Do The Math asks, and I must answer. Here's my own list of the jazz recordings cut between 1973-1990 that have had the most impact on me and my music.
First off, as mentioned previously, I endorse all of the records on Ethan's list that I've actually heard, especially (but by no means limited to) those by Ornette Coleman, Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill, the Keith Jarrett American Quartet, Old and New Dreams, Wayne Shorter, Weather Report, Sam Rivers, Woody Shaw, Charlie Haden, Julius Hemphill, Paul Bley, Bill Frisell, and that fantastic Mal Waldron/Steve Lacy disc.
Naturally, I have some additions to make, but unlike Ethan, I'm going to list things by artist (instead of chronologically). [Updates in square brackets.]
[Ran Blake - Film Noir (1980)
Dammit, I just knew I would end up leaving something important off my initial list. Anyway, there are plenty of first-rate Ran Blake records to choose from in this period, but this is clearly the most representative portrait of Ran's musical and extra-musical obsessions. Blake is a unique and vitally important improviser.]
Bob Brookmeyer - Mel Lewis Orchestra - Live at the Village Vanguard (1980), Make Me Smile (1982)
In 1978, Thad Jones abruptly left the band he'd co-founded, led, and written almost a hundred charts for, leaving his co-leader Mel Lewis in the lurch. Mel settled on former band member Bob Brookmeyer as the band's new composer-in-resisdence. Bob had just gotten sober after many years lost to alcoholism out on the West Coast, and he returned to New York with something to prove. The 1980 record was a triumphant return to form, with the infectious, propulsive "Ding Dong Ding" and "Hello and Goodbye" (two of Bob's most-played charts), the densely chromatic but achingly tender "First Love Song," the very bleak treatment of "Skylark" (foreshadowing developments to come), and a couple of pieces written for Bob's old comrade-in-arms, Clark Terry. Having first established that he was the ideal writer to continue Thad's smart-and-swinging legacy, Brookmeyer then proceeded to write himself out of the band with a series of charts that kept pushing at the limits of what a big band was capable of -- and what the Monday night audience at the Vanguard was willing to accept. Each piece seemed like Bob was being driven further -- to be more intense, more dissonant, more stripped-down, more single-minded, more formally daring, more wrist-slittingly depressing. There were defections -- many of the old guard from the "Thad & Mel" era left the band, to be replaced by then-unknowns like Steve Coleman, Kenny Garrett, and Joe Lovano... playing alongside Tom Harrell, Marc Johnson, Jim McNeely, Dick Oatts, and Mel himself, playing with the fire and drive of a twenty-year old. Make Me Smile & Other New Works by Bob Brookmeyer is the only document of this era of the band -- a live recording of an hour-long suite, including the blistering Lovano feature "The Nasty Dance" (Joe's first recorded solo, I believe) and Bob's infamously sparse and disquieting arrangement of "My Funny Valentine." It's very dark and very intense, but also dryly funny ("Goodbye World") and immensely satisfying. A hugely important record, not just for big band aficionados but for anyone interested in how the progressive jazz and new music scene of the early 1980's sounded when filtered through the mind of a fiftysomething jazz veteran from Kansas City undergoing a creative and personal rebirth.
Bob Brookmeyer - Stockholm Jazz Orchestra - Dreams (1988)
The first recorded document of Bob's big-band writing after leaving Mel's band could not be more different from Make Me Smile. Well, okay, so the mood is still often very bleak ("Lies"), but the biting, clustery dissonances are almost entirely gone, replaced by a single-minded, almost obsessive commitment to as-long-as-it-takes motivic development. And okay, fine, the chromatic clusters do return briefly on "Dreams," but they are attenuated by the ethereal mood and pretty diatonic melody (like "First Love Song" through a cloud of opium smoke). Anyway, the opening track, "Cats," is the perfect introduction to the pared-down, distilled essence of a style Bob has been progressively refining for almost twenty years now. Maria is especially partial to "Missing Monk," which, I have to admit, is pretty fucking great. Bob also plays lots of trombone on on this record, which is always a good thing. Brookmeyer's most satisfying post-Mel, pre-New Art Orchestra recording.
