By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
In 1941, a 12-year-old Rufus Jones electrified his homemade guitar with a piece of fence wire and a truck battery, "to impress them local Mississippi girlies," he recalls.
While showing off by playing the guitar with his teeth -- decades before Jimi Hendrix would do the same -- his pet goat peed on the makeshift cord, the electric shock deep-frying Rufus' eyes and ears and blowing a hole in his skull the size of squashed lemon. With a handful of tree sap, sister Clamydia Jean glued a scrap of tin shingle over the window in his head, thus saving his life, though the tragic incident left Rufus both blind and deaf. Unwilling to give up the guitar, the boy -- soon known as Mississippi "Weatherproof" Rufus -- became a blues legend until the '60s forgot him in favor of the younger, flashier Hendrix.
Rufus, briefly in town to play for an aluminum siding convention, reluctantly agreed to critique a handful of new releases before retiring to his fleabag motel room to engage in an unfortunate fetish that resulted from his near electrocution. "Keep your wine and them malt liquor shakes, Gumby, just let me stick my hand in the underside of a toaster and dream of them young Mississippi girls while the toaster lightning runs up my arm. Toaster love, that was my idea, too -- bastard Jimi boy stole that as well, even named an album after it, Electric Ladyland.
"But just don't ever play no guitar with your teefers, Gumby, it'll blow your face parts off like you was Mr. Potato Head," Rufus said as he seated himself knee's-distance from Gumbo's stereo speakers and produced a dowsing rod, wedging the forked end between the speaker cabinets and the other in the crotch of his bib overalls. "I feel the music down in the basement of my soul this way, yessir. If I get 'em all right, how about you gimme 10 precious minutes with the building's fuse box?"
The only thing guys think about is their organ: Bassist/metal mag foldout Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big) brings his flashy playing to, of all things, the organ trio format in Niacin, whose Time Crunch(Magna Carta) finds drummer Dennis Chambers and organist John Novello propelled by '70s jazz fusion. A decade before Grover Washington Jr. became Jacuzzi jazzer supreme with "Just the Two of Us," he was a sideman behind some seriously soulful funksters (organists Charles Earland and Johnny "Hammond" Smith, and guitarists Boogaloo Jo Jones and Melvin Sparks). Discovery: The First Recordings (Prestige) shows him in the company of the aforementioned, blowing nastier than most probably think he could. And patriarchal tenor saxophonists Plas Johnson and Red Holloway share their bop and blues roots on Keep That Groove Going! (Milestone) in the company of organ and guitar.
It's recondite, it's abstruse, it'll sell 12 copies: Craig Taborn plays some seriously maniacal piano on Light Made Lighter (Thirsty Ear), his airy improvisational adventures produced by labelmate/fellow piano monster Matthew Shipp. Shipp's own newest, Nu Bop(Thirsty Ear), drops himself and compadre bassist William Parkerin the midst of electronic beats and jarring programming that work a lot better than you'd think, though, ironically, loads of avant jazzers will object to the experimentation. Jeff Song & Lowbrowpresent a fine Diasporama (Stellar): Two cellos on Quaaludes create a free jazz Electric Light Orchestra in the fourth dimension, with flute and trumpet.
And if that's not outside enough for you, there's Borah Bergman with Connie Bauer and Mat Maneri, unleashing a triple assault with the unlikely combination of piano, trombone and electric violin on the cacophonous The River of Sound (Boxholder). Snarling, rough-skinned alligator jazz. (Mississippi "Weatherproof" Rufus critiques: "Goddamn! You playing that thing right-side up? It's an abomination to the blues. I knowed jazz guys who got tuberculosis from years of yanking notes in such unnatural directions.")
Three guitar trios: New Guitar Summit unites some diverse pickers -- Gerry Beaudoin (jazz), Jay Geils (rock) and Duke Robillard (blues) -- whose passionate tribute to '30s and '40s jazz, Retrospective(Francesca), avoids the snooze element of most swing guitar albums, as well as the cutesy pop feel of those that have milked the swing revival over the past few years. The New York Trio Project Fifth House (Imaginary Jazz) is a guitar/bass/drum unit where Adam Raffertyinterprets the gods (Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane) on electric guitar with far more direction and passion than most of his peers on the instrument.
On Dom Minasi Trio's Takin' the Duke Out (CDM Records), the guitarist unleashes his freaky flailing on "Satin Doll," "Solitude" and other familiar Dukisms, resulting in the most outlandish Ellington tribute ever. (Mississippi "Weatherproof" Rufus critiques:"Jesus Hisself rates this four abominations. I know, 'cause when the weather gets humid and I'm facing Yazoo City just right, my head plate gets good reception and I pick up Jesus like a Mexican radio station. Jesus likes Mr. Duke, but not played like some nuthouse romp.")
Cartoon jazz: The best current jazz focuses on wild, sprawling, unpredictable texturing rather than linear soloing, making even some pretty outside stuff accessible to the snarling SPINmagazine crowd that's about as likely to buy a jazz album as volunteer to sponge-bathe great-grandma. El Oh El Ay (Love Slave) by J.A. Granelli and Mr. Lucky is baboon-ass colorful, with the bass/organ/drum and slide guitar combo sliding from one outlandish mood to another more often than your spouse. Music for a circus, funeral, strip club, the apocalypse -- one-stop shopping, ladies and gentlemen. Bassist/composer Joe Gallant & Illuminatiput out several CDs worth of jazzed up Grateful Dead covers before recently releasing Shadowhead (Accurate), a spook show that sounds like a drunk Ornette Coleman big band with funk roots -- wonderfully weird, hallucinatory stuff throughout. The Ray Anderson Quartet appropriately has a freaked cartoon dog as cover art on Bonemeal (Raybone), where the trombonist unfurls his over-the-top, New Orleans-heavy strutting. Trumpeter Russell Gunn's Ethnomusicology, Vol. 2 (Justin Time) mixes hip-hop and Miles Davis chops on the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" before time-warping Duke Ellington from '20s stride piano to contemporary dance fare in "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Go-Go Swing)" -- covering as many angles of African-American music as he can in 66 minutes.