Awesome, but slightly obscure, jazz CD's?
December 4, 2010 1:51 PM   Subscribe

What're some awesome, slightly obscure jazz CD's?

A friend that I drew for Secret Santa in one of my classes is an incredible jazz saxophonist. What're some awesome CD's that I could get him? He listens to a lot of jazz, so I don't want to get him something he already has, so something slightly obscure but still well regarded (and easily available) would be wonderful.
posted by kylej to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Pithecanthopus Erectus.
posted by lex mercatoria at 1:54 PM on December 4, 2010

Ethiopiques 4. Became more popular after Broken Flowers came out where this album was played throughout. But really wonderful stuff.
posted by dog food sugar at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

No sax, but Tyshawn Sorey's "Koan" is excellent.
posted by davebush at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2010

Escalator Over the Hill might be a fun choice.
posted by jsturgill at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2010

This. For some reason, many jazz folks don't know about this record. They should.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2010

I don't know if this is obscure but Dancing in Your Head by Ornette Coleman is awesome.
posted by Max Power at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2010

How about Outre Mer?
posted by carsonb at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2010

Pithecanthopus Erectus is one of the most famous albums in jazz history, and yet someone recommended it above as slightly obscure. This is the problem with your question: what is obscure to one person is not to another. I could name some albums that strike me as slightly obscure and terrific (Al Haig's Trio Esoteric, Shelly Manne's Live at the Black Hawk), but the chances are he either knows them or won't be crazy about them. In general, it's a bad idea to try to get something for somebody who's a specialist in that something unless you are very familiar with their taste and with what they have already. I would urge you to go in a different direction and get him something you're more sure of.
posted by languagehat at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

What kind of jazz does he like? What are some of his favorite albums?

With the caveat that languagehat mentions about obscurity (and the one that he mentions about buying things for specialists): from the last few years, I like Fire!'s You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago, Fight the Big Bull's Dying Will Be Easy and the William Parker Organ Quartet's Uncle Joe's Spirit House quite a bit.
posted by box at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2010

Ballads by Four. It was out of print for a long time, and it's not super-easy to find now, but doable. And it's not on iTunes.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:05 PM on December 4, 2010

Perhaps something by the saxophonist John Harle - who I assume is obscure in the US - who occupies a place between Jazz and Classical (and World and Folk) and has his own label.

At the very least it would be unusual.
posted by Grangousier at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2010

If your friend is willing to listen to early jazz recordings, with their somewhat limited fidelity, monophonic nature, and 78 RPM record noise, and would be tickled by hearing a now very unusual, but once very popular version of a saxophone that hasn't been made in volume since the 1930's, you could look for recordings of C melody saxophone artists like Frankie Trumbauer, such as these.

You might also find a copy of a more modern "stunt" recording, like some of the Verve recordings commissioned by producer Norman Granz in his "X Meets Y" series. Granz's intention was to generate interest for jazz in the postwar era record buying public with records that "pitted" one popular musician "against" another in these "Meet" series albums, and they were often done, nearly live, in 1 or 2 days, with little rehearsal, capturing some of the best players of the time in unusual collaborations. Of these, perhaps my favorite is "Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi" featuring tenor man Stan Getz and baritone maven Gerry Mulligan with a rhythm section of Lou Levy on piano, Stan Levey on drums, and Ray Brown on bass. The album was later released in a stereo remix as "Gerry Mulligan Meets Stan Getz," too, and the stereo re-release is set up so that on one side, Getz and Mulligan are playing their own horns, and on the other, they've switched instruments.

Finally, if your friend is a hard core bop fan, a couple years ago, by arrangement with the John Coltrane estate, Impulse Records released "One Up, One Down - Live At the Half Note" featuring the legendary John Coltrane Quartet in a live performance, previously unreleased. Highly recommended, if not all that obscure.
posted by paulsc at 5:13 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Henry Threadgill's (alto sax) stuff is adventurous, and contemporary. The album that hooked me was "Too Much Sugar For a Dime" from (roughly) 1994.

If your friend happens to be a fan of latter day Wilco and piano legend Andrew Hill (who can be a little inscrutable, and isn't for everyone), Nels Cline (guitar) has a tribute album to Hill called "New Monastery" that's interesting as all get out.

Heading back to the more traditional side:

I'm a fan of Jimmy Heath (tenor sax) as a composer and underrated soloist. His albums from the 60s are all pretty solid. I recommend "The Thumper" and "Really Big!" as worth picking up.

The labels Prestige / Original Jazz Classics have quite a few gems mixed in to their 50s/60s catalogs. I like the Paul Chambers (bass) offering "Whims of Chambers" (Prestige, I think), as well as Ron Carter's (bass) "Where," which can be paired with Mal Waldron's (piano) "The Quest," (both OJC, I think) as they're both 1961 dates featuring much of the same lineup (including sax legends Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin).

