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3. Tom Waits, Night on Earth (Island). Having a hard time getting really depressed? Try listening to this soundtrack of the recent Jim Jarmusch film about down-and-out taxi drivers. It's possible that the eclectic Waits might have fashioned this band out of a toolbox for all the unfamiliar noises he sends flying. These mostly instrumental nightmares are so wonderfully sluggish and morbidly heavy that Waits may have recorded the session underwater.
4. Howard Shore and Ornette Coleman, Naked Lunch (Milan). Avant saxophonist Ornette Coleman doesn't come blow his horn for just any sicko movie. He's saved his warped chops for this demented collaboration between weirdo director David Cronenberg and even weirder writer William Burroughs. Coleman's rantings closely follow the script's emphasis on giant cockroaches that eloquently philosophize out of their, uh, hindquarters. A great gift of inspirational jazz for those who obsess about pest control.
5. Sun Ra, Monorails and Satellites, Supersonic Jazz, Other Planes of There (Evidence Music). The best offering of the year: Evidence, the tiny, East Coast label, has this year reissued ten rare discs of the jazzman from Saturn, Sun Ra. The keyboardist-bandleader was pounding out his Outer Space Wisdom on the first synthesizers back when yer mama was still planning her prom outfit. (In fact, Ra may have outsequined her, as evidenced by some of these discs' accompanying photographs.) Always managing to somehow keep his headcheese just a few days this side of the expiration date, Ra turned out the most interesting and outrageous big-band music jazz will ever see. Best Off-the-Wall Jazz and World Music:
1. Barbara Dennerlein, That's Me (Bluemoon). Thought the Hammond B3 organ went out of style for good in the 60s? This gorgeous German organist stirs up the most funk since the days of Jimmy Smith. If the organ ever reappears as a popular jazz instrument, it will be because of Dennerlein and future albums like this gem of jazz phrasing.
2. Toninho Horta, Once I Loved (Verve). The Brazilian guitarist's first venture into straightahead jazz is a timid effort in some ways, but Horta keeps all eyes on him as he nakedly struggles with some of the meaty standards he covers. Actually, the more Horta sweats, the better the disc works. Nice to hear someone show that top-drawer jazz is supposed to be a bitch to play.
3. Various Artists, Accordeon: Musette/Swing/Paris 1913-1941 (Discotheque des Halles). This French import tracks the development of the romantic accordeon-and-beret music born in Parisian cafes. Something complex and intensely passionate about these 50 reissued 78s whisks them out of the realm of old-timey corn pone and into the halls of eternally popular love songs.
4. Kelvynator, Refunkanation (Enemy). Check out this black-rock funkster unit if Living Colour's groove is your thang. Guitarist-bandleader Kelvyn Bell and band have been at it as long as anybody, and tend to hammer out the funk a lot harder than their glamour-boy cousins.
5. Various Artists, Samba Brasil, Afro Brasil, Bossa Nova Brasil, Nordeste Brasil (Verve). You won't find a better overview of Brazil's varied music scene than what is offered on these four discs. The 79 cuts cover as much history as they do regional styles, reaching back to African roots and forward to still-popular samba themes. 6. Nels Cline Trio, Silencer (Enja). Cline is that rare guitarist who is able to flow from subtle coloring through strong melody en route to crazed axe whacking. His version of Gil Evans' "Las Vegas Tango" is as gorgeous as the self-penned tirade "Broasted" is goosey. One-stop chopping for all your jazz guitar needs.
7. Astor Piazzolla, Sur (Milan). Released on the heels of the Argentine composer's death earlier this year, Sur shows how the tango master spent his last days: pulling passion and sentimentalism away from lowbrow-soap-opera status and returning them to a much nobler pinnacle.
8. Eliane Elias, Fantasia (Blue Note). Maybe this stellar player realized that being just another Bill Evans-influenced pianist wasn't enough, and decided she needed to return to her native Brazil's compositions for an added dimension. Last year brought her disc of revamped Jobim standards. Fantasia is a no-less-radical stab at another set of bossa nova tunes often relegated to Muzak interpretations. The result is her second album of what may be the best Brazilian jazz ever recorded.
9. Defunkt, Crisis (Enemy). Defunkt leader-trombonist Joseph Bowie proves that a horn-driven jazz-rock band doesn't have to sound at all like Chicago. If you let this octet color your world, it won't be pretty; Defunkt revels in being power-hungry, pissed off and political. The Crisis will be not knowing whether to dance your ass off or burn something.
10. Philip Catherine and Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen, Spanish Nights (Enja). Since the flood of interest in accessible world music, the reign in Spain has mainly fallen on the plainest guitarists imaginable--Ottmar Liebert, for example. Not this time. Guitarist Catherine and bassist Orsted-Pedersen have long been two of the very best European jazz musicians. Having backed a jillion visiting beboppers and expatriates, from Dexter Gordon to Chet Baker, the two decided to cut this Spanish-flavored session for themselves. Both players escape the clutches of the orchestral backing and overdone song choices, not once falling into the Gypsy-princess goo and fake-flamenco clich‚s that abound on most pseudojazz travelogues. Danish musicians play American jazz with a Spanish feel--atlas music.
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