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Black Saint and the Sinner Lady – Charles Mingus

What can I say? Everyone knows this album is bad. But the first time I heard it, I was put in a trance. I remember where I was, walking up Convent Avenue on a warm May evening, isolated in my headphones, sun coming down... It’s just so raw, so un-inhibited, so focused in the desire to express what is in the soul. Mingus is my soul-mate (I feel), and I love everything he’s done, but this album is so special. It’s tortured, it’s in love, it is anger that morphs into creation. On a technical level, it helped me understand landscaping in long-form composition. It actually encouraged me to write longer form pieces for big band, giving me some kind of road-map. I suggest reading the liner notes. You can even find PDFs of the original manuscript online.

Requiem in D minor – Gabriel Fauré (Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus, John Birch, Sir Neville Marriner)

I sang this in the required choir class in college, straight out of high school, when I was not yet into jazz or composition, or anything really. I enjoyed the piece very much, but forgot about it. Some 4 years later, I remembered it. This is Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, I believe written and revised between 1887 and 1900. Let me just specify that I really like this recording because of the balance: none of the voices are over-powering and the orchestra sounds great.

So, I LOVE this piece because the harmonies and the general slowness really pull at my heartstrings. I am plunged (or rather lifted) into some kind of dark heaven (I’m not sure how else to put it). It’s just very sad, but always striving towards optimism (I guess that’s the purpose of a Requiem). Much of the piece is this great, begging, lament that shifts so smoothly yet unexpectedly from minor to major and back that you kept help but letting yourself go, whether listening or performing. Then there are the chords that you just don’t know... but they are chilling, especially in the vocals. Finally, the ecstasy of redemption... a beautiful and moving expression.  The entire text is in Latin, and I feel it’s useful to look up a translation to know what each movement is about. I come back to this piece a lot to lift chords but also just get deeper into the movement of it, the shapes and landscapes of the composition, and how to re-create that in a jazz setting.

Let's Talk About Love – Céline Dion

I know, it’s Céline Dion. But “Let’s Talk About Love” is, I believe, is the only album that I diligently listened to between the ages of 6 and 8, before shame put me off it. I would walk around the block listening to the cassette in my yellow walkman. I could sing all the lyrics of My Heart Will Go On, and I had just learned English. Anyway, in the past couple of years, I started listening to this album again purely from a sentimental standpoint. I realized, with a mix of pride and embarrassment, that I love the climactic pop arrangements and the intensity and determination with which she sings everything and anything! Céline is a powerhouse. There are many beautiful and well-written tunes on this, and several of them serve as encouragement for me when I’m feeling down or in need of direction. Love Is on the Way is one of those. Realizing this in myself serves as a reminder that music has healing power, so I keep that truth in mind when I write. And never forget your inner child!!

Let's Get Free – dead prez

I was introduced to dead prez and “Let’s Get Free” a couple years ago. After hearing one track, “It’s Bigger then Hip Hop”, I quickly bought the album. Now I’m slowly digesting it. This is raw, real hip hop, true reality. No room for “interpretation”. It is clear from the intro what the artists are about: exposing white imperialism, and organizing Black, Brown and oppressed nationalities to change the status quo by any means necessary. This is art for the people: informing us, exposing all, and broadening horizons.
Their lyrics are to the point and un-metaphorical, while leaving much room for the mind to imagine and empathize with the stories. dead prez speak of community control, socialism, communism, mass incarceration, police brutality, government corruption, “education”...  issues that too few artists  really address. dead prez achieves this with much detail and practicality, NO APOLOGIES. This is the kind of album that makes you want to research every line and learn what it’s all about. Besides for politics, this album is also a lesson on healthy living, discipline, and the simple pleasures of life and making love. It’s bigger then hip hop, bigger then jazz. Music has much power of communication and action. I’m trying to figure out how to get this through in my own music.

Ain't Necessarily So – Andy Bey

THE MOST UNDERRATED CAT!!! Too few people know about Andy Bey, master vocalist and pianist. You can catch him at Zinc Bar or Fat Cat or some other dive, maybe once a month (he’s very difficult to track). I think I found this album on iTunes randomly while searching for a tune. I need not praise his technical prowess and fresh pianisisms, you can do that yourself. But this man moves me:  I cried when I heard him live, and I still cry listening to the ballads off this album, like Hey, Love, On Second Thought, and Someone To Watch Over Me. I feel like he’s telling the most personal, painful and ecstatic secrets just to me. All the joys and disappointments of life seem to be contained in this album. The real-life tempos, the way he presses a word, how he soars to emotional sonic heights... it’s beautiful. Please, buy his music, get acquainted, he is such a gem.

Liberté-Anne Lymberiou is a composer, vocalist and pianist from Montreal, now living in NYC. She is the founder and leader of The Liberty Big Band.