Lastly, the Blue Note catalog from the 50s and 60s have a lot to offer. I don't know how obscure pianist Sonny Clark is, but there's a 1959 date called "Sonny's Crib" that features John Coltrane on sax that he might not have. It's pretty solid.
posted by GamblingBlues at 5:18 PM on December 4, 2010

Rudresh Mahanthappa is an incredible player who fuses elements of Indian Classical music with jazz. He's put out quite a few cds the last few years. My favorites:

Apex (with Bunky Green)
Apti (with the Indo-Pak coalition)
Kinsmen (with Kadri Gopalnath and the Dakshina Ensemble)
posted by Zebtron at 6:11 PM on December 4, 2010

Portico Quartet are a different sort of jazz band, I would say they remind me of Radiohead in much of their melody structure, yet couple with very cool and interesting instrumentation. Try the Isla album, its a real hidden work of art.
posted by tumples at 6:29 PM on December 4, 2010

I play sax. 2nding Verve having a great catalog; unlikely he's got ALL their stuff; hard to know what he does and doesn't have.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:45 PM on December 4, 2010

Steve Reid - Nova (review, sample and another)
Sonny Criss - Sonny's Dream (Birth of the New Cool) (review)
Moondog - Sax Pax for Sax (a cover of one of the tracks; not exactly jazz but should appeal to a sax player)
Exploding Star Orchestra - We are All From Somewhere Else (write up, sample)
posted by dobbs at 9:38 PM on December 4, 2010

Oh, and I have another suggestion: The Ex with Getatchew Mekuria. He's an Ethiopian sax player and The Ex is a Netherlands punk band. It ain't jazz but it smokes and it's unlikely he has it. It's also unlikely that it won't appeal--a friend of mine plays this at his record store all the time and spinning it always has people bopping their heads and pulling out their wallets. I'm really glad he turned me on to it. Pretty sure Mekuria appears on the Ethiopiques vol 4 mentioned above. Fantastic.
posted by dobbs at 9:49 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ethiopiques 14 is the Getatchew one--4's all Mulatu.

And yeah, that The Ex/Getatchew album is amazing--it's like Ethio-jazz meets No Wave or something. (And if you dig it, you might also enjoy The Thing With Joe McPhee.)
posted by box at 10:14 PM on December 4, 2010

I am not well versed enough in jazz to know what is super obscure and what is just slightly obscure, but Jan Johansson's Jazz på svenska is freaking gorgeous.
posted by Emilyisnow at 11:39 PM on December 4, 2010

As others have mentioned, there are probably too many variables in your question to know for sure what to recommend. Nonetheless, I'll take a crack at it with this: Paul Desmond (Dave Brubeck's saxophonist for many years) is hardly obscure, but his style is so distinct from most any other sax player of the modern era that you can't go wrong with adding his albums to any jazz collection. In fact, most all the Desmond CDs listed on amazon might work, especially since his solo albums never sold as well as the Brubeck ones, despite their quality.
posted by 5Q7 at 3:07 AM on December 5, 2010

> Rudresh Mahanthappa is an incredible player

Yeah, I was going to mention him myself, except that we have no idea what kylej's friend likes. I'm willing to try to give helpful suggestions, but we need more to go on than "an incredible jazz saxophonist" who "listens to a lot of jazz." Jazz is an incredibly varied field, and if he's into (say) Peter Brötzmann he probably won't appreciate a gift of (say) James Carter. It would be great if kylej could give us some idea of what kind of jazz the guy likes/plays.

> In fact, most all the Desmond CDs listed on amazon might work

Except that if he likes Desmond he already has them. That's half the problem. Your knowing that I'm a big fan of Franz Koglmann does you no good, because I have over a dozen of his records, including that obscure out-of-print one you just found on eBay. It is not a good idea to try to get me jazz CDs, even though jazz is one of my favorite things on earth. It is a good idea to get me books, because you can check LibraryThing and find out 1) what kind of thing I like and 2) what I already have. These are the two things we do not know about this guy, and kylej presumably does not know the second.
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2010

That said, it occurs to me that Mosaic Records might be an excellent solution. They're the Criterion Collection of jazz: excellent, otherwise unavailable performances presented impeccably (lavish booklets with extensive notes and beautiful photos) in limited editions. They're not as well known as they should be, and they're pricey enough that a lot of people who know about them don't have them, or only have one or two. (I have a dozen, because I went a little nuts after my divorce and blowing my money on jazz CDs did me more good, and cost less, than therapy would have.) So you might bring up the subject in a casual way ("Say, I hear those Mosaic Records sets are great, do you have any?") and if he says "Yeah, I'd love to have that John Handy (or Ahmad Jamal or whatever) set" you're good to go. (Me, I want the Artie Shaw, but 7 CDs for $119.00... Mosaic is one of the few things that make me occasionally regret choosing the proud but impecunious path of the freelancer.)
posted by languagehat at 7:57 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chiming in again late because I just thought of something.
The soundtrack to The Pulse is one of my favourite CDs ever. The Pulse was kind of the Australian jazz version of Sessions at West 54th.
It's really great, and varied enough that he should find at least something he loves, and unless he's Australian and ten years older than you, it's pretty frickin' obscure.
posted by Emilyisnow at 11:52 PM on December 7, 2010

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