01 24, 2017

25 Best Hip-Hop Albums on Freegal

By |2017-01-24T06:00:01-05:00January 24, 2017|

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Want to listen to some of the best hip-hop music ever recorded without spending money on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal or—you know—CDs?

Try Freegal. It lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

And it’s free with your library card.

Here are 25 of our favorite hip-hop albums you can start downloading right now from Freegal:

  1. Nas, Illmatic:

Nas has crafted a lot of brilliant music, but he’s forever chasing his debut. Illmatic has a Mount Rushmore of hip-hop producers—Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip, and L.E.S.—serving their best beats to an apex MC. In return, Nas wrote a debut album that plays like a greatest hits.

For more Queensbridge classics, check out AZ’s The Format.

  1. Outkast, Aquemini

Listen, you can argue that pretty much any Outkast album is their best (except for Idlewild, and even that one has its moments.) Maybe you prefer the stoned grooves of ATLiens, the laid-back funk of SouthernPlayalistic, the bombast and exploration of Stankonia, or the big hits of Speakerboxxx/Love Below. But Aquemini has that perfect seasoning: just enough soul, just enough funk, just enough mind-blowing bars, and slinky grooves. It earned every one of its 5 mics.

For more Dungeon Family, listen to Goodie Mobb’s classic debut or the entire family’s Even In DarknessIf you really feel like digging in the crates, Freegal also has Society of Soul’s Brainchild.

  1. A Tribe Called Quest, Low End Theory

There’s no such thing as an inconsequential Tribe album. (Even The Love Movement had “Find a Way.”) Start with Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders, but don’t forget their newest joint. We Got It From Here is probably Tribe’s third or fourth best album; and, when your discography is this good, that’s high praise.

For more Native Tongues, check out Jungle Brothers’ Straight out the Jungle.

  1. Fugees, The Score

The Fugees knew no boundaries. They mixed Roberta Flack, Bob Marley, and Delfonics with the type of Jersey bars that would make Redman proud. Freegal also has most of Wyclef JeanLauryn Hill, and Pras’ solo work for streaming and download. (Don’t laugh at poor Pras. “Ghetto Supastar”—the song, at least—is a classic.)

  1. E-40, The Hall of Game

E-40’s discography can intimidate because of his prolificness. Where do you start when the guy drops a double album every six months? Start with The Hall of Game. Not only does it have the big hit—”Player’s Ball” with Too $hort—it has one of 2Pac’s best guest verses ever on “Million Dollar Spot.”

For more Yay Area, listen to The Best of Celly Cel or E-40’s work with The Click.

  1. Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded

KRS-One is a Top 5 MC, dead or alive, and he has been since Criminal Minded. He single-handedly whooped The Juice Crew (or, at least Marley Marl and MC Shan) with the still lethal battle raps/history lessons “Bridge Is Over” and “South Bronx.”

The rest of BDP’s discography is vital too and don’t sleep on KRS’s solo material. Personal favorite: the DJ Premier-laced “MCs Act Like They Don’t Know” from his self-titled album.

  1. UGK, UGK (Underground Kingz)

While the self-titled album isn’t UGK’s best record—that’s Ridin’ Dirty, hands down—it is their crowning achievement. After more than a decade of toiling as regional champions, Pimp C and Bun B were finally feted with a double album that celebrated their supremacy.

  1. Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang

It’s difficult to stress just how much Wu-Tang Clan changed hip-hop, not just the music but the culture. Those sped-up soul samples you love? RZA did it first on “Tearz.” Everyone having their own clique/record label/clothing company? Wu-Tang did it first.

For more Shaolin goodness, check out RZA’s The Man with Iron Fists soundtrack or Inspectah Deck’s newest group, Czarface.

  1. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury

Clipse would still be the most terrifying tandem in hip-hop since EPMD if they didn’t have their pick of Neptunes beats. And “Wamp Wamp” and “Mr. Me Too” are as fresh and funny as they are fierce.

For more Re-Up Gang, check out Pusha T’s Fear of God II.

