So your niece thinks world music means the Spanish version of the latest Christina Aguilera album. And your kid brother believes that jazz originated on a Utah basketball court. How do we build an access ramp into the minds of such musically challenged Eminemers? By slapping those Parental Advisory warning labels on roots music albums, that's how. Wal-Mart will refuse to carry them -- it does anyway -- and the hormonal hordes will shell out their lawn-mowing money to find out what sort of moral decay they can bathe in after buying a now-forbidden Bitches Brew. Let the floundering small record labels take advantage of the fact that advisory stickers are come-ons for kids, not warnings for parents. Therefore, all you impressionable youngsters, Gumbo pleads that you do not buy any of the following new releases.
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.
Jazz guitarist Jackie King and Willie Nelson, who first recorded together in 1984, are back with The Gypsy (Indigo Moon). As has always been the case with Nelson's vocals, King is so damned relaxed that his sparse playing becomes immensely expressive. By stripping Nelson of his all-too-familiar family band, he parades the cowboy's prowess as a jazz singer on this collection of standards.
Parental Advisory: This album promotes hand/body contact, kind of like what your mom caught you doing in the pool shed last summer. On Blues Professor (Arhoolie), San Fran bluesman J.C. Burris sings, hand jives (whupping on various body parts with his paws) and plays harmonica and rhythm bones (whacking ebony sticks together), resulting in an engaging encounter with some very primitive blues accompaniment.
Folkie/bluesman Geoff Muldaur has a voice as unique as ex-wife Maria's (that was him bellowing "Brazil" in the Terry Gilliam film of the same name). Blues Boy (Bullseye Blues Classic), which features monster guitarist Amos Garrett, gathers some of Muldaur's eccentric pieces from two late '70s albums, including "Dance of the Coloured Elves." And here's an aggressive marketing technique: A greasy, snarling Lee Dorsey points a gun in yer face on the cover of Working in a Coal Mine: The Very Best of Lee Dorsey (Music Club). Alongside the title song are other of Dorsey's New Orleans soul hits later covered by Robert Palmer ("Sneakin' Sally Thru the Alley"), Steve Miller ("Ya Ya") and The Band ("Holy Cow").
Thirty years ago, she was a one-hit R&B wonder with "Rescue Me"; now she sings about having been rescued by the Lord on the gospel-heavy pop jazz of Travellin' (Justin Time) by Fontella Bass and the Voices of St. Louis. Though more than a little slick, it's a good choice for the Sunday morning sloths who feel guilty about not going to church. Irma Thomas' If You Want It Come and Get It, part of the Rounder Heritage series, presents the best from the New Orleans diva's eight albums on the label. Though the occasional glaring electric piano support sounds as out of place as Mickey Mouse ears in a New Orleans whorehouse, her versions of tunes by Dr. John, Doc Pomus, Dan Penn and Allen Toussaint overpower the wattage of that damned Casio.
The Holy Modal Rounders was a weirdo East Coast acoustic band whose mid-'60s music was trippy enough to merit the acid folk tag. I Make a Wish for a Potato (Rounder Heritage) revisits their backwoods instrumentation, squawking vocals and goofy lyrics. If the Kingston Trio was the Monkees of folk music, these guys were the Mothers of Invention.
Parental Advisory: This album contains Satanic music played on the banjo, which is two reasons your parents will hate it. Also wonderfully odd is Hayseed Dixie's A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC (Dualtone). According to these obviously secluded boys, they retrieved a box of AC/DC albums from a wrecked car, introduced themselves to "this mighty fine country music" on their Victrola, and decided to learn the tunes. The breakneck-paced bluegrassers get tongue-in-cheeky with "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," "Highway to Hell" and other metal classics from the Aussie outfit.
The Rough Guide to Bluegrass (Rough Guide) comes from a British bunch who've made it their job to release music samplers of more styles and regions than you'd have thought existed. Those not interested in their recent Scandinavian best-of may go for this collection, featuring pickers as diverse as Jim & Jesse, Alison Krauss and Béla Fleck. Also featured on the collection is Red Allen, whose throaty warbling defines "that high, lonesome sound" synonymous with the purest bluegrass. For a full dose, check out The Folkways Years: 1964-1984 (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings). More progressive and folkish is The Country Gentlemen's On the Road (And More) (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), a sampling of their concert material from the early '60s. Both discs overflow with infectious stuff that just makes you want to clog, by God, however the hell you do that.
The Alan Lomax Collection: Deep River of Song -- Alabama, From Lullabies to Blues (Rounder) is the most recent release in the amazingly encyclopedic reissue series of the folklorist's field recordings between 1934 and 1940. (The entire collection is supposed to total out at nearly a hundred CDs.)
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Parental Advisory: The unintelligible foreign lyrics are most likely about how it sucks not getting to stay out all night and other unfair stuff. The Sound of Paris (Music Club) revisits the music of the Parisian cafes, played on guitar and accordion and interpreted by contemporary French players. Passionate stuff, falling somewhere between Django Reinhardt and Nino Rota's Italian soundtracks for Federico Fellini. Yellela (Tug) is by the reunited Eyuphoro, Mozambique's most popular group. No trouble spotting the album in the world music section: This excellent, percussion/guitar-heavy outing bears a cover showing diva Zena Bacar in msiro, a chalky, white cosmetic that makes her look like Marilyn Manson's mama. Japan's Takashi Hirayasu sings and plays sanshin alongside Bob Brozman's bottleneck guitar on Nankuru Naisa (Tug), resulting in a wonderfully unpredictable shotgun marriage of Oklahoma and Okinawa. Los Lobos' David Hidalgo sits in on Mexican guitar, just to further screw up cultural perspective.
The Deejays: The Best of the Original 1970s Reggae DJs (Music Club) revisits the roots of rap, back when Jamaican DJs would haul their sound systems from one neighborhood to another, improvising lyrics over someone else's instrumental tracks. Includes hard-to-find cuts from Dillinger, Big Youth and U Roy. For more of the latter, check out The Best of U Roy: Rightful Ruler (Music Club), featuring Delroy Wilson and Peter Tosh. Jamaican Ernest Ranglin's Gotcha! (Telarc) mixes his strong George Benson-like guitar chops with his reggae roots, the combination resulting in an infectious equivalent of Breezin' done ganja style.
Parental Advisory: Listening to blues albums at your age will leave your parents worrying that you drink Thunderbird and have sex with girls whose parents are litigious. The newest from Robert Cray, Shoulda Been Home (Rykodisc), is both warmer and rougher than the albums that first brought him attention back in the '80s. In the liner notes, he thanks Willie Mitchell, who produced Al Green. The hard-driving but subtle production value behind these remarkable tunes barks up the same tree. Sweet Dreams (Telarc), the newest from blues singer Mighty Sam McClain, turns in a dark take of the title associated with Patsy Cline, as well as a load of gutsy R&B tunes in the style of Bobby "Blue" Bland. Much more aggressive is guitarist Bill Perry's Fire It Up (Blind Pig), which, when played at the right volume, will send good vibrations through your nether regions.
On the fierce Livin' on Love (Blind Pig), not only does guitarist/singer Deborah Coleman bring to mind what Bonnie Raitt might have become had she not chosen to Phil Collinize, her deep voice bombards with an unparalleled level of sultriness and strength. Definitely the next blues player you should check out, as well as the best album in this month's bunch.