By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Cosmic Connection #1: Pianist Benny Green may look like he's 11 years old, but he occasionally solos with the bravado and start 'n' stop gear-changing of the 75 year-old Oscar Peterson, who, in turn, was protégé to the Robin Williams of jazz piano, Art Tatum, who, having died an addict, may have taken Bennies and, being blind in one eye, couldn't see Green. A mere coincidence? Gumbo thinks not. Actually, Green's newest, Naturally (Telarc), doesn't do all that well in conveying his aforementioned prowess. Maybe next time.
Some solid Louis Armstrong reissues are available now in a dusty CD bin near you! Too bad that mostly only 50+ jazzers will be shelling out for The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings, Satchmo the Great, Satch Plays Fats and Ambassador Satch (Columbia/Legacy). Nearly everyone else considers this hard-core Armstrong material dated, primitive and inferior to the drivel he sang on television and Broadway during the '60s. That media-fed mentality has resulted in the greatest oversight of seminal material in the history of jazz. Check out The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings for early jazz as groundbreaking as the Constitution.
Need an infusion of the Andalusian? Spain (Verve) by the jazz piano/guitar duo of Michel Camilo and Tomatito is far more colorful than the sort of bleached romanticism typical of, say, the soundtrack to a PBS series on Irrigation in Ancient Lisbon. Bossa nova patriarch João Gilberto has repeatedly released solo albums so subtle the room's air conditioning becomes a distraction. João voz e violão (Verve) is another one of them, and though he regurgitates a few '60s classics with a voice so delicate it's damn near mysterious, no lover of Brazilian music is likely to complain.
Jay Azzolina -- whose previous album came out in 1989 -- has since adopted a lot of John Scofield's tone and off-kilter improvisational grammar, as is evident on Past Tense (Double-Time Records). Though not a trailblazer, at least he's no longer teething on the guitar that he played behind Spyro Gyra and Michael Franks.
Three newer faces: The opening cuts of The Mask (Blue Note) by French trumpeter Erik Truffaz are so thick with references to fusion-era Miles Davis and the moody, layered blowing of Jon Hassell you wonder if the disc is a tribute album. Well, yes and no. While there's some outright sonic pickpocketing going on, at least Truffaz has passed over licked-to-death museum pieces like Clifford Brown to pick on players more his age. Worth a listen if you've already bought up the catalogue of his influences. Speaking of the lighter side of the jazz spectrum: Though the backing tracks of Dangerous Curves (GRP) are as predictable as wallpaper pattern, guitarist Jeff Golub's vulgar little snap in his playing replaces the usual tongue-in-ear, cooing tones of EZ-jazz luv grooves with a slap on the ass. Somebody, please fork-lift him out of that Lifetime Network soundtrack mood and drop him into something swampy. Lastly, Jason Moran's punchy phrasing makes his piano sound like a pinball machine. The passionate 24-year-old jazzer is also one of the new guard who doesn't hesitate, bless him, to stick a Björk cut next to one by Duke Ellington on Facing Left (Blue Note). With the guy coming out of the chute this fiercely, he'll be very nasty stuff in a few years.
Now in his mid-70s, Jimmy Scott has always been mistaken for a female jazz vocalist, because of some arrested sexual development upon which Gumbo would rather not linger. Linger instead on Mood Indigo (Milestone), a superb example of how the singer's unhurried pacing and fragmented phrasing make him just too damn cool.
Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, the Ghost of Fusion Past, is back with Voices of Other Times (Miramar). Thankfully, they've neither twisted nor time-capsuled their era-specific, ultra-British groove into anything too contemporary. Auger's ever-present Hammond B-3 organ shares the foreground with the dark vocals of daughter Savannah.
Karen Mantler, pianist, composer and daughter of Michael Mantler and Carla Bley, has grieved the death of her cat Arnold for four albums now, with Karen Mantler's Pet Project (Angel) broadcasting her decision to find a new critter to coddle. Like her mother, she warbles over bizarre domestic concerns you ain't gonna hear on jazz records outside this family. Ella Fitzgerald may crawl out of the grave and strangle her for singing love songs to turtles and sheep, which is why it's jazz pick of the month. While on the Addams Family of jazz: Carla Bley and bassist/husband Steve Swallow present their third live duo recording on Are We There Yet? (WATT/29). The latter's also-live Always Pack Your Uniform on Top (XtraWATT) offers up even more cartoon-colorful composing.
