Eccentricities

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

Passage of Time (Warner Bros.), Joshua Redman's eighth album in a 10-year recording career, presents him as a player at least as substantial as -- and often more colorful than -- his famous father/Ornette Coleman sideman, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. Guitarist Ralph Towner, who's been with the ECM label since the fall of the Roman Empire, has released his skillionth effort, Anthem, a solo jazz effort mixing his classical technique with folk influences. Towner's other gig is as co-founder of Oregon.

Can someone squawk pensively? Saxophonist Evan Parker does so in the company of fellow outsiders pianist Paul Bley and bassist Barre Phillips on Sankt Gerold (ECM). A nonjazzer might very well describe its dissonant intensity as the music of choice for psychopaths, so trash the disc if your dog tells you he likes it. Paul Bley's Basics (Justin Time), a solo piano outing, is a better sampling of his introverted style that won't scar your children's moral values.

Probably no lines waiting outside the CD store anticipating the release of Mat Maneri's Trinity (ECM), an album of violin/viola solos. Like many ECM releases, it's entirely void of much of what separates good jazz from pointless improvisation. It's pensive and heady -- as in headache, for most -- but will work as that obligatory album of Snoot Music. Play it when you need to impress the babes with your depth and sensitivity.

Making even less money, because they're dead: Charles Mingus cut some of his best aggressive, off-center jazz in the company of saxophonists Roland Kirk, Booker Ervin and drummer/compadre Dannie Richmond. Their session work from 1957 and 1961 is now available again on Tonight at Noon (Label M). European Concert (Label M) by the late pianist John Lewis' Modern Jazz Quartet is a fine representation of the tuxedo jazz of this Bach-influenced bunch, featuring a best-of program including "Django," "Skating in Central Park" and "Bag's Groove."

Kombo is the GRP (Grooves so Rehashed it's Pathetic) label's lame stab at the organ-driven, Medeski Martin and Wood shtick. Cookin' Out (GRP/Verve) is a redundant, thin attempt at being soulful; the musical equivalent of a lukewarm, flat beer. Other than that, it's a great album.

If you don't have enough to cry about already, here's some blues: Harp monster/blues singer James Cotton is caught live during a 1967 Montreal set, released here as It Was a Very Good Year (Just a Memory Records). And, yeah, that's the Frank Sinatra tune, though Cotton's not on it. The recording quality's a bit rough, and his harmonica blowing will not be nearly prevalent enough for some listeners, but 100% Cotton fans may still appreciate the gritty set featuring Luther Tucker on guitar.

A trio of Louisiana bluesmen -- Eddie Bo (vocals, piano, organ), Raful Neal (vocals, harmonica) and Rockin' Tabby Thomas (vocals, guitar) -- make up The Hoodoo Kings (Tel Arc). The threesome probably would have conjured up something quite nasty if all those goddamned support musicians had stayed at the sushi bar and someone had boot-stomped the pristine part out of the sound quality. What a disappointment. Check out The Blue Rider Trio's Harp, Steel and Guts (Mapleshade) instead. The band's feisty, old-timey blues sound brings to mind The Jim Kweskin Jug Band and R. Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders. Brillo-pad the CD and the scratchy results would mostly sound like music from the '30s.

Lucky Peterson, who's backed Little Milton and Bobby "Blue" Bland, juggles lead guitar, Hammond B-3 organ and his own wailing tonsils on the bombastic, bluesy Double Dealin' (Blue Thumb). Not surprising, given his previous employers, the Texan conjures up a fine mix of blues and R&B well worth your wallet's green picture of Andrew Jackson.

Bluegrass sells about as well in Arizona as kimonos. Though it doesn't help singing a song titled "The Cuckoo Is a Pretty Bird," the Dry Branch Fire Squad is admirably down-home on Hand Hewn(Rounder), an album built on claw hammer banjo and hambone percussion. Excellent stuff that sounds like they just paddled out of Appalachia in one of those Deliverancecanoes. Gumbo gives it five squeals.

And for that huge crowd of North Indian-Pakistani Sufi Qawwali music junkies: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is given a best-of treatment on Ecstasy (Music Club), a sampling of his trance-inducing (literally, according to the liner notes) singing built on hand-clapping, tablas and something that sounds like Cajun accordion. Speaking of trance-inducing: From the island where the typical joint looks like a fireplace log comes Arise!: The Best of Peter Tosh (Music Club), most of the cuts featuring The Wailers. Dean Evenson and Cha-Das-Ska-Dum offer a disc of healing chants on Native Healing (Soundings of the Planet), featuring guitar and violin. The cover says "Contains the Earth Resonance Frequency for a deeper state of relaxation" -- whatever that means. Gumbo cranked the volume to nine and the speaker vibration unscrewed his bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

Unfortunately, thanks to all the patchouli-fumigated bookstores and health food hangouts selling New Argghh music, the album that'll probably sell better than anything listed above is Donald Walters' Secrets of Love (Clarity Sound & Light), where a harp and flute "allows you to experience the heights to which the human heart can soar." Gumbo's blood pressure was soaring by cut 12, "Love, Like a Garden, Needs Tending Daily," at which point he ate meat and said bad things about Deepak Chopra. Forget this pretty stuff -- invest in some demon-driven eccentric musician who makes even less money than us.

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