  1. Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

The lyrical wunderkind of Odd Future Gang returned from exile in Samoa and kept rapping like he never disappeared. Vince Stapes, Mac Miller, RZA, Frank Ocean, and other Odd Future cohorts contribute, but this is Earl’s coronation. Also listen to his I Don’t Go Outside.

  1. Common, Resurrection

Before he was a Soulquarian or down with Kanye (but after that weird debut where he aped Das EFX), Common Sense was resurrected. “I Used to Love H.E.R.” is a revelation that launched a career but the entire album shares Common’s brilliance and insight.

For more Capital-L Lyrics, listen to Dead Prez’s Let’s Get Free.

  1. XZIBIT, 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz

XZIBIT’s album budgets got bigger on Restless and Man V. Machine, but he never sounded better than on 40 Dayz‘ “What U C Is What U Get.” And what you get is hard-body bars over spine-cracking production.

For more Likwit Crew, check out The Alhaholiks.

  1. Big Punisher, Capital Punishment

Like so many other “big” rappers—Big L and Notorious B.I.G.—Big Pun only got two records to craft his legacy before dying. But Pun’s place in hip-hop was cemented after his debut album. Wyclef, Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, and more lined up to rap alongside the hottest thing out of the Bronx since KRS-One. (Don’t sleep on Yeah Baby either, if only for “100%.”)

For more BX PR hip-hop, enjoy Fat Joe’s Jealous One’s Envy.

  1. Big L, Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous

You need proof that life is capricious? Big L’s bandmates in The Children of the Corn, Mase and Cam’ron, are both multiplatinum superstars. But L, the most dexterous rapper in the clique, is murdered while working on his second album. At least he left us with this gem. (You can also hear a pre-fame Jay-Z on the posse cut “Da Graveyard.”)

For more Harlem, check out Harlem’s Greatest, a concise collection of Cam’ron’s best work before signing with Roc-a-Fella Records.

  1. MF DOOM, Operation Doomsday

Witness perhaps the greatest resurrection in hip-hop history. MF Doom went from that one guy in KMD (if you even heard of KMD) to a genre-expanding super villain. Doom produces like the love-less child of Prince Paul and Tom Waits, and he raps like he’s stringing together inside jokes. You either love it or you don’t get it. Either way, Doom doesn’t apologize.

For more production wizardry, listen to J Dilla’s The Diary and Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor.

  1. Scarface, The Diary

If Scarface never dubbed himself the king of the south, it’s because some people are too big for a throne. Scarface rapped about depression, mental illness, and the pains of poverty with the insight of a poet laureate. Start with The Diary, but his entire discography is hypnotic.

For more of H-Town’s finest, enjoy Devin the Dude.

  1. A$AP Rocky, Live.A$AP

A$AP Rocky is what happens a Harlem rapper grows to revere Rakim and Pimp C equally. He’s got bars for the purists—whatever that still means—but he also cultivates an aura of cool. He also put together the posse cut of a generation with “1 Train,” which features Kendrick Lamar, Big KRIT, Danny Brown, Yelawolf, Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson.

For more new New York, listen to Joey Bada$$ and A$AP Ferg.

  1. Lecrae, All Things Work Together

Lecrae is the best gospel rapper working. He’s the genre’s Al Green. He has all the skill and technique of his secular peers but uses his faith to craft his message. His autobiography, Unashamed, is also excellent.

  1. DJ Quik, Rhythm-Al-Ism

DJ Quik is more melodic than Dr. Dre, funkier than Madlib, and a better rapper than either of them. He goes through phases like a hip-hop David Bowie, and each phase is worth enjoying.

  1. Busta Rhymes, Genesis

Busta Rhymes sounds equally marvelous over The Neptunes and Dr. Dre, both of whom provide music for Genesis. (As a bonus, Freegal also has “Case of the PTA,” one of the best songs from Busta’s original group, Leaders of the New School.)

For more tongue-twisters, listen to Tech N9NE’s Anghellic.

  1. DJ Khaled, Major Key

You’re laughing, right? How does Khaled make the list when his only skill seems to be knowing famous people? Well, it turns out that having a fabulous rolodex is an enviable skill. Khaled collects contributions from Jay-Z, Drake, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Future, Busta Rhymes and… huh… Meghan Trainor. Didn’t see that coming.