Lots of fans of the Pat Metheny Group will be disappointed with the exceptionally subtle Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano (Warner Bros.) by the band's co-founder, Lyle Mays. The pianist's heady subtleties déjà vu us back to the band's occasional ventures into weighty European-style jazz when it was on Germany's jazz label for pondering pipe smokers, ECM.
Folk, blues, world, etc.: Guitarist/blues singer/historian Taj Mahal harks back to the late '60s when he was a regular at Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditoriums. Three reissues from the hippie era -- Taj Mahal, The Real Thing and Natch'l Blues as well as The Best of Taj Mahal (Columbia/Legacy) -- resurface an intimate country blues style that avoids milking an I-goes-way-back-yessuh, hokum legacy. The guy just did his homework extremely well, as you'll hear.
Cosmic Connection #2: Guitarist T-Bone Walker was the perfect straddler of jazz and blues, which no doubt accounted for that goofy, spread-eagle, guitar-behind-the-neck pose he favored. The Very Best of T-Bone Walker (Rhino) makes immediately obvious how the sophisticated axman was an influence on both B.B. King and Chuck Berry. Not only was he one of the first electric guitarists, but he could pick up a nightclub table with his teeth. Really. There has to be something cosmically significant about that.
Larry Long's topical folk music hasn't a lick of the dry pedantry that makes you feel you've earned college credit for listening to the whole album. Well May the World Go (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) is the most gorgeous album of acoustic music this jaded listener has heard in a while. Even when bemoaning the lack of jobs in Texas or the presence of the Klan, Long makes you glad you live in the Big Fifty.
Gumbo set aside horrible associations with a particular high school blind date and listened to Donna the Buffalo without prejudice, finding the band's fine Positive Friction (Sugar Hill) a plugged-in/cranked-up mix of bluegrass, Irish jigs and reggae. As for getting rootsy, The Corrs are Coors Light by comparison. Keeping more traditional bluegrass tethered down are The Lonesome River Band's Talkin' to Myself (Sugar Hill) and Just Over in Heaven (Sugar Hill) by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.
Bill Laswell comes across as Aleister Crowley behind a mixing board, making the idea of him delving into traditional Irish music, Emerald Heather: Shape Shifting (Shanachie), pretty damned strange. The listener may think Laswell's gone soft given those unadulterated bagpipes and tin whistles early on, but he slowly slithers his depression-heavy presence into the picture as the album continues. It's great moodiness that makes you want to thrash a troll or something. If you're less temperamental -- and God knows what killer instincts you're denying, sissy -- you may prefer the up-tempo, violin-driven Celtic Fantasy (Green Hill) by David Davidson, which offers far more rhythm and melody (via a baroque approach) than most of the romanticized, land o' potatoes musical upchuck you drop 17 bucks for down at the co-op. No bones about it, though, this is an outright guilty pleasure, about as authentically Irish as that green soap.
Cosmic Connection #3: As the lonely Gumbo sat before his blank monitor screen, admittedly thinking impure thoughts, the doorbell rang and the mailperson delivered both Deep Porn: The Compilation (HardCorps Entertainment) and The Toughest Girl Alive (Bullseye) by ex-porn diva Candye Kane. The former couples the music of Kid Rock, George Clinton, etc., with porn stars belting out heartfelt expressions you'll never find in a Hallmark card. Vocalist Kane's a bisexual bluester whose aggressive, almost big band approach (implementing guitarist Dave Alvin and pianist Marcia Ball) on cuts like "Let's Commit Adultery" may keep her from guesting on any upcoming tapings of The 700 Club.
Overlooked and underrated: Novelist Kinky Friedman fronted a rude band called the Texas Jewboys long before he bought his first ream of paper. Last year's Pearls in the Snow (Damian) is a tribute to Kinky's '70s-era singing/composing career, featuring, among others, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Delbert McClinton and Dwight Yoakam. Willie Nelson sings the jaw-dropping (in more ways than one) "Ride 'Em Jewboy," a string of double-entendres drawing reverent parallels between cowboys and concentration camps. Yeah, I know. You have to hear it to believe it.