Fourth Coming

Gumbo celebrates Independence Day and Satchmo's birth with the latest in jazz, blues and heritage

The Fourth of July is also celebrated as Louis Armstrong's birthday, even though in reality it probably isn't. While the trumpeter was frequently accused of Uncle Tomming, the choice of America's B-day as his own (his birth certificate was lost) means we remember him more for Uncle Samming throughout a spectacular career that survived him:

(1) constantly wiping spit from his mouth with a rag;

(2) frequently touting the benefits of his favorite laxative, Swiss Kringle;

(3) admitting he smoked marijuana daily; and

(4) recording "Hello Dolly!".

Speaking of Armstrong, West End Blues: The Very Best of the Hot Fives and Sevens (Music Club) reissues cuts recorded in the '20s and considered representative of what made him the first jazz giant.

Other spiffy jazz: Imagine John Coltrane's yer dad. The good news: You'll get a major-label deal even if the extent of your musicality is snot whistling during a head cold. The bad news: You're doomed to prove to the world that you'll never be able to fill your old man's shoes. Ravi Coltrane has sidestepped the curse with his second release, From the Round Box (BMG/RCA), a mature mix of papa John's influential wailing and his son's preference for a looser form of swinging.

Two super-lunged tenormen have new stuff to strut. The David Murray Octet thrashes through Coltrane's ballads and bombastic classics on Octet Plays Trane (Justin Time), supported by trombone/trumpet/sax arrangements so bent they probably scared off the major labels. Several years back, the eclectic Murray also recorded a disc of Grateful Dead covers. James Carter proves he's just as schizo on two CDs simultaneously released by Atlantic Records. Layin' in the Cut is chain-saw jazz funk built on a foundation laid by Ornette Coleman-schooled bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston. On Chasin' the Gypsy, Carter throws Django Reinhardt classics through a mix of traditional New Orleans jazz drumming, zydeco accordion and Stephane Grappelli-esque violin. Carter shows how French romanticism was the mama of both Reinhardt and the jazz of New Orleans. Best stuff this month, these two albums.

Hearing the accordion, we're genetically hardwired to either rent a Fellini film or throw nickels at organ grinders' monkeys. Tridruga's self-titled album on the Love Slave label, however, is the ZZ Top of that oh-so-popular accordion/guitar/bass format, triple-dipping into the regional romanticism of Italy's pasta circuit, the musette influence of France and Argentina's bandoneon-fueled tango. Great for other kinds of organ grinding, too, if you know what I mean.

Guitar god George Benson's Absolute Benson (GRP) is being touted as the long-diluted deity's return to the sophisticated soul jazz of early '70s fusion albums like White Rabbit and Beyond the Blue Horizon. No question, the hard-core composing and production values of those 30-year-old CTI label recordings whup this stuff hands down. At least Benson's temporarily dropped the soulless zombie jazz he's favored since Breezin' paid for that home in Hawaii. For a guy blessed with the pipes of Donny Hathaway and the chops of Wes Montgomery, he's gonna have a lot to answer for if death proves that Jesus is hard on underachievers.

Speaking of the afterlife, maybe 32-year-old tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander sold his soul to de debil for the chops that allow him to hold his own with nosebleed guitar patriarch Pat Martino on The First Milestone (Milestone). Young Alexander's intimidating tone and riff-free wailing are also everywhere on Jimmy McGriff's McGriff's House Party (Milestone).

It would be easy to dismiss Here's to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years! based on diet jazzer David Benoit's inability to add much to pianist Vince Guaraldi's original versions of Peanuts themes. But Benoit's interpretations are more extroverted than the originals, replacing sentimentalism with Day-Glo cartoon colors. The thick harmonies and Stevie Wonder-like soul supplied by Take 6 on "Christmas Time Is Here" are a perfect match.

Xenoblast (Blue Note) by The Jazz Mandolin Project not only yanks the instrument far from the realms of bluegrass, it takes a more contemporary approach than does the swing-influenced jazz of David Grisman. Leader Jamie Masefield prefers to stretch out with clusters of unlikely chords rather than wicked bebop lines.

Dominic Duval, longtime bassist of choice for outsider Cecil Taylor, coupled with Jason Kao Hwang of the Far East Side Band to construct The Experiment (Blue Jackel), an album of ominous bass and violin noise that'll make you lock your doors.

On the double-disc set Serenity (ECM), the Bobo Stenson Trio smokes up some moody piano meditations that float between the bodyguard-tough punctuation of the bass and drums. Stenson's often as pensive as Keith Jarrett, but generally meaner. On the same label's Epigraphs, pianist Ketil Bjornstad and cellist David Darling are as pastoral as the jazz style created by Oregon and the Paul Winter Consort -- not surprising since Darling was a member of the latter.

Testosterone-free jazz: If you follow Diana Reeves, whose In the Moment: Live in Concert (Blue Note) has just been released, expand your horizons by checking out the punchy style of Denise Jannah on The Madness of Our Love (Blue Note), where her unique takes of "Harlem Nocturne" and "My Favorite Things" mix with her own sultry composing. On Ritmo + Soul (Blue Note), Canadian soprano saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana burn their way through a playlist of engaging paeans to Cuban music written by bandleader and trumpeter Larry Cramer. Moving the source of inspiration south about a thousand miles: Longtime Brazilian diva Ithamara Koorax's Serenade in Blue (Milestone) is mostly post-bossa nova, relying on '70s-ish electric keyboards rather than acoustic guitars, and including a funky version of the 1966 French soundtrack theme from A Man and a Woman.

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