Sax Relief

Gumbo rewrites the tax code with the latest batch of jazz, blues and heritage releases

Face it, the National Endowment for the Arts isn't leaving many jazz and blues guys all that well-endowed, which, if you make a living wailing onstage about the behemoth in your britches, can be a pretty shameful thing. So, how about corralling more government arts bucks by taxing the film industry every time it drags out a cliché regarding traditional music? Enforce the taxes suggested below and it'll only be a matter of months before rockabilly psycho Hasil Adkins moves next door to Mariah Carey.

1) Chet Baker tax: for the presence of any jazzman who is unnaturally handsome for a heroin addict; a mooch supported by friends who think he's a genius and slobbered over by women who know they can save him from himself. He gets into bar fights defending his music or a woman but never wins, explaining the tragic element in his gut-wrenching solos.

Three guys with 'bones under their noses -- and, no, they're not cannibals: The tenor sax and trombone of Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd bounce from woozy to schizo on Live in New York (Verve). Poet Amiri Baraka does a killer reading over their support on "We Are the Blues." Trombone and tenor face off again on TNT (Telarc) by Steve Turre, who, known to play conch shells, shelved his seashells by the seashore for this straightahead blowing session. James Carter, an underrated jazzer, roughs up the sax. And from the biggest 'bone in jazz, J.J. Johnson, comes a remastered version of The Eminent, Volume One (Blue Note), his first recording for the label.

Saturday night fever with turbans: Guitarist John McLaughlin revived his acoustic Indian jazz ensemble several years back, this time calling it Remember Shakti. Saturday Night in Bombay (Verve) is the band's third release in as many years, and it's far preferable to the boring double-disc live set that reintroduced the band two years ago. Former McLaughlin sideman/percussionist Trilok Gurtu has traded his jazz chops for drum programming on The Beat of Love (Blue Thumb), which turns out to be a killer album of Indian pop music.

Makes no difference where you are, the ritzy sound of The Modern Jazz Quartet leaves the listener feeling underdressed. The classy Collaboration (Label M), a reissue featuring Latin guitarist Laurendo Almeida, waltzes through jazz, bossa nova and classical selections. So at least put on a robe over those pizza-stained jammies, for God's sake. Bassist Charlie Haden is another regal, romantic jazzer, as evident on Nocturne (Verve), an effort as good as anything he's ever recorded. Pianist supreme Gonzalo Rubalcaba is the main man throughout this Latin-flavored project. Drummer Chico Hamilton refuses to settle into a definable pocket, wisely allowing his ever-changing lineup of colorful comrades to determine the outcome. Foreststorn (Koch) uses talents as diverse as Blues Traveler's John Popper and the Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts to change styles more often than a runway model.

2) Existentialism tax: for any portrayal of a philosophically solemn blues or jazz player who knows he will Find Hisself if he can just break through to an audience currently enraptured by some music style nowhere near as deep as his. No mention will be made of why career success brings about a cosmic connection in him and not those superficial fakers he's replacing.

Even funkier than your laundry hamper: Looks like the new jazz label ESC Records will focus on some post-fusion players. Saxophonist Bill Evans gets surprisingly funky on Soul Insider, backed by Les McCann, John Scofield and loads of other snappy sidemen. Trumpeter Brecker gives baby brother Michael Brecker lots of room to play on his Hangin' in the City, a very Miles-ish ('80s era) outing. The Philadelphia Experiment (Ropeadope) comes from a mainstream jazz bassist (Christian McBride), a classical pianist (Uri Caine) and a hip hop/session drummer (Ahmir Thompson) who attempt to revitalize the city's signature sound. Though a bit slick in spots, it still cooks. And it features guitarist/neighbor Pat Martino on several cuts.

Speaking of Martino, his Live at Yoshi's (Blue Note), with organist Joey DeFrancesco, is as mean as jazz guitar gets. Martino tears off memorable lines faster than you can ingest them. Had Oscar Wilde played guitar, he would have sounded like this. Buy it or live an empty life. Fellow stringster Phil Upchurch played on George Benson's albums during the latter's heyday, leading listeners to mistakenly attribute some of Upchurch's playing to Breezin's Mister Handsome. While you can hear the similarities on Tell the Truth! (Evidence), Benson hasn't turned out anything even close to this good in a decade. Then there's the late Joe Pass, who on What Is There to Say: Solo Guitar (Pablo) sounds like two guitarists all by his lonesome. This 1990 live set of amazing ballad interpretations is recorded so clearly you can hear the patrons' forks touch their plates. Not that you want to, but hey. Check out Pass in the role of accompanist on Sophisticated Lady (Pablo), where he backs Ella Fitzgerald. Django Reinhardt freak Frank Vignola also does the solo guitar thang on Blues for a Gypsy (Acoustic Disc), interpreting material by Bach, Les Paul, Charlie Parker and others in the manner of his deceased idol. It's creative and authentic stuff, and so seductive you'll want to wear a headscarf and buy a dancing bear.

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