Readers recommend playlist: great solo performances

Among the artists going it alone this week are Bruce Springsteen, Suzanne Vega, Bert Jansch and percussionist Kuniko Kato

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of your suggestions last week. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

Can the individual top the collective? Many of our favourite songs are the result of teamwork, but as your nominations last week showed, solitude can be a powerful creative impulse, in all of its many forms – which we’ll explore with this week’s selection.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

Introspection: jazz pianist Bill Evans was working on an introduction to Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time for his trio when he became fascinated with a chord sequence – to the extent that he created an entirely separate improvisation playing off it. Peace Piece was that result, and is said to have laid the groundwork for ambient music.

Obsession: Janice Whaley set herself the challenge of creating multitracked a cappella versions of all 71 Smiths songs in one year. While technically astonishing – with up to 50 separate vocal channels per song, as well as pitch-corrected bass parts – the project’s main strength was the sheer power of the music created. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is one of the strongest songs in the set.

Nonconformism: Smiths songwriter Johnny Marr was indebted to folk legend Bert Jansch, considered one of the most influential British guitarists. Jansch cultivated a style deliberately at odds with the “pretty” sound of the acoustic guitar, throwing in off-key notes and loose rhythms and attacking the strings. His performance of Davy Graham’s challenging Angi was a fine example of his art – and one of the defining moments of British folk music.

Reduction: Bruce Springsteen originally intended his Nebraska album to be a group recording with the E Street Band. The material seemed to suit the rawness of his solo demos, however, and the production team decided to release them as they were. Atlantic City became one of his best-loved songs.

Isolation: Suzanne Vega wrote Tom’s Diner in sympathy with a friend’s remark that he often felt like a witness, but seldom a participant. Her narrator is an observer taking in the events around her without being touched by them. Appropriately, the track was later used by the creators of the MP3 to test various compression algorithms – the lack of instrumentation made it the ideal benchmark.

Dedication: Jaco Pastorius’s Portrait of Tracy became his standard solo feature during his years with Weather Report, with onstage looping and frequent bouts of feedback. The original, released on his self-titled debut, was a simpler, heartfelt performance, a lovely ballad whose advanced harmonics set new standards for the bass guitar.

Improvisation: saxophonist John Surman has recorded numerous solo albums, with an increasing interest in multitracking and electronics. His Whistman’s Wood layers saxophone, bass clarinet and soft electronic sounds beneath evocative improvisation, creating an orchestral soundscape dedicated to his West Country home.

Multiplication: time for the drum solo... Japanese virtuoso percussionist Kuniko Kato takes on all six roles in a breathtaking split-screen performance of Peaux, from Iannis Xenakis’s Pléïades suite.

Emotion: Odetta’s stark version of the traditional lament Another Man Done Gone resonates with today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Magnificent singing, accompanied only by her own handclaps.

Tradition: Malian Toumani Diabaté is descended from a line of kora players his family says can be traced back at least 70 generations. Alla L’aa Ke was released on his 1988 debut solo release, Kaira, and connects us directly with ancient sub-Saharan music-makers.

Desolation: Skip James’ legendary Hard Time Killing Floor Blues draws on the blues singer’s experiences working in a slaughterhouse. The song’s beauty is at odds with the brutality of its lyrics, and James’ falsetto is almost angelic in tone.

Single mindedness: American troubadour Phillip Roebuck started performing as a one-man band after his group efforts failed to find success. He’d rather be seen primarily as a songwriter, but it’s undeniable that a man with a drum on his back will always have a special appeal. His high-octane bend of bluegrass, punk and rock in Monkey Fist suits it perfectly.

Not all songs appear on the Spotify playlist as some are unavailable on the service.

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