1) Bill Evans; Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1958)
Only Evans’ second album, during a period where he recorded very sporadically. Being around the time he joined Miles Davis’ band, Evans used Davis’ rhythm section for these recordings. Highlighted by some pretty fiesty piano playing for Bill, plus a nice solo rendition of his original, “Peace Piece.”
2) Chick Corea; Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968)
Like Evans, this is only Corea’s second album as a leader (I think). Already, all the pieces fell into place for a true classic: strong compositions like “Matrix”, “Windows” and the brilliantly performed title cut. A powerful trio rounded out by Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes. And to top it off, Corea’s own playing revealed a 26-year-old pianist coming into his own with virtuosic abilities. He still had a lot of great albums ahead of him, but I don’t think he ever topped this one.
3) Keith Jarrett; Expectations (1971)
Known primarily for his solo piano improvisional concerts in the seventies and the standards trio since the mid-eighties, Keith Jarrett throws us a curve relatively early in his career with a album that is varied in his band configuration and music styles. He even plays the organ and soprano sax on some tracks. The amazing thing is, he does all of it convincingly.
4) Herbie Hancock; Takin’ Off (1962)
The debut record by one of jazz’s most important keyboardists since 1960. While later Blue Note releases such as Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles get all the accolades, the first time out finds Hancock always fully formed as both a classically-influenced jazz pianist and a serious composer. This is where the much-covered “Watermelon Man” first appeared. The bonus is having a horn section of Dexter Gordon and Freddie Hubbard, during a period when they were both recording excellent albums themselves.
5) Dave Brubeck; Jazz: Red, Hot And Cool (1954)
Time Out notwithstanding, the Dave Brubeck Quartet always seemed to play the hottest/coolest in live settings…thus the title is appropo. Move than five years before that masterpiece, the quartet was already experimenting a bit with time in the opener “Lover”. But throughout, it’s a great relaxed set with the band already working well together, and includes Paul Desmond’s unmistakable buttery tone.
I almost chose Live At Carnegie Hall over this one, but Red, Hot & Cool is the sentimental favorite because my dad owned two scratchy vinyl copies of it and Columbia chose not to reprint it in CD format until very recently. But if you come across Carnegie, by all means, get it, too.