The top 10 albums of 1954, which includes four of the most influential artists of the decade securing the top four spots.
10. The Tin Angel (Odetta & Larry)
Combining influences of folk, country and Gospel spirituals, this underrated classic of salt-of-the-earth blues finds now-famous Odetta partnering with who-the-hell-is-Larry? for raw lo-fi editions of timeless Lead Belly, enduring Blind Blake and a few classic Woody Guthrie’s. The rest are all traditionals ranging in origin from the mid-19th century to the early 1940s. More of an artifact than a timeless masterpiece, but an enlightening listen nonetheless.
9. Grand Jacques (Jacques Brel)
“Discounting classical music (Debussy, Messaien, etc.) and one-half of Stereolab (the incomparable Lætitia Sadier), Jacques Brel is quite possibly France’s finest musical export.” (<<<LINK>>>)
8. After Hours with Miss D (Dinah Washington)
Genre: Vocal Jazz
Washington’s voice is extremely powerful, blending blues, pop and jazz instincts into a singular expression of mass appeal. The music that backs her up often matches her intensity, most notably on the extended version of “Blue Skies.” But I think it is the organ performance on “Am I Blue” that really steals the show. Wish it was given more prominence in the final mixdown.
7. Al Haig Trio (Esoteric) (Al Haig)
“The usual suspects steal the show: an effervescent rendition of “Moonlight in Vermont,” the serene melancholic phrasings of “Autumn in New York,” a dreamily upbeat “Body and Soul” (of which the final two minutes reach sublime levels of pianissimo).” (<<<LINK>>>)
6. Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (Louis Armstrong)
Out of all LPs released in 1954, Satchmo’s tribute to the influential blues pioneer is by far the most fun. In fact, this may be the most amusing and lighthearted album of the entire decade.
5. A Night at Birdland Vol. 1 (Art Blakey)\
Genre: Hard Bop
For all my Max Roach praise, Art Blakey’s performance on his first Night at Birdland LP may rank equal to the best that Roach ever recorded. Clifford Brown, too, delivers passionate solos that are among the trumpeter’s signature works. But the proceedings are anchored by Horace Silver, the pianist who pens the concert’s two best tracks — “Split Kick” and “Quicksilver.” Like Jazz at Massey Hall or Ellington at Newport, Art Blakey’s Night at Birdland captures a rarified live atmosphere that translates perfectly to record.
4. Songs for Young Lovers (Frank Sinatra)
“Songs for Young Lovers finds Sinatra giving one of the greatest and most tender vocal performances of his career, kickstarting a sustained run of greatness that launched him into the stratosphere of 20th century icons.” (<<<LINK>>>)
3. Thelonious Monk Trio (Thelonious Monk)
“Monk’s dissonant, slightly off-kilter chord progressions are warm and welcoming despite their occasional harsh atonality.” (<<<LINK>>>)
2. Clifford Brown & Max Roach (Clifford Brown & Max Roach)
Genre: Hard Bop
“Brown stakes his claim as the greatest trumpeter alive, but Roach is even more impressive…It is only because of alphabetical aesthetics that he doesn’t receive top billing.” (<<<LINK>>>)
1. Birth of the Cool (Miles Davis)
Genre: Cool Jazz
“Recorded in three separate sessions from 1949 to 1950 (and released as a 10” LP in 1954), Birth of the Cool laid the foundations for all major jazz developments in the decade that followed. From the proto-Mingus post-bop of “Israel” to the modal “Venus de Milo” at the album’s center, Davis rewrites the rulebook of what is and isn’t possible.” (<<<LINK>>>)