Don Byron - Tuskegee Experiments (1990-1991)
Byron's first record squeezes in under the wire on a technicality. It's not quite as focused or as compositionally strong as his jazz followup (Music for Six Musicians), but it's still an impressive debut. As Hankus Netsky (who was responsible for introducing Don to klezmer) astutely observes, Don is one of the few modern horn players who has really internalized Ornette's time feel, phrasing, and irrational note choices, and is also able to make them sound good over sophisticated chord progressions. "Tuskegee Strutter's Ball" is a very hip take on rhythm changes, and you've got to love his deconstruction of Ellington's "Main Stem." (Also, I think Jason Moran must have heard Don's version of Schumann's "Auf einer Burg" before deciding to record it himself.)
Obviously, all of his 1970's records are required listening. From the 1980's, Ethan goes with Tutu. I'd go with We Want Miles (1982), Aura (1985), and (especially) the posthumously released Live Around The World.
Bill Evans - I Will Say Goodbye (1977), We Will Meet Again (1979)
I actually bought I Will Say Goodbye purely because I wanted to hear Bill's version of "Dolphin Dance." As it turns out, it's the best of the Evans-Gomez-Zigmund trio records. Bill was getting into some really sophisticated rhythmic ideas late in his career, but they are often sabotaged by all the cocaine-fueled rushing. I Will Say Goodbye is one of the more relaxed late Bill outings. The solo on "Nobody Else But Me" is great. We Will Meet Again is a rare quintet date for Bill, with a (very strong) Tom Harrell and Larry Schneider augmenting Bill's final trio.
Gil Evans - Svengali (1973), Plays The Music Of Jimi Hendrix (1974)
What are we to make of Gil Evans in the seventies? Svengali is probably the most consistent offering -- a little frayed around the edges, but this live record pointed to an invigorating new direction for Gil's band. But then came the truly strange collection of Hendrix covers, which had originally been planned as a full-fledged collaboration between Gil and Jimi. However, the two of them hadn't gotten very far before a certain notorious wine-and-Vesperax cocktail made further collaboration impossible. Instead, in 1974, Gil decided to use his position as head of the New York Jazz Repertory Company to present a heavily amplified tribute to Hendrix at Carnegie Hall. (Apparently, it did not go well.) A week after the Carnegie Hall hit, they recorded this album. It has: some of the cheesiest "spacy" synth sounds you'll ever hear; liberal and inappropriate use of wind chimes, timpani, xylophone, gong, marimba, flexatone, and glockenspiel; David Sanborn doing David Sanborn-y things; Howard Johnson screaming the melody to "Voodoo Chile" into his tuba mouthpiece; guitarist Ryo Kawasaki standing in for Jimi (possibly the most daunting and thankless role in the history of recorded music); and -- impossibly -- most of the arrangements aren't even Gil's. I don't care. I love it anyway.
[I should add that Maria Schneider raves about 1977's Priestess. I must sheepishly admit that I've never actually heard this record, having been so far unable to locate a reasonably priced copy. If you happen to come across one, let me know... ]
Gateway - Gateway (1975), Gateway 2 (1977)
Atmospheric, cinematic, patient, spacious, slow to unfold -- the perfect showcase for John Abercrombie's liquid sound and Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnnette's telepathic interplay. I'm surprised these haven't been previously mentioned -- these records were huge when I was in jazz school, and were definitely a major influence. Often Gateway sounds like embryonic postrock, especially with the emphasis on timbre, mood, and long-term development over soloistic virtuosity. (I don't know how much Gateway Jeff Parker listened to, but that seems like the most obvious point of reference for much of his work with Tortoise.)
