While they may not top the Billboard charts, this month's batch of jazz, blues and heritage releases is definitely worth hearing

How do jazz players come up with the bucks to pay the rent? Do they sell plasma? Stuff envelopes at home? And was that famed jazz saxophonist Jackie McLean Gumbo saw selling tokens to kids at Chuck E. Cheese's? If 95 percent of all albums made sell less than 2,000 copies, some of the quirkier stuff mentioned below probably doesn't sell enough to cover the player's cable bills. God bless 'em, though, for sticking with their twisted visions -- otherwise, we'd be left with only the puddle-deep piddle of Spyro Gyra and all those other fake jazzers wearing Hawaiian shirts. Think you took a major risk paying that plumber before turning the water back on? Check out the adventurous stuff these musicians recorded, then Frisbee'd out into the Great Void.

Scott Fields Ensemble is led by a guitarist whose playing drops him between Derek Bailey and Joe Morris on Mamet (Delmark), a dark paean to five plays by fellow Chicagoan David Mamet, who wrote Glengarry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner and a few other brilliant, quirky films. Vocalist Jimmy Scott, whose quirky, asexual vocal style would have relegated him to the novelty section were he not so good, just released Over the Rainbow (Milestone), a disc that's even moodier than his last couple of outings. Check it out and discover why he's Lou Reed's favorite singer. Pianist David Lahm first subjected Joni Mitchell's post-hippie folk songs to jazz interpretations back in 1999. His second, More Jazz Takes On Joni Mitchell (Arkadia Jazz), fleshes out the potential of "Woodstock," "Ladies of the Canyon" and "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" in ways Mitchell only hinted at on her own albums.

With a Little Help From My Friends (Blue Note) is pianist Renee Rosnes' "best-of," with cuts culled from five previous releases, plus unreleased stuff, featuring the likes of Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Jack Dejohnette and Dianne Reeves. In a world that was musically right side up, Billy Joel would be playing clubs and she'd have the stadiums. Singer Ian Shaw appreciably avoids any Mark Murphy/Mel Tormé/Johnny Hartman impersonations on Soho Stories (Milestone), where he whips through a set of little-known tunes with justifiable confidence that guarantees the singer from Wales -- the land of Tom Jones -- will be warbling on record for many years to come.

Plenty of the trademark percussive Latin-influenced pounding and locomotive rhythms on Past, Present & Futures (Stretch Records) by The Chick Corea New Trio, the pianist's first trio effort in a decade. Much more fiber here than found in a lot of his recent releases.

Pianist Monty Alexander has conjured up reggae jazz for several albums now, his Goin' Yard (Tel Arc) featuring a nasty rhythm section behind a couple Bob Marley classics -- "Could You Be Loved" and "Exodus" -- as well as a load of his own homegrown.

Back in thuh day: In '68, when Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders were breaking blood vessels squealing on their flutes and saxophones, Paul Horn sat by his lonesome inside the Taj Mahal, basking in the killer acoustics, recording some of the first meditative improvisations paving the way for the New Age thing (drivel, by comparison) and a greater interest in world music. Horn, who now lives in Tucson, has reissued Inside Taj Mahal I and II as well as Brazilian Images and Africa on Transparent Music. Still sounds good. Yusef Lateef filters the blues through a variety of contexts -- from medieval scales to Chinese scat singing to Mississippi prison songs -- on the reissue of 1968's The Blue Yusef Lateef (Label M). The fortified organ funk of the ageless Jimmy Smith is wrapped in the regal company of guitarist Kenny Burrell, drummer Grady Tate and tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine on Fourmost Return (Milestone), a live set from 1990. Music Club is that rare budget label not founded on reissuing tired sludge. This month's releases are Django Reinhardt's Swing Jazz, which should be of interest to anyone who appreciated the music in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown, and Preservation Jazz, a perfect sampler of what the first generation of jazz -- King Oliver, Jellyroll Morton, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band -- was blowing down in the Crescent City back when yer great-grandma was still looking good.

The C-Nuts, a Maryland-based quartet, bravely ventures into pop territory, bopping and swinging through cuts by Dire Straits, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello and other, mostly 1980s rock artists on the novel Blitzkrieg Bop and Other Jazz Mutations (Mapleshade). The vocals are a bit weak, but the group is entirely hard-core in its jazz arrangements. Trumpeter Darren Barrett, a Wynton Marsalis protégé, plays a post-bop style on Deelings (J Curve) that's clean, powerful and full of nods to Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis. Trombonist Robin Eubanks and Mental Images continue to trundle out the warped funk of the (unfortunately) barely wheezing, early '90s M-Base movement on Get To It (REM). Eubanks tweaks his instrument with electronics, making it more palatable for those who can't hear the trombone without thinking of parades and John Philip Sousa. Available at

Two wrongs don't make a right, and four trumpets don't make a lot of money, it's safe to bet. Hugh Raglin Trumpet Ensemble is a quartet of trumpets and a rhythm section that, on Fanfare & Fiesta (Justin Time), bounces between conservative swing on the numbers featuring brassy baron Clark Terry and wonderfully angular compositions by the late Lester Bowie. Singer Jeri Brown titled her newest Image in the Mirror: The Triptych (Justin Time). Don't know what the hell a triptych is -- a cancerous boil? those microscopic bugs that eat dead skin? -- but whatever she's talking about, she's singing pianist Milton Sealey's song cycle with a piercing, four-octave voice that shames the competition. She probably even snores pretty.

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