By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
On Inner Voice (Mother West), fret whiz Stuart Hart pursues the fusion groove carved by the likes of Alan Holdsworth and Al DiMeola, whose flawless speed-picking was frequently as soulless and infertile as pod people. Nonetheless, Hart's album features a handful of monster players: ex-Funkadelic and Miles Davis drummer Dennis Chambers, funk guitarist Paul Bollenback from the band of Joey DeFrancesco, and the adventurous saxophone of Gary Thomas. Forget my trepidation; check it out yourself. Whatever your choice, that horribly dated Chick Corea electric keyboard tone on the first cut sounds like the player bought his equipment at Toys "R" Us.
The Other Bridge (Oakland 1999) (9 Winds) is a project by The Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, whose leader plays every wind instrument this side of a whistle. The manic jazzman is also notorious for being endlessly creative in his instrument combinations and band sizes. This two-disc endeavor features tight charts of schizo composing that make Zappa's 200 Motels sound like Brahms.
A snide moment, if I may: May God sever the tonsils of all contemporary Sarah Vaughan/Ella Fitzgerald poseurs. Give it up, ladies. On Unsung Heroes (Telarc), jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton thankfully avoids the usual diva wanna-be claptrap by pursuing instrumentalists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane as influences instead. As a result, she's impressively added lyrics to a load of jazz standards like Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" and Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring."
Brazil's Eliane Elias may be the best contemporary protégé of Bill Evans -- a not unlikely correlation given bossa nova's and the late pianist's similar penchant for Impressionist music. Elias has yet to deliver a loser disc, and Everything I Love (Blue Note), though fraught with beat-to-death standards, is at least as seductive as her previous recordings. If you're in to jazz piano and haven't checked her out, you're overlooking a major figure.
Of particular interest to Arizona and its Birkenstock flock; if ever there was a solid band of a mindset sharing the earth-conscious values of Sedona, it is Oregon. Decades later, as evident on Best of the Vanguard Years (Vanguard), even the band's dated reliance on a sitar and tabla can't diminish how well the quartet spun off hippie-oriented jazz that seduced typical Fillmore West audiences with music far more sophisticated than the rock acts for which they opened. As bassist for Miles Davis, Dave Holland also played a number of Fillmore gigs. On Prime Directive (ECM), the Dave Holland Quintet focuses on the rhythms of Africa, Arabia and other cultures via sax, trombone and vibes fronting the leader's bass. The ECM label occasionally churns out some painfully dry albums of library jazz, but this isn't one of them.
Some other recent releases by the old guard: pianist Kenny Barron intentionally moves away from his associations with bebop on Spirit Song (Verve), which shifts into more exotic terrain with the help of, among others, drummer Billy Hart and saxophonist Eddie Henderson. The Savoy label this month unearths three late-'50s/early-'60s sessions: On 52nd Street by pianist Marian McPartland, The Last Savoy Sessions by saxophonist Yusef Lateef and Modern Windows Suite by the lesser known bandleader/tenorman Bill Barron. Like classic old movies, these recordings are engaging partly because they're dated, and partly because they bear a youthful assertiveness that made two of them major jazz figures.
Tomorrow Today (GRP) by Al Jarreau is typical pop jazz churned out by one of the most distinct, underchallenged vocalists associated with the J word. The exception is his superb vocal rendition of Weather Report's "Something That You Said," which is so far above the other luv grooves, it stands out like the only thumb that isn't sore. Jarreau wrote the lyrics, as well. Makes this writer want to shake him into becoming the hard-core (and still accessible) jazzer he could become by doing the same to compositions by the likes of Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Bill Evans and a load of other ultra-melodic tunesters.
On The Hidden Light (J Curve), saxophonist Gregory Tardy conjures up a regal, post-hardbop mood that, though he shouldn't be able to pull it off at his young age, explains why he's been yanked into the bands of Elvin Jones, Tom Harrell and Wynton Marsalis.
Best jazz album of the month: Revolver: A New Spin (Premonition) is a revision of the entire Beatles Revolver album by Ann Dyer & No Good Time Fairies. The band mixes accordion, tabla and sitar sounds with the sax of the underrated Peter Apfelbaum, jumping from India to Cajun country on "Good Day Sunshine" and "Eleanor Rigby."
The perfect rock 'n' roll double-entendre band name, the Bad Livers, is the property of a twisted bluegrass band influenced by punk. On Blood & Mood (Sugar Hill), "Fist Magnet" breaks the inbreeding tradition of mountain music by playing footsie with hip-hop, resulting in romantic lyrics like "My girlfriend thinks my head's on fire/I string my thing with banjo wire."
Another group of wanderers from bluegrass terrain is the Turtle Island String Quartet. They've since incorporated enough jazz and classical direction to leave them in category limbo, as is evident on Art of the Groove (Turtle Island Records), where they leap from Chick Corea to Leo Kottke compositions. Think of them as a swing-heavy, less intense alternative to the Kronos Quartet.