By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Here's how you can spread those boneyard bonus bucks, blues first.
Can't start planning for the holidays too soon: Bite Me! (Bullseye) by Smokin' Joe Kubek is the perfectly offensive Mother's Day gift. Guitarmonger Kubek wrings some vulgar Texas blues out of his tool of trade, inspired by a geographic location centered about three inches below his oversize belt buckle. Such nastiness was born of patriarchs like Magic Slim and the Teardrops, a guttural guitarist and band who personify the best of Chicago blues on Snakebite (Blind Pig). Slim and company come pretty damn close to exhibitionism with their unapologetic, testosterone-fueled bravado.
From the female perspective, when blues guitarist Deborah Coleman sings "make me crawl on the floor/I've haven't done that before" on Soft Place to Fall (Blind Pig), she's probably not looking for Easter eggs. Just hearing Coleman sing her come-ons whups anything this writer spent on last week's table dances.
Much jazz: a song titled "Don't Wake the Violent Baby" is reason enough to check out Turbulent Flow (Blue Note) by saxophonist Mark Shim. You'll also encounter a striking contrast between the leader's gutsy, punchy improvising and the softer sounds of vibes, a marimba and Rhodes piano. Shim gets some pretty intimidating grooves going, which, if the band practices in his basement, might account for them violent babies. The guy's one of the better new Blue Note figures.
Twang jazz guitarist Bill Frisell is a national treasure, suggesting on albums like Ghost Town (Nonesuch) that he's the poet laureate of American music, given how he bounces from George Gershwin to Hank Williams as though the two had everything in common. Randy Johnston is another energetic six-stringer whose sense of rhythm and swing is so well developed on Homage (J Curve) that he spits out flashes of funk as effortlessly as cuss words come to someone with Tourette's Syndrome. Lots of Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery evident in his stuff. On Duet (Dreyfus Jazz), guitarists Bireli Lagrene and Sylvain Luc tackle an interesting set of compositions ranging from Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" to Benny Goodman's "Stompin' at the Savoy." Lagrene's last decade's worth of recordings haven't held up well, making this a resurrection of sorts.
On Bump (Verve), axe-strangler John Scofield stretches his funk jones into new territory with an altered tone with help from radical funk punks like Soul Coughing, Sex Mob and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Unfortunately, the guitar ends up fairly far back in the mix, which no doubt will frustrate Scofielders who have come to appreciate his soulful soapboxing. He swears that the song "Kilgeffen" is about a fictitious Irish town, not about the imagined death of one of the music industry's most prominent bloodsuckers. Sure.
Some of Pastoral Composure (Thirsty Ear) sounds like there's a hell of a lot more players than just the foursome in the Matthew Shipp Quartet. Pianist Shipp and bassist William Parker made a lot of noise, literally, throughout the '90s due to heavy support by Henry Rollins, of all people. It's a good intro to someone whose work isn't always this accessible.
You could call the World Saxophone Quartet the jazz equivalent of an a cappella group, given how the four saxes of this all-star band (John Purcell, Oliver Lake, David Murray and Hamiet Bluiett) create killer harmonies with no rhythm section as support. On Requiem for Julius (Justin Time) they pay tribute to departed WSQ member Julius Hemphill. If you want more mainstream WSQ as a primer, try their earlier tributes to Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Speaking of: WSQ member Oliver Lake has long been an adventurous jazzer, having created some fine jazz reggae albums back in the '80s. Kinda' Up (Justin Time) by the Oliver Lake Steel Quartet isn't as good, but it's a unique project with steel drums as the focus.
Must have been a trip for a relatively young jazz whippersnapper like Greg Osby to snag guitar patriarch Jim Hall and esteemed pianist Andrew Hill for the session released as The Invisible Hand (Blue Note). Osby moved from playing innovative hip-hop jazz as part of the M-Base movement to churning out some pretty tepid stuff on many, maybe most, of his Blue Note releases. Seems he might be back on top again with this dark, almost hardbop outing, featuring killer drumming by Terri Lyne Carrington and the sax of M-Base peer Gary Thomas.
Two solo albums into his career, pianist D.D. Jackson has created a style that, by reworking the speed and key hammering of the late Don Pullen, places him more than a few steps beyond the competition. On Anthem (BMG), his early gospel and classical music influences also extricate him from the pack of diet jazz players whose roots run no deeper than a Charlie Brown soundtrack.
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.
One world, one world-music review: John Gentry Tennyson has a history of playing with jazzers like Randy Brecker, Dewey Redman and Al DiMeola, even though his roots are in classical music. On Europa (Angel), he mixes both with the terminally romantic music of Italy, Spain and France. Anyone stricken with the lust level of tango's Astor Piazzolla will find this an 8.5 on the Nookie-Enhancing Scale.
This month's Overlooked and Underrated artist: Holland's guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg sounds uncannily like his idol, Django Reinhardt, the patriarch of Europe's gypsy musicians. Rosenberg and his eye-crossing, 90 mph rants make those Guitar Player magazine cover icons sound like your 16-year-old metalhead cousin who, when not wetting the bed, lives to beat that one Metallica riff to death. If he happens to fry his frame changing a tube in his amp, use the corpse cash for Rosenberg's Caravan (Verve).