Herbie Hancock - Man-Child (1975)
Ethan went with the self-titled Headhunters, and David Ryshpan went with Thrust, but this one's my pick for Headhunters Herbie, primarily on the strength of "Hang Up Your Hang Ups," the funkiest thing Herbie ever cut. Also, Stevie Wonder's harmonica solo on "Steppin' In It" is fantastic.
Keith Jarrett European Quartet - Belonging (1974)
Ethan & co rightly venerate Keith's American quartet (with the -- goddammit -- late and much-lamented Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian), but (like David) I think the folksier European quartet is still worthy of serious consideration. Keith's conversational, twisting long-line melodies and slow-burn vamps are hard to resist, Danielsson and Christensen make a fantastic team, and Garbarek had not yet fully descended into the schmaltzy new age style that characterizes much of his later work. The ballads can maybe get a little overwrought -- okay, fine, a lot overwrought -- but everything else is first-rate acoustic fusion.
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis -- New Life (1976)
After some lackluster albums in the early 1970's -- the heartfelt but underwhelming Suite For Pops and the embarrassing Potpourri -- which features dreadful arrangements of "Don't You Worry About A Thing," "Living For The City," and "For The Love Of Money" (and, to add insult to injury, the liner notes even list the astrological sign of everyone in the band... ) -- New Life, Thad & Mel's 10th anniversary record, is something of a return to form, featuring Thad's last great charts before leaving the band -- "Little Rascal On A Rock," and "Cherry Juice." The gatefold LP is a garden of nerdy delights, including score excerpts, stereo mix diagrams, and copious liner notes.
Jim McNeely - East Coast Blow Out (1989)
Goddamn I love this record. A kickass five-movement suite, featuring each member of McNeely's reunited quartet -- John Scofield, McNeely, Marc Johnson, and Adam Nussbaum. The WDR band plays more than just a supporting role, though -- McNeely has them disturbing and provoking the soloists throughout. McNeely is an amazing and prolific writer who just this year put out three brilliant records -- but East Coast Blow Out is still my all-time favorite.
Pat Metheny - Bright Size Life (1975)
I'm also a little surprised this one hasn't been mentioned before, either. Bright Size Life was universally beloved back in jazz school, and for good reason -- it's probably the quintessential 1970's jazz record. It effortlessly blends proggy fusion ("Unquity Road"), Americana ("Midwestern Nights Dream"), abstracted world music ("Omaha Celebration," ironically), free jazz via Ornette ("Round Trip/Broadway Blues"), and Pat's corn-fed lyricism ("Sirabhorn"), without ever losing sight of the hard-swinging jazz tradition ("Missouri Uncompromised") . And it's Pat's first frickin' record, cut when he was all of 21 years old. Jaco Pastorius plays selflessly and tastefully throughout -- it's clearly his best record (with the possible exception of the ones he made with Joni) -- and Bob Moses made his reputation with his contribution here. Even Metheny-skeptics can be relied upon to give it up for this amazing record.
Charles Mingus - Changes One (1974), Changes Two (1974)
Ethan mentions that these records never spoke to him. Well, damn, they sure as shit grabbed me by the lapels and insisted that I listen. Unlike, say, Monk, Mingus remained a creative dynamo up until the very end, and the tunes on these records are some of the best of his entire career. "Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love" (which, some have wryly observed, really ought to be titled "Billy Strayhorn's Sound of Love") is Mingus's greatest ballad, hands down. (Just ignore the vocal version on Changes Two.) "Sue's Changes" and "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue" are two of his most ambitious and effective multi-section works. ("Sue's Changes" used to be my favorite tune to play with a quintet -- it's a terrific workout.) "Remember Rockefeller At Attica" and "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A." don't sound anything like their titles (FWIW, the original, discarded titles were "Just For Laughs Saps" and "Jive Five, Floor Four"), but the heads are irresistible. We get first-rate playing from everyone on these sessions -- Mingus and Dannie Richmond especially. Could they be the most underrated rhythm section in jazz? None of my peers seem to share my enthusiasm for their hookup, which always baffles me to no end. [N.B. I have the Rhino CD reissues -- I've heard that the sound quality on earlier versions is not so good, but the Rhino versions are fine.]
