Lovely Recordings: Hosted by Joe Whip

When I saw that AudioStream had introduced a new feature named Lovely Recordings, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to introduce some great sounding jazz to folks who may not be big jazz fans but who may enjoy rather mainstream jazz that is both beautifully played and sounds lovely. Some of these artists are well known in jazz in the US, others are not but should be. I have also been fortunate enough to see many of these artists live, which no matter how great the recordings are, live is the best way to experience them. There's nothing like Live!

Count Basie and Joe Williams: The Greatest!! Count Basie Plays, Joe Williams Sings Standards (Verve, 1956)
When listening to Count Basie records I was exposed to his lead singer in the 50's, the great Joe Williams, and I quickly became a fan. As I got older I was able to see him live fronting the Count Basie Orchestra led by Frank Foster at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia (the opening act was the Herbie Hancock Trio). What a voice and what a powerful singer. This recording, made in 1955, features the younger Joe Williams. Joe's voice changed a good bit over the years; he had a rougher voice later in life, but here his voice is as smooth as silk. So is The Greatest!!. Joe's vocals are dead center, I would like the drums and bass to be a little more prominent in the mix, but the mass horn sections are superb. Listening to the saxophones as they come in take you right back to the late 1950's. The sound sage is wide, filling the room with wall to wall jazz and there's plenty of air around the instruments. This is not a sterile studio recording, this is a very fine big band recording. One of my favorites.

Available from High Definition Tape Transfers

Joe Pass: Intercontinental (MPS Records, 1970)
Joe Pass is undoubtedly one of the giants in the history of jazz guitar and Intercontinental rates right up there with his finest recordings. The sound is smooth and warm and very easy on the ears while being very detailed. The guitar, drums and bass are smack dab in in between the speakers with the guitar right in the center with plenty of air around the instruments, especially for a studio recording. Each instrument is well placed in the sound filed, so if you want to follow only one of the instruments, you can easily do so.

Available from HIGHRESAUDIO

Kenny Burrell: Midnight Blue (Blue Note Records, 1967)
This is probably my all time favorite jazz guitar album and Blue Note album to boot. When I have people over who think I am crazy for having a dedicated 2 channel listening room, this is one of the recordings I put on. Jaws never fail to hit the floor. The recording features a wide soundstage, fantastic tone and detail, and you can even here the tubes in Kenny Burrell's tube amp crackle. Oh yes, the musicianship is superb as are the arrangements and the tunes. For me, it doesn't really get any better than this recording. What more can I say?

Available from HDtracks

Christian McBride Trio: Live at The Village Vanguard (Mack Avenue, 2015)
I don't think it hyperbole to state that Christian McBride is the best bassist in jazz today, the logical successor to the great Ray Brown. I have had the pleasure of seeing this great trio twice in the last year, once in Philly and once in NYC. This recording captures the sound I heard on both nights. The music simply swings. It is straight ahead jazz at is finest. Who else but Christian McBride could turn "Car Wash" into an instant jazz standard? Crank this baby up! Great stuff and a must own.

Available from HDtracks

Jeff Hamilton Trio: Live! (Mons, 1996)
Most of you may only be familiar with Jeff Hamilton from his work with Diana Krall. If so, you really need to explore more of his work. He is my favorite jazz drummer. I once heard Jeff describe himself as a musical drummer and I couldn't agree more. There are certainly more, shall I say, acrobatic drummers in jazz, but no one keeps time like Jeff Hamilton. Jeff is not merely a timekeeper, he can swing with the best of them. He is rock solid and steady yet plays with great flair and dynamics. Lest not forget, he is the king of brushes. No one plays brushes like Jeff. This is a superb live recording from 1996, placing you right in the club with the band and the audience. The drum kit almost leaps out of the speakers at you. I wish all drum recordings sounded this good. Great dynamics. This is a great intro if you want to explore the Jeff Hamilton Trio recordings. Yes, it is "only" CD spec but it is nonetheless superb.

Available from Qobuz

Monty Alexander: Montreux Alexander - Live! At The Montreux Festival (MPS Records, 1985)
I thought that Jeff Hamilton would be a perfect segue to this next recording. This set features the great Monty Alexander on piano with Jeff Hamilton on drums and John Clayton on bass. I first heard this recording in college and I was hooked on Monty Alexander ever since. After Oscar Peterson, Monty is my favorite jazz piano player of all time. His music is infectious. I have been fortunate enough to see him and this very trio live. It was probably the best concert I have ever attended. No matter how depressed or beat down you may feel, when you leave one of Monty's shows, you will be dancing your way out on a cloud. Who else but Monty Alexander could turn "Feelings" into a classic? Or the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" into a jazz romp? I have this recording on both CD and LP. Both are a bit on the hot side sonically. However, there is a 30th Anniversary edition available which tames the treble yet keeps all the detail. It also features 3 other tunes not on the original releases of this recording.

