1961 in Music

List of music reviews for music originally released in 1961.

1. John Coltrane, My Favorite Things (10/10)

This was his major statement in modal jazz (post-King of Blue and pre-A Love Supreme).

It was also the first jazz album in ages to showcase a soprano sax. It stands as one of the highlights of the genre and his performances of the standards herein are now the now-standard versions.

2. John Coltrane, The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (10/10)

[Rather than review the original album, I am commenting on the entire collection of these dates]

When Coltrane and his “quartet” recorded these performances, he was just releasing Ole Coltrane, so I think it’s safe to say that much of what was heard here came as a shock to anyone in the audience who wasn’t constantly seeing him live.

Read the rest of the review.

 3. Ahmed Abdul-Malik: The Music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik (10/10)

The things that get ignored in the world. I mean, seriously. This is crazy shit. But there is exclusion even in the counter culture. So maybe free and modal were both big, but maybe embracing the sounds of other cultures wasn’t. I don’t know, I wasn’t alive. Anyway: crazy stuff, this.

3. Bill Evans: Sunday at the Village Vanguard (10/10)

This and its sister album are interesting in that, though piano jazz albums, they both are important albums in the development of jazz bass playing, this one especially. And though we are likely to seek out both to here Evans subtle reinterpretation of bop piano playing, there is equal reason to seek out this one in particular for the bass playing. It’s not just that this style of bass playing was relatively new – LaFaro was one of the earliest players to treat it more like a guitar in solos but not the first – but that you can here it so well. And I guess that’s what makes this particular date in jazz history on which both albums were recorded so special: this is clearly a band at their very peak and it’s a shame they weren’t ever to record again.

3. George Russell: Ezz-thetics (10/10)

Too avant garde really to be post bop but too obviously bop / modal (too often) and too traditional to be truly considered part of the “new thing” (i.e. free), this one really defies categorization.

But that’s okay. The playing is excellent on all accounts and this sort of feels like a direction a lot of modern players are attempting – post bop that is aware of, and inclusive of free – despite the fact it was released in ’61.

Pretty wonderful stuff.

6. The Bill Evans Trio: Waltz for Debby (10/10)

This is one of those albums that is perhaps too subtle for its own good. You put it on and you don’t really notice its radicalism because it’s piano jazz and because Evans’ out-of-the-box-ness has been absorbed so much into jazz that it is now cliche. And Evans himself never really grabs the spotlight or forces you to pay attention (LaFaro does). And if you don’t pay attention, you are left wondering what the big deal is.

There is a healthy dose of Impressionism here and I think that helps explain this whole mood – which is almost too relaxed – but it also helps us understand why these sessions were such a big deal at the time. Who else was doing this really?

7. Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Mal Waldron, Richard Davis and Ed Blackwell: At the Five Spot, Vol. 1 (9/10)

At some level this is a pretty sad album as Little died almost immediately after this date, and Dolphy a few years later. We will never know what they might have done.

However, what they did do here is pretty fantastic. Dolphy is one of my favourite musicians and may be becoming my favourite saxophonist of the ’60s, at least on alto. I don’t know Little well but he holds his own against Dolphy. So does Waldron, though Waldron is certainly the least out there of the soloists.

It’s a pretty great set and it makes me want to get my hands on Volume 2.

8. Miles Davis: In Person Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, San Fransico Volume 2 (9/10)

A good set with one of Davis’ less well regarded bands. I particularly like Kelly’s playing here, and I don’t always love it.

9. The Gil Evans Orchestra: Out of the Cool (8/10)

I have this strange issue where I claim to absolute love jazz and the spirit of jazz – and therefore improvised music – and yet I can really get excited about orchestrated / arranged “jazz,” something that potentially can be the polar opposite of the “spirit” of the genre in the wrong hands. It’s really hard to know where to draw the line, especially on a track like “Where Flamingos Fly”; was that solo written completely by Evans? If so, is it still jazz???

