As a supplement to our July/August 2020 feature on the pedal steel in jazz, check out these seven twangy collections that are worth your time.
Asleep at the Wheel: Still Swingin’ (Capitol, 1994) – This box set contains three CDs: a greatest-hits disc, a Bob Wills tribute, and a 1977 live show that captures an 11-member version of the band at its jazziest, most powerful peak.
Various Artists: Secular Steel (Gaff, 2004) – Elliott Sharp curated this compilation of 18 steel guitarists, demonstrating how far the instrument can be pushed out of its comfort zone. Includes Susan Alcorn, Lucky Oceans, Nels Cline, Henry Kaiser, Eugene Chadbourne, and Sharp himself.
Campbell Brothers: Can You Feel It? (Ropeadope, 2005) – The Campbell Brothers haven’t officially released their version of A Love Supreme yet (though live takes exist on YouTube), so the best place to hear the jazz side of their playing is on this disc, featuring John Medeski as keyboardist and producer.
Bill Frisell: Disfarmer (Nonesuch, 2009) – This project, one of Frisell’s greatest achievements, features the quartet of himself, Greg Leisz, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and bassist Viktor Krauss. Frisell wrote the music for a retrospective of Mike Disfarmer’s photographs of rural Arkansas, but the elegant, evocative music transcends its source.
Susan Alcorn: Soledad (Uma, 2015) – Alcorn’s translation of Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango compositions into solo pedal steel pieces showcases the musician at her most lyrical.
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: I Long to See You (Blue Note, 2016) – The debut album from this lineup (Lloyd, Frisell, Leisz, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland) uses several folk songs and Lloyd compositions to show how much legato lift the steel guitar can bring to jazz.
Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh: Crowmoon (Bandcamp, 2020) – With the help of various effects pedals, Leigh enticingly explores the pedal steel’s spaciness potential, backing up Brötzmann’s gruff pronouncements on various reed instruments.