Most of the jazz on the ECM label is very well recorded. Whether you like the artists or not is of course personal. I like Tord Gustavsen Trio and Marcin Wasilewski Trio.
Not having any idea about the style of jazz that you prefer, or what qualifies a recording as 'really' great (i.e. the recording itself, the performance itself, on only a combination of both) I'll restrict my recommendation to a label, Concord Jazz. They are consistently good, often excellent or outstanding. Their artists are slightly off the beaten path, but fine none-the-less. Well worth a try.
My introduction to that label was from a friend who started me off with an LP, 'Just Friends' by the LA 4, which consisted of Laurindo Almedia, Ray Brown, Jeff Hamilton and Bud Shank. When it came out on CD I bought it and was not disappointed with the conversion. This is relatively laid back music and the recording is consonant with the style. It is not necessarily 'demo' stuff (or it is depending on your expectations) but the playing and music will compensate for any shortcomings you might think exist.
Two other recordings of equal quality and potential for enjoyment that I really enjoy feature Charlie Haden on Verve. 'Night and the City' with Kenny Barron and 'Beyond the Missouri Sky" with Pat Metheny. Both are late night jazz.You probably already have them but if not.....
ECM is the best in regard to recording quality.
Alas, those 50s/60s recordings really are excellent (Coltrane's Live at Birdland comes to mind; Ella & Louie...). But ok, here's a couple I like.
Joshua Redman, "Moodswings".
Jazz at the Pawnshop, all 3 volumes. Yes, a live recording.
You are being modest when saying 200 titles is a small library. That's a pretty decent Jazz collection! Here's one to break the mold of the same old same old Jazz recommendations:
Helge Lien Trio, Hello Troll.
Let me hear what you think of that title (c:
Blue Note recordings always sound very, very good. Older recordings are not necessarily inferior, on the contrary, I usually find them to be better.
Most of Bill Evans recordings are excellent. He tended to destroy recordings that did not meet his standard.
Almost anything by Geri Allen or the Tsuyoshi Tamamoto Trio
If you want a couple of recordings that are less mainstream:
Natsukashii - Helge Lien Trio
Voyage - Youn Sun Nah
Beyond Standard - Hiromi
I agree with Newbee, anything on the Concord Jazz label. Along with Ray Brown, if you are into jazz piano Gene Harris is a great place to look. Being a jazz piano aficionado I find his style up there with the greats of the genre. There are many recordings on this label with the great Ray Brown on bass. Look for their live recordings as well.
I second the observations that Concord and Blue Note products tend to be very well recorded. I'm not familiar with the ECM label but, given the other comments, I'm certainly going to check it out. Two labels not yet mentioned are MFSL (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab) and FIM (First Impressions Music). Neither is a a jazz label per se, but there are jazz recordings on both. However, expect anything from MFSL or FIM to be pricey, particularly the former.
If you like jazz trio (piano, bass, and drums), you can't go wrong with any of FIM's recordings by the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio (Midnight Sugar, Misty, What a Wonderful Trio, and Autumn in Seattle). Yamamoto's stuff is all instrumental, no vocals. Sound and performmnce are exquisite.
A "bargain" label you might want to check out is one that's no longer around: DMP (Digital Music Products). Circa the early - mid 80s, they put out several all instrumental recordings by a group called Flim and the BB's, any of which can be had for a couple of bucks in used CD stores. The sound is a knockout.
For jazz that features both the vocal and instrumental, you can't go wrong with Patricia Barber's work which shows up on several different labels (Blue Note, Premonition Records, FIM, and MFSL). I have three of her recordings on MFSL hybrid SACD, and their sound is superior to anything else I own. But very pricey. I parted company with about $160 for just those three CDs. Though out of print, the three I purchased (Companion, Verse, and Modern Cool) are actually still available new and sealed from musicdirect.com (musicdirect.com bought MFSL after it went bankrupt some years ago). One of three I purchased, Modern Cool, was $60 when I got it about 6 weeks ago. It's now $100 on musicdirect.com. Go figure. But in the event Patricia Barber does interest you, you don't have to totally break the bank. The least expensive place to start is The Cole Porter Mix on Blue Note which runs around $13 at Amazon. Sound is excellent. Cafe Blue and Nighclub are available on the Koch label in the $14-$15 range but I haven't heard those so I can't vouch for them. Up another notch in the price ladder are the Cafe Blue and Nighclub HDCDs on the Premonition label (which I think were both previously released on FIM). The Premonition HDCDs are in the $28-$30 range, and the sound is top drawer.
