Music lives and breathes on stage. The split second choices that improvisers make and the communication between musicians on the bandstand provide audiences a sense of real-time drama. While the musicians on stage might be feeding off each other, the dance between the audience members and the performers is another interesting sub-plot that is to be taken into account during shows and concerts.
Below is a compilation (in no particular order) of essential live albums that you should consider checking out. Some readers might already own some of these albums and some might only own one. A majority of you will note that your favorite live album wasn’t included on the list – our apologies. We aren’t saying that these are the best live albums in the history of recorded music, we are simply suggesting that you should mozy over to your local record store and cop these gems if you don’t already have them.
This is Part 2 of our list. To check out the first part, click here.
While we have a list compiling essential Coltrane records, there really should be something out there in the interweb that lists notable live recordings at the Village Vanguard. Although Live! At the Village Vanguard is now considered an utmost classic, that wasn’t the case back in 1962. Down Beat’s John Tynan described Trane, McCoy Tyner, Eric Dolphy, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones’ playing as “musical nonsense being peddled in the name of jazz.” It’s easy to listen to this record 52 years after its release and look at Tynan’s critique as flippant. Perhaps “musical nonsense” might be a bit too harsh, but what makes this record stand out is how ahead of its time Trane was.
There’s that famous story from 2013 of how Eric Clapton caught Kurt Rosenwinkel at the Village Vanguard, a meeting that prompted Clapton to ask the younger guitarist to perform at the Crossroads Guitar Festival. We could call that night legendary because two guitar heroes met and the younger agreed to play at the elder statesman’s festival. Another legendary night at the Vanguard was in 2008 when Rosenwinkel’s performance culminated in a two-disc album titled The Remedy. Rosenwinkel’s 2008 live LP contains seven originals from the guitarist and one from Mark Turner titled “Myron’s World.” Joining Rosenwinkel and Turner on the record are Aaron Goldberg, Joe Martin, and Eric Harland.
Monk’s another artist whose discography we could talk about for hours and hours. Any one of Monk’s live records could have made the list including Live At It Club, Thelonious in Action, Misterioso, and more. What makes this specific recording essential are the different timbres and textures added into Monk’s music by playing with a larger group than his usual quartet setting. This album is also the first Monk record that the great Charlie Rouse appears on.
This is the second time we included Miles’ name in this series. But Herbie Hancock’s solo on “All Of You” really is enough to make this list. Everything about Herbie’s choruses on “All Of You” are next to near perfect from the way he arcs the entire thing, to the different ways he groups and accents triplets, right down the near-telepathic hookup with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Originally released in 1965, the album was recorded a year prior at what is now known as the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.
We can wax poetic about Evans’ touch, voicings, and his influence on pianists. But the most striking event associated with this 1961 album is Scott LaFaro‘s accident that took place ten days after this recording. Waltz For Debby is the fourth and final trio where we can hear Evans, LaFaro, and Paul Motian. While Evans continued recording up to his death in 1980 (including a box set of his final performance at Vanguard), the trio that played from Portrait in Jazz to this album is considered to be the essential Bill Evans trio.
Did we miss anything? Tune in next week for the second half of our list. Let us know your favorite live albums on the comments below and on our Facebook page!