Paul Motian - Joe Lovano - Bill Frisell - It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago (1984)
Surely, this classic recording -- the first album to feature the now-legendary Motian-Lovano-Frisell trio -- needs no further comment from me? If you don't own it, fercrissakes get it.
Kenny Wheeler - Deer Wan (1977), Around 6 (1979), Double, Double You (1983), Flutter By, Butterfly (1987), The Widow In The Window (1990), Music for Large & Small Ensembles (1990)
Gnu High (recommended by Ethan, and enthusiastically seconded by me) is one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time, but it's also a bit of an anomaly in Kenny Wheeler's catalog -- Keith Jarrett, being Keith Jarrett, basically decides that Kenny's harmonies aren't his thing, and declines to play them. It's still amazing, but it's not quite Kenny. Deer Wan (yes, I know, but you have to indulge KW his awful puns) has Jarrett replaced by the more sympathetic John Abercrombie (who would become a regular Wheeler collaborator), and the addition of a second horn (Jan Garbarek) emphasizes Kenny's contrapuntal strengths. Around 6, with a group of European players (including Evan Parker and J.F. Jenny-Clark) is Kenny's least-known ECM outing, but it's actually one of his strongest and most conceptually creative -- and the extreme contrast of Evan Parker shredding through Kenny's pretty, pensive tunes like a bandsaw through rice-paper is improbably effective. It sounds like they were going for an equally striking but more salable contrast by adding Michael Brecker to the John Taylor-Dave Holland-Jack DeJohnette rhythm section on Double, Double You, and it pays off in Brecker's fiery turn over the sus-chord vamp on "Foxy Trot" (a very popular tune to play back in my McGill days). Flutter By, Butterfly is another often-overlooked item in Kenny's discography, but it has some of his lightest and "jazziest" heads (like "Everybody's Song But My Own" and "The Little Fellow" -- aptly described by KW as a cross between an Irish folk song and a McCoy Tyner piece). The Widow In The Window reunites Wheeler with Abercrombie, and adds Peter Erskine in place of Jack DeJohnette. The record is very quiet and introspective (perhaps to a fault), but has some of Kenny's most affecting songwriting -- especially the title track and "Ma Belle Hélène." But his masterpiece is, unquestionably, Music For Large & Small Ensembles -- The Sweet Time Suite, which takes up the entirety of Disc 1, is one of the most captivating large-scale jazz compositions ever written. The opening chorale (with Norma Winstone's pristine voice blending with and humanizing the saxophone choir) never fails to draw me right in, and before I know it I've listened to the whole damn thing. Disc 2 continues with three more of KW's big band gems ("Sophie," "Sea Lady," and "Gentle Piece"), and after gorging on so many brilliant large ensemble works, as a palate-cleanser we get an assortment of freely improvised trios and duets, and for dessert, a multifaceted quintet version of the old Dietz/Schwartz standard "By Myself." Kenny Wheeler has done more than anyone since Wayne Shorter to expand the palette of harmonic possibilities in jazz.
Also, don't overlook KW's contributions to the great 1980's Dave Holland recordings -- Jumpin' In (1983), Seeds Of Time (1984) and the best of these (also with Steve Coleman, Robin Eubanks, and Smitty Smith), The Razor's Edge (1986).
I could really go on here... in addition to the ones already mentioned by Ethan and others, there are plenty of amazing records from this period by John Zorn, Steve Coleman, Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Julius Hemphill, Marty Ehrlich, Tim Berne, Thomas Chapin, Lester Bowie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra, Marc Johnson, Bill Frisell, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Garrett, and others. Again, the above list is far from comprehensive and is not meant to be -- it's just a smattering of albums that I've lived with for long enough for them to have influenced my music, and have (mostly) not been represented elsewhere in this discussion.