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)

Max Roach and Clifford Brown: Study in Brown (EmArcy, 1955)

Max Roach and Clifford Brown: <i>Study in Brown</i> (EmArcy, 1955)

One of the most cerebral yet visceral of all jazz drummers, Max Roach brought great skill and fierce intelligence to bebop, then expanded his role for the decades that followed. From the civil-rights era call to action We Insist! to the M’Boom ’80s orchestral masterpiece Collage, he pushed jazz to some of its greatest heights. Study in Brown is a watershed moment. The drummer matches the master trumpeter bar for bar, his streamlined, propulsive time-keeping like a cool blast of air at 400 RPM. Roach’s drums are very well-recorded for a mid-’50s release, making it easy to relish the burning “Cherokee,” its ride cymbal and snare dancing cleanly and delicately as “Brownie” blows fusillades of trumpet brilliance. Roach’s brief solo spot here is a master class in form, dynamics, speed, musicality, and soul.

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.