Ten Influential Albums
1/10 - Bill Frisell - Quartet - 1996
I saw this group in 1996 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It was the first time I experienced a "jazz" concert that wasn't standards (or derivative jazz style compositions). It was personalised, thoughtful, genre defying music. A new musical universe. The roles within the band were constantly shifting in ways I'd never heard or thought possible before. I was amazed how such calm music could be so exciting. And the guitar player was pretty good too ;-). After the concert I said to myself "That! That is what music is. That's what I want to do."
2/10 - Miles Davis Quintet 1965-68 complete recordings
Yeah yeah, it's cheating to put a boxed set, but otherwise 6 of the 10 albums would be this.
I was a teenager just starting to explore jazz, I went to the record store to buy "Kind Of Blue" by the Miles Davis Quintet, because everyone said that was the first jazz album I had to check out. The store didn't have it, but they had a Miles Davis Quintet album called "Miles In The Sky". I bought it and quickly discovered that it was a very different quintet and a very different album than the one I was looking for. I loved it so much that I went back to the music store the next day and found another album with the same lineup called "Miles Smiles". This was another story. I kind of hated it on the first listen. It was so rough to my ears, I couldn't figure out what was going on, there were tons of mistakes in the melodies and it seemed like the band would just stop at some point and then Miles would start talking to the engineer, and I thought "what kind of an album is this? They don't end together, and don't edit out the talking?? Doesn't even seem like they care". As much as I didn't like it, I listened again, and again, and again, until I was obsessed and addicted and found it incredibly beautiful. So a month or so later I found this boxed set and listened to it almost exclusively for the next 2 years. I still listen to these albums a lot.
So much great music and a mind blowing evolution in a 4 year period. They went from ESP to Filles de Kilimanjaro in 4 years? Come on. That's crazy! btw, I might consider Filles de Kilimanjaro to be the best record of all time (if there is such a thing). At least it's one of the best drum performances ever captured on recording. Tony is out of his mind on that album.
3/10 -Smog (Bill Callahan)- A River Ain't Too Much To Love - 2005
I saw Bill Callahan play this set of tunes in Montreal sometime around 2006. His voice was so clear and direct that it changed the way I heard music... vocals first. I'd always been all about the sounds, chords, textures, time feel, arranging ideas, etc... but this was all about the power of song. His lyrics are deep, casual, funny and always go somewhere unexpected. His guitar playing is also sneaky good. He kind of just treats it as a tool to serve the songs, so all the cool stuff he does with it can easily go unnoticed. .I didn't buy the record at the show, but a month later I found myself singing these songs and remembering the words... something that had never happened to me before. I eventually bought the record, and I've bought every record he's recorded since then. Over the past years I think I've perhaps listened to more Bill Callahan than anyone else. I'm hanging on every last word.
4/10 - Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter 1+1 (1999)
I'm bending the rules here as far as I can... I've never listened to this album. What!? Why is it on the list then? Because if they didn't make this album they would've never played at the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg in 1999.
This concert was something else. The audience gave them a 10 minute standing ovation for simply walking on stage. Herbie was kind of an entertaining figure at this time. Best known to the general public for "Watermelon Man" and stuff like that. The audience had no idea what they were in for (myself included). There would be no Watermelon Man on this night.
After approx. 25 minutes of abstract, mostly improvised, soul-searching and highly innovative music the audience began to filter out of the room. I've never seen so many people leave a concert before. The packed balcony I was sitting in was pretty lonely by the end of the concert.
These two were on a spiritual mission. They were not there to entertain, but to search, to grow, and find something deeper. It's like they were being born again. And certainly for Wayne, this reunion with Herbie seemed to spark a new creative wave that he's been riding the last 20 years. Herbie was an absolute force on this night. The piano was resonating for days under the voicings he was finding. For those of us who stayed it was a powerful moment. I had shivers, I had tears, the whole thing. For me, it's still one of the high points of my musical life. Sacred almost.
So I've never listened to this album because I want to let that experience sit as it is. It might be really good, but I'm not going to touch it.
5/10 - Benoit Delbecq 5 - Pursuit - 2000
It feels like I'm cheating by putting such a close friend's album on this list, but I think it's fair because I didn't know Benoit when I first heard it. Thom Gossage laid this album on me in, I think, 2002. I had just joined Thom's band, "Other Voices" (another huge influence) and he was working some of the concepts from this album into his writing.
It was a revelation how Benoit organised the musicians in the band... everyone in their own zone, independent but related at the same time. His concept of time is 3 dimensional and that immediately jumped out at me. All these related tempos happening simultaneously giving the impression of depth of field. A very strange but wonderful phenomenon. Incredible music.
And then there's the great Jean-Jaques Avenel. His playing on this album is maybe the single biggest influence on my bass sound. I spent years trying to sound exactly like this. I eventually gave up, but I think some of it stuck. How the sound seems to fly out of his bass at 200mph, I still don't know how he does that.
6/10 - Plants and Animals - The End Of That (2012)
You're a product of your environment, so they say. Montreal between, say, 2006-2010 was a very important (and great) time for me. The music scene was buzzing and vibe was electric. This band basically embodies everything about that spirit. They bottled that lightning and put it straight onto this record (and into their live shows). It's one heck of a feel-good, free-wheeling listen. I guess (if you want to nit-pick) their classic album "Parc Avenue" is probably more representative of the time period I'm talking about... but whatever, this one is my personal favourite.... but then again, "Waltzed In From The Rumbling" is objectively and indisputably their best album... anyway, it doesn't matter. After seeing this post you're going to go and BUY all 3 of those albums anyway, right? Streaming isn't enough. You have to own it. OWN IT! That's right. Do you ever feel like the world keeps spinning out of control and we keep giving more and more of ourselves to the corporate machine? Maybe we can start to take back some control if we OWN our record collections again. The music we choose to love is such a huge part of our identities. Are we really willing to let corporations like Spotify, Deezer and Tidal be the custodians of such an important piece of our souls???! What's that you say? ...oh... yes? ... oh... ok.
anyway, Plants and Animals. One of my all time favourite bands, and some great peeps.
