Bop the Question

Drawing insight from the month's best in jazz, blues and heritage, Gumbo answers readers' nagging queries

This month Gumbo dips into the mailbox and answers those cosmic questions regarding jazz and blues. But first, a little press for those jazzers whose lives reached the expiration date.

From the label that reissued the entire Monkees catalogue comes two remastered John Coltrane albums, Coltrane Plays the Blues and Ole Coltrane (Rhino), complete with bonus tracks. A Baltimore-based society of jazz fiends has cracked open its tape vault and allowed Label M to begin releasing a monstrous collection of live jazz sets recorded over the decades. The first two out of the gate are Sonny Stitt's Just the Way It Was: Live at the Left Bank and Stan Getz's My Foolish Heart: Live at the Left Bank. Resonance (Pablo) features Joe Pass in a live set from 1974, with the king of solo jazz guitar this time playing in a trio setting. Here his bop chops are more evident than on most of his typically slower-paced albums. A sampling of the Brazilian music and quartet offerings baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan recorded during the last three years of his life can be found on The Art of Gerry Mulligan: The Final Recordings (Telarc).

Dear Gumbo, is the flute an unconscious extension of the penis? Gumbo believes everything is an extension of the penis. For some reason, the flute was a hot item during the soul jazz era, and you can ponder plenty of its best output on Heavy Flute: Funky Flute Grooves From the '60s and '70s (Label M), which features Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann and others. From an instrument slightly less phallic: Hank Crawford's Low Flame High Heat (Label M) gathers a fistful of the alto saxophonist's seriously soulful jazz from the '60s.

Percussionist Cyro Baptista and guitarist Kevin Breit are Supergenerous. On their self-titled Blue Note album, the duo leaps from opium-den moodiness to the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They're at their best when mining the same Appalachian backwoods feel guitarist Bill Frisell favors, making you want to smoke a corncob pipe and date your sister. Much more adventurous than you'd expect from a Blue Note release. Just as unexpected from the same label is Richard Leo Johnson's Language, where the guitarist sounds like a cross between Leo Kottke and the late Michael Hedges. Dueting with him on several cuts are members of Oregon. Speaking of:

Dear Gumbo, I know most jazz fans are heroin addicts and meat eaters, but is there jazz for us Birkenstocks-clad granola munchers? Yes, there is. Though their heyday was 20-some years ago, Oregon still remains the ultimate in pastoral jazz. In Moscow (Intuition), which features the Moscow Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra backing the group's classical guitar and oboe, sounds damn near vitamin-fortified. Consider it a health investment if you drink too much beer.

String-whackers: Guitarist Al DiMeola, who made his name playing with more speed than you'd find in a trucker's overalls, couples his romantic Latin thang with acoustic piano and The Toronto Symphony Orchestra on The Grande Passion (Telarc). Martin Taylor's damn near superhuman agility on In Concert (Milestone) -- check out the almost freakish "I Got Rhythm" -- reveals why violinist Stephane Grappelli chose him to take the guitar role earlier held by Django Reinhardt. Definitely preferable to his last album's attempt to woo the smooth jazz zombies. Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin sounds uncannily like '70s-era George Benson, which is about as lyrical and soulful as the guitar gets. Couple that with a load of African rhythms and you've got Modern Answers to Old Problems (Telarc).

The Boston-area band Fat Dragon feeds off Miles Davis' fusion from the late '80s: the rock drumming, the ominous bass lines, the reliance on soprano sax and electric piano -- it's all there on Dream After a Large Lunch (Planet Pomegranate Records). Good enough to suggest that more bands should experiment with a dark funk feel. Pianist Brad Meldhau's Places (Warner Bros.) offers moody, loosely structured musical photos of cities he's visited while touring. A nice intro to the pianist's top-drawer improvising. Kenny Colman makes up for that perennial deficit in male jazz vocalists with Straight Ahead (Justin Time). His slightly hoarse tonsils cruise through "Last Tango in Paris" and other romantic tunes that make you want to get naked.

Dear Gumbo, is there any jazz, preferably somewhat snooty, that would fit in with my Arabian Nights theme party? Lucky you. Just released is a 1991 session by Dr. Lonnie Smith, who plays impressive organ funk and blues piano while, for reasons known only to the Egyptian god Ra, wearing a turban. Inform your guests that The Turbanator (32 Jazz), a collection of mostly self-penned pieces, is typical of the more-class/less-soul chops Smith has flashed for decades.

While a mix of trumpet, violin and accordion sounds like something straight out of a nursing-home talent show, Dave Douglas' A Thousand Evenings (BMG) has that odd combination spinning off some pretty passionate music -- including a somber take of the Goldfinger theme. Depending on your tastes, pianist Satoko Fujii falls somewhere between Cecil Taylor and the soundtrack for a seizure on Toward, "TO WEST" (Enja). The intelligible phrasing and gradual mood shifts of her bombastic outbursts prove that avant-garde jazz isn't random key-whacking.

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