Gumbo has queried the finest psychics to be found at the Valley's swap meets, seeking predictions regarding the state of music in 2001. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Jazz, 2001: The heavy influence of conservative egomaniacal trumpeter Wynton Marsalis on egomaniacal director Ken Burns' highly viewed epic documentary, Jazz, will lead millions of PBS viewers to earmark their pledge dollars for programs of acoustic jazz only, preferably played by men in suits. Jazz aficionados will prove their commitment to preserving jazz history by eschewing CDs for pre-1960s jazz LPs, and avoiding harm to the precious artifacts by never opening the albums.
On Impure Thoughts (Razor & Tie), pianist Michael Wolff manages to mix his bright piano style with soul music, Indian percussion and the heavy funk of Miles Davis -- all in synch on jazz takes of such unlikely fare as The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." Wolff's battles with Tourette's syndrome are dealt with in the upcoming cable bio The Tic Code featuring Gregory Hines.
The Jazz 32 label ventures beyond its reissue series to produce current mainstream jazzers, conservative but solid in their output. Two pianists' efforts are handed over this time, one of them being Bedtime Stories, a tribute to Herbie Hancock played by the Billy Child Trio. Keyboardist Denny Zeitlin, whose daytime gig is as a Bay Area psychiatrist, was allegedly a favorite of late pianist Bill Evans, whose influence shines through on the standard-heavy As Long as There's Music. The Blue Note label's Written in the Stars by the Bill Charlap Trio is a silky collection of familiar cuts, sometimes so smooth and improvisationally tethered it may lose the listener's attention to any distraction greater than an asthma wheeze.
The Pat Metheny Trio is the guitarist's satellite band, pursued when the Pat Metheny Group is on ice. While last year's first trio effort was a bit dry, the two-CD Live (Warner Bros.) will be remembered as one of Metheny's best albums. Hearing him deftly whip through complex PMG cuts ("James," "So May It Secretly Begin") without the support of pianist Lyle Mays makes you wonder how many fingers he's blessed with on each hand. Steal the set if you can't afford it -- tell them Gumbo said it was okay.
The speed and jaw-dropping dexterity of former Mahavishnu Orchestra bassist Jonas Hellborg has made him the Jaco Pastorius of Europe. Good People in Times of Evil (Bardo) again couples him with Eastern music, here through the udu and vocals of India's V. Selvaganesh Kanjeera. Longtime cohort/guitarist Shawn Lane completes the trio.
Remember Shakti is what John McLaughlin has renamed his '70s band Shakti, which continues to sound like a Ravi Shankar album with ferocious guitar instead of sitar. The Believer (Verve) is much tighter than the band's mind-numbing, endless two-CD set from last year. Simultaneously being released is The Heart of Things: Live in Paris (Verve), an intimidatingly powerful post-fusion sextet featuring sax and, rare on a McLaughlin album, piano.
On This Is What I Do (Milestone), Sonny Rollins is so pumped it's all he can do to spit out the melody of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" before lurching into his passionate revamping. Don't know what this septuagenarian eats for breakfast, but whatever fuels his cutting tone and dynamic phrasing leaves him sounding like a tiger on a short leash. This honest-to-God jazz legend, though, is a bit overly generous in doling out precious solo time to the rest of the band.
Like Rollins, Paul Desmond is one of the four or five most recognizable saxophonists in jazz, his sultry tone having won the somewhat nerdish feller the horizontal companionship of many models gracing his album covers. The cover of Lemme Tell Ya 'Bout Desmond (Label M) appropriately features only a cloud -- he died in 1977 -- while the innards resurrect some witty jazz arrangements from the '60s and '70s.
John Pizzarelli, son of jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, makes a ménage a trois of his not entirely dynamic vocals, his more impressive picking and a bag of slow standards on his second album, Let There Be Love (Telarc). The Best of Holly Cole (Metro Blue) shows the singer matching Cassandra Wilson's ability to update the standard catalogue, here covering top-drawer material by Everything But the Girl, Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Killer arrangements, too. Hendrik Meurkens plays jazz harmonica -- not exactly the career a mother would choose for her son, but one that he more than justifies with the hyperventilating bop chops spread all over New York Nights (A-Records).
David "Fathead" Newman's Captain Buckles (Label M) might as well be volume two of Curtis Mayfield's Superfly soundtrack, given how funky the saxophonist is on the reissue of this 1970 album. Should be checked by Hank Crawford and David Sanborn fans who can handle the slightly ripe, 30-year-old arrangements. Bonus: Newman looks like Shaft's Richard Roundtree on the inner sleeve.
Chicago jazz: The late bop saxophonist Lin Halliday is heard on a 1988 session recently released as Airegin (Delmark), while the avant-garde sax of Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble pursues the Art Ensemble of Chicago's mix of tradition and sci-fi on Jo'burg Jump (Delmark). Saxophonists Von Freeman and Frank Catalano embrace the abrasive on the taxi driver-mean You Talkin' to Me? (Delmark). Pianist Sir Charles Thompson, who played with both Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon in the mid-'40s, remains surprisingly powerful on Robbins' Nest: Live at the Jazz Showcase (Delmark).
