The New York Times Essential Library: Jazz: A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings

Ben Ratliff, jazz critic of the New York Times, obviously spent a lot of time listening to jazz in order for him to pick out 100 Most Important Recordings. Let it be known that these selected albums are based only Ratliff’s taste and he does have quite a range: from the well-known figures (Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong) to lesser-know cats that I haven’t heard of. What makes the book worth-reading is Ratliff’s clear, approachable, and astute criticism. Here is a beautiful except on John Coltrane:

His playing is intense, lusty, and sometimes smeared with harsh, abrasive noise, but it is not scattershot. He finds areas of exploration and methodically roots around them. Four minutes into “Venus,” he finds a pivot point in the middle register, oscillating back and forth from it toward dark low notes that work their way up the horn. Two minutes and twelve seconds into “Jupiter,” Coltrane starts gushing descending scales, almost making them sound as if they’re overlapping; he starts altering these with shrieks a minute later. Then around the five-minute mark he finally returns to the three-not theme, repeated and bounced around between octaves; when he’s finished, as always, he shakes the bells again—as much a signal to Ali that he’s finished as to the listener.

This is a pleasurable read for both novices and aficionados.

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