Available from Qobuz

Oscar Peterson: Oscar Peterson Plays the Jerome Kern Songbook (Verve, 1957)
When the kids of my day were proclaiming that Eric Clapton was god, I would tell them that they obviously hadn't heard Oscar Peterson! He is my all time favorite. Trust me, there are tons of recordings featuring Oscar with Ed Thigpen on drums and Ray Brown on bass. I know, I have them all! However, this one is my favorite and my go to Oscar Peterson recording. I can swear you can hear the tape reels turning when you play this recording.

Available from HDtracks (it is available also in 24/192 which sounds the same as the 24/96. Save the cash!)

Stacey Kent: Dreamer In Concert (Blue Note, 2011)
Stacey Kent is one of those jazz artists who found her mojo in Europe. Despite being born and raised in New Jersey, Stacey is not all that well know in the US. Stacey eventually traveled to London to study and perform. It is there she met her husband Jim Tomlinson who is also her sax and flute player and band leader. I was turned on to her in London at Ronnie Scotts. I was gobsmacked at how great she was as a vocalist and how great a sax player her husband was. Listening to him was like listening to Ben Webster. He played with that flare and breathiness that made Ben Webster the best of the old guard, imho. Stacey plays to packed houses in Europe and limits her touring in the US to Birdland a couple of times a year. See her if you can. Stacey flavors Brazilian jazz and sings in English, French and Portuguese. I have downloaded quite a few of her recordings. They are all excellent musically as well as sonically. However, Dreamer In Concert is my favorite of her downloads as it captures what I hear when I see her live. The realism of her vocals is stunning. If you are going to give this artist a try, I would start with this recording.

Available from Qobuz

Patricia Barber: Monday Night-Live at the Green Mill Volume 2 (Fast Atmosphere, 2011)
There are two live recordings Patricia Barber offers on her website for download taken from here almost weekly gigs at the Green Mill in Chicago. I find Volume 2 to be the better of the two, not because of recording quality as both are excellent, but due to the selection of material. Volume 2 has the more accessible material for those not familiar with her. I find her to be a fascinating artist who runs the gamut, from beautifully sublime renditions of her own songs and standards, to the weird and avant-garde. Volume 2 is more the former than the latter. This recording captures the live show in a live venue and you hear it all; the creaking of the piano stool to the clinking of glasses, the dropping of tableware, the swinging of cafe doors and even the odd buss or two driving by. Wonderful stuff.

Available from

Kenny Barron: A 2fer
When I think of Kenny Barron, the words elegant, sophisticated and beautiful come to mind. This elegance can be seen in two recent recordings where he is featured on piano. I have grouped these two recordings together as they feature Kenny with just a bass player on one and bass and vocals on the other.

The first is The Art of Conversation (Universal Music, 2014) with bassist Dave Holland. These two seem to be reading each other's minds as they play. The interplay between them is fascinating, working on both an intellectual as well as an emotional level. Truly stunning stuff. Oh and it sounds lovely too in 24/96 PCM. The second recording is Karrin Allison's Many A New Day which features both Kenny Barron and John Patitucci backing up Ms. Allison. I have a few of her recordings and I find this one the most satisfying. Perhaps it is the music as she features the music of Rogers and Hammerstein which I find to be a perfect fit with her vocal skills. The sound in 16/44.1 is not quite up to the level of the Art of Conversation but awfully close. These two recordings go perfect together, on a great rig, in a dark room and with the your beverage of choice!

The Art of Conversation is available from HDtracks
Many A New Day is available from Qobuz

I have been a jazz fan all of my life. My love of jazz comes from my father who had his own band for 40 years. I like to say that I was listening to jazz in the womb. As a young kid, we were always listening to recordings by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Mel Torme, BIlly Eckstine, Frank Sinatra, Ella, Sarah etc. When in high school in the early to mid 1970's, the kids were all talking about the latest LP from Led Zep or the Stones, I was thinking about the great Duke LPs I was enjoying at home.

Share your Lovely Recordings with us!

BradleyP's picture

I am familiar with some of the newer recordings here but am taking a closer listen, now. The Barry/Holland duo is one of my favorites, too. Those who like it should also check out the piano/bass duo of Lars Danielsson and Leszek Mozdzer on Pasodoble (ACT label), which has a decidedly Nordic flare.

While I appreciate many of the older ones for their importance and artistry, I sometimes find the shortcomings in the recording equipment challenge my attention span--which is more an indictment of me than the records. An interesting sonic comparison in the same stylistic ballpark as the Basie/Williams album is Sinatra's Swingin' Session from 1961 or to a lesser degree Armstrong and Fitzgerald on Porgy & Bess from 1959, both of which sound like they could have been recorded last month. Anyway, I really did enjoy and profit from this guest column. Thanks!

highstream's picture

Nice ones. The McBride/Ray Brown/John Clayton session, Super Bass 2, is also a fun one.

highstream's picture

@BradleyP, I find there are two Sinatra Swingin' Sessions with different material, one issued remastered by Capitol and the other by Newsound (British), both released in 1998. Perhaps they split the 1961 material?