Bop the Question

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

On Nightclub (Blue Note/Premonition), Patricia Barber's smoky vocals and pensive piano purposely replicate the 2 a.m./close-the-bar mood that, cliché or not, is when and where the jazz gods most frequently gather converts. Though it may look like clarinetist Eddie Daniels is attempting to jump on the caboose of the passing swing craze with his big-band tribute Swing Low Sweet Clarinet (Shanachie), the improvisational element is far too much in the foreground for the tastes of anyone on a dance floor -- reason enough to check it out.

Dear Gumbo, why do I think of goats bleating when I hear the baritone saxophone? Do I need a therapist? Probably, but nonetheless, too many baritone players honk like a barnyard. Bluiett, known as Hamiet Bluiett before and during his tenure with The World Saxophone Quartet, sinks into that low register with more heart on With Eyes Wide Open (Justin Time). Since the death of Gerry Mulligan, Bluiett may be the main man on the instrument.

There's a forlornness built into the sound of the vibes, which may make Bobby Hutcherson's Mirage (32 Jazz) all it takes to get your head in the oven if the Prozac's not working. For the slightly more stable, the leader's dueting with pianist Tommy Flanagan creates some well-deserved attention for two long-term jazz figureheads now taken for granted. A bit more upbeat: a trumpet, tenor and alto sax lead The Bronx Horns through some witty Latin revisions of Horace Silver compositions on Silver in the Bronx (32 Jazz).

Dear Gumbo, I hear a demon whispering to me whenever I listen to a Keith Jarrett album. Are my parents right about jazz being the music of the devil? Of course it is, bucko, but forget calling the exorcist. Jarrett has long pissed off jazzdom by singing and grunting as he improvises. Those adenoidal extras are also featured on Whisper Not (ECM), the 15th album (three of them doubles, one of them a six-CD box) by the trio of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. Jarrett endlessly spins off confident alterations of the standards catalogue -- so consistently, actually, the drama's frequently lost. His early solo albums of purely spontaneous improvising were far more risky.

During the late '50s and early '60s, painter/jazz addict David X. Young allowed players like Zoot Sims, Jim Hall, Mose Allison and Pepper Adams to use his illegal residence in a commercial-district Manhattan loft as a place to jam and keep the chops honed between jobs. David X. Young's Jazz Loft (Jazz Magnet) is a classy two-CD package (with a 40-page booklet) of home recordings that let us in on what these mainstream jazzers sounded like playing for each other.

The late crooner Arthur Prysock was far too bluesy to be claimed by the jazz camp and too uptown-classy for the rhythm and blues bunch to accept. Prysock recorded nearly 60 albums straddling this fence before the Milestone label decided to market him as a jazzer. The Best of Arthur Prysock: The Milestone Years (Milestone) needs to be in the collection of anyone following black vocalists of any genre, but, in the end, he's still the poor man's Chuck Jackson/Johnny Hartman as a soulster/jazzer.

Dear Gumbo, I'll soon pick up my fiancé at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and need mood music for our back-seat honeymoon in the prison parking lot. Avoid suggesting anything with sudden loud noises or negative comments about white people, please. Maria Muldaur's Music for Lovers (Telarc), a collection of the blues diva's snuggly stuff, features a sultry, six-minute-plus take of John Hiatt's "Feels Like Rain." Speaking of Hiatt, slide guitarist Sonny Landreth and his cohorts were once hired as the songwriter's backing band. Hiatt, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Doucet and Jennifer Warnes sit in on Levee Town (Sugar Hill), where Landreth's paean to Louisiana is well supported by his biting guitar work.

Peg Leg Sam, who lost the limb hopping freight trains, played blues harmonica in medicine shows and carnivals during the '30s. Kickin' It (32 Blues), recorded in the early '70s, introduces a killer harp player and storyteller never given his due. From Steve Miller's harp man for the past 25 years comes Norton Buffalo and the Knockouts' King of the Highway (Blind Pig Records), a bluesy venture that occasionally veers into ex-Miller band member Boz Scaggs' brand of R&B. Other alumni news: Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers' Sinner Street (Blind Pig Records), led by the former guitarist of the Nighthawks, spits out a guitar style as tank-solid and aggressive as Duane Eddy's.

Though John Fahey's acoustic guitar instrumentals can be as dry as a mouthful of lima beans, he's still the father of Leo Kottke and every guitarist born of the New Age movement. The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party (Takoma), recorded in the mid-'60s, is such hard-core heartland stuff that it sounds like it's meant to be played in grain elevators. Considerably more up-tempo is another collection of acoustic guitar instrumentals: Foundation: The Doc Watson Guitar Instrumental Collection 1964-1998 (Sugar Hill). Watson, the daddy of all bluegrass flatpickers, burns his way through beat-to-death traditional standards so deftly the hokum element becomes tolerable.

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