There are the big-box monsters and major-artist retrospectives, rightly celebrated in our year-end issue. Then there is the scholarship from under the radar and along the margins, those archaeological digs and passion projects that make a wider deeper history come alive. Here are 10 from '10 that will reward further study, well into the new year.
Procol Harum, Exotic Birds and Fruit (Salvo)
The British acid-pomp band defied the mounting common wisdom that it was long past its kaftan-glory days with this 1974 album of powerhouse elegance – progressive pop rendered with sinister wit and brawling dynamics. It was the best of Procol Harum's last four studio albums in the Seventies (all made available in the U.S. this year as deluxe reissues), but 1973's Grand Hotel is a close second and the '75 detour, Procol's Ninth, produced by American tunesmiths Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, holds up as an R&B-flavored curiosity.
The Psychedelic Aliens, Psycho African Beat (Academy)
This collection is the entire work of a Seventies quartet from Ghana – one EP and two singles – that kick like Funkadelic and haunt like the Miles Davis' Jack Johnson band, with nothing more than bone-treble guitar, Nuggets-combo organ and minimal vocal interference. It's a short party – just eight tracks. So keep it on "repeat."
Jefferson Airplane, Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66: We Have Ignition (Collectors' Choice Music Live)
Of this label's four live-archive releases by the '66-'68 Airplane, this two-CD set is truly prime time: San Francisco's acid-ballroom ambassadors only a month after Grace Slick's arrival, just as the band was recording its perfect trip, Surrealistic Pillow. These shows are especially notable for the appearance of rarely played gems, including two by ex-drummer Skip Spence and the only reported performancew of Paul Kantner's gorgeous overlooked "D.C.B.A.-25."
Ahmad Jamal, The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions (Mosaic)
This master jazz pianist's precise and rapturous harmonic explorations and the feathery charge of his late-Fifties and early-Sixties trio would profoundly influence subsequent innovations by John Coltrane, Gil Evans and especially Miles Davis, who once instructed one of his own pianists, the great Red Garland, to "play like Jamal." The live and studio recordings in this nine-CD box are at once vigorous and beautiful and come from a time when a jazz delight such as Jamal's 1958 signature reading of "Poinciana" could be a jukebox and AM-radio hit.