For more too-big-too-fail music, enjoy Jermaine Dupri’s Life in 1472, which features Snoop Dogg, Slick Rick, Usher, Jay-Z, Nas, and Ma$e before he retired the first time.

  1. Mobb Deep, The Infamous

“Shook Ones Pt. II” is the anthem, but Havoc and Prodigy have a discography as deep as their Mobb.

For more New York rider music, check out M.O.P.’s discography or a Kay Slay mixtape.

  1. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Cole went double platinum without any features—no guest verses, no borrowed hooks. Not even his label boss, Jay-Z, accomplished that. And you can get it for free.

  1. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele

We mentioned Wu-Tang Clan 16 entries earlier, but Ghostface’s masterpiece of abstraction deserves its own spot. We still have no idea what he’s talking about on “Apollo Kids.” (This rap is like ziti?) It doesn’t matter. Perfection requires no explanation.

If you like that, check out Ghostface’s collaboration with Adrian Younge, Twelve Reasons to Die.

  1. Too $hort, Life Is… Too $hort

Much like life and the legendary Oakland MC, this list is too short.

Other Freegal playlists:

11 22, 2016

25 Classic R&B/Soul Albums on Freegal

By |2016-11-22T06:00:12-05:00November 22, 2016|

earth_wind__fire_2Do you like good music—some sweet soul music?

Want to listen to some of the best R&B music ever made without spending money on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal?

Try Freegal. It lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

And it’s free with your library card.

Here are 25 of our favorite R&B albums you can start downloading right now from Freegal:

1. Earth, Wind & Fire: That’s the Way of the World

Earth, Wind & Fire had a real claim to Best Band in the World in the mid-1970s, and this is them at their absolute best. “Shining Star” is them at their funkiest, “Reasons” is them at their most moving, and the title track still works as the band’s mission statement more than 40 years later.

When you’re done downloading That’s the Way of the World, check of the band’s live album, Gratitude.

2. Whitney Houston: Whitney

Whitney Houston had George Foreman’s propensity for naming things after herself. Hence, her albums Whitney and Whitney Houston. Which one you prefer comes down to taste. One album has “I Wanna Dance (with Someone who Loves Me)” and the other has “How Will I Know.” You should have both.

3. Babyface: Unplugged

Babyface wrote every R&B song that you love from the 90s. He sings them here with the help of some ridiculously talented friends. (Seriously, he opens the concert with Eric Clapton and closes it with Stevie Wonder.)

4. Mariah Carey: Daydream

Mariah Carey’s made a lot of hits, but there’s a good chance that your favorite Mariah song is on Daydream: “Always Be My Baby,” “Under the Stars,” “One Sweet Day,” and “Fantasy”—not the “Fantasy Remix” though, but you can get that for free too.

5. Usher: Confessions

It’s been long enough. It’s safe to listen to “Yeah!” again.

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6. Michael Jackson: Off the Wall

You probably already own Thriller and Bad. Go back to that incendiary moment just before Michael Jackson became the most famous person on the planet.

7. The Jacksons: Destiny

Want a hot take? Michael Jackson didn’t make his best jam with Quincy Jones or even while he was on Motown.

Jackson never jammed harder than on “Blame it on the Boogie.” Listen for free and see if you agree.

8. Toni Braxton: Secrets

If you’re slow-jam tape doesn’t have “You’re Makin’ Me High,” then you need to fix that problem immediately.

9. Sade: The Best of Sade

Speaking of slow jams…

10. T-Pain: Happy Hour—The Best of T-Pain

Didn’t like T-Pain when he was on the radio every six minutes? Go back. He’s better than you remember. He had a knack for melody that no amount of autotune can dilute.

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11. Beyonce: Dangerously in Love

Queen B’s “Crazy in Love” is still four minutes of audio adrenaline.

12. The O’Jays: Backstabbers

“Back Stabbers” and “Love Train” are the big hits, but this whole album exemplies the Gamble-Huff soul sound at its zenith.

