Not really a part of theAaron Challenge, but he did turn me onto this album.
HERBIE HANCOCK – Quartet (1982 Columbia Records)
I find it really hard to:
1) review albums outside my comfort zone, and
2) verbalize thoughts about instrumental music.
I will say this. One glance at the back cover photos tells me all I need to know about Quartet. The back cover of this CD screamed to me, “Open me now, because I will thoroughly blow your mind.” Which is exactly what happened. The Quartet are Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), and Tony Williams (drums).
I fell in love with “Well You Needn’t” at exactly the 5:12 mark. It’s an incredible performance to start with, bass and drums dueling with trumpet and piano, but in harmony. At 5:12 though, it’s just momentarily otherworldly. It’s synchronicity, and Carl Jung would have pooped his pantaloons if he’d lived long enough to hear it.
“‘Round Midnight” is a Thelonious Monk standard, as is “Well You Needn’t”. It’s a nice laid back smoky barroom jazz, piano occasionally stealing the spotlight from the muted trumpet. This song has me seeing black & white, like an old movie. It picks up halfway through, with trumpet un-muted, and drums throwing cool beats out left right and center.
Ron Carter plays some wicked bass on “Clear Ways”. “A Quick Sketch” is anything but quick, clocking in over 16 minutes long. It sets a scene, again like a movie. There’s some intrigue going on. It’s lyrical, the instruments are telling a story. “The Eye of the Hurricane” is frantic. Its swift pace seems to inspire flurries of instrumental genius.
“Parade”, then, is the opposite; it’s quiet and deliberate. Herbie’s piano is sublime. It picks up a bit after a couple minutes, and it does contain some pretty manic solos. This leads into “The Sorcerer”, a 7 minute workout with some blistering Wynton Marsalis trumpet work.
“Pee Wee” is another smokey barroom number, piano fluttering while the trumpet takes center stage. Then it’s the piano’s turn, and it’s another lyrical moment. The final song is the ballad “I Fall In Love Too Easily”. It’s now closing time at that smokey bar. A few patrons remain but tables are being wiped down and chairs put away. Last call.
At almost 70 minutes, Quartet was a double album. Now on CD it’s a single disc, and if you can find the time to play the whole thing in one sitting I would strongly recommend that experience.
Here’s part 2 of 3 – 30 albums essential to Meat’s being, that should be essential to yours, too! So, without anymore preamble, I’ll leave you with Uncle Meat, as he discusses 10 more albums, in alphabetical order by title, that you need to visit (or re-visit).
HIGH TENSION WIRES – STEVE MORSE (1989)
Simply put, Steve Morse is my favorite musician of all time. I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Morse a total of 6 times when you combine The Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple and The Steve Morse Band. Unlike the releases of some of his contemporaries, High Tension Wires is not your typical shredder album. Oh it shreds alright, but Steve Morse is much more than a trickster. There are beautiful compositions, unforgettable solos and some just plain ol’ rocking too. Included is the link to a live version of a track perfectly named “Tumeni Notes”. For more examples of the greatness of Steve Morse, introduce some Dixie Dregs into your collection. You can thank me later.
HOT HOUSE – BRUCE HORNSBY (1995)
When Bruce Hornsby said goodbye to The Range, he immediately said hello with Harbor Lights, a heavily jazz-infused turn that completely changed the music world’s perception of him. Hot House sees Hornsby taking that one step further. The album’s cover speaks a thousand words. It is a painting of an imagined band session between Bluegrass legend Bill Munroe and Jazz legend Charlie Parker. Nuff’ said there. This recording contains many musical giants including Pat Metheny, Jerry Garcia, Bela Fleck and Chaka Khan. Hot House is very addictive. I know most of the words off by heart on this record. Hopefully someday you will too.
JEFF BECK GROUP – JEFF BECK GROUP (1972)
This album definitely falls under the underappreciated category. Sometimes known as The Orange Album, Beck’s playing has never been better on this collection of original compositions and covers. I would call this more of a Soul album than anything. The incredible vocals of Bobby Tench seem to highlight this record at times, as you will see on the live performance of “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You” I have included for this entry. Also worth noting, this album is one of the first recordings of the late Cozy Powell’s career. The guitar work alone on “Definitely, Maybe” is enough reason itself to seek this record out. Perhaps a rock n’ roll legend’s best work.