But such concerns are silly and unnecessary. Regardless of how it was created, this is a great record that manages to touch on a lot of different sounds within the genre. And frankly I don’t detect quite the same stylistic continuation from the Davis collaborations as some other listeners. To me, it sounds like Evans is doing something dissimilar enough to let me forget about the Miles records, if only for 40 minutes.

10. John Coltrane: Coltrane Jazz (7/10)

It’s really tough to judge something like this out of context with all the recordings other recordings contained in the box set (i.e. out of order for the album). It’s an odd mix and feels a little out of sorts because of what came before and after.

11. John Coltrane and Milt Jackson: Bags and Trane (7/10)

This is Coltrane’s least ambitious Atlantic effort and there’s a reason: it was the first thing he recorded for them (and he recorded it with someone who, though he was the best at his instrument, wasn’t necessarily going the same direction). There’s certainly plenty to like here but it’s hardly revolutionary like much of his other Atlantic efforts.

12. Maurice Durufle: Prélude sur l’introït de l’epiphanie op. 13 (7/10)

This is a pretty classic-sounding prelude despite the modernness of it. Very brief, but I like it.

13. The Shadows (6/10)

The debut album by Cliff Richard’s backing band is a relatively solid selection of instrumentals and pre-British Invasion rock and roll. It’s easy to see why this was a big deal to a bunch of young, aspiring British guitarists. It’s much less of a big deal to someone listening to it 55 years later, as it sounds quaint, to put it mildly.

Listening to a pre-British Invasion record like this it’s easier to understand why The Beatles were such a big deal in 1962-3. The energy of American rock and roll hadn’t quite made it across the pond yet. But it’s well played and it was influential. Also: a bass solo. Also: a drum solo as a song, possibly the first ever. So that’s something.


1. Ray Charles: “Hit the Road Jack” (9/10)

Charles’ most iconic song is a classic catchy track with a fiery performance from Charles.

2. B.B. King: “Rock Me Baby” (9/10)

This begins with a piano guitar dual riff that is rather unique is his catalogue. I have heard this song in other versions but this one feels pretty strong – it’s a little slower and has a little more of a classic blues feel than some of the later versions. The playing is relatively gritty for BB.

3. Wanda Jackson: “Little Charm Bracelet” / “Riot in Cell Block Number Nine” (8/10)

The A-Side is a change for her, given that the traditional country ballad about lost love is the A-Side here. It’s a pretty great example of the style, one of her very best. The B-side is an old Lieber/Stoller song reworded to be about a women’s prison. It’s pretty dumb but I understand the appeal.

4. Ray Charles: “Unchain My Heart” (8/10)

This is another one of those vaguely Latin Charles numbers. It’s driven principally by that rhythm and Charles’ compelling vocal performance. The Raelettes vocals have dated badly.

5. Wanda Jackson: “Right or Wrong” / “Funnel of Love” (8/10)

This single is, to my knowledge, Jackson’s first major country hit. It’s more uptempo than most of her country ballads, and about love, rather than lost love, but beyond her compelling performance, the song isn’t very remarkable. I think I hear a vibraphone, though! The B-side bridges the gap between rockabilly (the vocal, the guitar) and the backing music (much more traditional country). It’s the real star here, much better than the A-side.

6. Ray Charles: “One Mint Julep” (8/10)

A weird soul jazz hybrid with Charles on organ instead of his usual piano (with no lead vocal!). Much more soul than jazz, it’s still kind of a bonkers fusion of Big Band, soul jazz organ and a party song. Weird but weirdly enjoyable.

7. Wanda Jackson: “In the Middle of a Heartache” / “I’d Be Ashamed” (7/10)

The A-side is so damn traditional, it’s gotta be one of her most traditional songs yet. It was an even bigger hit than “Right or Wrong” and the good news is that it’s a better song, despite the rather trite arrangement. The B-side is sort of like pop rockabilly: her vocal is pure rockabilly but everything else about it reeks of someone trying to understand rockabilly but failing, including more hilariously inappropriate backing vocals.

James Brown: “Lost Someone” (??/10)

Bo Diddley: “Pills” (??/10)