By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
A rant in Jack Kerouac's On the Roadrefers to pianist George Shearing as God -- dreadfully undeserved praise, especially since pianists Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Lennie Tristano were on the scene when Kerouac was clubbing. (Say no to drugs, Jack; they warp jazz sensibilities.) Anyway, Shearing is again paid tribute on Reflections: Best of George Shearing (Telarc), a collection of conservative but nonetheless attractive '90s recordings. On Grand Slam(Telarc), Jim Hall plays looser than one might expect, thanks to the adventurous wanderings of Joe Lovano, George Mraz and Lewis Nash. The quartet fortunately plans on recording more albums of original material. Drummer Nash, by the way, is an ASU graduate.
Even with a gun to his head, alto saxophonist Hank Crawford couldn't play anything free of the blues. Without him there would be no David Sanborn or the hundred illegitimate musical grandchildren who have plundered the signature gutsy wail found on The World of Hank Crawford (Milestone). He and his band -- beefed up with a trumpet and another sax -- pump out the most unadulterated soul-jazz anyone's recording these days. Jazz pick of the month.
Drivin' Blues(32 Blues) is a compilation of up-tempo viscerus nastus-nastus, as they'd say if the blues were a Roman thing, and guaranteed to thrust your gas pedal foot right through the floorboard three or four cuts into the disc. Hey, Joe: Ike and Tina Turner's funky "Sweet Rhode Island Red" sounds like a marihooha anthem. But if the Sheriff shakes his bad thang as freely to music as to head-counts, he'll prefer The Very Best of Lightnin' Hopkins (Rhino) for the Texan's "Penitentiary Blues" and New Orleans-bred bluesman/jazzer Lonnie Johnson's "Solitude" on The Unsung Blues Legend (Blues Magnet).
Mandolin god Sam Bush has played most of the Telluride Bluegrass Festivals over the past 26 years. Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride (Sugar Hill) is a collection of live cuts from his '90s appearances, and includes a funky bass/mandolin duet on Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes." One of Sam's partners from their Newgrass Revival days gets an uncanny amount of national attention, given he's an uncategorizable banjoist: Béla Fleck and the Flecktones pump out a high-tech form of pop jazz on Outbound (Columbia), which is where disappointed fans of Fleck's bluegrass and jazz ventures may send the CD sailing.
The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack(Vanguard), the soundtrack to a documentary on the most colorful wandering folkster since Woody Guthrie, pairs the cowboy with Guthrie, Johnny Cash and even a young Bob Dylan -- the latter on an improvised doo-wop farce titled "Acne." Some hack saxophonist named Bill Clinton introduces him as a winner of the National Medal of Arts. The Best of Broadside(Broadside) is a five-CD boxed set of 89 topical and protest songs praised and printed in the folk-music rag Broadside, which proudly waved its middle finger at the government from 1962 to 1988. Included is Blind Boy Grunt's (a.k.a. Bob Dylan) "The Ballad of Donald White," recorded back when grunt was pretty much all the attention baby Bobby got.
State of the mouth down South: In the '60s, New Orleans soul diva Irma Thomas impressed the Rolling Stones with her "Time Is on My Side," which they later recorded. My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn (Rounder) couples the superlunged lady with the composer known for soul classics like "Dark End of the Street" and "Do Right Woman." Surgeon General's Warning: so greasy it may slip out of the CD deck. Considerably slicker but still solid is sultry warbler Mollie O'Brien's Things I Gave Away(Sugar Hill), a buffet of contemporary folk, bluegrass and blues from below the Mason-Dixon line.
Way, waydown South: Caetano Veloso remains a monster figure in Brazilian music for a fourth decade, as proven by the audience response on the live Prenda Minha (Blue Thumb) to a load of his well-known compositions. Neighbor Ivan Lins is much more pop-oriented on A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins (Telarc). Though the tribute album's gooey arrangements stick to the roof of your mouth, Lins is proof that Brazilian radio fare is much more enticing and unpredictable than most of the American stuff. Check out Lins' own albums -- they're generally better than this. On Like This I Want to Live (Blue Jackel), Maria Ochoa y Corazón de Son sings traditional versions of the "son," a guitar and percussion-driven music from the mountain regions of Cuba. It's a lot more infectious than it sounds, and should be checked out by fans of the Buena Vista Social Club.
Sorry, Bonnie Raitt, but John Hiatt's writing never sounded better than in the hands of wild Southern rhythm sadists like Irma Thomas and C.J. Chenier, two of many featured on Rollin' Into Memphis: Songs of John Hiatt (Telarc Blues). Lock that laser on Terrance Simeon's take of "It Hasn't Happened Yet," an overlooked Hiatt classic first covered by Rick Nelson in 1981.
Overlooked and underrated: On 1993's Jesus' Blood Has Never Failed Me Yet (Point Music), British composer Gavin Bryars recorded a hobo singing a snippet of the hymn, looped it, layered it with strings, added Tom Waits, and created an astounding string of nearly 175 gorgeous variations that'll bring you to yer heathen knees. "Best gospel album ever," Jesus recently told Gumbo in a phone interview from Madison Street Jail.