13. John Legend: Love in the Future

John Legend quietly keeps getting better and better.

14. Aaliyah: Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number

The good news: Aaliyah’s debut is as good as you remember. The bad news: This will just make you miss her more.

15. D’Angelo & the Vanguard: Black Messiah

We all assumed that D’Angelo was going to go the way of Lauryn Hill, Yuri Norstein, or any other tortured artist who never quite fulfilled their promise. Then he reappeared with one of the best albums of the year.

16. Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics

Aretha Franklin’s version of “Rolling in the Deep” reminded Adele who had the throne first.

17: Luther Vandross: Never Too Much

Dance to “Never too Much,” then cry to “A House Is not a Home.”

raycharles198318: Ray Charles: Jazz Masters Deluxe Collection

Ray Charles is so incredible that Jamie Foxx won an Academy Award for imitating him.

19: Jamie Foxx: Unpredictable

Speaking of which, this and Ray were the one-two punch that announced Jamie Foxx was so much more than a funnyman.

19: Alicia Keys: The Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys gets plaintive on “You Don’t Know my Name,” fierce on “Karma,” and soulful on “If I Ain’t Got You.”

21: Az Yet: Az Yet

Babyface decided to build his own Boyz II Men. He got close, at least with “Last Night.”

22. Ginuwine: …The Bachelor

And now you have “Pony” stuck in your head.

23. The Delfonics: La-La Means I Love You

The Delfonics don’t get mentioned as often as The Temptations or Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes; but “Ready or Not,” “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind this Time” and the title track are stone-cold classics.

24: Chris Brown: Royalty

Sure, I guess.

25: Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

OK, Unplugged, the abandoned Fugees reunion, and those occasional soundtrack loosies never quite sated our thirst for more Lauryn Hill, but Miseducation is still perfect.

Other Freegal playlists:

08 23, 2016

25 Awesome Rock Albums on Freegal

By |2016-08-23T08:05:59-04:00August 23, 2016|

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Want to listen to some of the best Rock ‘N’ Roll music ever recorded without having to spend money on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal?

Some of the greatest rockers have their music available on Freegal, which is free to use if you have a Mentor Public Library card.

Freegal is one of the library’s digital services, which lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

Here are 25 of our favorite rock albums you can start downloading right now from Freegal:

  1. David Bowie—Blackstar

Rock’s foremost chameleon had new shades to offer right up until the end. His final album opens with an engulfing 10-minute suite, also named “Blackstar,” that stands with the best work from whichever era of Bowie you love most.

  1. Santana—Abraxas

Sure, you could always get the duets with Rob Thomas, Michelle Branch and Chad Kroeger. (Wow, Chad Kroeger? Huh.) But if you want raw, unfiltered Santana, then you want “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va,” and the rest of Abraxas.

  1. Nine Inch Nails—Hesitation Marks

Both sobriety and stability suit Trent Reznor surprisingly well. This is not Reznor: the angry, young addict with a predilection for darkness. This is Reznor: family man and Academy Award winner. Fortunately, it’s also Reznor, the genius.

  1. Journey—Greatest Hits

We promise not to load this list with hits collections. That’s too easy and worthless to anyone searching for deeper cuts. But Journey is one of the few bands where the hits serve as an excellent entry point, if only because we tend to forget how much they created beyond “Open Arms” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

  1. Dixie Chicks—Taking the Long Way

Wait a minute, you say. Dixie Chicks aren’t rock. They’re country or—worse—pop. They’re all three and more on their final album. Everyone from Rick Rubin to Keb’ Mo’ helped make Taking the Long Way; and, instead of becoming an incoherent mess, it sounds like seasoned professionals who have no use for the limits of genre. (And how rock-n-roll is that?)

  1. Aerosmith—Toys in the Attic

If Toys in the Attic consisted of nothing more than “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk this Way,” it would still be a classic. But the riffs and raunch last all album long.

  1. Janis Joplin—Pearl

Pearl, to put it mildly, is legendary. It birthed “Cry Baby,” “Mercedes Benz,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” Even the side cuts that never made the album are held in reverence.

