CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

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)

Paul Motian: Monk in Motian (JMT, 1988)

Paul Motian: <i>Monk in Motian</i> (JMT, 1988)
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On such Bill Evans Trio classics as Waltz for Debby or Sunday at the Village Vanguard with bassist Scott LaFaro, the seeds of Paul Motian’s future iconoclastic drumming style can already be heard. By the time of 1973’s Conception Vessel, it’s confirmed: Motian’s playful, hard-swinging, jaunty, and at times volatile playing serves passion to an audience while keeping fellow musicians focused. Monk in Motian, with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell plus guests Dewey Redman and Geri Allen, is a prime example of his volcanic mastery. Leading with his riotous drumming as Lovano and Frisell paint wild interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s signature melodies, Monk in Motian provides enough thunder, anarchy, and humanity to alter your chromosomes. The trio albums with Lovano and Frisell are equally must-have Motian moments.

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.