If someone asks me what my favourite album is I tend to answer, “The one I most recently liked best”.
The Jazz magazines are less obtuse and often go where angels fear to tread by presenting ‘top albums of the year’ (or ‘decade’) lists. To arrive at these lists some magazines employ readers polls but most rely on the collective opinions of the contributing reviewers and critics which is probably a reasonable enough methodology. The results invariably cause consternation among readers who can’t believe that a number of blindingly obvious album choices were stupidly omitted. In reality the matter of choosing and ranking lists is highly subjective and I would be very surprised if the critics agreed on more than a handful of choices. Examining record sales was once a beginning point but with internet sales, a multiplicity of download sources and 1,000′s of Independent labels in the marketplace that information would be extremely difficult to gather.
The other night my friends and I poured over just such a definitive list which outlined the ‘best Jazz big band recordings of all time’. At first people agreed with the choices as they were no-brainers. Well known albums by Ellington, Basie, Gil Evans/Miles, Thad Jones, Mulligan etc. Then one by one we started arguing over what had been missed and as the choices presented themselves we became certain that any ‘best of big bands’ list would probably need to contain at least a few hundred albums. As to ranking; that would probably end up in a knock down drag out fight, so we kept well away from that. While we were distracted the host snuck on a brilliant Clark Terry ‘Big B-A-D Band’ CD and here is the problem in a nutshell – It was the last best thing that we had ever heard. Chuck it on the list guys.
I have since been considering my own ‘must add’ disks and here are just a few that require inclusion. Marty Paich “The Modern Touch’ (with Pepper. Sheldon, Giuffre, LaFaro, Lewis etc – what idiot missed that out?). Milt Jackson-’Plenty Plenty Soul’ (I would die in ditch over that work of genius), George Russell-New York N Y (brilliant and edgy), Mingus-The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (to miss this is just ignorance).
I think that I need to stop this list making and above all I need to stop arguing with myself over my previous choices. Leave the lists to the critics because going that route leads to madness.
PS – feel free to add your own best big band choices in ‘comments’ – argue if you like and I will watch from a safe distance.