Here's some of what I've been grooving on lately. Comments, suggestions, etc. always welcome.
Odell Brown and The Organ-izers: Mellow Yellow (Cadet)
This out-of-print album from 1967 features the Chicago-based (though Southern-born) quartet tackling Latin jazz. Brown's organ runs are rich and tasty, and the tenor sax duo of Duke Payne and Tommy Purvis is absolutely stellar, especially on a rave-up of Les Baxter's "Quiet Village."
Other standout cuts include "Que Son Uno," "Mas Que Nada," and a funky take on the title cut. Everything on this album is good, and a lot of it is truly great--iconic, in fact.
If you like danceable Latin-oriented sixties groove, with a little touch of modernist jazz, this is something you should try to find a way to check out.
The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby
In which a jazz harpist (odd enough already?) takes on epic poetry by Omar Khayyam...and wins!
The late Ms. Ashby, a musician of great dexterity, taste, and vision, would have already been guaranteed a place in my heart before this album for lovely songs like "Little Sunflower." But here, she outdoes herself.
Writing music to fit the lyrical and often strange works of Omar Khayyam, Dorothy created a masterpiece of "cosmic soul." With "Joyful Grass and Grape," "Wine," and "Drink," you can feel the languid lyricism, intoned in Dorothy's unique voice, and feel the touch of her fingers on harp strings.
In addition, she also brings the Japanese koto into the middle Eastern atmosphere and makes it work.
The backing arrangements are sensitive and satisfyingly "Eastern" without being overdone, and the final song, "The Moving Finger," is one of the great afro-psychedelic joints of all time, with Cash McCall's guitar fuzzing out the game and Stu Katz vibing the whole thing into freak-out land.
Yvonne Daniels, a former DJ on WSDM, WVON, and WLS (whom I remember listening to in my childhood), provides the liner notes.
This is still in print, including (!) a limited edition in vinyl. Essential stuff, in my mind, for deep meditation, relaxation, and for understanding the phenomena of acid jazz and downtempo. It's music of its time, for sure, but also for this time.
Simon and Garfunkel, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
This is the one to get, sports fans. A great mix of the well known ("Homeward Bound," "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," "For Emily") and the undeservedly obscure ("Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall," "Poem On the Underground Wall," "Patterns," "Cloudy"), this 1966 elpee shows the duo at the height of their power, making intelligent, well-crafted pop music with adventurous instrumentation, charming harmonies, and a general lack of the pretense that sometimes has plagued Simon's songwriting.
Some (including my friend Jimmy Guterman) point to "The Dangling Conversation" as an example of the worst kind of pop songwriting and production, featuring as it does a very square string arrangement--but I think the detractors miss the point.
The song is a satire, a play on posh East-Coast sensibilities, and as such demands instrumentation relevant to the lyrics (classic American poetry, the theatre, etc.). I've always found the song rather touching, because the narrator, in his straitlaced ennui, knows something is desperately wrong. In fact, dread and misery are common threads in Simon's songwriting, and nowhere are they more perfectly matched with various musical shades and settings than here.
Oh, and if you're a vinyl junkie, the mono mix is the one to get.