Top 50 European Jazz Albums

by admin on November 30, 2008

I am asked periodically by acquaintances who know little about jazz to recommend a list of top albums to get them started.  Now that  I am involved in writing a dissertation/book based on research in Europe, I get the same questions about European jazz, this time from fellow music scholars: what does it sound like? who are its key players and innovators? what are its canonic recordings?

My stock answer is that as an ethnomusicologist I am less interested in canon than in broader social phenomena that make a wide range of music possible.  However, I must confess that collecting so-called “essential” European jazz recordings has been a pet project of mine for a number of years now.  This work dovetails with my theoretical interests: how does one reconcile a massive history and a huge stylistic range of avant-garde, folk- and commercially- oriented jazz recordings with the idea of Europe?

I am lucky enough to be able to rely on the opinions of the many European jazz musicians and critics who have spoken to me about their musical preferences and influences.  Here are fifty jazz recordings that have helped “European jazz” to coalesce, however associated with one particular country, region, label or era each album may be.   Think of these as albums that Europeans (and plenty of Americans) tend to rally around.

Note that the list below is not necessarily a list of the “best” albums, nor does it represent the “whole” of European jazz, although I try to canvas a wide range of styles, countries and historical periods in the interest of exposing the reader to as many artists as possible.  In this spirit I have also avoided listing more than one album by any single musician.  I intend to expand this list to 100 in due time.

Lists such as these are interesting precisely for the debates they stir.  As with all of the lists on this site, I would greatly appreciate knowledgeable feedback. Many of these albums will be covered in detail in separate posts.

  1. Django Reinhardt: The Classic Early Recordings (1934-1939) JSP Records
  2. Keith Jarrett: Belonging (1974) ECM
  3. Jan Johannson: Jazz på Svenska (1962) Verve
  4. Globe Unity Orchestra and Guests: Pearls (1977) FMP
  5. John McLaughlin: Extrapolation (1969) Polydor
  6. Peter Brötzmann: Machine Gun (1968) FMP
  7. EST: Tuesday Wonderland (2006) ACT/Emarcy
  8. Eric Dolphy, Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennik: Eric Dolphy’s Last Date (1964) Polygram
  9. Masqualero: Masqualero (1983) Odin
  10. Lars Gullin: Lars Gullin Vol 1-9 (from 1955) Dragon Records
  11. Ganelin Trio: Poco a Poco (1978) LEO Records
  12. Bengt-Arne Wallin: Old Folklore in Swedish Modern (1962) (re-release on ACT as The Birth and Re-Birth of Swedish Folk Jazz)
  13. George Russell et. al: Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature (1980) Strata-East
  14. Azimuth: Azimuth/Touchstone/Depart (1994) ECM
  15. Kenny Wheeler: Song for Someone (1973) PSI
  16. Jan Garbarek: Witchi-Tai-To (1973) ECM
  17. Vienna Art Orchestra: European Songbook (1995) BMG
  18. Albert Mangelsdorff Quintet: Tension/Now Jazz Ramwong (1963-4) CBS
  19. The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band: Sax No End (1967) MPS
  20. Tomacz Stanko Quartet: Suspended Night (2004) ECM
  21. Manfred Schoof: European Echoes (1969) FMP
  22. Gunter Hampel Group: Music From Europe (1966) ESP
  23. Kryzsztof Komeda: Astigmatic (1965) Power Brothers
  24. Italian Instabile Orchestra: Skies of Europe (1994) ECM
  25. Michael Gibbs, et al: Europeana (1991) ACT
  26. Edward Vesala: Ode to the Death of Jazz (1989) ECM
  27. Tubby Hayes: Mexican Green (1967) Fontana
  28. George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band: The Band Recorded Live (1976) MPS
  29. Lionel Hampton, Tete Montoliu et al: Jazz Flamenco (1956) RCA
  30. Enrico Rava: The Pilgrim and the Stars (1975) ECM
  31. Mezzoforte: Anniversary Edition (2007) BHM Productions
  32. Henri Texier/Louis Sclavis/Aldo Romano: African Flashback (2006) Label Bleu
  33. Gianluigi Trovesi: Round About a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999) Enja
  34. Schweizer/Lewis/Leandre/Nicols/Sommer: The Storming of the Winter Palace (1988) Intakt
  35. Bugge Wesseltoft: New Conceptions of Jazz (1996) Jazzland/Verve
  36. St. Germain: Tourist (2000) Blue Note
  37. Pierre Favre Trio: Santana (1972) FMP
  38. Django Bates: Like Life (1998) Storyville
  39. Ericka Stucky: Suicidal Yodels (2007) Traumton
  40. Nils Landgren Funk Unit: Paint it Blue (1997) ACT
  41. Bojan Zulfikarpasic: Xenophonia (2006) Label Bleu
  42. Rudd/Lacy/Mengelberg/Carter/Bennik: Regeneration (1982) Soul Note
  43. Till Brönner: Blue-Eyed Soul (2002) Verve
  44. Stefano Bollani: Concertone (2005) Label Bleu
  45. Willem Breuker Kollektief: Live at the Donaueschingen Music Festival The European Scene (1977) MPS
  46. Grapelli/Petrucciani/Mraz/Haynes: Flamingo (1996) Dreyfus
  47. Supersilent: 6 (2003) Rune Grammophon
  48. Ornette Coleman and Joachim Kühn: Colors: Live from Leipzig (1997) Polygram
  49. Julien Lourau: Gambit (2000) WMA
  50. Solveig Slettahjell: Good Rain (2006) ACT

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

matthias December 16, 2008 at 7:34 am

What about “Tension” by the Albert Mangelsdorff Quintett?


badbares December 18, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Found it coupled with Now Jazz Ramwong. Added it. I might also have included his Trilogue Live! with Jaco Pastorius and Alphonse Mouzon–a really, really interesting collaboration on the MPS label where they settle on a musical common ground that sounds like none of them individually.


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