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)

Jeff 'Tain' Watts: Citizen Tain (Columbia, 1999)

Jeff 'Tain' Watts: <i>Citizen Tain</i> (Columbia, 1999)

The most thunderous jazz drummer since Elvin Jones, Jeff “Tain” Watts is a perpetually percolating engine of power, brains, wit, humor, and raging swing. Tain came to popularity with the bands of Wynton and Branford Marsalis, but by the time of his own official debut album he needed no front man for validation. Citizen Tain blasts off with “The Impaler,” a juggernaut of Afro-Cuban assault and airy swing bravado, Tain stomping toms, bass drum, cymbals, and the other musicians as they struggle to survive and not, well, be impaled. As pleasureful as Tain’s explosions is his sturdy time-keeping; he sails like a rugged schooner on the trail of killer whales in the Atlantic. The lovely “Pools of Amber” and “MLK Shake-Up Call” provide brief respite, which is soon cast off with the Coltrane-ish “Sigmund Groid” and the mischievous closing message “Blutain’s Big Adventure.” Tain’s Bar Talk, Folk’s Songs, Wattify, and Travel Band - Detained in Amsterdam are equally required listening.

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.