Sax Relief

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.

3) Co-dependent bimbo tax: for any depiction of the understanding woman who waits at home while her restless spouse/boyfriend is on the road, searching to Find Hisself (combine with Existentialism tax). She is as satisfied with domestic life as Norman Rockwell, has crow's feet around her eyes from worrying about Her Man, but is attractive and with a little makeup could get another guy before dark if she wanted.

Gumbo feels it would be insensitive to reference a certain someone's past behaviors in reviewing Here and Now (IKON Records) by Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm. Let it just be said, then, that this is an ass-kicking R&B outing that will slap the listener upside the head with more Southern sweat and grit than someone, in a just world, would have found in a Mississippi jail. Let's hope that the impact of the recent nationwide drop in blues sales doesn't leave Ike feeling like the music industry is metaphorically choking him and wrestling him to the ground and stomping on his fingers or anything like that. Truly is a great album, though -- one of the best R&B albums in years, in fact -- but you'd think he might've thought better of calling one of his songs "Gave You What You Wanted."

Chicago's Young Blues Generation (Evidence) is a reissue of a hot 1982 album by Billy Branch & Lurrie Bell and the Sons of Blues, fueled by the leaders' piercing harp lines and raw guitar. Hard-core Chicago blues throughout, no cream, no sugar. Also from Chicago, playing harmonica and a less traditional approach to slide guitar, is Studebaker John and the Hawks, whose Howl With the Wolf (Evidence) is a mix of rock and blues. Much funkier is Tired of Being Alone (Evidence) by guitarist Rico McFarland, who has worked with Van Morrison, Al Green, Albert King and, most impressive, of course, the Bruce Willis Blues Band. McFarland also backs the weathered tonsils of blues mama Big Time Sarah on A Million of You (Delmark). Then you've got yer ragged blues, supplied by 81-year-old guitarist/vocalist Jesse Thomas on this reissue of a 1992 session, Blues Is a Feeling (Delmark). Maybe Chicago should share its wealth of blues musicians with nearby loser cities like Des Moines, overbite capital of the world.

4) Highway tax: for any mention of crossroads and the devil in the same sentence. Used to explain how the guy got to play so well so quickly, thereby saving all that extra film time showing him practicing.

Ludwig von Beethoven wrote gorgeous music for mandolin and piano, but with him being dead and all, picker David Grisman and keyboardist Denny Zeitlin have taken up the slack. Their New River (Acoustic Disc) is a series of loose, largely improvised duets that settle in on the tranquil side of the jazz spectrum -- no surprise, given that Zeitlin's also a psychiatrist. The Storm Still Rages (Rounder) is such hard-core, backwoods bluegrass you wouldn't be surprised to hear that mandolinist/vocalist Rhonda Vincent just crawled out of a cave, asking the studio engineer how the second World War turned out. Flawless harmonies, pickers with octopus hands, lots of killer boo-hoo ballads -- Bill Monroe would be proud.

Not only has Kelly Joe Phelps dropped the slide guitar approach he's known for, he's taken to hanging out with weirdoes -- specifically, bassist Larry Taylor (on loan from Tom Waits) and drummer Billy Conway (Morphine). The result is Sky Like a Broken Clock (Rykodisc), a collection of dark, off-kilter, rural fare that proves the city doesn't have any stranglehold on death, depression and destruction. Right up your alley if you liked Wicked Grin (Pointblank), John Hammond's recent collection of Tom Waits tunes.

5) Dental tax: for any depiction of a bluesman missing teeth, which automatically establishes him as down-home stuff, poverty-stricken and, most important, the real thing. Typically accompanied by a front porch, a rocking chair and an ugly dog.

Guitarist/vocalist Habib Koite is a pop god in West Africa, and Bonnie Raitt, oddly, has gone as far as to put him on the level of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He's not even close, but Baro (Putumayo) is attractive, acoustic-guitar-driven stuff with similarities to the easily digestible fare of the Gipsy Kings.

Confirming our reservations: Todi Neesh Zhee Singers' For All Eternity (Canyon Records) is a collection of Navajo two-step and skip dance music. Black Lodge hands over a load of contemporary powwow songs on Weasel Tail's Dream: The Tradition Continues (Canyon Records). Verdell Primeaux & Johnny Mike's Bless the People: Harmonized Peyote Songs (Canyon Records) is Native American church music just a little different from what you hear at a Billy Graham crusade.

6) White Savior tax: for the portrayal of a studious young white guy who will forsake his schooling/job to find a significant bluesman, now destitute and forgotten. The bluesman will find fortune and fame but walk away from it all and return to his Southern shack, teaching the confused white guy that crucial lesson regarding giving: Destitute black folks would rather be left alone in their poverty.

At least your ears can travel there: Two invaluable labels, Putumayo and Rough Guide, pump out loads of world music samplers full of weird and wonderful stuff you'd never hear unless you swiped grandpa's short wave radio. The former has just released Jamaica, Arabic Groove and African Odyssey. From the latter comes The Rough Guide to the Music of Jamaica and The Rough Guide to Merengue & Bachata.


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