JazzTimes 10: Peak Jazz Drumming Albums

A tentet of terrific percussive displays

To use an age-old (but appropriate) simile, choosing the top 10 recorded examples of jazz drumming is like trying to pick your favorite child. Each has different traits that endear, in the same way various phases of a musician’s career yield different qualities of equally enjoyable fruit. The following recordings, ordered alphabetically by the drummers’ last names, (a) highlight a precise moment in the artist’s evolution, (b) frame them mid-stride in a defined stylistic arc, or (c) offer irrefutable evidence of genius. 

Honorable mentions: Ed Blackwell on Don Cherry’s El Corazón (ECM, 1982); Justin Brown: NYEUSI (Biophilia, 2018); Jon Christensen on Ralph Towner’s Solstice (ECM, 1975); Mike Clark on Herbie Hancock’s Thrust (Columbia, 1974); Billy Higgins on Jackie McLean’s Let Freedom Ring (Blue Note, 1963); Marcus Gilmore on Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest (Blue Note, 2018); Milford Graves on New York Art Quartet (ESP-Disk’, 1965); Jo Jones: The Drums (Jazz Odyssey, 1973); Kassa Overall: I Think I’m Good (Brownswood, 2020); Mickey Roker on Stanley Turrentine’s Easy Walker (Blue Note, 1968); Bill Stewart on John Scofield’s Swallow Tales (ECM, 2020); Art Taylor: A.T.’s Delight (Blue Note, 1960); Kenny Washington on Ralph Moore’s Round Trip (Reservoir, 1987)

Wayne Shorter: Night Dreamer (Blue Note, 1964)

Wayne Shorter: <i>Night Dreamer</i> (Blue Note, 1964)

Though he’s best known for his tumbling, triplet-based fulminations with John Coltrane’s classic quartet, Elvin Jones’ drumming on Wayne Shorter’s Night Dreamer is equally profound. To hear him navigate the intense dynamic shifts and melodic sorcery of these six songs is to hear a drummer as savant and seer. A Rosetta Stone in the art of dynamics, Jones is magical throughout, starting with the title track, its subtle 3/4 cadence held aloft by the drummer’s simmering ride cymbal and snare pulsations. Shorter’s solo opens the door through which Elvin explodes, his drums rocking, rolling, catapulting like a master boxer’s fists in flight. “Black Nile” charges out of the gate via Jones’ sandstorm-like buzz roll, and he launches ensuing sections with acerbic jabs and pops. The humid, otherworldly “Virgo” allows his brush mastery to shine, prodding the music with delicate lashings that sound like the wind. His playing keeps growing in intensity, plateau after plateau.

JazzTimes 10: The Composing Drummer (or the Drumming Composer)

Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.