The Caribbean Tinge

Thoughtful, passionate jazz musicians feel around a big world, and an old one as well

Pick Hits

DAVID MURRAY & THE GWO-KA MASTERS
Gwotet
Justin Time

As with Murray's two previous Guadeloupe albums, a foray into pan-African cosmopolitanism is built around the gwo-ka drums and chant vocals of Klod Kiavue, and François Ladrezeau. But the rest of the cast is new, including Guadeloupean guitarist Christian Laviso and Vietnamese-Senegalese hybrid Hervé Samb, extra brass from Murray's Latin Big Band, and featured saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Where Creole achieved lush exoticism, and Yonn-Dé strove for modest authenticity, this one is a nonstop riot of rhythm and horns. A

SONIC LIBERATION FRONT
Ashé a Go-Go
High Two

As in David Murray's gwo-ka, drummer Kevin Diehl finds his inspiration in the relict rhythms that kept Africa alive in the Caribbean. But the Sunny Murray student does more than build post-bop jazz around Cuban bata drums. He messes with the classic rhythms, at times losing the pulse and wandering free. Same for the tenor sax—like Ayler, Terry Lawson starts with simple folk melodies and pushes them into frenzy. But three tracks feature vocals, and these reconnect the free jazz to its Lukumi roots. The most striking is the simplest, with Chuckie Joseph singing over nothing but his own strummed guitar—which pays dividends on the '60s avant-garde's fascination with pan-Africana by finally getting under its skin. A

FRED ANDERSON/HAMID DRAKE
Back Together Again
Thrill Jockey

Anderson grew up around the AACM in the '70s, recorded a bit, then settled into life as a club owner. Sometimes he would play his tenor sax in the club, and when he hit 65 he resumed recording—just in time for the Chicago jazz renaissance. This duo album came out on his 75th birthday, and it feels like he's finally found his way. Master drummer Drake, who learned to play alongside Anderson's son when his family moved to Chicago, keeps the rhythms bubbling, getting a robust but subdued sound from his frame drums that keeps Anderson relaxed and generous. A MINUS

JAMES BROWN
Soul on Top [1969]
Verve

This extends Ray Charles's omnivorous big-band soul, with Brown reinventing standards—"That's My Desire," "September Song," "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"—in front of Louie Bellson's orchestra, which arranger-conductor Oliver Nelson barely manages to discipline, so caught up is the band in the singer's excitement. In Brown's discography, just a curio. But in the whole history of big band jazz, there's never been a singer like him. A

MARILYN CRISPELL TRIO
Storyteller
ECM

After two decades of comparisons to Cecil Taylor, her third ECM record is deliberate, cautious, almost pretty. Paul Motian could take credit for taming the shrew, but more likely it was her own growing interest in Bill Evans that led her to Motian. He wrote most of the pieces, but exerts little control. Indeed, his subtle drumming is almost untethered to Crispell's piano. But at this slow pace, the logic of her playing, her knack for surprising sequences that make perfect sense once you've heard them, is as dazzling as her speed ever was. A MINUS

MARTY EHRLICH
Line on Love
Palmetto

Stanley Dance invented the category "mainstream jazz" to account for older musicians who had assimilated bebop without losing their swing, but mainstreaming never ended: The avant-garde of the '60s is older now than bebop was then, so old that youngsters channel Ornette and Braxton and Hemphill as naturally as Bird and Prez and Hawk. The mainstream du jour is the old new thing shorn of its desire to shock and dismay. These days albums that venture well beyond neocon blues-swing dogma while remaining merely smart and polite are the norm. Yet though this one rarely gets out of ballad gear, it remains fresh and unpredictable, retaining the spirit of innovation, not just the form. A MINUS

EL-P/THE BLUE SERIES CONTINUUM
High Water
Thirsty Ear

The third album in less than a year for the Blue Series Continuum, a band that shares its name with Thirsty Ear's avant-jazz series, both of which have wandered deep into DJ territory. Each release is staffed by artistic director Matthew Shipp and his usual crew, and each has a different guest producer. The Good and Evil Sessions was an upbeat groove album. The relatively abstract Sorcerer Sessions indulged Shipp's avant-classical tendencies. This one shows more meat, probably because El-P carves what the band gives him rather than smothering it in sauce. A MINUS

PERCY HEATH
A Love Song
Daddy Jazz

The ultimate team player worked on 300 albums before finally cutting one under his own name. But at 79, the sole survivor of the Modern Jazz Quartet is entitled. He's got some songs—old like "Watergate Blues" and new like the title number, which he played at Milt Hinton's funeral. He's got some ideas, like playing the melody to "Django" on bass and playing cello over Peter Washington's bass. He's got his brother Tootie on drums. And he's got a young pianist he wants to show off, so he lets Jeb Patton take the spotlight for two pieces, one by and the other for Sir Roland Hanna. A MINUS

