Music News

Brand New Year

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Several years back, Prestige began reissuing '60s- and '70s-era funk jazz in its Legends of Acid Jazz series. Now, 30-some discs into the series, we're given five more, nearly all of them focusing on the organ, churning out funk with the assistance of either a sax or guitar. Organist Don Patterson and tenor saxophonists Booker Ervin and Houston Person make up the cast on Just Friends (Prestige). Patterson's frantic bebop lines -- not the typical approach to jazz organ -- match Ervin's equally tension-creating style, while Person sticks to his R&B roots.

Saxophonist Sonny Stitt escaped a long period of being compared to Charlie Parker by moving into soulful material like what's found on Low Flame (Prestige). Lots of substance here, but nothing greasy or funky enough to merit inclusion in the acid jazz category.

On Glide On (Prestige) by Bill Jennings and Jack McDuff, guitarist Jennings approaches soul funk with a much lighter and more restrained approach than was usually the case, which resulted in him never becoming as popular as his accompanist, organist McDuff. While the album isn't really gritty, it presents the music in an almost sophisticated manner.

Even more sophisticated is the tuxedoed funk of guitarist Kenny Burrell and organist Shirley Scott on the latter's Soul Sister (Prestige). Scott, who was married to Stanley Turrentine, whips off some intense and eloquent blues lines in a tone that cuts like Norman Bates. The lady deserves more credit, as her soulful, witty solo on "On Green Dolphin Street" proves.

While the arrangements and song choices ("Ode to Billie Joe," "Theme From NYPD Blue") are terribly corny on Johnny Hammond Smith's Soul Flowers (Prestige), it's interesting to hear the underrated organist burn through material that sounds like Quentin Tarantino soundtrack fodder. Check out the funky versions of "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Tara's Theme (My Own True Love)" from Gone With the Wind.

An observation regarding pop jazz. Notice how no one ever orders a hamburger because a steak might be too overwhelming an experience, or chooses Nogales over Madrid, fearing that the latter might clog one's sensorial arteries. So why should hordes gravitate toward the fake flamenco of Universal Language (GRP) by Marc Antoine when no shortage of the real thing can be found? Within every 15 square miles of the Valley is a guitarist who plays at least this competently. The same can be said for Fattburger's dreadful (Shanachie) and its repetitive, simplistic synth washes. Would an accessible Miles Davis album put the listener into a coma?

Rhonda Vincent has cut 17 albums of bluegrass mandolin prior to Back Home Again (Rounder). Though it's hard-core bluegrass à la Jimmy Martin and the Osborne Brothers, there's the same contemporary feel found in Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. Vincent's voice is downright seductive -- especially on her interpretation of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" -- which may be a first for bluegrass music.

No one's done a better job of connecting bluegrass with other styles than David Grisman. On Dawg Duos (Acoustic Disc), the mandolinist faces off with some of the best players in the acoustic music scene, including Mark O'Connor, Bryan Bowers, Vassar Clements, Bob Brozman and Béla Fleck, who, with Grisman, pulls off a witty revision of the Michel Legrand song "Windmills of Your Mind," here called "Clinch Mountain Windmills."

Speaking of Béla Fleck, the banjoist temporarily stepped away from the Flecktones to record The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales From the Acoustic Planet, Volume 2 (Warner Bros.). Picking at frightening speed are Tony Rice, Sam Bush, John Hartford and the seldom-heard Earl Scruggs. Credit the great sound to age: Most of the instruments dragged to the session were made in the '30s -- though Vassar Clements tops them all by playing his 300-year-old Duifooprugear fiddle.

Folksters Robin and Linda Williams are best known for their appearances on A Prairie Home Companion. In the Company of Strangers (Sugar Hill), which features Mary Chapin Carpenter, marks their 25th year of recording a unique style of top-drawer East Coast acoustic music that might as well be filed under imports to anyone living west of Kentucky.

Texas songwriter Guy Clark became a name back in the '70s when the outlaw movement ruled country and Jerry Jeff Walker made a hit out of Clark's "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train." Cold Dog Soup (Sugar Hill) is as dry and lean as anything he's recorded, sounding like it was taped in his living room. Since the death of Townes Van Zandt, Clark's inherited the mantle as poet laureate of Texas, as his latest proves.

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Dave McElfresh