The idea of the album as more than just a collection of individual tracks seems dead. Killed by streaming. At its best though the album, whether pop, rock or jazz, is much more than that. Sometimes, as I said about this wonderful duet, the stars are aligned, and you get the perfect album. Now, you will have your own opinions, which I would be delighted to hear about in the comments. I would especially like to hear about albums I don’t know. Here are some of my selections. They are not in any particular order.
And his mother called him Bill
First up, almost always for me, is Duke Ellington with ‘And his Mother called him Bill.’ The album was recorded in 1967 as a tribute to Billy Strayhorn, the Duke’s long time collaborator. Strayhorn had died in May from cancer. Ellington described Strayhorn as “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.” Everything on the album was written by Strayhorn., including ‘Blood Count’, his last piece. On this track Johnny Hodges plays with great intensity, and, towards the end, almost anger, at the loss the entire band had suffered.
Live at Leeds – the Who
Next up is an album I’ve known since it was first released, ‘The Who – Live at Leeds’. I still have the vinyl version with all the inserts and also have it on CD. The Who were a band bursting with raw energy. This album, recorded at Leeds University Student Union, captures it perfectly. My Vinyl version only has 6 tracks, but the CD version has it seems the full concert with 14 tracks. My pick for the video is actually from a performance the previous year, at Woodstock, so another iconic event. It gives the opportunity to see them full in your face with ‘Summertime Blues’!
Mi Tierra – Gloria Estefan
Taking things back down, a bit, is Gloria Estefan and Mi Tierra. This album was a big change from the Latin Disco of the Miami Sound Machine. It is recordings of songs which reflect her Cuban heritage. Musicians in the studio included many of the greats of Latin music, including Arturo Sandoval and Tito Puente. This is the title track, partly written by her.
Buena Vista Social Club
For great Cuban music, we need go no further than the venerable musicians of the ‘Buena Vista Social Club.’ Before coming together for the recording, many of them last played professionally in the 1940s. The album triggered something of a resurgence in interest for Cuban music. This is the wonderfully lyrical ‘Dos Gardenias’, sung by Ibrahim Ferrer.
Liege and Leaf – Fairport Convention
Now a complete change! Liege and Leaf, from Fairport Convention is credited with the beginning of the British Folk Rock movement. It features a number of notable musicians including Martin Carthy, Richard Thomson and of course Sandy Denny. Denny left the band, before the album was released. Although the band continued in this vein afterwards, I haven’t heard anything from them which quite matches this one. For me, it is her voice that adds the magic. Here is ‘Matty Groves.’
Disraeli Gears – Cream
Another album I have known since its release is ‘Disraeli Gears’ from Cream. I have it on vinyl and on CD. I can’t say much more than it comes close, in my eyes, to perfection. This is ‘Strange Brew.’
Money Jungle – Ellington, Mingus and Roach
Back to jazz again, and to Duke Ellington, although not his band. Money Jungle is an album he made with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach. It is a true trio, Mingus and Roach were never just going to be the rhythm section! The combination of three such disparate musicians seems to have driven Duke in particular to new heights. His playing is unlike anything he did on any other album. Tension between them was high, it seems. Mingus apparently argued with Roach and left. Duke persuaded him to come back to the session. None of them wanted to repeat the experience, even though there was a three album contract. Here’s the title track.
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