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Top Five Neglected Jazz Masterpieces

Freddie Hubbard on the cover of First Light. (Courtesy of CTI Records)

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First Light [Bonus Track]

This recording is the father of adult-contemporary jazz music. The sound of Hubbard's flugelhorn on the classic "Moment to Moment" defined "smooth jazz" before there was such a term. Alongside "Moment to Moment" was the jazz jam classic "First Light," part of why this album was awarded a Grammy in 1972. Still a great listen today (with low lights and a fine wine), the disc features George Benson (guitar), Ron Carter (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums), with arrangements by Don Sebesky.

Jewel in the Lotus

In the midst of the high-energy jazz-funk of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters and the pre-electronica texture of the band which preceded it (Mwandishi) came this calm oasis of sound from Hancock's multi-reedman. In a way, it's a musical realization of a Buddhist aura of peace and contemplation — an aural masterpiece of breath and space. Before there was New Age music, there was The Jewel in the Lotus. Features Hancock himself, Buster Williams (bass) and Billy Hart (drums).

Now He Sings, Now He Sobs [Bonus Tracks]

The perfection of the jazz trio. For introducing "Windows" and "What Was." For introducing the flat ride cymbal into the arsenal of modern trio drummers. For setting the aural levels perfectly to truly capture individual instruments within the context of a trio recording. And for the consistent level of performance by Chick Corea (piano), Miroslav Vitous (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums). This record provides a bridge between Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner, leading into the future of the jazz trio.

Filles de Kilimanjaro

This is the LP that started jazz-rock fusion. But unlike later, more heralded albums from Miles Davis' catalog, "Phyllis D" (as some call this LP) was not made up of edits. Filles de Kilimanjaro is basically a symphonic work based on a few central keys (F and Bb). And if you want to hear the beginning of fusion drumming, check out "Frelon Brun" for Tony Williams' reworking of the boogaloo beat into something totally new and free. Avant-funk at its best. Also featuring Wayne Shorter (sax), Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (piano/keyboards), Ron Carter and Dave Holland (bass), and Gil Evans' arrangements.

Sweet Honey Bee

Perhaps the archetypical Blue Note Records LP, pianist Duke Pearson's classic swings throughout. The solos are precise and fit the energy and momentum of the music. And the compositions are all organized in a way to be effective in a narrative and yet hold up as singular songs. Pearson culls together premier musicians to play his tunes: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), James Spaulding (flute/alto sax), Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass) and Mickey Roker (drums). Pearson was also a noted arranger; his approach was somewhat conservative, but his point was to make the music work as a whole. All of the music fits the temper and character of the individual soloists. "Big Bertha" is one of the swinging-est tracks ever recorded for Blue Note, featuring a noteworthy Joe Henderson solo.

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