  1. Foo Fighters—Foo Fighters

It’s hard to remember a time when Dave Grohl was thought of as only the drummer from Nirvana. It only took the opening triptych of the Foo Fighters’ debut—”This Is a Call,” “I’ll Stick Around” and “Big Me”—to realize that Grohl had a lot more in the tank.

  1. Judas Priest—British Steel

This is what a revolution sounds like. These are the first steps of metal conquering hard rock. This is the counterculture becoming the culture. This is also, incidentally, incredible music.

  1. Paul Simon—Graceland

After all the controversy dissipates—over whether Paul Simon promoted or stole from South African artists, whether he took “All Around the World” from Los Lobos, or whether Simon should have even recorded in Apartheid-riddled South Africa—all you have the music. And “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes,” “You Can Call Me Al,” and “Crazy Love, Vol. II” are eternal.

  1. Patti Smith—Horses

Patti Smith is rock ‘n’ roll in the Chuck-Berry sense mixed with beat poetry. It’s three chords and an appreciation for French symbolism, Van Morrison and Jim Morrison.

  1. Three Days Grace—Three Days Grace

Three Days Grace doesn’t trade in subtlety. The best song on their debut is called “I Hate Everything About You.” But rock need not be subtle, it need only rock. And this Canadian alt-rock band is direct, blunt and aggressive.

  1. Elvis Presley—The 70s Collection

This boxed set—culled from Presley’s 1970s recordings for RCA—probably isn’t what you think of when you remember Elvis. “Hound Dog” only appears as a snippet, “Don’t Be Cruel” is medley fodder. But that’s the point. Removed from his usual context, Presley proves equally adept with gospel, blues and Bob Dylan tunes.

  1. Heart—Little Queen

You remember “Barracuda” and “Kick It Out” and the other stadium rockers, but you may have forgotten “Treat Me Well” or “Dream of the Archer,” which border on folk music. Heart was equally adept at both decibel levels.

  1. Pearl Jam—Ten

We’re not here to argue that Ten was better than Nevermind or that Pearl Jam was better than its Seattle peers. Those are subjective arguments best left for another day. But here’s a fact: without Ten, alternative rock might have been a fad; with Ten, it became a movement.

  1. Bruce Springsteen—Born to Run

It’s hard to pick a favorite Springsteen album. You might prefer the accidental perfection of E Street Shuffle or the big hits of Born in the U.S.ABut Born to Run is where weariness began to replace nostalgia, and the conflict between romanticized youth and the realities of life has defined Springsteen’s music ever since.

  1. Cheap Trick—Heaven Tonight

Depending on your perspective, this is either the most aggressive power pop or the friendliest metal has ever sounded. It splits the difference between slick and slam. Also, “Surrender” remains the definitive Cheap Trick cut.

  1. Pink Floyd—The Dark Side of the Moon

Forget the Wizard of Oz gimmicks. This is a landmark album by brilliant musicians at the peak of their powers. It’s not necessarily better than The Wall or Wish You Were Here, but it’s a better introduction to Floyd for the uninitiated.

  1. Jimi Hendrix Experience—Are You Experienced?

Jimi Hendrix never released an inconsequential album, especially with the Experience; but the earthquake starts here. “Purple Haze,” “Foxey Lady,” “Manic Depression,” “Hey Joe…” this debut sounds like a Greatest Hits.

  1. Leonard Cohen—Songs of Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen and Jimi Hendrix have at least one thing in common: an indomitable debut. Cohen was already a fully formed poet when he first recorded his words with music. “Suzanne” and “Sisters” are some of his most indelible songs.

  1. Modest Mouse—The Moon & Antarctica

Ponderous is rarely a compliment, unless you’re describing a blue whale or Modest Mouse’s third album. The Moon & Antarctica is ponderous in two senses. One, it’s not afraid to have 9-minute suites that meander through moods. Two, it feels like a lot of contemplation and pondering when into the album. A self-consciously ambitious piece of mood music.

