Jazz music is a language of its own, and it's pretty well accepted that a language is best learned through immersion. There are thousands of fantastic small group records out there, and I've compiled a smattering of classics to get you started. This is by no means a complete list, and I hope to bring you more soon. Until then, in no particular order, here's 12 albums you should hear.
Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter
What a record. Featuring (among others) the great Elvin Jones, this collection of tunes showcases the innovative compositions of shorter propelled by one of the best rhythm sections in the business.
Wayne Shorter - saxophones; Freddie Hubbard - trumpet; Herbie Hancock - piano; Ron Carter - bass; Elvin Jones - drums
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
The best-selling jazz album of all time, and a game-changing moment in music. Jimmy Cobb's playing set the standard for groove - check out the transcription of the tune below!
Miles Davis - trumpet; Cannonball Adderly - alto sax.; John Coltrane - tenor sax.; Bill Evans - piano; Paul Chambers - bass; Jimmy Cobb - drums
Clifford Brown and Max Roach
A nearly perfect recording from a nearly perfect pair of musicians. This record is a great introduction to the groundbreaking drumming of Max Roach.
Clifford Brown - trumpet; Harold Land - saxophone; Richie Powell - piano; George Morrow - bass; Max Roach - drums
Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins
The title says it all. Among many other things, Sonny penned the quintessential latin-jazz crossover tune to lead off this record, propelled yet again by the magnificent Max Roach.
Sonny Rollins - saxophone; Tommy Flanagan - piano; Doug Watkins - bass; Max Roach - drums
The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman
Jazz - or music - would never be the same. Ornette and his group invented the language called "free jazz", and Billy Higgins re-invented the drum set in the process.
Ornette Coleman - saxophone; Don Cherry - cornet; Charlie Haden -bass; Billy Higgins - drums
Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus
Its hard to narrow down the work of the Great Underdog - Mingus' work here is as good a representation as any.
John Handy, Booker Ervin, Shafi Hadi - saxophones; Jimmy Knepper - trombone; Horace Parlan - piano; Charles Mingus - bass; Dannie Richmond - drums
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
The great Sphere, with a great collaborator. Monk recorded so much music with the best jazz players around, and this one is no exception. The album features Shadow Wilson AND Art Blakey on drums!
Thelonious Monk - piano; John Coltrane - saxophone; Wilbur Ware - bass; Shadow Wilson - drums
A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
The Gospel according to John. This is arguably the greatest jazz record of all time, featuring the greatest jazz drummer of all time. In my humble opinion.
John Coltrane - saxophone; McCoy Tyner - piano; Jimmy Garrison - bass; Elvin Jones - drums
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs by Chick Corea
Some high-level stuff here. This trio sounds bigger than most larger bands, and delivers some insane tones and techniques. Dig that flat ride cymbal!
Chick Corea - piano; Miroslav Vitous - bass; Roy Haynes - drums
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
If you have ever even touched a guitar, you need to own this record. There's a specific art to backing up a guitarist, and the rock solid Heath brothers more than deliver.
Wes Montgomery - guitar; Tommy Flanagan - piano; Percy Heath - bass; Albert Heath - drums
Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
They don't make records like they used to. Brubeck explored colors, styles, and time signatures like none other, and the Quartet handled them with an unmatched powerful delicacy.
Dave Brubeck - piano; Paul Desmond - saxophone; Eugene Wright - bass; Joe Morello - drums