My Top Ten Jazz Albums That You Probably Don’t Own

I recently found myself doing some cleaning of my album collection. More than cleaning, it is a chance for me to revisit some albums that have, through no fault of their own, been sitting on the shelf too long.

I came to realize that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be a jazz radio disc jockey, as well as someone who can spend hours in jazz record stores. With the decline in jazz record sales, and the bulk of jazz album sales going to big name vocalists or timeless classic recordings like Kind of Blue, it hit me that just because I have exposure to some wonderful gems of the last thirty years, doesn’t mean that everybody has.

That being said, I decided that I wanted to share my favorite albums from the last thirty or so years that, for one reason or another, might not be sitting on your shelf. And, as always, I encourage you offer your hidden gems.

1. Pilgrimage – Michael Brecker (2007)

pilgrimageEven without the sentimental value of this album (Brecker recorded it while battling MDS and Leukemia, and never did live to release it), it is the best jazz album over the last twenty years. The writing and improvisation from Brecker is stellar, and each member of the band play to their full potential. Winner of two Grammy awards.

Recommended tracks: Tumbleweed, Anagram

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 3

2. Trumpet Evolution – Arturo Sandoval (2003)

trumpet-evolutionMany critics called this the best trumpet album of the last twenty years. Sandoval’s ability to capture the sound and emotion of each trumpet player he honors (19 in all) is something I don’t believe any other musician has the ability or talent to do.

Recommended Tracks: I Can’t Get Started, Up Jumped Spring

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 6

3. Beyond The Missouri Sky – Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny (1996)

beyond-the-missouri-skyTo be honest, I am not a huge Pat Metheny fan. On this album however, you are hard pressed to find a track that isn’t increadibly beautiful. The two musicians are in perfect sync, and you could have this release playing in your CD player over and over for days and continually enjoy it. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: Two For the Road, The Moon Song, Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 1

4. The Birthday Concert – Jaco Pastorious (1981)

the-birthday-concertJaco Pastorious decided to throw himself a 30th birthday party in the form of a concert, and what a party it was. Jaco shows why he is the best electric bass player ever, and his supporting cast (Bob Mintzer, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Don Alias, and the Peter Graves Orchestra.

Recommended Tracks: Soul Intro/The Chicken, Invitation

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

5. Flow – Terence Blanchard (2005)

flowAfter going through an embochure change (which just sounds painful to brass players), Blanchard came back strong with this release. Working with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Aaron Parks, this album features wonderful arrangements and performances with alot of intensity.

Recommended Tracks: Over There

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 10

6. An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea – Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea (1978)

an-evening-with-herbie-hancock-and-chick-coreaHerbie and Chick had both gone pretty electric during the late 70’s, so to have them come together and do a live acoustic set was somewhat of a shock. They play extremely well together, and this concert is a wonderful result of that.

Recommended Tracks: Liza

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 8

7. Contemporary Jazz – Branford Marsalis (2000)

contemporary-jazzBranford displays a wonderfully artistic side on the first album with this quartet, which as of today has spent ten years together. While many of the compositions are complex, no member of the band struggles with them. On the contrary, each band member shines as part of a quartet that would continue to make fantastic music together. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: In The Crease

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 12

8. Democracy – Kenny Werner (2006)

democracyI know Kenny Werner is talented. But until this live recording, he had yet to truly move me. David Sanchez and Brian Blade are especially good on this album, and all of Werner’s compositions are especially good.

Recommended Tracks: One For Joni

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: N/A


9. Lucky To Be Me – Taylor Eigsti (2006)

lucky-to-be-meJust 21 at the time of the recording, Eigsti proved that he is the future of jazz piano (in addition to virtuoso Eldar). The performances show maturity, energy, and complexity. Even more impressive is 17 year old guitarist Julian Lage.

Recommended Tracks: Giant Steps, Woke Up This Morning, Love For Sale

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 15

10. Earfood – Roy Hargrove (2008)

earfoodIt is wonderful when a musician can continue to put out music that demonstrates that they have yet to peak. Roy Hargrove continues to get better and better with every album, and this no doubt is his best. While Earfood was snubbed when it came to Grammy nominations, it is widely agreed upon that it was easily the best jazz album released in 2008.

Recommended Tracks: I’m Not So Sure, Speak Low, Bring It On Home To Me

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

31 comments on “My Top Ten Jazz Albums That You Probably Don’t Own

  1. Vince

    Contemporary Jazz by Branford Marsalis is the only one I’ve heard of. Thanks for all the wonderful recommendations, I will be staying up late on my iTunes trying to find these albums. This is a really great top ten list Kevin. You can post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and then link back to your site. We are looking for top ten lists and our users can track back to your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

  2. diembe

    wow–i actually DO own five of these picks (#s 1, 3, 4, 6, and 7). the brecker and pastorius releases are especially and equal parts magnificent and poignant: in brecker’s case, owing to his having somehow rallied physically to the cause to finish this stunning recording toward the end of his life; and in pastorius’s, this live date in the singular, brilliant prime of his craft before his well-documented and tragic descent.

    i really enjoy your blog very much–have recommended it to several.

