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


QUARTET B
Crystal Mountain
Fono

Sometimes they switch to tarogato and bouzouki, even bring in a guest cimbalom player, but these Hungarians aren't folkies. Their folklore is just part of a good Communist education, like the classics. In this context, leader Mihaly Borbely, who also plays in the folk group Vujisics, sounds as clear and spacious on soprano sax as Jan Garbarek. And his bouzouki player spends far more time on a guitar he deploys with the studied eclecticism of Bill Frisell. A MINUS


JENNY SCHEINMAN
Shalagaster
Tzadik

The klezmer one expects of a violinist on John Zorn's label is just one of many touchstones of this transworld jazz. Hints of India and Brazil also appear, but she's rooted only in the sound of her group. Over Myra Melford's harmonium, Scheinman's violin and Russ Johnson's muted trumpet build up thick layers of sound. And when Melford switches to piano, the options become more rhythmic. That's what Scheinman sees in the world: options. A MINUS


TOMASZ STANKO
Suspended Night
ECM

As the jazz scene developed in Poland in the '60s, Stanko filled a role similar to Kenny Wheeler's in the U.K.: Although he was most often heard in avant-garde contexts, his own records were so modestly attired that he sounded normal and accessible even if he didn't fall into any recognizable stylistic nook. Now in his own sixties, he's attracted what's always described as his "young Polish quartet" (like Jan Lukasiewicz's "Polish Notation," an attempt to avoid the names—in this case Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz, and Miskiewicz). Like their debut, The Soul of Things, this is built from series of non-obvious variations, and takes a while to come into focus. Think of them as settings for the gemlike clarity of Stanko's trumpet. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

JAMES CARTER
Gardenias for Lady Day
Columbia

Carter looks good in his retro suits, and deploys his many saxophones with the same aplomb as he shows in selecting his ties. He put together a dream quartet for what could have been The Real Quietstorm II—John Hicks, Peter Washington, Victor Lewis. But with him newly signed to Columbia, you can imagine the helpful hints from company bigwigs: loved that Django tribute, wouldn't Billie Holiday be a nice follow-up (especially given our catalog)? And strings, didn't Billie do an album with strings? And you could freak out a bit on "Strange Fruit," so everyone understands the horrors of lynching. And hey, we just saw this new singer who does Bessie Smith. How else do you get a mess like this? Eight songs, only half even vaguely associated with Holiday; strings that would gag Charlie Parker; excited vocals by an Ella wannabe. Only when the quartet plays unencumbered do you get an idea of how much talent is wasted here. B MINUS


Additional Consumer News

Reissues and Redundancies

DUKE ELLINGTON
The Bubber Miley Era
1924–29 Jazz Legends
Before swing, the Hot Club of Harlem in its flaming youth.

DUKE ELLINGTON
Ellington Uptown
1947–52
Columbia/Legacy
Hodges-less, coming out of his most pretentious composerly period, scratching and kicking to hang on.

BENNY CARTER
Sax à la Carter
1960
Capitol Jazz
A quartet with Jimmy Rowles, Leroy Vinnegar, and Mel Lewis; a few standards; just an easy swinging Friday in L.A.

CHARLES LLOYD/BILLY HIGGINS
Which Way Is East
ECM
In a living room shortly before Higgins's death, two old friends converse, contemplate, fart around.

SIR ROLAND HANNA
Tributaries: Reflections on Tommy Flanagan
IPO
All of Hanna's solo albums are thoughtful, but his fellow Detroiter sets the bar higher than ever.

TOMASZ STANKO: RARUM VOL. 17: SELECTED RECORDINGS
1975–98
ECM
Darkest days, greatest dirges, scattered miracles, two of them drummers.


Honorable Mention

BRIAN LYNCH
Brian Lynch Meets Bill Charlap
Sharp Nine
Brilliant trumpet, impeccable supporting piano, professionalism that doesn't show off because it's so self-satisfied.

ALLAN VACHÉ‚ AND FRIENDS
Ballads, Burners and Blues
Arbors
Trad clarinetist lays out his business card, neglecting to mention "Besame Mucho."

THE YOKO MIWA TRIO
Fadeless Flower
PJL
Young mainstream piano trio aim for clean sound, delicate balance, inconspicuous beauty.

COOPER-MOORE/ASSIF TSAHAR
America
Hopscotch
Eschewing piano, Cooper-Moore plays banjo and diddley-bo, and sings the title song like it's been a long time coming.

THE NEW ARCHIE SHEPP QUARTET
Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day
PAO
I'll take Shepp's revolution over Amina Claudine Myers's gospel, but to him they're probably the same.

RANDY SANDKE
Cliffhanger
Nagel Heyer
Mainstream trumpet, riding roughshod over a crackling-hot band.


Duds

MONTY ALEXANDER/ERNEST RANGLIN
Rocksteady
Telarc

JOHN PIZZARELLI
Bossa Nova
Telarc

SPRING HEEL JACK
The Sweetness of the Water
Thirsty Ear

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