By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Parental Advisory: This music contains strange notes that sound like those nasty words you never find on the Christian rap albums your mom buys you. Spring Heel Jack is a collective of 11 adventurous jazzers -- saxophonists Tim Berne and Evan Parker, bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp are the better-known names -- who improvise in the company of many unidentifiable, machine-shop-like thuds and soundscapes on The Blue Series Continuum: Masses (Thirsty Ear). It's a very engaging combination resulting in a sort of Fritz Lang jazz. Skin-thumper Andrew Cyrille and bassist Mark Dresser support Marty Ehrlich's saxes, clarinet and flute on the intense, stripped-down C/D/E (Jazz Magnet), most of the cuts paying tribute to cornetist/composer Bobby Bradford.
For someone known to wail and squeal at levels only dogs can hear, Archie Shepp is surprisingly contained on St. Louis Blues (Jazz Magnet), a fine album that corrals his power throughout a set of slow and midtempo tunes that includes a few standards. Similarly, the romanticism and tunefulness of The Calling (Justin Time) makes this recording by Bluiett, D.D. Jackson and Kahil El'Zabar damn near commercial, considering Bluiett's and El'Zabar's penchant for rougher textures. Their unexpectedly soft ballads and accessible blues don't constitute a sellout, though Jackson should have scrapped the clichéd synth sounds.
Jack Jezzrow, who plays jazz on gut-string guitar à la Charlie Byrd and Bill Harris, confesses that he spent the '90s making easy listening albums before recording Jazz Elegance: The Trio Recordings (Hillsboro Jazz). The Nashville session player's first foray into improvisation is conservative but thick enough to suggest he should leave any future Muzak whoring to Earl Klugh. The late pianist Michel Petrucciani had a guitar-playing brother, Tony Petrucciani, who survived him; the two of them dialogue with the intensity expected of brothers on the live Conversation (Dreyfus Jazz).
No surprise that drummer Elvin Jones would appear on the self-titled album by soprano/alto saxophonist Stefano di Battista (Blue Note), given the latter's frequent references to John Coltrane. The saxman is no photocopy, though he comes close: "Your Romance" milks Coltrane's "Naima," and cuts like "Adderley" (which sounds like "Impressions") feature John's dramatic signature intros.
Not so hot: Marcus Miller's M2 (Telarc) is dedicated to the memory of the late Grover Washington Jr., whose soul left him long before he died, as his thin albums attest. Unfortunately, the bassist's boring sophomore effort suggests that his successful work with Miles Davis was mostly because of Miles. Dave Matthews and the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra acknowledge the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach's death on Bach 2000 (Milestone), where arranger/conductor Matthews shoves a handful of Bach's minuets, toccatas and fugues through the jazz grinder. Interesting stuff, but hardly groundbreaking. Pianist Bill Evans and the Modern Jazz Quartet tackled the 250-year-old dead guy much more effectively.
Mark Turner is a tough tenor player whose heady and hard-core Dharma Days makes him that rare Warner Bros. jazz artist who doesn't crank out fluff. The disc also features Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar. Black Heat was a little-known soul jazz group from the early '70s that sounded a bit like War, only funkier. Both of its albums are now available again on the twofer Declassified Grooves (Label M). Stylistically, it'll fit nicely in between your Last Poets and Curtis Mayfield CDs.
We lost our Cherry: Don't know where exceptional guitarist Ed Cherry has been since the death of his former boss, Dizzy Gillespie, but The Spirits Speak (Justin Time) presents a load of confident, fat-free chops that suggests his guitar hasn't been gathering dust beneath the bed. Apart from two very soulful cuts, he prefers to strut with the cool sophistication of mentor Kenny Burrell.
Salsa music sprouted from the Cuban big bands of the '40s, and Conjunto Casino is one of the few remaining orchestras faithful to the horn-heavy tradition, revisited here on Montuno en Neptuno #960 (Real Rhythm). Jesus Navarro, now 70 years old, belts out the tunes with enough punch to give Mick Jagger hope as he looks to the future. Jazz began vampiring a lot of rhythms from Cuba during the same period, the marriage evident on the percussion-heavy outing of trumpeter Julio Padron y Los Amigos de Sta. Amalia on Descarga Santa (Real Rhythm). It's perfect stuff for those who want more of what Dizzy Gillespie brought to jazz following his bebop-era trips to the land of killer cigars. And on Cuban Jazz Funk (Alafia), Romero, a septet led by pianist/percussionist Miguel Romero, mixes its substantial Latin chops with bright production values and accessible hooks that would seduce countless java junkies if played over the sound system at Starbucks.