Lovely Recordings Hosted by Mark Chodan

The following is a list of 15 recordings that I enjoy. They are listed in no particular order, and they are simply the first recordings that came to mind. I expect that I will kick myself shortly after sending in this list for leaving out hundreds of other great recordings that I hold in high regard. I hope that these recordings provide you with as much listening pleasure as they provide me.

Cecil Taylor: The Eighth (hatHut, 1981)
The early 80s were truly the dark ages for jazz, particularly for the more “out” varieties created by artists such as pianist Cecil Taylor. This 1981 live recording from Germany stands tall in the genre, a monolithic proclamation; Cecil being Cecil despite the vapid musical trends of the era. Typical of the Unit performances, Cecil leads. But unlike It is in the Brewing Luminous or One Too Many Salty Swift but Not Goodbye (both highly recommended!) where Cecil engages with each Unit member individually, The Eighth sees Cecil focusing his attention on alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons almost exclusively. They revel in each other’s creations, and when Lyons is sitting out, Cecil almost seems to be focusing on trying to reign Lyons back into the discussion. Of all of the recordings of Taylor and Lyons’ long and fruitful relationship, The Eighth is a frighteningly beautiful performance that will hopefully be remembered for generations to come. A work of art of the highest order. This is the one I get out to restore my faith in mankind.

Available from Pono Music

Cecil Taylor: The Willisau Concert (Intakt, 2000)
The other side of Cecil Taylor, solo. Taylor has produced solo piano recordings prodigiously throughout his career, but The Willisau Concert stands out as a giant. Enamored by the Bosendorfer piano’s 97 keys, Taylor produces a work of rare beauty. This 2000 performance is as lean and concise as a Taylor solo performance can be. The music is striking and commands the listener’s attention from the first seconds. Taylor’s solo piano framework of the era had been well established since the great Berlin sessions of the 1980s, but there is no shortage of new ideas on display here. This is not music for the faint of heart, and readers will certainly be impressed by the recorded sound, one of the greatest I have ever heard on record. Shall we expect to hear this one at audio shows? I challenge you.

Available from Bandcamp

John Coltrane: Interstellar Space (Impulse, 1967)
This one kills me. I just have to include a Coltrane album, but how does one go about choosing their favorite Coltrane recording? Is it even worth trying? With such a large discography and so many phases in his development as a creative musician, choosing a best or favorite recording is a pointless exercise. What I can say is that this duo with drummer Rashied Ali represents Coltrane’s crowning achievement. This is music that truly had never been heard before (sorry, Albert Ayler fans). Interstellar Space may not be the best place to start discovering Coltrane’s discography, nor will it sound “lovely” to many uninitiated listeners. But it is simply the Coltrane recording that best transports me to another place. It defies definition. It baffles. But it pulses with the vibrations of the universe.

Available from Pono Music

Thelonious Monk: Underground (Columbia, 1968)
By 1968, when this album was recorded, Monk’s quartet was so refined that it often appeared to be running in auto-pilot. There has been a lot of criticism of this Columbia-era Monk (I personally love the Columbias), but this one’s a gem. Everything that is Monk is summed-up eloquently in the track Ugly Beauty… the harmony, the voicings, the angular melody, perfectly understated playing by Monk, Charlie Rouse and rhythms section, etc. The music of Thelonious Monk is a very strong case for a musician building his technique around the music he heard in his head (as opposed to the contrary), which is the polar opposite of today’s conservatory education. Everyone may not “get” Monk, but this recording should be heard by everyone. Make sure that you get the uncut version, as the original releases had been heavily edited.

Available from Pono Music

Matthew Shipp: I’ve Been to Many Places (Thirsty Ear, 2014)
I have been following pianist Matthew Shipp’s recordings since I picked up his duo with William Parker, Zo, at the Princeton Record Exchange in 1994. What initially struck me as an oppressively and unnecessarily dark harmonic approach to his music became a decades-long fascination with Shipp’s music. I have come across few musicians that demonstrated such a personal voice, especially from their earliest years. The density of his earlier group recordings has diminished as Shipp matured toward a more open and collaborative approach to group performance. His recent collaborations with Michael Bisio and with Ivo Perelman are highly recommended. This solo recording is a very clear distillation of the material that Shipp has been working with over the last 20+ years, paired down to the bare essentials. A great recording by a true original.

