By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
The artists listed below represent Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Criminal Element: crackheads, communists and collie-beaters, every last one of them. They avoid touring Phoenix for fear of growing liver-spotted in the tents following confiscation of all them suspicious-looking guitars and saxophones, hollowed out to smuggle drugs. Our misfortune. Yeah, they all walk through the Valley (of the shadow of death) . . . on their way to play Los Angeles.
Come November, ballot in your paw, remember: Anagramming "Arpaio" leaves you only one letter short of "pariah."
Albums by lesser-known jazzers who are probably all "on" something: In the Mat Maneri Quartet's Blue Deco (Thirsty Ear), the leader's violin arm-wrestles with bassist William Parker, among others, on some energetic and frenzied playing. While it doesn't fall into the avant-garde category, everybody's certainly leaning pretty far over the ledge. Money Shot (Fog City Records) by Robert Walter's 20th Congress is keyboard funk à la Medeski, Martin & Wood. Walter's signature tone sounds like his organ has a head cold, which is a compliment.
Living Daylights is an in-yer-face Seattle-based trio whose Electric Rosary (Liquid City) features neighbor/guitar deity Bill Frisell. Even without him, the ultra-sophisticated sax work and fancy bass chording suggest that their first two jazz fusion albums should be checked out as well. Violinist Didier Lockwood pays homage to Django Reinhardt's musical Siamese twin on Tribute to Stephane Grappelli (Dreyfus Jazz). The guitarist's role is carried by Djangophile supreme Bireli Lagrene, who plays guitar in this sleek update of Grappelli's and Reinhardt's chunk-chunk Krazy Kat cartoon sound.
From jump street, The Mark Elf Trio's Live at Smalls (Jen Bay Jazz) jackhammers manic improvisation out of the guitar at a pace faster than your teeth chatter. Speed isn't everything (size is, I'm sorry to say), but spinning out witty and well-balanced soliloquies over your sidemen's roller-coastering is no small feat. Though the Andy Biskin Quintet is fueled by the most dweebish of all instruments -- the clarinet -- Biskin twists a traditional New Orleans lineup into playing some pretty freaky polkas and bebop on Dogmental (GM Recordings). Think Lawrence Welk in hell.
The Drummonds are a rhythm section (Billy on drums and Ray on bass) who back underrated pianist Renee Rosnes on their When You Wish Upon a Star (32 Jazz), a collection of romance-inspiring ballads that Gumbo's Walkman has constantly used as mood music during the past two weeks of dorm window peeping. While the trio yanks off its solid swinging with no surprises, there's no fat, either. For perversion diversion, duct-taped to Gumbo's binocular case is Jazz for When You're in Love (32 Jazz), a soul-jazz compilation containing killer takes of "That's All" and "Never Let Me Go" by Houston Person. All of the label's reissue packages are cheap enough that you could buy them with the change found beneath a Taco Bell drive-up window.
Jazz from dead guys: In 1961, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington recorded two albums' worth of Mount Rushmore jazz, here compiled on The Great Summit: Complete Sessions (Roulette Jazz). Disc two is the flashy trash: the abandoned takes, false starts and studio chatter showing the two legends laughing their way through screw-ups that validate their status as the least egocentric figures in jazz history. (All of it, by the way, was bankrolled by mobster/label head Morris Levy.) Speaking of his Dukeness, back in 1995 a used record store scrounger accidentally discovered an unreleased and rejected test pressing of Ellington compositions by the Chico Hamilton Quintet. The Original Ellington Suite (Pacific Jazz), lost for nearly four decades, is a major find because of the presence of Eric Dolphy, replaced on the original release by the comparatively lame Paul Horn.
Them Eastern troublemakers: The Chicago-based Delmark label, best known for its blues releases, turns out lots of great regional jazz as well. The city's major contribution has been the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a collective of highly experimental players who wrote and improvised in a very unhurried, impressionistic style. Delmark has reissued some seminal works by figures who best define Chicago jazz: trumpeter Malachi Thompson's Timeline, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams' Things to Come From Those Now Gone, and saxophonist Maurice McIntyre's Humility in the Light of Creator.
The Paul Wertico Trio is led by the Pat Metheny Group's drummer, but the guitarist on Wertico's Don't Be Scared Anymore (Premonition Records) -- who happens to be a Catholic priest -- joins the trapsman in cranking out buzz-saw jazz not as friendly as Metheny's but just as alluring. Art Pepper's Renascence (Galaxy) is an intense live set from 1975 that includes "Straight Life," which also happens to be the title of the L.A.-based saxophonist's 1979 autobiography, the nastiest account of imprisonment and addiction written by a jazz player to date. Record hammered, get nailed, by God! Sorry, Joe, but he's dead and greener than your jail's cheese sandwiches.
The Maria Schneider Orchestra constructs some lofty, towering big-band jazz on Allegresse (Enja), her third album. Schneider's layered arrangements of her compositions sound damn near 3-D throughout. Violinist Regina Carter revisits the soul (Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder) and jazz (Milt Jackson and Barry Harris) influences of her Detroit upbringing on Motor City Moments (Verve). Fortunately, the multitextured album is no manic, sawing-for-dollars contest, with Carter keeping her bow under the speed limit on this collection of ballads and midtempo swing cuts.
A rant in Jack Kerouac's On the Road refers 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, way down 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.