Music News

Brand New Year

As we bitterly curse the fact that the apocalypse skipped over us, at least there's some new music to commiserate with. Make a statement against pointless existence and spend your rent money on these new releases. There's lots of jazz to choose from, plus a few bluegrass and folk offerings.

Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has been praised by John Scofield and Pat Metheny -- players who, along with Black Sabbath's Randy Rhoads and AC/DC's Angus Young, were influences. Not that he sounds like any of them. His first major-label release, The Enemies of Energy (Verve), is noteworthy more for its dense, introverted composing than for extending the style of a mentor. Rosenwinkel's writing takes unexpected twists that must have given migraines to the rest of the band. Nothing here you'll be humming around the house, that's for sure.

Charlie Hunter's modified guitar has eight strings, sounding for all the world like two tight players. Most of the cuts on Duo (Blue Note) featuring he and Leon Parker are Hunter compositions delving into surf guitar, calypso and funk, backed by Parker's drums. Check out their version of the Beach Boys' "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)."

Arto Lindsay is an interesting mix of downtown New York skronk jazz and bossa nova, his parents having been Brazilian missionaries. Pride (Righteous Babe) is a Rio-flavored offering that admirably stays clear of aping the Jobim shtick. Lindsay's nostalgia-free bossa nova shows that Brazilian music needn't automatically make you think of "The Girl From Ipanema."

Joe Gallant and Illuminati have recorded Terrapin (Which? Records), a large ensemble jazz interpretation of the Grateful Dead's entire Terrapin Station album from 1977, as well as "China Doll" from From the Mars Hotel. Lots of hot players from the jazz world and elsewhere show up, including Hot Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen, bluegrass banjo master Tony Trischka, Maggie Roche from the Roche Sisters, avant accordionist Andrea Parkins and ex-Zappa vocalist Ike Willis. If you go for this, check out bassist Gallant's The Blues for Allah Project recorded in 1975.

John Abercrombie has recorded for 25 years on ECM, a label that, in the opinion of many, has become a bit stuffy. Still, Abercrombie's Open Land (ECM) would sound good if it came out on K-Tel. Like most artists who've stuck with ECM, the guitarist has never been much of a flasher, though if he chose a funkier drummer and turned up the volume, his nasty chops would sell records at least as well as the genre's better-known axhandlers. It's typical of the intentionally understated Abercrombie to construct quirky bands like this one, which features violin, organ, trumpet (Kenny Wheeler), tenor sax (Joe Lovano) and drums.

Celebrating the Music of Weather Report (Telarc) is a tribute album featuring Take 6, Joe Sample, John Scofield, the Brecker brothers and David Sanborn, as well as exReporters Victor Bailey, Omar Hakim and Steve Gadd. It's a hard band to cover creatively since no one can come close to matching Joe Zawinul's ominous and colorful keyboard arrangements. This band strips away Weather Report's signature moodiness with too many shiny synth tones when the music was meant to sound partly cloudy. Behind the project is producer Jason Miles, who's worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and KISS when not composing for Claudia Schiffer and Jane Fonda exercise videos. Enough said.

Vocalist Kurt Elling may occasionally lack the range of dynamics needed to pull off some of the cuts on Live in Chicago (Blue Note), but he's got a tone all his own and a playlist of unique material. Elling drops a poem by St. John of the Cross into the middle of "My Foolish Heart," scats a Yellowjackets tune ("Downtown"), adds lyrics to Wayne Shorter's "Night Dreamer" ("Night Dream"), revives "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and covers Sting's "Oh My God." Other jazz singers should be so adventurous.

Yeah, it's probably whoring when jazz labels glut the market with swing music in response to a 20-minute fad for that style of dancing. But, hey, smoke 'em if you've got 'em. Long after the saddle oxfords and pleated skirts end up in thrift stores, at least some of the fleet-footed will hold on to recent compilations like Jazz That Swings (32 Jazz). While cuts like David "Fathead" Newman's "Little Sister" and Hank Crawford's "Boo's Tune" are gimme-shimmy material, it's hard to say why or how a bossa nova like the Modern Jazz Quartet's "One Note Samba" came to be included. Better off looking at this disc as a sampler for one of the best reissue labels around.

For the past several years, Downbeat magazine has touted trumpeter Dave Douglas as an artist deserving of wider recognition. Soul on Soul: Celebrating Mary Lou Williams (RCA) follows his previous tribute albums to Wayne Shorter and Booker Little. There's lots of hard-bop influence in his work, from his dark tone to the complex harmonies he implements, though he throws in a handful of stride piano and outside jazz as well.