Smooth Operators

Haikus and lows abound in this month's jazz and heritage releases

52nd Street Themes (Blue Note) by the Joe Lovano Nonet presents yet another texture stretch by this manic tenor man who will probably feature ukuleles on his next project. Lovano says his paean to bebop's Main Street isn't a tribute, despite his Charlie Parker-inspired improvising and five Tadd Dameron compositions. Forced as that may sound, he's right: There's a cutting, almost smartass jabbing in Lovano's soloing void of anything nostalgic. Backing up the front line of saxophones, trumpets and a trombone is drummer Lewis Nash, an ASU grad who's gone on to play with so many jazz legends he must have an index at the end of his résumé.

Drummer Roy Haynes has been tweaking his jazz approach ever since Lovano was playing a plastic sax from Sears. The Roy Haynes Trio Featuring Danilo Perez and John Patitucci (Verve) is a Latin-laced project with the drummer front and center, smacking skins with mucho fervor as the light-touched Perez spins off romantic, Chick Corea-influenced jazz. A good album for drum fans who don't want to yank the levelers on their equalizers into the nether regions in order to hear Haynes pound for pound, so to speak.

Time to say something mean and nasty: Special EFX guitarist Chieli Minucci has also been a session player behind Jewel, the Backstreet Boys, Jennifer Lopez and Celine Dion, so you just know this album is going to be uncompromising hard-core jazz. The first few cuts of Sweet on You (Shanachie) prove that Minucci aches to be Pat Metheny so bad that he probably has a fake ID. The rest of the disc spirals into his typical soap opera noodling.

Best jazz earmail of the month: If you're sick to death of thin salsa music, check out ¡Muy Divertido! (Very Entertaining!) (Atlantic) by Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos. Ribot, guitarist for Elvis Costello, the Lounge Lizards and Tom Waits (those schizo guitar solos on Raindogs and Mule Variations are his), ping-pongs from Chuck Berry to Yomo Toro and Wes Montgomery for guitar lines that do the nasty-nasty with a slew of sultry Latin rhythms. Some of that Sterno-drunk, Waits feel pops up as well.

Some blues, bluegrass and folk: On Lettin' Go (Telarc), Chicago's Son Seals has a little something for everyone: Those preferring his reverential "Blues Holy Ghost," form a line on the left; those choosing "Funky Bitch," beat up those in the line on the left. Some may find Seals' vocals somewhat forced and the range of his guitar wailing a bit confined, but better to cherish 10 minutes of good blues from a 57-year-old Windy City icon than 57 minutes of wind from a 10-year-old. Though Seals isn't what he once was, his status as one of the last classic Chicago blues stylists makes him worth following to the bendin' end.

No Special Rider (Adelphi/GENES) by Chicago blues pianist Little Brother Montgomery was culled from a 1969 session where his runs on somebody's 12-dollar piano bring to mind his New Orleans roots and the signature style of peers Professor Longhair and James Booker. Cocky blues songstress Jeanne Carroll, who sounds like she'd smack someone up headside over wrong change, shows up on a handful of cuts.

Former New Grass Revival vocalist John Cowan's previous release, Soul'd Out, was novel for filtering soul classics like "When a Man Loves a Woman" through bluegrass-tinged pipes so powerful you had tinnitus by the end of the CD. But it hid the songwriting talents obvious on the Sugar Hill label's John Cowan. Blues, gospel and soul music are just as blatant on this entirely impressive session produced by reclusive folkster Wendy Waldman.

Here's a serious find: In 1993, mandolinist David Grisman, guitar whiz Tony Rice and the Dead's dead Jerry Garcia recorded a loose acoustic jam in a Nashville studio. The tape later appeared on bootlegs and the radio as a result of it being stolen from Garcia's kitchen counter by a pizza deliveryman. Now the rest of us have access to The Pizza Tapes (Acoustic Disc), a prurient glimpse of what these hotshots sound like when casually screwing around with Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and Miles Davis' "So What."

About eight albums back, Peter Case, former head of The Plimsouls, gave up Valley Girl power pop for bloozy Memphis folk. Flying Saucer Blues (Vanguard) tastes like Desire-era Dylan soaked in rockabilly and New Orleans swamp water. Case isn't trying to top "A Million Miles Away" these days, but what spins out of him and his acoustic guitar is often just as engaging.

Check out to what extent Odetta's '60s-era folk music influenced Tracy Chapman on Livin' With the Blues (Vanguard), a reissue of 20 cuts by the artist who brought to folk music the sense of racial oppression that Bessie Smith brought to the blues.

Local stuff: Bluegrassers The Nitpickers have released a self-titled disc on Rustic Records. While to these ears the rhythms sometimes seem choppy and the vocals occasionally only a notch or so above shower singing, the quartet hands over a load of witty, self-penned songs. That's assuming, of course, that those speaker-rumbling, Handsome Dick Manitoba-like vocals and the dad's-in-prison, mom's-a-whore lyrics of "Walk Alone" are tongue in cheek. Also on Rustic Records is The White Album by Tammy Patrick, whose hard-core, sinus-driven country vocals jive well with her evocative storytelling, placing her somewhere between early Emmylou Harris and Sweethearts of the Rodeo-era Byrds.

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