Lovely Recordings Hosted by Tim Nelson

I’m a jazz pianist, and consequently spend more of my available music time practicing and rehearsing than just listening. However, I do love to listen to creative improvisers, whether live or recorded. To me, there’s nothing more exciting and inspiring than musicians improvising together to create something unexpected and beautiful. I’m not particularly excited by recordings assembled piece by piece in a studio or computer…I want the sounds of humans playing instruments together in real time.

I enjoyed pondering Michael’s invitation to "share those recordings that mean the world to us musically and sonically." To me, a "Lovely Recording" is one that creates the sonic illusion of being present at a performance when something remarkable is happening. I’m sharing just two: one from the beginning of my fascination with live improvisation and recorded music, and one that embodies the best of it for me today.

Grateful Dead: Anthem of the Sun (Rhino Entertainment, 1968)
First, Anthem of the Sun, by the Grateful Dead. Despite my having heard the Dead in person many times by the time Anthem was released, it still astonished me. I was then a teen conscientiously practicing my classical piano lessons, but still able to attend quite a few rock shows with my pals in the Bay Area. Most bands I heard in the late 60’s were electrified folkies doing conventional songs, just loud. In contrast, the Dead introduced me to a musical world outside my experience…fearless improvisation. They created and assembled rhythms and melodies differently at each performance. They listened hard to one another as they played and improvised as a group, not through a rota of individual solos like I’d heard in jazz and rock ensembles. In Anthem, they stacked different performances of the same tunes, initially synched up then allowed to drift out of synch in swirly phasey fashion. Prepared piano, amplifier feedback and odd played objects created sounds evoking experimental and avant garde classical music. Some modes and sounds seemed to be borrowed from Indian sarod or other exotic sources. And that earthy trippy dancing-elephant thunder under it all…What a glorious experiment! I was a goner. In following years, the Dead pulled me along with their more and more jazzy improvisation, until by the late-70’s I was drawn altogether into the jazz world. Path altered, life changed…

Available from Tidal

Wayne Shorter Quartet: Without a Net (Blue Note Records, 2013)
Jump almost 45 years later, Without a Net, by the Wayne Shorter Quartet. I’ve listened, studied and played jazz for many years by now, absorbed much of the vocabulary and classic recordings of the masters, tickled by the constant evolution of language by "new" guys, awe-struck by countless great performances and improvisers. And yet I’m still totally knocked out by the genius of Wayne Shorter’s millennial ensemble. Danilo Perez, Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Wayne take me back to the improvisational group-mind of the late 60’s Dead, except at a musical level that that I know without doubt to be astonishing. There are two earlier, equally inspirational, recordings of this quartet (Footprints Live! and Beyond the Sound Barrier). All are field recordings of extraordinary events. I chose Net because it never fails to delight me when I hear a player in the accompanying orchestra on "Pegasus" blurt out "Oh my God!" as Wayne improvises. She’d certainly heard the piece rehearsed with the orchestra, but what was happening at that moment still astonished her.

Available from Tidal

When I want to be inspired and reminded of the possibilities of creative improvisation, I listen to these Shorter Quartet recordings. When I need a shot of the pure joy of group experimentation, the Dead’s Anthem works for me every time. They both inspire me with what’s possible when humans play together to create.

Tim’s Listening Modes
Home: Tidal HiFi or iTunes library > Pure Music in MacBook Air > Airplay/Airport Express > 80’s vintage Marantz receiver > 1980 JBL 4313 studio monitors. Old but sweet.

Mobile (most of my listening): Tidal HiFi or iTunes library > iPhone > Etymotic ER4 (noisy environment) or Westone UM3x (average environments, as in photo).

Share your Lovely Recordings with us!

PeterMusic's picture

Thanks for the recs! I agree completely with your definition of lovely--a thought that's too often ignored. Enjoying Without a Net as I write, just ordered Anthem of the Sun--1987 CD for best dynamic range!

Bob Karp's picture

I just added Wayne Shorter's Without A Net to my Tidal favorites - hope to listen tomorrow. As a fellow fan of the Dead, and improvisational music in general, I'll mention (as you may well know) that the Grateful Dead have their own album called Without A Net. If you're not familiar, it is very worth checking out! (Available on Tidal -- try Eyes of the World, with Branford Marsalis sitting in ... )