There's a reason why Patricia Barber is often used to demo speakers in higher end audio shops. When I heard her FIM recording of A Taste of Honey on B&W 804 Diamonds, I left the shop with a pair!
I think Tubegroover must have posted while I was writing my post. I heartily agree about Gene Harris Quartet on Concord! Harris is my other favorite jazz pianist along with Yamamoto.
I agree about Patricia Barber. Cafe Blue is amazing.
Speaking about Patricia Barber, highly recommend "A fortnight in France" a live recording on Blue Note. She does a couple standards on this set including "Witchcraft" and "Laura". While I liked Cafe Blue, I really love this recording and the performance is excellent!
The Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio's "Midnight Sugar" is worth its weight in gold, actually more than its weight in gold. There is a rare copy of it on e-bay now for a lofty $450.00!
Both Gz3827 and Tubegroover mentioned Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio's Midnight Sugar. This was originally recorded by the Three Blind Mice ("TBM")label. I have found that all of the TBM albums are high quality recordings, and there are a goodly number of them to choose from.
I also second the nomination of Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue.
And I have to add in also the well-known Jazz at the Pawnshop by Domnerus, Hallberg, and Riedel. The recording quality and ambient noises of the cafe can create a "you are there" illusion on a good system.
Personally, I think the late 50s and early 60s represented a kind of peak in the recording industry, as tube technology was at its peak in the studio and transistors hadn't yet taken hold. Studios that did a good job pulled out some very sweet, organic sounds that to my ears make a lot of the recordings today sound sterile and lifeless.
Blue Note label is most often good, which represents a heck of a lot of important stuff, as is anything recorded by Orrin Keepnews for Riverside. Just about anything recorded at Columbia in those years sounds pretty darned amazing.
Autumn in Seattle is superb; Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue is amazing. A couple not mentioned; Dick Hyman's From the Age of Swing on Reference Recordings. This is a Professor Keith Johnson recording; excellent.
The Poll Winners; Barney Kessel; Ray Brown, Shelley Manne
Four; Hampton Hawes and others.
Keeping in mind the "want to hear the system and not the tunes" criteria: Allen Toussaint "The Bright Mississippi" (whose sound quality was touted in another recent thread here); Larry Carlton "Collection" (particularly the cut Smiles and Smiles To Go); Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour "Larry & Lee" (particularly the cut Up and Adam); Lee Ritenour "Wes Bound" and "Alive in L.A."; Najee "Plays Songs In The Key Of Life"; Charles Lloyd "The Water Is Wide" and "Hyperion with Higgins" (ECM label); Miles Davis "Tutu"; Olu Dara "In The World: From Natchez To New York"; Phil Upchurch "Tell The Truth!" Just a few.
Thanks for all the imput ..Im buying suggestions already..
Check out the Steeplechase label, Pablo label, Concord Jazz label, Telarc Label, Discovery and Muse labels. I love bluenotes but everyone I have purchased is a little bass shy. The music is wonderful still. Most of these lables feature both bop and advangarde. Atlantic has some great recordings as does Columbia and RCA. The labels I mentioned in the beginng of this post produce some real nice CD's of new artist and old and I have been impressed with the recording quality.
Many SACD's on these Labels are around and out of print but you have to look hard for them. Many recordings on these labels Like Steeplechase, ECM, Discovery are imports and are the hardest to find. Some are Dual Discs too. I don't buy any unless they are at least playing some standards. That tells me it's serious jazz.
Eric dolphy out to lunch one of the best sounding and unique jazz recordings I have.