Rituals of Getting Acquainted

With the Brit avant-garde, rust-belt saxophone, Braxton standards, Dylan standards

Pick Hits

Prayer for Peace [1969]

The authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz have a soft spot for the English avant-garde of their youth. Their highest rating is a crown, which they reserve for a few personal favorites: 74 in the seventh edition, out of more than 13,000 records surveyed. Yet they give crowns to six English jazz albums from 1968-72—a famous one by John McLaughlin and five others unlikely to be known by any non-obsessive. They are interesting records—that's why the Guide is so essential—but this one stands out. The sound has amazing presence, the bass hugging you while the drums ping off your bones and Trevor Watts's alto sax cuts right through you. When he shifts from the dirgelike intro to full metal screech you can feel the earth move, but the record never flies out of control and never loses its touch or its humanity. A classic, but who knew? A

American Mythology
Okka Disk

Sharp ears have pointed out that some of the most exhilarating sax on recent Vandermark 5 albums has come from Mars Williams's replacement, young Dave Rempis. He studied under Vandermark and is similar in tone and logic, but Rempis is, if anything, the more polished player. Where his Quartet album, Out of Season (482 Music), is full of promise but awkward, this trio with bassist Jason Ajemian and V5 drummer Tim Daisy is a tour de force. One example: "Rust Belt" starts with creaky percussion, develops through an unaccompanied soprano lament, then breaks open with a drum solo and pumping alto sax: the bustle of Chicago jazz emerging from the ruins of the steel industry. A


Improvised guitar and drums, sometimes prepared, sometimes something else (tri-sonic steel guitar? electric viola da gamba? Chinese tam-tam?). Each piece is built around a trick, perhaps an exotic rhythm Ligeti picked up on his African travels. But Björkenheim doesn't just tease odd sounds from his axes: He knows his power chords, and forges his lines with a deeply metallic tone. A MINUS

23 Standards (Quartet) 2003

Four CDs is overkill for others but with Braxton it's just a ritual of getting acquainted. His catalog is so huge that keeping up is impossible. One thing you can lose track of is what an extraordinary musician he is, but standards provide a handle to hear him by and proven melodies to exploit. On his recently re-released Charlie Parker Project 1993 (Hatology) the point seems to be to leave Bird in his dust, but here he takes everything at a nice leisurely pace: The pieces average over 10 minutes, leaving ample time for guitarist Kevin O'Neil and a rhythm section that, well, swings. A MINUS

I, Claudia

John Hollenbeck's pieces are all rhythm and tone: the former from drums and vibes, the latter from accordion and clarinet, all pastel-colored instruments that tend to blend together. The music doesn't swing, but it doesn't aim for minimalist repetition either. The pieces build up from basic patterns, evolve, and mutate: From such simple rules strange complexities emerge. A MINUS

Nile River Suite

González acts locally but thinks globally. After teaching mariachi at a Dallas high school, he moonlights making avant-jazz records with no discernible folk elements other than a core belief in the magic of the universe. His theme here is the ancient river of civilization: The Nile runs through New York; the Nile runs through my heart; the Nile runs through us all. Featured is Rip Van Winkle bassist Henry Grimes, fit as his fiddle. Also inspiring are Sabir Mateen and Roy Campbell Jr. A MINUS

We Loved You

Hewitt was one of countless guys who spent their lives playing in obscure dives, never lucking or bulling into the spotlight. For nine years up to his death in 2002 he worked and sometimes lived at Smalls, an after-hours club in NYC, garnering fans like Luke Kaven, who founded this label to right the wrong that Hewitt had never released a record. It's easy enough to guess why biz pros passed: Their ideal pianist is a young guy with a distinct edge—a Brad Mehldau or a Jason Moran. Hewitt sounds warm and comfy, like someone you'd cast for atmosphere before cutting back to the plot. But because he never gets corny or sentimental, he cuts himself a distinctive niche after all. A MINUS


Bob Dylan's lyrics and voice so dominate his songs that you rarely notice that they have melodies. Michael Moore, Lindsey Horner, and Michael Vatcher did, and set about exploring them, tapping a lyric fragment from "Visions of Johanna" for their group name. They've struck real Americana here: bits of folk, blues, and gospel that waft through the air on the light breeze of Moore's reeds—mostly clarinet. The first, Play the Music of Bob Dylan, is more experimental with more obvious songs. This one is more methodical. Both: A MINUS


If a jazz auteur can play orchestra, why not computer? Producer Tucker Martine and keyb man Wayne Horvitz started with samples of old folk melodies, then built up these musical tableaux by adding whatever struck their fancy—banjo and viola, sax and flügelhorn, church organ and electro blips, but mostly rhythm, supplementing Martine's beats with Bobby Previte's drums. A MINUS

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