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 SPIN magazine 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 & Illuminati put 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.
Even older than Elton John: Pianist Brun Campbell studied with Scott Joplin in the late 1890s, later giving up the piano to become a barber, then returning to it in the '40s, when this infectious collection of ragtime solos, Joplin's Disciple (Delmark), was recorded. The Original Salty Dogs is a septet of talented geezers who've been immersed in '20s-era traditional jazz for over half a century. Their New Orleans Shuffle (Delmark) is from an era when you bounced rather than rocked, but you can understand why it got your grandma hot, if you're sick enough to want to go there. Hot House Rag (Delmark) by Terry Waldo's Gutbucket Syncopators is more of the same, this slightly rougher sextet of players holding lengthy résumés of trad jazz positions that read like the music credits in a Woody Allen movie.
From Woody Allen to Allen Woody: Gov't Mule has responded to the death of band member Woody by bringing a dozen other bassists on board for The Deep End Volume 1 (BMG), a two-disc set of their post-Allman Brothers Southern rock assisted on the bottom end by Jack Bruce, Bootsy Collins, Flea, John Entwhistle and Mike Watt, as well as guitarist John Scofield, blues man Little Milton and Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell. This spring's second volume will feature Phil Lesh, Me'shell N'degeocello and Les Claypool.
Blind Pig Records: 25th Anniversary Collection celebrates -- you guessed it, Sparky -- a quarter century of serious blues releases by Tommy Castro, James Cotton, Johnny Shines, Coco Montoya and 30 others represented on this triple-disc set. The third disc is a CD-ROM with video performances and interviews -- all for the price of a single CD, which is nearly as cheap as stealing it.
From Fat Possum, the label that proudly erased the last 50 years of blues slickness, comes R.L. Burnside's Burnside on Burnside, where the hill-country protege of Muddy Waters and Mississippi Fred McDowell plays a live set of his nasty juke joint music. The guitarist, who must gargle with barbecue sauce to howl such vivid Southern fare, spits out what the liner notes perfectly define as "the original American trance music." Other McDowell disciples -- Charlie Musselwhite, Brian Stoltz, Tab Benoit and Kenny Neal for starters -- take solo stabs at the blues man's catalogue on the stark Preachin' the Blues: The Music of Mississippi McDowell (Telarc).
Considerably less subtle stuff comes from Guitar Shorty -- whose wild guitar lines and stage antics influenced Jimi Hendrix -- on I Go Wild! (Evidence), which features the ultimate romantic pitch: "Like heavy machinery and Vicodin, we're a deadly combination, but we're made for each other, like coffee and cigarettes." (Mississippi "Weatherproof" Rufus critiques: "Is that Jimi's boy? Tell him to send me a check right now or I'll put the mojo on his wah-wah pedal and I don't mean the one under his damn foot neither.")
Sounding more country than a lot of alt-country bands, NYC's Demolition String Band slides effortlessly from Sweetheart of the Rodeo honky-tonk into a bluegrass version of Madonna's "Like a Prayer" on Pulling Up Atlantis (Okra-Tone), led by Elena Skye's bar-bred vocals. Good writers, too, her and cohort Boo Reiners, who, if that's his real name, was pretty much destined to either play country music or become a serial killer.