Far too many dead folks recently: The god of American natural guitar, John Fahey, bought the farm less than 48 hours after undergoing a sextuple bypass operation; Eddy Shaver, guitar-picking son of Billy Joe Shaver and co-founder of Shaver, died of a heroin overdose; and James Carr of "Dark End of the Street" fame succumbed to lung cancer following a long history of mental problems. Meanwhile, suggesting there is reason to question any sort of cosmic justice, Bob James is alive and well and has recently released Dancing on the Water (Warner Bros.), which I'm currently using as a coaster and, appropriately, on which there is currently water (okay, cheap wine) dancing.
Making up for the losses is a load of new jazz from mostly unfamiliar female faces. Sultry vocalist Carla White's seventh album, The Sweetest Sounds, appears stateside via a Japanese release on DIW. White scats through a set of standards in the company of tenor saxophonist Lew Tabackin. Good but not particularly memorable. The more demonstrative Julie Kelly bounces from cuts by Sonny Stitt and David Frishberg to the Brazilian fare of Ivan Lins and Djavan on the top-drawer Into the Light (CMG). Just as impressive is flutist Abby Rabinovitz, whose We Used to Dance (Yamuna Records) dips into free jazz, classical and Eastern styles with a distinct foundation in klezmer music. Her kosher approach is a hell of a lot more interesting than the average cooing luv-jazz flute rubbish. Pianist Beegie Adair dresses up 14 Cole Porter cuts on Dream Dancing: Songs of Cole Porter (Hillsboro), her light touch making for that rare collection of standards worth repeated listening. Bassist Mary Ann McSweeney plants herself between sax and trombone on Thoughts of You (Jazz Magnet), where she references influences as diverse as mentor Roy Brown and Jaco Pastorius. The disc features a killer version of the dreadfully overplayed, numbingly boring hymn "Amazing Grace," which leads us to pray for an equally inspired follow-up album.
Two more jazz women and a Chick: Brazilian belter Flora Purim's heyday was as fusion warbler with hubby/percussionist Airto in Chick Corea's Return to Forever, which she references on Perpetual Emotion (Narada Jazz) by revisiting "Crystal Silence." Though her adventurous yelping doesn't stretch as far as it used to, this'll do as an intro to a unique post-bossa nova Riodiva. A better Corea move is Dakini Land (Two Beans Music) by singer Barbara Montgomery, who sings the seldom-heard lyrics of the pianist's fusion-era "500 Miles High" and "Crystal Silence." Montgomery the Buddhist interprets Corea the Scientologist. Everybody hold hands and chant.
Fancy Frenching an organ? Parisian Eddy Louiss does. He and his Hammond B-3 lead a quintet through a progressive set of intentionally unfunky material on Recit Proche (Dreyfus Jazz), which is français for: If Woody Allen filmed himself peeing in a bucket, we'd applaud it. Speaking of the land of the Awful Tower, Jacky Terrasson's A Paris . . . (Blue Note) hands over a prime collection of moody French music associated with figures as diverse as Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and Francis Poulenc.
Play nice together, boys: The Gerry Mulligan Quartet in Concert (Pablo) unearths some fine piano-free pontificating from the late baritone saxman, dating back 40 years to the time when he was ping-ponging off fellow low-ender/trombonist Bob Brookmeyer rather than his better-known earlier foil, Chet Baker. Unique tenor stylists Zoot Sims and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis bounce off each other on The Tenor Giants Featuring Oscar Peterson (Pablo), a conservative but worthwhile set recorded in 1975, with Peterson oddly subdued in his supporting role. Dave Brubeck's Double Live From the USA & UK (Telarc Jazz) is an edgeless but acceptable two-disc set featuring two versions of "Take Five" (totaling out at more than 23 minutes) with Paul Desmond wanna-be Bobby Militello. Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Heath blow hard-core from the very first notes of the previously unreleased 1965 set Live at the Left Bank (Label M), only later granting the audience mercy with the no less gutsy ballads "Lover Man" and "Autumn Leaves." Johnny Griffin and Steve Grossman also lock horns on the impressively fierce Quintet (Dreyfus Jazz), recorded last year in France. Either Griffin has somehow defied the aging process or they put speed in the water supply over there.
There's some caffeine fueling at least the audience on Ray Brown Trio's Live at Starbucks (Telarc Jazz). Though the mainstream bassist generally sticks to what you'd expect, he throws in a frustratingly brief piano take of "This House Is Empty Now" by Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Elsewhere, fellow bassist Ron Carter, who's an omnipresent figure but seldom records under his own name, flashes that unmistakable signature sound on When Skies Are Grey . . . (Blue Note), decorating the middle-of-the-road song selection with lines so Ronishly Carterian that your dog could match the CD case with the disc.
Though Chicago jazz is currently better known for its wild-ass, face-painted AACM movement, its deeper roots lie in having breast-fed the offspring of Louis Armstrong as the music swam upstream from New Orleans. The city's Delmark label honors that connection by reissuing some significant trad New Orleans jazz recorded between '53 and '79: You might want to sink those false teeth into Saturday Night Function by Jim Beebe's Chicago Jazz, Albert Nicholas with Art Hode's All-Stars on Albert's Back in Town (Delmark) and George Lewis' Hello Central . . . Give Me Doctor Jazz (Delmark).
Guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly mixed the Jimi Hendrix influence with jazz far more adventurously than Stevie Ray Vaughan did in a blues context; yet oddly, Bourelly's mix never caught on. This time around, Boom Bop (Jazz Magnet) threads his unpredictable, stuttering chops through African textures. The guy's a guitar trailblazer fer sher, and time will acknowledge him as such, by God. Sketches of James (Koch Jazz) gathers the diverse talents of, among others, Les McCann, Robben Ford, Shirley Horn and Gerald Albright in a tribute to the James Taylor catalogue. Though understandably far more pop than jazz, the salsa take of "Fire and Rain" by Poncho Sanchez and layered harmony on "Long Ago and Far Away" by New York Voices validate the stylistic stretch. And while you're stretching, the contrast between guitarist Mark Elf's biting tone and laid-back attack on Swingin' (Jen Bay Jazz) embodies the best of the swing and bop traditions -- no easy feat given how goddamned boring most swing and bop guitar sounds. Elf's precise, chuck-a-chuck vocabulary could conjure substance even if he played a phone dial pattern.
Stop yer reading, blues and R&B harlots, and throw this rag beneath the parakeet right now -- there's more good stuff fresh on the shelves than you've got shekel to shed. Theryl "Houseman" de'Clouet, lead singer of Galactic, delivers a disc of contemporary New Orleans-drenched soul, The Houseman Cometh! (Bullseye), that proves the legacy of the city's top-drawer crawfish crooners didn't die with Johnny Adams. Check out his wailing on Al Kooper's "I'll Love You More Than You'll Ever Know." On Jump for Joy (Blind Pig), pianist Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88's have soaked a set of original tunes in the jump blues/boogie-woogie style of the '40s. Alabama's blues harpist Jerry McCain bounced from one hokum Southern label to the next for more than a decade before settling in with Jewel, based in Shreveport, Louisiana. Absolutely the Best: The Complete Jewel Singles 1965-1972 (Fuel 2000) is a raw mix of blues and R&B slightly nastier than what the Memphis-based Stax label was simultaneously turning out a couple states to the north. It's gritty, worthwhile stuff throughout. And while fellow Southerner Toussaint McCall is a far less remarkable warbler, Nothing Takes the Place of You: The Ronn Recordings (Fuel 2000) heaps high a plate of R&B songs nearly as memorable. No offense to McCall, but chickens could sing this stuff and sound good.
"I've Been Buked and I've Been Scorned," sings Lightnin' Hopkins in the company of Big Joe Williams (the Delta blues guitarist, not the Count Basie vocalist), Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee on Lightnin' Hopkins & the Blues Summit (Fuel 2000), an informal 1960s set where the foursome turn the tunes into witty jousts full of friendly jabs and boasting. Every Tone a Testimony: An African American Aural History (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) is a classy, two-disc/too-brief overview of black culture, stretching from poetry by Langston Hughes to Leadbelly singing about the sinking of the Titanic.
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For whatever reason, Rounder Records had an album's worth of unreleased cuts recorded over the course of rockabilly fiend Sleepy LaBeef's four studio discs with the label. The uneven but worthwhile Rockabilly Blues (Bullseye) includes Muddy Waters' "I'm a Man," which, though almost too faithful to the original, shows the Beefster comfortably stretching beyond his Sun Records roots. Speaking of Muddy Waters, son Big Bill Morganfield's tonsils occasionally resemble his old man's on Ramblin' Mind (Blind Pig), but the flipping among blues styles fortunately keeps him miles away from imitating Muddy's signature Chess Records sound. A former member of Muddy Waters' band, Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, is no less diverse on Talkin' About Soul (Telarc Blues), sliding into outright James Brown-funk on "It's Your Thing," which may not be yours if you're a blues purist. Hang in there for the rest, though.
The endless stream of Robert Johnson tributes is the best proof that he probably did sell his soul to de debil. This month's offering, Hellhound on My Trail: The Songs of Robert Johnson (Telarc Blues), sics Carey Bell, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Robert Lockwood Jr., Taj Mahal, Pinetop Perkins and loads of other blues hotshots on Johnson's sparse but remarkable catalogue.
Of interest to potato heads: Celtic harpist/singer Kim Robertson contemporizes traditional Irish music on Dance to Your Shadow (Narada), with both New Age patriarch George Winston and ex-War member Lee Oskar on harmonica. Meant to make you drink a lot of Guinness and move them dancin' feet in fast, unnatural steps.
And finally, The Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing gospel since Billy Graham was heisting Model Ts. No typical come-to-Jesus album, Spirit of the Century (Real World) builds on the bluesy presence of John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite and David Lindley as they mix gospel standards with fare by Tom Waits, Ben Harper and Jagger/Richards. Gospel for people who hate gospel. Glory jee to Beezus.