  3. thejazzmonger

    What a great post! This is a terrific idea for spreading the word about good music that is probably going unappreciated. the only one of your ten that I have is the Arturo Sandoval. but it could easily have been zero because I only have two of the many albums that Sandoval has produced.

    Very informative. Of course, I will probably end up spending some money because of this but, hey!

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  5. jasonparkermusic

    Nice list, Kevin. I own 7 of the 10, and agree with you on all your points. “Beyond the Missouri Sky” is one of my favorite Sunday Morning CDs (when I’m not tuned into Sunday Side Up, of course)!

    Keep up the cool blogging!

  6. willi

    Dude: For years we work on the top 10 recordings
    we would take to a desert island, and then we remember
    we also need the 10 best books ever written, and before you know it, we never leave unless we travel through
    life knowing that you were given a built in recording
    device which will serve you well.

    from a 67 year old dude who has all the “been there, done that” t-shirts, you will never work it out, so
    you must carry all those huge heavy books, old
    tapes, cds, dvds, 45s 78s and everything because
    the only way to carry it all is in your own heart gut
    and sould,
    because your hard drive will do it for you, and you
    only have to access it with the mental mouse you
    hold in your own little sweatty hand.

    Good luck with this!

  7. willi

    of course, you want my top 10

    well, Dexter Gordon, Sophisticated Giant
    and Miles Davis, Milestones, Horace Silver,
    Six Pieces of Silver, Art Blakey and Jazz
    Messengers doing Dizzy Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia,
    and Cal Tjader at the Blackhawk, Oscar Peterson playing
    absolutely anything, Stan Kenton, Tito Puente, Antonio
    Carlos Jobim, Sergio Mendes, Coltrane, Monk (and the other brothers of Monk Montgomery, Buddy and Wes)
    and Jimmy Heath, Oliver Nelson …………………

  8. Jason

    how about Chet Baker – She Was Too Good To Me. As a young trumpet player myself, there is nothing quite like the depth of his tone. any thoughts?

    tangerine and funk in a deep freeze are my favorites.

    1. Paul Rauch

      I have all of these except the Jaco disc. Hard to believe these would be included on a list of this sort, especially Earfood, an album played frequently on air, including on your show, kevin.

  9. Mike

    actually…. i have earfood pilgrimage and democracy.
    my teacher studied with werner so im a werner fan by default

  10. thejazzmonger

    Well, Tom T., I suggest you look back at the message header. Kevin didn’t say the Ten Best Tracks ever. He said ten best on albums you probably don’t own. He’s got me. I have albums by Sandonval, Metheny, Hargrove, Herbi Hancock (of course)and Blanchard. But I don’t own even one of these specific albums.

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  12. M. Lucky

    I’m not surprised to find I disagree with some of these choices–that’s the nature of these kinds of lists. But I do find it a bit odd that a piece dedicated to albums “you probably don’t own” includes such high-profile, well-publicized, and best-selling recordings as Pilgrimage and Beyond the Missouri Sky, and artists as well-known as Branford and Jaco. It’s kind of a shame that we don’t see something like Gonzalo Rubacalba’s Avatar, or Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Kinsmen, or artists like Steve Lehmen on this list.

  13. BLBeamer

    Hmmm. I only have 1 of the 10 (#1), but four of them are on my “to get” list. I guess I’ll have to check out the others. However, I would like to second M. Lucky’s vote for Mahanthappa’s “Kinsmen” and add Joan Stiles’ “Hurly-Burly”.

  14. Wayne Tucker

    The Sandoval album IS great, but his newest one, “The Sound of Love,” I believe is the title, is even better. It is his dream album of ballads with strings, and I have heard most of it. Fantastic–don’t miss it. Really.

  15. John Bastow

    Most of your top ten albums are by excellent musicians but beyond that I cannot comment. The fact is that for the most part they are not Jazz.. As a fan of some sixty years standing I hear them as “Rock”
    Jazz is four beats to the bar,and swings. The sad thing is that you probably don’t know what I am talking about !

  16. John Bastow

    Just to add a further note to my previous e.mail. You are probably curious as to what I call jazz. Well it is impossible to select an example that epitomizes jazz,but my nearest is this one. Gene Normans “Just Jazz” concerts from 1947. Groovin’ High. features Wardell Gray,Howard McGhee,and Sonny Criss. This to me is what Jazz is about. The items you selected are a million miles away from this.There is nothing wrong with what you like.but why can’t you call it something else?

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