  1. Billy Joel—The Stranger

This was the hardest Billy Joel ever rocked. (Give or take “Pressure.”) Sure, it has the sweet-n-low “She’s Always a Woman,” but it also contains the impervious trifecta of “Movin’ Out,” “Only the Good Die Young,” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

  1. Redbone—Wovoka

Named after the founder of the Ghost Dance movement, this album is a spiritual experience. The big hit is “Come and Get Your Love,” but the title track and “Clouds in my Sunshine” are equally powerful.

  1. P!nk—The Greatest Hits… So Far

P!nk shed her pop beginnings (where her shtick was little more than a hair color) to inherit Joan Jett and Linda Perry’s thrones. She’s also one of the few artists who’s probably correct when she claims that she’ll have more than one volume of hits.

  1. The Allman Brothers Band—An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band (Second Set)

This was the fifth live album The Allman Brothers Band released and the direct sequel to another live show they recorded earlier in 1994, but these guys are consummate performers; and they can wring something new and exciting from their most familiar material.

 

06 11, 2016

25 Phenomenal Jazz Albums on Freegal

By |2016-06-11T08:16:27-04:00June 11, 2016|

jazz-63212_1920Want to listen or download some beautiful jazz music without having to spend money on iTunes or Spotify?

Several of best and most famous jazz artists of all time have their music available on Freegal, which is free to use if you have a Mentor Public Library card.

Freegal is one of the library’s digital services, which lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

Here are 25 of our favorite jazz albums you can download right now from Freegal:

1. Miles Davis—Kind of Blue

Where do you start with Miles, the guy who revolutionized jazz at least once a decade for 30 years?

Easy, you start with Kind of BlueBlue might not be his best album. After all, artistic rankings are subjective. And who are we to judge you if you prefer Bitches Brew, Miles Ahead or Porgy & Bess?

But Blue is the most important Miles Davis album—the one you own when you only have one jazz album. And here’s a big reason why: it’s eminently listenable. You don’t have to understand what modal jazz is to appreciate what Davis, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, and the rest of the band are doing.

We intellectualize jazz a lot. But sometimes you just got to feel it. If you have a pulse, you’ll feel Kind of Blue.

2. Herbie Hancock—Head Hunters

It’s apropos that the first song on this album is called “Chameleon,” because Herbie Hancock has never been afraid to change his shade. In his time, he’s been jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, classical and anything else he wants to be.

He gets funky here with the wiggling baseline of “Chameleon” and bottle-blowing cool of “Watermelon Man.” (By the way, if you love this side of Hancock, check out Secrets“Spider” and “Doin’ It” are two of the funkiest records he ever laid down.)

3. Nina Simone—Sings the Blues

This is raw, uncut Nina. Gone are the orchestras with which she used to perform. She’s pares back her instrumentation to a rhythm section and a harmonica, so the focus is entirely on her vocals.

And what vocals! On the first song, she asks, “Do I Move You?”

The answer is, “yes, now and forever.”

4. Abbey Lincoln—Abbey Is Blue

This is a beautiful set. Lincoln’s voice can get to very specific emotional place. She’ll walk a feeling right to the edge but never dip into hyperbole. It’s always real—big, bright and real.

Lincoln has a murderer’s row of players with her too, including bassist Sam Jones and drummer Philly Joe Jones and pianist Wynton Kelly (who you might remember from Kind of Blue’s “Freddy the Freeloader.”)

thelonious-sphere-monk-1281515_19205. Thelonious Monk—Solo Monk

If you love Monk, you love his idiosyncrasies—the atonal note smashes; stretching a meter until it nearly rips; re-recording “Blue Monk” for the millionth time.

But if you’re not already one of the converted, his musical quirks can be intimidating or off-putting. Solo Monk is a fantastic introduction to Monk because, while it doesn’t scrub away his weirdness or wonder, it all feels much clearer and less chaotic with a single instrument.

6. Rudresh Mahanthappa—Bird Calls

Mahanthappa revisits Charlie Parker here, drawing his inspirations from Bird’s songs, solos and sometimes even a single line. He combines that inspiration with everything from raga to post-bop to create something that’s indebted to the past but completely new.