7/10 - Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest (2011)
No story to go with this one. Just pure goodness.
8/10 Joe Henderson - The State Of The Tenor - Live At The Village Vanguard with Ron Carter and Al Foster - 1986
Soooo, let's talk about the bass shall we?
This double album found it's way into my hands the very same day I started playing double bass. I always listened to it with the bass in my hands, so Ron's amazing playing on this album ended up being the foundation I built my own bass playing on. In a way, this album was the perfect starting point. You can hear every note clear as a bell, and in this period Ron was incredibly efficient from a technical standpoint. His playing is so smooth and effortless. He was playing with fairly light touch, so it was an attainable sound for me to emulate because it didn't require so much hand strength. It's also a very nice sound.
The very close communication in the group and soft volume level was very attractive for me as I was coming from being a rock/shredder type guitar player and fairly heavy handed drummer playing along with TOOL records, so this kind of music was a breath of fresh air. The more advanced things Ron was doing played to my strengths. I could understand the rhythmic concepts from my experience as a drummer, and the power chord double stops and flashy hammer on/pull off stuff he was doing was straight up Steve Vai to my ears. Who knew that Ron Carter and Steve Vai had so much in common? And who knew that Ron got so many rhythmic ideas from TOOL??! Crazy world. Everything's connected.
But seriously, this album is an encyclopaedia of creative yet supportive accompaniment ideas, and it is full of solutions to all kinds of situations one encounters as a jazz bassist. It showed me how to play without a chordal/comping instrument and how to communicate the important elements of the harmony in a very clear and simple way. It also showed me that while walking bass is cool sometimes, there's usually something more interesting AND more supportive you can be doing. Oh, and Al Foster says, "don't lean on the drummer too much because he might decide to flip the beat around all over the place, so be responsible for your own damn self! But you still gotta talk to me."
Anyway, all the lessons are right here. If you're a bassist just getting started, maybe you should check this. It's not your usual starting point, but it worked for me.
Oh man, I haven't even mentioned Joe Henderson yet. This is Joe in his absolute prime! I love his playing in any period, but especially this one.
9/10 John Coltrane - A Love Supreme, Sun Ship, Meditations - 1965/66
We have a 3 way tie!
I tried not to put A Love Supreme on this list. It's too obvious, but it's simply un-deniable. I would give it the edge to break the tie because, yes, it's probably the best album of the three. But I can't separate them. These 3 albums are part of the same breath, and I almost always listen to them together.
These 3 albums are kind of like the Back To The Future movies... while the first one is the classic and you know it's not going to get any better, you're still going to binge-watch all three of them. Otherwise you'd miss out on the futuristic adrenaline boost in the second one, and the wisdom of the ancestors and the peace of finding your way home in the 3rd one. Exactly the same thing here.
10/10 - Barre Phillips - End To End - 2018
This album was released relatively recently, so the album itself is not so much an influence, but it stands as proof of Barre Phillips' un-deniable influence on my bass playing.
The first listen through this album was a frustrating one for me. Not out of disappointment or any thing like that... not at all! It's a brilliant recording that captures Barre being Barre in all his greatness. The frustration came because everything I was hearing were things that I do all the time, including things that I thought I came up with or were unique to my playing... listening to this album I realised, nope.. I got it all from Barre. Everything from intervals that resonate a particular way, to strategies for transitioning in and out of material, to the touch, to the pace... it's all here. About half way into the album I was screaming "WHAT?! You mean I even got THAT from him TOO?"
After a couple of listens, that frustration transformed to gratitude. I have received so much from Barre basically through osmosis. It's simply a gift. Whenever I saw him play (which is quite a lot by now), I watched and listened with laser focus. The master is at work after all! So the information arrived that way.
As much as his playing influenced me, it was also personal encounters. A couple of examples:
I first met Barre at a festival in Guelph, Canada in 2003. Barre was very open and happy to talk for quite a long time. I was in the process of buying a new bass and I was talking about how it resonated. Resonance, it turned out, was a topic about which Barre had a thing or two to say. This conversation was transformative for me and changed how I thought about making sound, and changed the way I approached the bass on a daily basis. How you pick it up, get in touch with how it’s ringing that day, and go from there.
Later in Berlin in 2010. I was playing a solo concert in a church, and it was the first time I attempted to improvise a full solo set with no planning or preparation. About 15 minutes into the set panic started setting in. I felt blocked, and it was a struggle to continue. I wrapped up the set pretty quickly. I managed maybe 20 minutes, and I felt pretty devastated afterwards. After the set I was trying to leave the scene as quickly as possible, but a lot of people were stopping me to offer compliments. The whole time I was thinking "come on, did you hear the set?". As I was making a b-line for the door, who was standing in the doorway? Who else but Barre Phillips. I looked at him and rolled my eyes as if to say "oh shit! YOU were here?". Anyway, I couldn't avoid him. Eye contact was made, and I literally had to walk through him to leave the room. In a moment I'll never forget, he slapped me on the shoulder and shouted out with a big grin "IT'S A BATTLE SOMETIMES ISN'T IT?!". Man, that made me laugh out loud. While he was the only person who didn't offer a compliment, his words were the only ones that made me feel better. After all, while he was acknowledging that he fully recognised what happened up there, he was also letting me know that he'd been there before. Knowing that, I could walk out the door with my head held high and hungry to try again. It wasn't the end of the world... just the beginning.
So thanks Barre, for everything.