The Masters Have It

Ten to Live With While Waiting for Godot

3. Cecil Taylor, Elvin Jones, Dewey Redman, Momentum Space (Verve). A long-delayed reunion of sorts that lives up to its billing. Taylor's triptych is thrilling.

4-6. Sam Rivers, Inspiration (RCA Victor); Chico O'Farrill, Heart of a Legend (Milestone); The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Thad Jones Legacy (New World). Three big-band projects, each brimming with the exhilaration exclusive to the form. Rivers had a week at Sweet Basil before making his, and it shows. The music is wonderfully schizoid; the dense voicings are dissonant, but the riffs and pithy solos are downright toasty. O'Farrill's overdue sequel to the 1995 Pure Emotion is less ambitious but more entertaining, with guest soloists and the elation of an ensemble that has had a long spell at Birdland to get rigorous. Which makes the veteran VJO what—perfect? Just about. In making its case for Jones, it reclaims "Central Park North" from the banalities of funk, and goes ape on "Fingers"—jazz rep at its best.

7-8. Teri Thornton, I'll Be Easy to Find (Verve); Abbey Lincoln, Wholly Earth (Verve). I also like the new vocal records by Carla Cook (Maxjazz), Denise Jannah (Blue Note), Laverne Butler (Maxjazz), Paula West (Noir), Tony Bennett (Columbia), and—about-face—Diana Krall (Verve). But these two are startling. Thornton was one of many Dinah Washington clones 40 years ago, but she has evolved a style entirely her own—keeping suspense with top notes you think will veer out of tune, but never do. Good tunes, good arrangements. The Lincoln initially put me off with the harmonizing on "And It's Supposed to Be Love," but overall she is dazzling and penetrating. She is the Billie Holiday of the fin de siècle, and Bobby Hutcherson is dreamy, too.

John Lewis: Rhythmically sublime and positively wasteless
photo: Will Mosgrove
John Lewis: Rhythmically sublime and positively wasteless

9. Joe Lovano and Greg Osby, Friendly Fire (Blue Note). No battle, but a meeting of minds. They seem determined to please each other, the originals are clever, and the Dolphy, Monk, and Coleman standards are way hip.

10. Uri Caine, The Sidewalks of New York: Tin Pan Alley (Winter & Winter). Okay, it's not a jazz record, though jazz musicians are involved, including Caine (whose director credit is in teeny print inside the booklet), Don Byron, and Dave Douglas. A collage about the turn of the last century, it has sound effects, murmuring crowds, horse snorts, singing, monologues, a seven-minute reheasal for a four-minute "Some of These Days" (by a red-hot mama named Barbara Walker), "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in Yiddish—a stew of ethnicities. Put aside 77 minutes to hear the whole thing, and it's like a time capsule, rich with sentiment, never sentimental. Although, come to think of it, that's even more true of Evolution.

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