7. J.J. Johnson—JJ Inc.

Finally, the trombone gets a little respect. This is hard-swingin’, hard-livin’ hard bop. Of the sidemen, trumpet player Freddie Hubbard, in particular, is spitting fire.

8. The Bad Plus—These Are the Vistas

When The Bad Plus played a jazz cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 2003, it was still a novel idea. (Yes, we know Herbie did it first; but he’s pretty much the jazz Simpsons.) But had you not known Nirvana, you might have thought it was a jazz standard.

But that’s these guys in a nutshell: innovative but in a way that still feels classic.

9. Mary Halvorson—Crackleknob

You’re in open water here. This is improvised, unpredictable and not always comforting music. There’s not always a melody to cling to or a big hook coming along to save you.

But if you’re ready to swim, there’s a lot to experience—blues, folk, and the beauty of a perfectly spontaneous moment.

sarah-vaughan-548963_192010. Sarah Vaughan—Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi

This is Sarah Vaughn—she of the mellifluous voice and malleable phrase—at one of her peaks. A young Miles Davis accompanies.

11. Charles Mingus—Mingus Ah Um

Mingus Ah Um is the rare album that works as both an introduction and a summation. If you don’t know Mingus, start here. If you love Mingus, you can always return here too.

And “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” is audio hot sauce, now and forever.

12. Oscar Peterson—Plays the Jerome Kern Songbook

Peterson is more of a stylist than songwriter, but he could take your songs and make them his. See also his takes on the Gershwin songbook.

13. Duke Ellington—Ellington at Newport ’56

Twenty-seven choruses! Paul Gonsalves slays “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” for 27 choruses! By the time his solo concludes, the crowd is nearly as loud as the saxophone.

14. Christian McBride—Conversations with Christian

This series of duets demonstrates McBride’s malleability while still letting his friends show off.

billie-holiday-1281326_192015. Billie Holiday—Lady in Satin

By this point in Holiday’s life (this is her second-to-last record), there was no sugar left in her voice. It was all salt and vodka. When she sings “Glad to Be Unhappy,” you believe her.

16. Cecile McLorin Salvent—WomanChild

Salvent has a way with a standard—you need her version of “John Henry” in your life—but she’s at her best when she’s writing the music too.

17. Myra Melford—Life Carries Me This Way

Her first solo piano album after 25 years of leading bands and collaboration. It’s a beautiful introduction for those who don’t know her music and a splendid surprise for those who do.

18. Branford Marsalis—Trio Jeepy

If you don’t think this is Marsalis’s best album, you’ll probably still concede it’s his most fun.

19. Bill Evans—Everybody Digs Bill Evans

Evans is at his best with Philly Joe Jones kicking his butt on drums. Without him, Evans sometimes meanders. Here, Jones— and equally important bassist Sam Jones—reminds Evans that he has higher gears.

ella-fitzgerald-1275553_192020. Ella Fitzgerald—Newport Jazz Festival Live at Carnegie Hall

You can’t summate an artist as prolific and excellent as Fitzgerald in a single recording, but this tribute/celebration concert is a great place to start. She’s measured and masterful but can still bring the ruckus on “Lemon Drop.”

21. Henry Threadgill—Carry the Day

An instance of the avant-garde meeting a major label, and the avant-garde emerging unscathed.

22. Moon Hooch—Moon Hooch

Don’t let Moon Hooch’s conservatory backgrounds or their pretentiously unpretentious song titles deter you. The music is as fun as it is accomplished.

23. Steve Coleman & Five Elements—Black Science

Steve Coleman is what you get when you mix free jazz with funky poly-rhythms and free-flowing mysticism.

24. Dave Brubeck—Time Out

Paul Desmond’s the first cat we heard to make 5/4 swing. Rarely have musical experimentations been this artistically (and commercially) successful.

25. Louis Armstrong—The Best of the Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings

Louis Armstrong sounds good in just about any setting—with nothing but a rhythm section or accompanied by an orchestra—but nothing tops the music he made with his original recording quintet and sextet.

If their best makes your want more, you can download The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings on Freegal, as well.

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