Dave Allen – 5 Desert Island Album Picks

Regardless if you’re a beginning student of Jazz Guitar or an established player, we all have at least five albums that we cannot be without! With that said, Jazz Guitar Life has asked NY Jazz Guitarist Dave Allen what his five would be (assuming that he knew before hand that he was going to be stuck on a desert island and that said island had electricity and a full component stereo system) 🙂

“It’s difficult (and fun) to choose just five recordings to talk about. I thought about recordings that I consider timeless, that are worthy of a life’s study, that keep giving after a thousand listens. Four out of five of them I began listening to over 25 years ago, and so they had a huge impact on my development as a musician and composer. It turns out that none of my choices feature a guitarist. I’ll just mention here that there are recordings by Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, Jim Hall, and Ben Monder that also had a life-changing effect on me.”

Dave Allen

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1) Keith Jerrett – Standards Live: There are over 50 Keith Jarrett recordings in my collection, and many of them could be on this list (Shades, Carnegie Hall Concert, Expectations, Belonging…). This recording is something special. The entire record is singable. This was a model for me in terms of how to make each note count, how to let the music lead you somewhere. Jarrett’s introduction to “Stella by Starlight” is an entire composition in itself.

Listen to the first chorus of “Falling in Love With Love”. The band seems to leap off of the end of the melody into a beautifully melodic conversation. Jack’s broken ride pattern has an edge-of-your-seat quality and is sublime in the way he interacts with Jarrett’s solo. For me, this record stands out as being particularly inspired. You can come back to it again and again and still feel renewed by it. I was fortunate to have heard this trio live many times. Every concert was a kind of awakening.

2) Miles Davis Quintet – Live in Europe 1967, Bootleg Series: In this incredible box set we hear how much Miles’ second great quintet had developed since the time of the Plugged Nickel recordings. Most of the tracks here could be called epic, and in each one there is an adventure happening that only these five artists could accomplish. This is playing we did not hear on their four studio recordings, as great as they were. Tony Williams is on fire throughout. It’s amazing to hear how much Ron and Herbie can do while Tony is playing like the force of nature that he was. The thing that most impresses me is that, on many of the tracks, we hear a huge dynamic range and a shifting variety of grooves. There are times when they transition from a full, furious quintet, down to a gentle, quiet soloist, and then back to the full band. Listen to “Walkin” (Disc 3), where Wayne Shorter starts his solo at a ferocious tempo (around 340 bpm) until the band drops out and Wayne continues with a beautiful, inventive, and technically amazing, unaccompanied solo which last over two minutes.  “Riot”, which lives up to its title, has the entire band improvising together. What is most remarkable is that they are not actually playing “in time” in the usual sense, but there is a very powerful forward momentum to the track. Herbie’s comping could be piece by Ligeti or John  Cage. There is so much in-the-moment communication going on with this band that could not possibly be planned. This recording is a testament to the profound connection a band can make when they have been playing together every night for a long period of time. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that each one of them is a genius. (Also check out the other bootleg series box sets: Live in 1969 with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack Dejohnette! And Freedom Jazz Dance with tracks from the Miles Smiles sessions)

3) John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: This record is probably on most people’s top ten list. I remember a time, early in my development, when I got up every morning, listened this record, and then practiced all day. Everyone talks a lot about Trane’s harmonic concepts, but what a genius he was at melodic expression. And his time-feel!! There are so many Trane solos where it is easy to imagine that he is preaching what he plays from the top of a mountain. What he says is so compelling and persuasive, I was easily converted to the church of John Coltrane. Listen to Pursuance and be struck by lightning. Listen to Psalm and feel a kind of grounding, meditative state. And then there is the one and only Elvin Jones! Another force of nature. You can listen to this record four times, each time focusing on only one member of the band, and you will learn something new every time. And now, in 2021, a lost, live recording of A Love Supreme will be released! What a gift!

4) Chick Corea – Now He Sings, Now He Sobs: It’s been 53 years since this recording was made and the music still sounds so modern and fresh, it might have been released just last year. I think we all wish that these three had recorded together more. For me, this record says: “This is what you can do with a piano trio”. 20th century music is well represented here, especially the moments when Chick plays alone. You can hear Stravinsky, Bartok, Nancarrow (Did Chick love Nancarrow’s work? I would love to find out!). Each of these three players is so immediately distinctive in their style. It swings hard, but in a different way than most music that came before it. Roy Haynes has such a clear, crisp, and beautiful touch. Miroslav Vitous is ferocious. It’s hard to believe that we now live in a world without Chick Corea.

5) Keith Jarrett – Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues: I almost don’t know what to say about these pieces. I think of them as eternal, euphoric, basically beyond words. There are other great recordings of these works, but I always come back to Jarrett’s version. Something about the sound of the piano, and the way the music seems to correspond to his solo improvisations. The strength of Shostakovich’s vision is astounding to me. Modeled from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, it is two and a half hours of music that varies in pace and complexity, and which seems to have emerged from the universe perfectly formed. Prelude No 1 can, by itself, change your state of mind in seconds. Shostakovich considered these works to be “for the desk drawer”, which means that he was composing them for himself, since Soviet officials would not approve of them. When performed for the panel of the Soviet Union of Composers, many members expressed displeasure at the fugue’s dissonance, and claimed that they were too “Western”. Which is ironic, because this music seems both universal and, at the same time, distinctively Russian. Given the adversity Shostakovich faced, it seems like a kind of miracle that these pieces, along with his 15 string quartets, even exist.

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