All True, More or Less

A worldwide phenomenon and a transworld music, but usually not both at the same time

Pick Hits

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ZU & SPACEWAYS INC.
Radiale
Atavistic

The delta between the impeccably free-jazz DKV Trio and Spaceways Inc. is in the bass players: Spaceways' Nate McBride favors hard funk rhythms, which are food for thought for Ken Vandermark and Hamid Drake. Where their first album explored Funkadelic and Sun Ra, on the second Vandermark wrote originals with the same vibe in mind. Zu are a trio from Italy dominated by the baritone sax of Luca T. Mai. They showed up in Chicago a few years back and cut Igneo, produced by punk ideologue Steve Albini with Vandermark sitting in. The first half of this album is just Zu and Vandermark, improvising around simple twists, the two saxes looming heavily. The second half brings in the rest of Spaceways for a double trio, which rips through pieces by the Art Ensemble and Sun Ra, and rocks out on two Funkadelic grooves. A


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BENNIE WALLACE
The Nearness of You
Enja/Justin Time

With a model draped over him and his saxophone erect, this is the most blatant makeout record he's ever recorded, but he's been evolving into a smoothie for a decade or more: Starting with The Old Songs, he's explored sax balladry more intensively than anyone since Ben Webster. While he lacks the master's fat vibrato, he still gets a distinctive tingle from his hard-earned modernism. The albums are remarkably consistent, differentiated mostly by the pianists. This time it's Kenny Barron, who shepherded Stan Getz through his own late ballad phase. A MINUS


THE BAD PLUS
Give
Columbia

Everything you read about them is true, more or less. They're an acoustic jazz piano trio, but amplifiers pump up their volume as much as they want, and they amplify themselves by augmenting each other's parts instead of expressing themselves. Their hard rock covers are a commercial gimmick that pays off because the songs were built to flex muscle to begin with, and because improvising on pop hits is older than Charlie Parker anyway. They're the next big thing in jazz, but any jazz that gets noticed looks big. The new album is denser, deeper, brighter, and more complex than the first two. All true, more or less. A MINUS


ANTHONY BROWN'S ASIAN AMERICAN ORCHESTRA
Monk's Moods
Water Baby

Brown can be obvious. Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire told of young nisei musicians in love with Glenn Miller; Far East Suite steered his big band through Ellington's travelogue, adding Asian instruments without undermining the melodies. Here he moves on to Monk, and cheats: cribbing from Hall Overton's Town Hall arrangements, enlisting Steve Lacy, replacing Monk's piano with Yang Qin Zhao's Chinese dulcimer. It works because Brown deploys his big band for precision rather than power, and because the Asian nuances accentuate the inscrutability of Monk's music. A MINUS


JAMES CARTER
Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge
Warner Bros.

Overstuffed with four generations of Detroit saxophonists—Johnny Griffin goes virtually unnoticed for the first time ever, Franz Jackson sings to be heard, and David Murray has to play like David Murray—this isn't a great album, but it's voluble and exciting the way Carter can be. If he recorded for boutique labels, they'd be on his case for three or four records like this per year, and he'd deliver. But with the majors this sits on the shelf until he moves on and they decide to flush it. A MINUS


SIR ROLAND HANNA/CARRIE SMITH
I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues: The Songs of Harold Arlen
IPO

Smith's ample dramatic presence is why she's more renowned onstage than in the studio. And when she turns loose on Arlen's flightier fare, like "It's Only a Paper Moon," it's clear that whatever her rights, she's first and foremost a showgirl. Hanna usually records alone, but unlike so many pianists he isn't showy solo. He's a model of precise economy, which serves him especially well as sole accompanist here. His leads frame the songs lucidly. Then he provides the unobtrusive support Smith needs. A MINUS


LYAMBIKO
Shades of Delight
Nagel Heyer

She's an Afro-German who sings perfectly nuanced English. They're an eponymous band of determinedly optimistic übermenschen. Together they demonstrate their taste and smarts many times over. The song list ranges from Irving Berlin to Mose Allison, from Oscar Brown Jr. to Van Morrison. They do Strayhorn for drama rather than beauty and Jobim for subtlety rather than beat, then work a little bossa into "Morning" just to show they can. She even gets to dig into her real or imagined roots in a couple of African pieces—one woven into a "Savannah Suite" that starts with a jungle rhythm they choose to call "Drum and Bass and Bananas." A MINUS


MICHIKO OGAWA TRIO
. . . It's All About Love!
Arbors

She has an expert way with old songs and old-fashioned piano, but she's so in love with her "special guest" saxophonist that she holds back, singing on only five of the 14 standards here. Harry Allen is a big thing in Japan whose records BMG doesn't release here, which is a shame, but Ogawa shows him off more adroitly anyway. When people say he plays like he's never heard Coltrane, they mean he never shows stress, never feels the need to search. He leads with the confident swagger of Coleman Hawkins, fills in with the finesse of Paul Gonsalves, and is sane enough to be delighted with that combination. A MINUS

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