JOHN PRINE – JOHN PRINE (1971)
I actually discovered the music of John Prine while working at the same record store chain that Mr. Ladano speaks of in this blog. There is no one quite like John Prine. Some artists write great songs. Some artists write great lyrics. Only a select few truly do both this well. There is no doubt that John Prine’s self-titled album contains some of the best lyrics ever written. “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes. Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose?” That is just brilliant shit. “You may see me tonight with an Illegal Smile. It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while”. I have said this many times and I am still saying it now. John Prine is THE best lyric writer …. Ever. Fuck Bob Dylan. Yeah, I said it.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON – KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (1970)
For the sake of alphabetical order by album, this Kristofferson follows the John Prine album on this list. Really it should be the other way around. While I stand by my earlier praise of Prine lyrics, I would certainly listen to the argument that there wouldn’t be a John Prine without Kris Kristofferson. The songs on this album show a huge diversity and a sense of patience that just makes him so cool. “Best Of All Possible Worlds” is just insanely-good storytelling and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a mega-smash for Janis Joplin. Of all the great concerts I have seen, watching Kris Kristofferson and a guitar for two hours in 2006 will always be one of the best concerts I will ever see. The true greats just need to show up.
LEGALIZE IT – PETER TOSH (1976)
After being a key member of Bob Marley & The Wailers for years, Peter Tosh embarked on a solo career. On his first solo release, Legalize It, I personally believe Tosh recorded the greatest Reggae album of all time. Fuck Bob Marley. Yeah, I said it. (Wait why am I so hostile? Ha.) Remember that one of Marley’s biggest hits “Get Up Stand Up” was co-written with Peter Tosh. I love this album from beginning to end, and the album’s cover remains a visual anthem for Marijuana activists everywhere. Sadly, Peter Tosh was taken from us when he was shot in the head during a home robbery. Rastafarian music at its finest.
LITTLE EARTHQUAKES – TORI AMOS (1992)
There is only one way to put it. During the spring of 1994 I became a literal disciple of Tori Amos. By the end of 1996 I had seen her live 7 times. Several of them in 2nd or 3rd row center seats, since this was back when you could actually wait all night for tickets and be rewarded for it. This album spoke to me in a way no other album has, or really could. Frustration with women, with Christianity and with life, I didn’t want to hear about hope in the horizon. I obviously needed to experience the frustration of someone who understood. I still have a red-head obsession because of Tori. This is in my ten favorite albums of all time and always will be. Little Earthquakes is full of intense and pretty compositions. The humor of “Happy Phantom” contrasts the pain of “Me and a Gun”. And the included track here is “Precious Things”, which sees Tori Amos exposing herself as the angry and sexual piano player she truly is. Myra Ellen Amos is quite simply a beast.
MELISSA – MERCYFUL FATE (1983)
Mercyful Fate’s first two albums are among the best Metal albums of all time. When you realize that this album came out a full year before Kill ‘Em All did you can start to see just how important this band truly were. Mercyful Fate are the High Priestesses of underappreciation. Yes King Diamond looks kinda ridiculous. And yes their lyrics are nothing short of evil incarnate. Lines such as “Drinking the blood of a new born child” and “I’ll be the first to watch your funeral, and I’ll be the last to leave” sometimes are so over the top that I guess it is understandable how an album this good could be ignored. If Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to nothing but Black Sabbath, the end result would have to look and sound something like Mercyful Fate. It’s no coincidence that the best thing Metallica has recorded since …And Justice For All is their medley-cover simply-titled “Mercyful Fate”. One of the greatest Metal albums of all time hands down. Click on the YouTube link and hear the start of “Curse of the Pharaohs”. If you don’t immediately recognize “2 Minutes to Midnight” you are lying to yourself.
NEVER, NEVERLAND – ANNIHILATOR (1990)
After Annihilator’s first album, Alice in Hell, it was time for a new lead singer. Out was the awful singing of the ridiculously-named Randy Rampage, and in was ex-Omen singer Coburn Pharr. The second album of this Ottawa, Ontario band was a vast improvement over the first album in every way. Without question the guitar playing of Jeff Waters alone makes this an absolute must-have recording for fans of thrash guitar or just guitar in general. If you can think of a better Metal album to come out of Canada then I would love to hear it. If you have never heard this album, and you consider yourself a “Metal guy” then you are missing out huge. I am having a hard time trying to pick a song to post here for listening purposes. That is how truly great this record is from beginning to end.
OPUS EPONYMOUS – GHOST (2011)
I know, I cannot believe it either. Only the second of twenty (so far) albums to be released after 1999 that appear on this list. This album by Swedish band Ghost is nothing but special. Before I heard this album I was told that it sounded like a cross between thrash metal and Blue Oyster Cult. As it turned out that description really was right on the money. Melodic background vocals nestled in between heavy riffing. I have to say that this album is my favorite Metal album in probably the last twenty years. The PERFECT blend of melody and heaviness. This is the only album that since I have got my iPod, every time I switch the music on it I leave this whole album on there. Every minute of this album is pure genius and I am super-stoked for their upcoming 2nd album titled Infestissumam that will be released this spring. Hail Satan!!!!
That’s it for now, stay tuned for part 3, coming soon…