Sonic Stew

The first of our monthly roundups of the latest jazz, blues, country, folk and roots releases

Listening to the radio, you'd think that there's only enough progressive jazz, blues, R&B, folk and world music being released to merit an occasional two-hour show. Not so, bubba. There's loads of great stuff coming out in all of these genres -- always has been, always will be. What follows is just a sampling of what's come out in the past month or so, most of it well worth checking out.

For starters, if you've not heard jazz percussionist/composer Kip Hanrahan, the recent A Thousand Nights and a Night (Shadow Nights - 2) (Justin Time/American Clave) is another installment in his updated retelling of the Arabian Nights story. Hanrahan's the most erotic figure in jazz, his lusty lyrics/poems fueled by hard-core Cuban percussion and some of the most famous figures in the New York club scene. His A Few Short Notes From the End Run (Justin Time/American Clave), also just released, features the late pianist Don Pullen and ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce, both frequent collaborators with Hanrahan on previous albums.

Concerto (Sony Classical) by Chick Corea is the best release the pianist has come up with in nearly a decade. The first half of the disc is a superb orchestrated revision of his signature jazz fusion piece, "Spain," while the second half proves how romantic and expressive he can be when motivated -- in this case by the London Symphony Orchestra.

From the earliest days of jazz/rock comes Improvisations: Best of the Vanguard Years (Vanguard) by Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House, one of the first and most aggressive of the fusion bands. Yeah, the music on this reissue is sometimes painfully dated, but Coryell was damn near the George Washington of fusion guitar. Contemporary electrified jazzers should spit out stuff as in-yer-face as this.

Joey DeFrancesco, who lives in Scottsdale, is among the best of the new jazz organists, as he continues to prove on Goodfellas (Concord Jazz), a collection of Italian songs filtered through swing and funk. Even "Volare" and the "Theme From The Godfather" sound gritty in the hands of DeFrancesco and Django-inspired guitarist Frank Vignola.

The Melody at Night, With You (ECM) from Keith Jarrett stands out because of the intimacy in his solo piano interpretations of classic ballads like "Someone to Watch Over Me." No offense to longtime partners drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Gary Peacock, but Jarrett's almost always better when left to himself.

A few Pat Metheny projects have been released recently, none of them much like the next. Though the guitarist is now a jazz patriarch in his own right, he remains respectful of his influences. Jim Hall and Pat Metheny (TelArc) is built on the subtleties of Hall's playing rather than Metheny's flash, meaning that some fans of the Metheny Group may find it a bit too introspective for their tastes. Their loss. A Map of the World (Warner Bros.) is Metheny's most recent soundtrack offering. Many of the compositions are reminiscent of the orchestrated guitar ballads that occasionally appear on his albums. Unfortunately, most of these 28 cuts are only one or two minutes long -- themes missing development and improvisation. Michael Brecker once again features Metheny in his band on Time Is of the Essence (Verve), the title referring to the album's collection of cuts built on powerful, challenging or odd time signatures. Metheny also shows up on two cuts of saxophonist Kenny Garrett's Simply Said (Warner Bros.), a colorful collection of funk, African- and bossa nova-influenced jazz. Those who may have found Garrett's earlier stuff a bit dry may prefer this attempt at stretching his style. (Speaking of stretching, check out jazz pianist Brad Mehldau's reverent cover of Radiohead's "Exit Music [For a Film]" on Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard on Warner Bros.)

No shortage of other great jazz guitar stuff is available. The 32 Jazz label has released two double reissues of the amazing Pat Martino. Comin' & Goin': Exit & The Return covers recordings made both before and after a bout of amnesia stemming from a brain aneurysm, resulting in Martino having to relearn how to play the guitar. The stylistic differences evident in the pre- and post-amnesia playing are more than a bit creepy. Mission Accomplished: Interchange/Nightwings fortunately shows him having regained his superb chops. Guitarist Mike Stern, who has yet to record an album that conveys what he can whip off in concert, at least sets himself up in the company of serious fretwhackers Bill Frisell and John Scofield on Play (Atlantic), making it one of Stern's best. On The Undiscovered Few (Blue Note), guitarist Rodney Jones drops the funk he played working behind ex-James Brown sideman Maceo Parker for a harder jazz edge more like what he played in Dizzy Gillespie's band. Also worth hearing is the underrated guitarist Eddie Duran and his sax-playing wife, Mad, playing "My Favorite Things" in 5/4 on From Here to the Moon (Milestone). As for straightahead swing, there's Gravy Waltz: The Best of Herb Ellis (Euphoria), culled from the guitarist's earlier years.

Some recent blues and R&B stuff: While most tribute albums tend to dilute the roots of the artists they pay homage, Whole Lotta Blues: Songs of Led Zeppelin (House of Blues) offers even grittier versions of the band's best-known blues renditions, played by major bluesmen like Robert Junior Lockwood and Otis Rush. The label will soon feature this release in a boxed set along with the duo's four previous albums paying tribute to the blues of Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Those who buy Chicago blues by following the output of the Alligator and Delmark labels can increase their familiarity with the area's output by snagging Earwig Music: 25th Anniversary Collection (Earwig), a sampler featuring Sunnyland Slim, Frank Frost, Louis Myers, Carey Bell and more than a dozen other local legends.

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