Available from Artist Direct (CD)

Craig Taborn Trio: Chants (ECM, 2013)
Probably my favorite living musician, I follow every move of pianist Craig Taborn. He has been very active as a sideman (Chris Potter’s Underground, Tim Berne, David Binney, Lotte Anker, James Carter) over the past 20+ years, but has recorded sparingly as a leader. This trio recording does not lend itself to easy digestion. It truly does unfold in subtle ways that I am still discovering years later. Newbies way prefer to start with Taborn’s solo recording Avenging Angel (ECM), an achingly beautiful recording that I hold in equally high regard as Chants. Like the music of Tyshawn Sorey (see below), this is music that has used the freedom instigated by the free jazz movement of the 1960s to carve out a personal music of great depth, without necessarily using the predecessors’ language. Monumental.

Available from Pono Music

Mary Halvorson Trio: Dragon’s Head (Firehouse 12, 2008)
I am a guitarist. I also dislike most guitar music. That is mostly the result of having overdone the guitar thing as a teenager. I have managed to come around and have followed Joe Morris and Bill Frisell’s careers, for example. But this debut recording (as a leader) truly blew me away. Halvorson is like a breath of fresh air, with a unique voice on the guitar and arguably an even more unique voice as a composer. An ex-student of Anthony Braxton, Halvorson embodies Braxton’s spirit of individuality. The songwriting on this album is wide-open, leaving a lot of space that could be a problem in the hands of a less-capable instrumentalist. John Hebert (bass) is a particularly sympathetic band member. I strongly recommend all of Halvorson’s recordings as a leader, including her duos with violist Jessica Pavone (although the vocals may not be to everyone’s taste.)

Available from Bandcamp

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love Duo: Chicago Volume (Smalltown Superjazz, 2010)
Prolific saxophonist Ken Vandermark has recorded a large number of records with Norwegian drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love. I have heard many of them and they all offer the intensity and fire and grooves that one would expect from these musicians. The Chicago session was chosen at random mainly for its availability on Tidal. Also recommended is the (not on Tidal) The Lions Have Eaten One of the Guards (Audiographic, 2015) These duos are quite varied in character but they do tend to always include at least a bit of the bluster typically associated with free jazz. Vandermark is especially wonderful in this context. Nilssen-Love is a force of nature. A more ferocious drummer, I have never heard.

Available from Gube Music

Erik Friedlander: The Watchman (Tzadik, 1996)
Part of Tzadik’s Radical Jewish Culture series, this is the second recording by Friedlander’s mid-1990s chamber jazz ensemble featuring cello, clarinets and bass. Clarinetist Chris Speed is in particularly fine form. The music is solemn and mostly mournful. Also noteworthy are any of the recordings of Friedlander with John Zorn’s Masada String Trio, as well as his solo recording Maldoror (Brassland, 2003).

Available from HDtracks

Sylvie Courvoisier - Mark Feldman Quartet: To Fly To Steal (Intakt, 2010)
Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier has been living in New York since 1998 and continues to produce music in her own distinctive music style. Her music has retained a very European sound as compared to the more abrasive style of some of the musicians with whom she is associated. Very much an under-rated musician and composer, Courvoisier is heard on this introspective quartet recording with husband Mark Feldman. The rhythms section is made up of Thomas Morgan (b) and Gerry Hemingway (d). It would be difficult to find a more sympathetic pairing for Courvoisier. The results are magical.

Available from Bandcamp

Tyshawn Sorey: The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings, 2016)
This is the latest release by drummer/composer Tyshawn Sorey. While the music is still distilling in my mind, I do not hesitate to recommend this fascinating recording. A blend of jazz and contemporary string quartet (I am thinking especially of Giacinto Scelsi), but not anything like third stream music. Check it out for yourself.

