Monday, May 16, 2016

Philip Larkin Picks His Favorite Jazz Albums of the Year (1960s)

Philip Larkin
During the 1960s, the English poet Philip Larkin, who also wrote jazz criticism of high caliber for Daily Telegraph, particpitaed in the game of picking the best records of the year.

For someone who thought Charlie Parker was the beginning of the end for jazz, and everything worth saying (and playing) was already exhausted by Louis Armstrong, the 60s must have been a difficult time to go to a record shop and come out satisfied.

Yet, Larkin, never hiding his conservative taste in jazz, comes out with a few delightful surprises (Miles, Mingus, and God forbid, Ornette!)

His annual entry for Telegraph mainly features a longer list of reissues than brief mentioning of what's new. I've only mentioned the "new" albums. But even the "new" ones indicate how sluggishly jazz records were distributed in the UK. There is usually a year or two time gap between the initial US release and the arrival of the record in British market.

There are two remarkable anthologies edited from his jazz criticism both of which highly recommended: All What Jazz and Reference Back. (The full list of his favorite records of the year can be found as the penultimate chapter of the latter book.) These two books feature some of the most memorable, beautiful use of metaphor and poetic language in jazz after Whitney Balliett.

Without further due, these are the albums that excited Philip Larkin:

Cannonball Takes Charge (Cannonball Adderley, 1959)
"It has been Cannonball Adderley's year here, and this disc exhibits his full-throated alto more undilutedly than any."

Jazz Portraits: Mingus in Wonderland (Charles Mingus, 1959)
"[It] most represents contemporary jazz with four ebullient and extravagant pieces."

Kid Thomas And His Algiers Stompers (Kid Thomas, 1962)
"Of current issues, only New Orleans and the Blues have vitality enough to rank with [reissues of jazz masters.]"

Hello, Dolly! (Louis Armstrong, 1964)
"Armstrong beat the Beatles to top place without sacrificing a single nuance of his venerable mastery."

A Love Supreme (John Coltrane, 1965)
"A four-part attempt by the sheet-of-sound father of the New Thing to say 'Thanks You, God' in his own angular fashion, moving from frenzy to faith in doing so."

No new album is picked by Larkin. Only reissues of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young and Bessie Smith.

Chappaqua Suite (Ornette Coleman, 1965)
"Probably the most extended ramble of this philosophical free-former, proving his consistency of conception and inventiveness without recourse to distortion."

Today! (Skip James, 1966)
"Don't say you are tired of veteran blues singers without hearing [this album] whose high voice is swayed by ancient passions like a dead leaf in the wind."

Miles In the Sky (Miles Davis, 1968)
"Displayed the cold kingliness of this master."

70th Birthday Concert (Duke Ellington, 1970)
"[The album] is unbeatable as a keepsake of what must be the final years of this unique organisation."

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