Some stuff I've been listening to, these last few months, and some reasons why.
This list is taken from a long, long essay I'll never finish.
karma. i've never liked what pharoah sanders brought to trane's group in 65-67, but this spiritual successor to a love supreme is deep, deep music -- 'the creator has a master plan' is the only imaginable setting in all the world's history in which the sudden appearance of a yodeler in a jazz band makes absolute cosmic sense.
big fun. an inexplicably overlooked collection of miles's electric stuff from his multi-keyboard (bitches brew) and guitar-driven (jack johnson/on the corner) periods, 1969-72. the opening track mixes one of miles's jams with a gorgeous zawinul tune; the rest is miles. yes there's sitar. you can move to it, but unlike jack and corner it's not about relentless groove -- this is freakambient bliss, in the bitches brew mould but with less percussive churn. this one's gotten deeper in retrospect; its harmonic complexity is so carefully controlled, you don't notice it burrowing into the center of the earth and going sublime.
sextant. i'd be happy to live in a world in which every copy of the self-consciously 'easy' (but still brilliant) party album head hunters -- everyone's got one, right? -- was replaced overnight, magically, by one of herbie's astonishing mwandishi albums. hearing sextant today is a shock; it's 40 years old and still sounds futuristic. the first half of the album carefully establishes the template: 'rain dance' and 'hidden shadows' explore electroweird noise and odd-meter ambient funk grooves, respectively. the second half, the 20-minute suite 'hornets,' is a psychotic outbreak over a big fun beat. combine with herbie's crossings for a twice-told trip.
the jewel in the lotus. i'm going to be listening to this album for the rest of my life. bennie maupin is the sax devil on the contemporaneous head hunters (and sextant!) but this -- a killer ensemble playing his beautifully strange compositions -- is music from another world. as uniquely pretty as eastern sounds but more contiguous, more organic...darker and lighter (than air).
love, love. julian priester was the trombonist in the mwandishi group; love, love has more Free intensity than that seminal band, but a little less richness, even if the sonic template is the same. still, the weird horn sectionals and priester's wild trombone solos lift this album up. not bedroom music unless you have a rocket-powered trapeze in there, which (then again) might actually render music wholly superfluous.
spheres. just kidding! this keith jarrett solo performance, on a gigantic pipe organ in ottobeuren, germany, is the further thing in the entire universe from 'groove' (or 'groov' if you must, though you mustn't), never mind jarrett's knotty piano style. if you hate it, you're not alone. but you might not. if you breathe into it and let it open out over an evening, in ideally in the dark, you'll hear spontaneous art that will never, ever sound dated or cliché.
live in tokyo. weather report, a band i don't always have time for (particularly from the late 70s on), in their early transitional form -- less fragmentary or menacing than miles's early 70s stuff, less sonically rich; there's even plain old swing here, sounding slightly anachronistic in retrospect. this is 1972 and sounds like it: the same music played on acoustic piano and bass would sound demented and ever new, but on distorted rhodes it's a little dinky. they had a way to go at this point...which means they're very much in motion. it's exciting. it's alright.
tales of the exonerated flea. friends, i give you drummer/composer/bandleader horacee arnold. this record is ridiculous, as weird and intriguing as its name. the opening track sounds like 'discipline,' the second features a schizoid guitar breakdown over tablas and flute, the third is carnal filth before the pervy synth bass kicks in...the rest of the thing is crazier and somehow even better. n.b., closer 'euroaquilo silence' is sarcastically titled: it's a drum freakout during a robot prison break. i have no idea what to say about this record. it's just fantastic. and for some reason it's available for free on archive.org.
journey in satchidinanda. very, very, very deep and soulful music from trane's widow alice, musical partner in his last years. and holy moley, that's charlie haden trying to knock rashied ali off the drum riser on 'isis and osiris.' this is the pure 'spiritual jazz' strain, taking john coltrane's late music as the template but substituting cascades of harp for trane's polychordal lines and washing out ali's drums with bells and tamboura. it sounds like a buddhist cultural center on 150ug of clear light acid, and it will take you as far as you want it to.
the rubaiyat of dorothy ashby. pair with alice for a mind-altering trip through afro-asian hard bop and funk-soul(?!). when i talk about this era of cosmic jazz as the peak of american music, silly as it all sounds (even to me), this is the kind of thing i have in mind -- virtuoso technique, deep emotional and spiritual intensity, fearless border crossing, total devotion to a musical vision that takes the players well out of themselves. the closing cut, 'the moving finger,' is bedroom music for polymorphously perverse sophisticates. on a better earth than ours, this is part of the pantheon.
stone flower. jobim doesn't fit the taxonomy here, but this 1970 album, like the dorothy ashby mentioned above, perfectly fits the mood of the collection without sounding like anything else in it. yes, that electric piano gets groovy at times; yes, the flavour is jazz though the genre isn't (you could say the same of sinatra); yes, that soprano sax solo on 'god and the devil in the land of the sun'(!) could've come right from any of a dozen albums on this list. but this is its own thing: one of the great bedroom albums ever, fitting neatly beside yusef lateef and bennie maupin in its hushed intensity.
shabazz. pure fire: jazz-funk drummers, here's your bible. bandleader/drummer billy cobham is way up in the mix and damn well knows it. not so much 'restful,' though, so find something energetic to do while you listen. ideally with a very close friend who finds you physically and emotionally attractive.
interstellar space. peak coltrane, freely duetting with drummer rashied ali on skeletal forms. probably one of the most difficult of trane's albums, and certainly a challenge for listeners not already steeped in trane's musical language. but oh my god, this is holy fire: the great post-bop tenor in free flight at the apex of his creativity and power, soon to die. visionary art.
agharta. along with pangaea, recorded the same day(!!) in japan, this titanic live album marks the endpoint of miles's 70s rock experiments: five months later he went into seclusion for the remainder of the decade. it's impossible to imagine being at a show like this: the unremitting intensity of the music, its oceanic depth, must have terrified the audience. it terrifies me now.
jarrett/haden/motian/redman. like jarrett's spheres, this body of work doesn't fit the template laid out in the article -- but you can draw lines from here to there. the same energies feed this band. this is one of the great working bands of the 70s playing intensely spiritual jazz, every member of the band hitting hard on every tune, exploring jarrett's eccentric and quintessentially american musical idiom. with this lineup it's no surprise that the band doesn't sound quite like any other, but it bears repeating: this is a once-in-a-century band, better at the everyday stuff than almost everyone but also getting into its own totally unique thing. get the live Impulse stuff first.