Available from Bandcamp

Henry Threadgill: In For a Penny, In For a Pound (Pi Recordings, 2015)
Henry Threadgill is a musician that has spent his career constantly fine-tuning his unique approach to musical performance and composition. His voice is unlike anyone else’s and he has led several longstanding bands throughout the years, made up of carefully selected musicians that are capable of realizing Threadgill’s visions as a composer. Threadgill’s music sounds at once accessible yet is organized by defining parameters that the musicians are to play within. His music has a propulsion that drives the music forward but at the same time rarely resolves to any “comfortable” place, keeping the listener highly engaged as the musicians navigate the terrain. It is a formula that has provided an extensive catalog highly interesting music over the last 40 years.

Available from Bandcamp

Mat Maneri: Trinity (ECM, 1999)
Mat Maneri is one of a very small number of improvising viola players today. Mat is the son of saxophonist and composer Joe Maneri whose very free and also microtonal music was a major influence on the younger Maneri’s musical style. This solo viola recording is the jewel in Mat Maneri’s recorded output. This is highly complex music and can be difficult to penetrate. But I recommend making the effort to get acquainted with this recording. I expect it to be highly rewarding to those who are inclined toward such challenges.

Available from Pono Music

Frank Peter Zimmerman and Enrico Pace: Bach Sonatas for Violin and Piano (BWV 1014-1019) (Sony Classical, 2007)
As far as Bach goes, I spent years stubbornly listening only to Glenn Gould ‘s performances of Bach, to the exclusion of all of Bach’s other music. Several years ago, I happened upon the Glenn Gould / Yehudi Menuhin performance of Bach’s lesser-known work, Sonatas for Violin and Piano. While the performance was far from the highlight of either Gould or Menuhin’s careers (rushed and rough), the music was just so wonderful that I searched out other versions. There is something otherworldly about the Zimmerman / Pace performance (there is also a DVD of the performance available), and it has remained a desert island disc to me. Listen to this recording! I will say no more.

Available from Qobuz

Jose Alfredo Jimenez: Mis 30 Mejores Canciones (or any other Jimenez compilation, really) (Sony Music Mexico, 1998)
His voice was barely passible. He didn’t have the movie-star good looks of his contemporaries Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete or Javier Solis. His lyrical themes rarely ventured outside of heartache, Mexican landscape, treachery and trago, but Jose Alfredo Jimenez essentially wrote the history of modern Mexican music during his short life. A man with reportedly no knowledge of musical theory, he essentially authored the bulk of the Mexican ranchera songbook. It is with wonder that I enjoy the variety and depth of Jimenez’ music, with the same respect that I hold for Bob Dylan, Hank Williams or The Beatles. I realize that this selection is radically different from my other Lovely Recordings choices, but I am drawn to this wonderful artist’s creativity and incredible legacy. One could ask themselves whether or not there is a similarity between the powers that would drive a theoretically illiterate songwriter (or any songwriter for that matter) to work to create a substantial, rich songbook as Jimenez did, and the real-time composing (“channeling”?) component of free improvisation. On that note, I believe that all of the recordings that I have selected above are examples of music that has been created as if the artists’ lives depended on it.

Available from Qobuz

I live in Canada. I love adventurous music and high-quality musical reproduction, and am an amateur cook of Mexican cuisine. I have several sound systems, mostly containing Museatex/Meitner electronics and Totem speakers. The front end is streaming audio in every system via a variety of different devices and DACs.


Share your Lovely Recordings with us!

COMMENTS
cfisher's picture

Great list! Thanks for taking the time to put it together. I'm surprised that there is not more interest in free jazz in the audiophile world.

garrettnecessary's picture

Got to see Craig Taborn play solo last year. Brilliant. No recording can capture his dynamics (or Cecil's). I thought he was going to break the piano at points. That trio record is great though. Excited to check out some of the stuff on the list I haven't heard yet, particularly the Jimenez.

X