to this album. It has everything from the shake-your-hips groove of Come Back Baby to the deeply soulful ballad that is (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Aretha’s voice here is the soulful, raw powerhouse tone that reverberated and echoed through time to still reach us today. It seems that voice and talent runs deep in the Franklin blood, since Aretha is being backed by her sisters – Carolyn and Erna on this recording. The album is no stranger to critical acclaim, having peaked at numbers 1, 2 and 3 in Billboard’s Black Album, Pop Album and Jazz Album charts, respectively. This here is a must have for any vinyl collection by the Queen of Soul herself.
You know how nowadays people get annoyed about autotune in songs and about how tech is affecting music more generally? Well, back in 1963 a similar debate was sparked by overdubbing – the technique of combining multiple layers of recorded music into one piece. Bill being one of the most lyrical and gifted jazz pianists ever was the perfect artist to record this type of an album. The technique allowed him to add the kind of depth to his album that we haven’t heard on many others. At times, you even forget that the only thing playing on this album is a piano - not even a drummer or bassist. Maybe the album was the subject of debate back then and maybe not everyone loved it at first, but we hope you agree with us when we say that this is a truly special recording and worthy of regular play.
We love Stan Getz. There are few tenor players who have such a warm, musky and recognizable tone that he has. You could be out grabbing a drink at a bar, and the moment his cool sax comes on in the background, you’d immediately think “Ah, that’s Getz”. An artist who has explored just about every genre and sub-genre that there is, he was a gifted player with strong improvisational skills. Most people know Getz from his Bossa Nova recordings and collaborations in the 60s – but we’ll come to those in another release. This album features a variety of fantastic numbers recorded in the late 40s and early 50s and is proof that that he could play just about anything and without fail build a connection with the listener.