Blues, 2001: There will be a tremendous increase in the number of white bluesmen, and albino Johnny Winter will replace Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan as the ultimate white blooze dude. The best-selling blues release of the year will make the pop charts with a hit single bemoaning computer viruses and the rising cost of wine coolers.
Delmark's blues department hands over Zora Young's first release, Learned My Lesson; the deep-voiced, finger-pointing big mama singing with one foot in church and the other upside her cheatin' man's ass. Also check out the reissue of obscure guitarist Jimmy Johnson's Pepper's Hangout from 1977, and Michael Coleman's wonderfully flashy Do Your Thing! (Delmark) featuring his take on Santana's "Black Magic Woman." This one sucks, this one blows, literally: This Is the Blues Harmonica samples the rich catalogues of Carey Bell, Little Walter, Junior Wells and a dozen other Chicago harp gods.
Rounder Records will celebrate its 30th anniversary with the Rounder Heritage Series, 30 compilations culled from its classy ranks. Three blues collections released this month: The Blues'll Make You Happy, Too by Roomful of Blues; pianist/singer Champion Jack Dupree's A Portrait of Champion Jack Dupree; and the smooth tonsils of New Orleans' Johnny Adams on There Is Always One More Time. From Malaco, the best rhythm and blues label in the world, comes diva Shirley Brown's Holding My Own. "Saw you in a tongue-lock with a girl on the avenue," she wails. Tell him, girlfriend.
Traditional American Music, 2001: Folk and bluegrass musicians, tired of being relegated to toothless and granny-gowned audiences in the southeast, will pursue bigger bucks by aping the highly successful Béla Fleck & The Flecktones. Crescent wrenches and carburetor parts will be glued onto dirty-gray fiddles and mandolins for that sci-fi effect, and many bands will feature someone with a stupid name, permanently dressed for Halloween.
How you gonna pass on an album with songs like "Howard Johnson's Got His Ho-Jo Working" and "Who Put the Garlic in the Glue?" Scraps (Rounder) is a reissue of a 1971 session recorded by NRBQ, known as the world's ultimate bar band for being able to play polkas, rockabilly and the wacko jazz of Sun Ra all in the same set. Unit of Measure (Rounder) by The Tony Rice Unit unleashes the world's best acoustic guitarist on a mixed set of both jazz and bluegrass standards, several played unaccompanied.
World Music, 2001: The Irish will dump the soothing bagpipes-for-the-bathtub music trend and, in an attempt to repeat the Riverdance phenomenon, get down to brass knuckles. Gangs of Pogues-worshiping ruffians will be hired by choreographers to meld the mosh pit with the mindset of Fight Club for an Easter extravaganza. No stateside venues will book them for fear of auditorium damage, relegating them to appearances in hundreds of Protestant and Catholic churches.
On State of Grace (Windham Hill), spacy synth meets female Irish warbling à la the Titanic soundtrack. All those potato munchers snuffing each other leaves more copies of this attractively moody album for the rest of us. Nakai/Eaton/Clipman/Nawang In a Distant Place (Canyon Records) couples Native American and Tibetan flute traditions of R. Carlos Nakai and Nawang Khechog with the percussion of Will Clipman and guitar of William Eaton.
Soundtrack to the biggest party in the world: All of the favelas, or ghettos, of Rio de Janeiro spend the entire year readying themselves for carnival by building floats, creating sexy and elaborately feathered outfits and writing a theme song to represent themselves in the parade. This Is Samba! Vol. 1 and 2 (Rounder) presents some of the previous carnivals' best singers/composers. For optimum results, cue up the CDs, duct tape unplucked poultry to your nether regions, wiggle furiously. Fun for the entire family.
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Stuff to buy that will make you better than your friends: Owning boxed sets means that anyone seeing them on your entertainment center automatically understands that you are deep, you are knowledgeable, you have become a music historian right in the privacy of your condominium. Sometimes they're even worth listening to, as is the case with these three thorough tributes to music of the South.
Forty years ago, folklorist/schoolteacher Chris Strachwitz hung up his chalkboard eraser to discover and record unknown musicians in the deep South, resulting in the discovery of blues guitarist Mance Lipscomb and zydeco king Clifton Chenier. Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection: 1960-2000 (Arhoolie) chronicles the obscure folk music found and released on albums that often sold strictly because of R. Crumb's hippie cover art. Tex-Mex, gospel, blues, folk, polkas, jazz -- the box's contents parallel and expand what's found on the Rounder series of fellow folklorist Alan Lomax's Southern explorations.
From the Stax label comes Lifetime, a three-CD perspective on the career of soul man Johnnie Taylor, who drifted downward from the righteous job as Sam Cooke's replacement in The Soul Stirrers to 1976's reprehensible hit "Disco Lady." Fortunately, the late singer wrapped it up with exceptionally strong material like the nasty, minor-key blues "Last Two Dollars." Next to Bobby Blue Bland, Taylor's the patriarchal R&B artist of recent times most worth checking out.
Also from Stax: If you were unable to scrape up the skins for those three early-'90s monster boxes of Stax singles (673 cuts, 28 CDs, 37 hours of music), humble yourself and settle for The Stax Story. The four-CD set revisits the label's funk and bluesy ballads, sung by the likes of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Little Milton. Lucky for you, it also contains a disc of live cuts, none of which is found on the boxes bought by those rich, slimy bastards who think they're better than you.