By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Jazz, 2001: The heavy influence of conservative egomaniacal trumpeter Wynton Marsalis on egomaniacal director Ken Burns' highly viewed epic documentary, Jazz, will lead millions of PBS viewers to earmark their pledge dollars for programs of acoustic jazz only, preferably played by men in suits. Jazz aficionados will prove their commitment to preserving jazz history by eschewing CDs for pre-1960s jazz LPs, and avoiding harm to the precious artifacts by never opening the albums.
On Impure Thoughts (Razor & Tie), pianist Michael Wolff manages to mix his bright piano style with soul music, Indian percussion and the heavy funk of Miles Davis -- all in synch on jazz takes of such unlikely fare as The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." Wolff's battles with Tourette's syndrome are dealt with in the upcoming cable bio The Tic Code featuring Gregory Hines.
The Jazz 32 label ventures beyond its reissue series to produce current mainstream jazzers, conservative but solid in their output. Two pianists' efforts are handed over this time, one of them being Bedtime Stories, a tribute to Herbie Hancock played by the Billy Child Trio. Keyboardist Denny Zeitlin, whose daytime gig is as a Bay Area psychiatrist, was allegedly a favorite of late pianist Bill Evans, whose influence shines through on the standard-heavy As Long as There's Music. The Blue Note label's Written in the Stars by the Bill Charlap Trio is a silky collection of familiar cuts, sometimes so smooth and improvisationally tethered it may lose the listener's attention to any distraction greater than an asthma wheeze.
The Pat Metheny Trio is the guitarist's satellite band, pursued when the Pat Metheny Group is on ice. While last year's first trio effort was a bit dry, the two-CD Live (Warner Bros.) will be remembered as one of Metheny's best albums. Hearing him deftly whip through complex PMG cuts ("James," "So May It Secretly Begin") without the support of pianist Lyle Mays makes you wonder how many fingers he's blessed with on each hand. Steal the set if you can't afford it -- tell them Gumbo said it was okay.
The speed and jaw-dropping dexterity of former Mahavishnu Orchestra bassist Jonas Hellborg has made him the Jaco Pastorius of Europe. Good People in Times of Evil (Bardo) again couples him with Eastern music, here through the udu and vocals of India's V. Selvaganesh Kanjeera. Longtime cohort/guitarist Shawn Lane completes the trio.
Remember Shakti is what John McLaughlin has renamed his '70s band Shakti, which continues to sound like a Ravi Shankar album with ferocious guitar instead of sitar. The Believer (Verve) is much tighter than the band's mind-numbing, endless two-CD set from last year. Simultaneously being released is The Heart of Things: Live in Paris (Verve), an intimidatingly powerful post-fusion sextet featuring sax and, rare on a McLaughlin album, piano.
On This Is What I Do (Milestone), Sonny Rollins is so pumped it's all he can do to spit out the melody of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" before lurching into his passionate revamping. Don't know what this septuagenarian eats for breakfast, but whatever fuels his cutting tone and dynamic phrasing leaves him sounding like a tiger on a short leash. This honest-to-God jazz legend, though, is a bit overly generous in doling out precious solo time to the rest of the band.
Like Rollins, Paul Desmond is one of the four or five most recognizable saxophonists in jazz, his sultry tone having won the somewhat nerdish feller the horizontal companionship of many models gracing his album covers. The cover of Lemme Tell Ya 'Bout Desmond (Label M) appropriately features only a cloud -- he died in 1977 -- while the innards resurrect some witty jazz arrangements from the '60s and '70s.
John Pizzarelli, son of jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, makes a ménage a trois of his not entirely dynamic vocals, his more impressive picking and a bag of slow standards on his second album, Let There Be Love (Telarc). The Best of Holly Cole (Metro Blue) shows the singer matching Cassandra Wilson's ability to update the standard catalogue, here covering top-drawer material by Everything But the Girl, Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Killer arrangements, too. Hendrik Meurkens plays jazz harmonica -- not exactly the career a mother would choose for her son, but one that he more than justifies with the hyperventilating bop chops spread all over New York Nights (A-Records).
David "Fathead" Newman's Captain Buckles (Label M) might as well be volume two of Curtis Mayfield's Superfly soundtrack, given how funky the saxophonist is on the reissue of this 1970 album. Should be checked by Hank Crawford and David Sanborn fans who can handle the slightly ripe, 30-year-old arrangements. Bonus: Newman looks like Shaft's Richard Roundtree on the inner sleeve.
Chicago jazz: The late bop saxophonist Lin Halliday is heard on a 1988 session recently released as Airegin (Delmark), while the avant-garde sax of Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble pursues the Art Ensemble of Chicago's mix of tradition and sci-fi on Jo'burg Jump (Delmark). Saxophonists Von Freeman and Frank Catalano embrace the abrasive on the taxi driver-mean You Talkin' to Me? (Delmark). Pianist Sir Charles Thompson, who played with both Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon in the mid-'40s, remains surprisingly powerful on Robbins' Nest: Live at the Jazz Showcase (Delmark).