The “Desert Island Question” – Top Ten Recordings and Most Influential Tracks on My Development


Lieb’s All Time Top Ten Recordings

This is of course the “desert island” question or more dramatically what would you take to jail or to the grave if you had to choose. The second article adds specific tracks that influenced me.


John Coltrane – Crescent
I have heard many musicians choose this as one of their favorite Trane recordings. For me it is as if the solos were written out–they are perfect in form, logic and full of passion. Also the stellar rhythm section attains a feel that is unique to them and among the most relaxed and swinging ever recorded.

John Coltrane – Live at Birdland
Until the many bootlegs were released, this recording along with Live at The Village Vanguard captured at least a bit of what it was like to see the group live, which I did many times. Remember, an LP was limited in duration, but on here, the soprano sax tracks (The Promise and Afro Blue) are incredible in their intensity.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Getting a lot of attention now as it should, this album both sums up the recent history of jazz to that time and looks ahead. Using the basic root of jazz which is the blues, set in a homogenous mood throughout and featuring some of the greatest soloists ever at their peak, this deserves to be the “milestone” it is.

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
This is my favorite all time recording across all idioms of music, beyond category. For me, music achieves its greatest success when it captures and portrays a vivid picture and feeling. Gil and Miles hit the mother lode here in an almost non-jazz way using their own vernacular and language to paint a picture of a rich and varied culture.

Miles Davis – Four and More
It is Miles and in particular the rhythm section which was made up of Williams, Hancock and Carter-all young and ready to burn-which excels. The live feeling is captured here and if anything, Miles was the quintessence of the spontaneous player who encouraged his bands to let things happen. Also among the fastest tempos you will hear!!

Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
Wayne is for me THE composer of our recent period as the compositions here demonstrate. They are melodic, intensely harmonic and challenging. The group of Hubbard, Jones, Carter, Hancock and Wayne play seamlessly with great interest and swinging ever so hard.

Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard
The group portrays a mood so strong that it is almost unnerving on this live recording. Delicacy, spontaneity, incredible group communication and some of the most gorgeous harmony ever played by the classic example of the modern piano trio.

Sonny Rollins – A Night at the Village Vanguard
Once again at the Village Vanguard which obviously was a delight for musicians to play in, along with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware, the sheer power and creativity of probably the greatest all around saxophonist who ever played is astounding on the recording. And you can just feel the spontaneity happening.

Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
Without being consciously programmatic, Maiden Voyage like Sketches of Spain creates a strong image through the highly sophisticated compositions and group approach of the players. Dolphin Dance and Maiden Voyage are classic compositions for different reasons, but in essence this is pure Hancock with his unique sense of harmony clearly demonstrated.

McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy
Yet another recording with Elvin Jones from the list, with Carter and Joe Hen along with McCoy, this is a burning real JAZZ album. The compositions are built for out and out blowing and to swing. It is Tyner’s revolutionary approach to harmony and melody which comes through very strong here.


I had a fantastic interview in Bremen, Germany for the radio there (thanks Arne). The idea was to trace my musical growth through a selection of the most influential recordings on my development. This is slightly different than the typical “desert island” question. It really made me think about exactly what music shaped my life. Here’s the list with some comments:

Crescent-Coltrane: poetry, passion, intensity and an incredibly swinging rhythm section at a slow and relaxed tempo, this performance sounds like it was written out beforehand, as it is so perfectly conceived.

One Up and One Down-Coltrane: captures the feeling of what it was to hear the classic quartet live in front of your eyes-beyond a tsunami and ultimately life affirming in its honesty and energy.

Afro Blue-Coltrane Live at Birdland: another track recorded live, this time on soprano which really conjures spirits of all kinds up to the surface.

So What-Kind of Blue-Miles:THE classic modal track of all time that set the stage for most of my life’s harmonic research.

Witchhunt-Wayne Shorter from Speak No Evil: once again with Elvin Jones on drums, featuring perfect solos from Wayne, Freddie and Herbie all demonstrating with economic note choices and incredible swing.

Maiden Voyage-Herbie Hancock: suspended chord harmony that invites lyricism and grace from all the soloists involved as well as a landmark harmonic tune at the time.

Passion Dance-McCoy Tyner from The Real McCoy: burning, chromatic McCoy with gutsy, swinging Joe Henderson and again Elvin Jones doing the THING he did so well.

Inner Urge-Joe Henderson: an unusual and challenging chord progression played to perfection by Joe and the band.

Concerto D’Aranjuez-Miles Davis from Sketches of Spain: from my favorite all time recording, this incredibly evocative arrangement and performance surpasses idiom, style and time immersing the listener directly into the rich culture of Spain.

Four-Miles Davis from Four and More: the burning M.D. rhythm section of the 60’s with Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, storm at a blazing tempo changing meters and feel at will.

Sonny Moon for Two-Sonny Rollins from Live at the Village Vanguard: the whole saxophone tradition is on view in one of the most rhythmically interesting solos ever heard-again with Elvin Jones. In fact, for all these ten jazz tracks, Elvin is the drummer on seven of them!!

Adagio For Strings-Samuel Barber: the essence of lyrical beauty where everything is right, in order and balanced; poignant and dramatic almost beyond one’s ability to perceive it-achingly beautiful would be the description.

String Quartet 131 in C# Minor-slow opening movement-Beethoven: this most moving music is the track that gave me a look into the depths that a human soul can convey-true passionate art.

Fifth Symphony-Adagio-Mahler: similar to the Barber, but in this case pathos and tragedy perfectly revealed through music.

Rock-Elvis:Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Don’t Be Cruel; Duane Eddy:“Rebel Rouser”, Otis Redding, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sly Stone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix : If 6 was 9; Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis: High School Confidential, Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On; Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gay, Little Richard : Long Tall Sally, Keep’ a  Knockin; some of the tracks and artists that accompanied my youth and personal life.

World music-Panallal Ghosh, Bismillah Khan, the Ali Bros, Vilayet Khan, Ravi Shankar, Bulgarian Girls, Choir, Armenian Duduk playing by Gasparian; again some of the artists that broadened my horizons and directly influenced my musical and artistic vision.