IAN HENDRICKSON-SMITH
Up in Smoke!
Sharp Nine

A mainstream sax date like they cut all the time in the late '50s: Start with a swinging "The Best Things in Life Are Free," slip in an old ballad, a discreet original, a little bebop, some blues. Nothing ambitious—just an echo of the days when Coleman Hawkins and Dexter Gordon walked the earth. A MINUS

MICHEL PORTAL/STEPHEN KENT/MINO CINELU
Burundi
PAO

Kent's didgeridoo provides the varying hums that place this record at the outer reaches of exotica. Cinelu's percussion and occasional yelp or bark drive it rhythmically. Portal's soprano sax is pitched high and eerie, while his bass clarinet is low and down-to-earth. The African nation that contributed the title accounts for nothing else, except perhaps a world big enough to inspire such otherworldly music. A MINUS

TED SIROTA'S REBEL SOULS
Breeding Resistance
Delmark

As with Mingus, there's more to Sirota's music than his titles. By all means read the booklet. Remember Fred Hampton? Ken Saro-Wiwa? How about Don Cherry? Still, when you get to the music it doesn't matter that the stately "For Martyrs" is programmatic while the lovely "Elegy" is personal. Oppression breeds resistance, but neither makes music. Thoughtful, passionate musicians do. A MINUS

THE VANDERMARK FIVE
Elements of Style . . . Exercises in Surprise
Atavistic

Most of Ken Vandermark's groups are forums where musicians get together and kick shit around, but his flagship group exists just for him. With Jeb Bishop on trombone and Dave Rempis adding a second saxophone—often the lead with Vandermark switching off to big or small clarinet—the Five have one of the most potent horn sections in jazz. Indeed, what's most striking here is how smoothly they play in unison, how smartly they play in contrast, and how sharply they stop and spin on a dime. Each of the first six pieces pursues a distinct idea, and the other—the 20:10 "Six of One"—marshals at least as many more. For once, the risks and daring of free jazz are arranged as precisely as in a crack big band. A


Dud of the Month

MICHAEL BRECKER/JOE LOVANO/DAVE LIEBMAN
Saxophone Summit: Gathering of Spirits
Telarc

These three eminent saxophonists should work and play well with others by now, but on this evidence need to repeat kindergarten. They state the heads simultaneously rather than together, then go off and trade lines from different books. They start out thinking blowing session, then lapse into their beloved ballad repertoires, and wind up playing free—in their case the aural equivalent of a food fight. The nadir comes when they switch off to play with their favorite old-world flutes. C PLUS


Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

FRED ANDERSON
Back at the Velvet Lounge
Delmark

On his home court, with a full band behind him, he feels comfortable enough to toss us a soft one.

JOE LOCKE & 4 WALLS OF FREEDOM
Dear Life
Sirocco

Replacing the late Bob Berg with the great Tommy Smith, the vibes master pauses, ponders, and carries on.

DAVE BURRELL FULL-BLOWN TRIO
Expansion
High Two

Avant-ragtime, skeletal Berlin, Andrew Cyrille marches on, William Parker delights on kora.

LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST
The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist
Hyena/Shantytone

Go-go beats and funky bass—free your ass and the pianist will jump, jive, and wail.

HENRY KAISER & WADADA LEO SMITH
Yo Miles! Sky Garden
Cuneiform

More dividends from Miles's electric period, the change of trumpeters food for thought.

ARILD ANDERSEN
The Triangle
ECM

Smartly nuanced, delicately balanced trio with pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos, who got star billing last time.

KRIS DAVIS
Lifespan
Fresh Sound

Piano trio plus three horns do her bidding without clutter or show.

KEN VANDERMARK/ BRIAN DIBBLEE
Duets
Future Reference

A whole album of Vandermark bass clarinet, wrapped around the bassist's lovely melodies.

IGNASI TERRAZA TRIO
IT's Coming
TCB

Mainstream piano, the bass mixed up to make it a real trio, remarkable for its balance and warmth.

BILL BRUFORD'S EARTHWORKS
Random Acts of Happiness
Summerfold

Latin-tinged rhythms, lush piano, Tim Garland's bright sax—the good life.

HIROMI
Brain
Telarc

Eclectic postmodern piano trio, more or less, with a penchant for gadgets and kung fu.

ROY HAYNES
Fountain of Youth
Dreyfus

His secret is that he keeps his bands young, but they only want to play what Haynes played with Monk and Coltrane when they were young.


Duds

GEORGE BENSON
Irreplaceable
GRP

WAYNE ESCOFFERY
Intuition
Nagel Heyer

FOURPLAY
Journey
Bluebird

ANTONIO HART
All We Need
Downtown Sound/Chiaroscuro

KEITH ROWE/AXEL DÖRNER/FRANZ HAUTZINGER
A View From the Window
Erstwhile

SPYRO GYRA
The Deep End
Heads Up

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