Odd Tangents

Some Parkers, some Brötzmanns, some Atavistics, and two good mainstream sax CDs

Pick Hits

WILLIAM PARKER QUARTET
Sound Unity
(Aum Fidelity)

This is Parker's pianoless quartet, a format that demands two horn players who can dance—who play together even when they seem to be flying off at odd tangents. Trumpeter Lewis Barnes and alto saxist Rob Brown, little known outside of Parker's discography, make a lovely couple. But in this quartet bassist Parker and drummer Hamid Drake aren't content to keep time: They, too, dance. Perfect balance—the political analog is equality—is impossible to achieve, but if you listen to this record four times, each time focusing on a player, you'll hear four slightly distinct albums, each one coherent. They did it. A

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TOMMY SMITH & BRIAN KELLOCK
Symbiosis
(Spartacus)

Cherokee" may have been God's gift to saxophonists, but none have played it as delicately and sensitively as Smith does here. It leads into a series of exquisite ballads, from "Moonlight in Vermont" to "Skylark," each more lovely than the last. And this isn't one of those ballads albums, either. Smith picks up the pace with "Honeysuckle Rose" and reaches into his bebop bag on "Bernie's Tune," where Kellock finally emerges from his supporting role to show you how Bud Powell might have done it. Smith was astonishing back in his teens. Now he's managed to get past that stage and become well-rounded. A

REZ ABBASI
Shake Charmer
Earth Sounds

Coltrane's soprano sax had an Indian-Near Eastern tone that imparted distance to his perpetual searching, but framed by Abbasi's Indian-spiced soul jazz, Dave Liebman's soprano sax sounds like he's found something. His horn is the highlight here, but Abbasi's snaky guitar is the charm. A MINUS

THE BLUEPRINT PROJECT
Creative Nation Music

Jared Sims (saxes), Eric Hofbauer (guitar), and Tyson Rogers (piano) split the writing credits with little evident pecking order or stylistic uniqueness. They are talented, well educated, thoroughly modern. They can do post-bop, post-Monk, post-Ornette; they can play gospel and tango and free. All they needed was bass and drums, so they hired Cecil McBee and Matt Wilson. One of the few jazz groups that feels communal. A MINUS

BRÖTZMANN/FRIIS NIELSEN/UUSKYLA
Medicina
Atavistic

With a career that started with Machine Gun, the big bang of European free jazz, and unfolded through smaller group efforts with titles like Die Like a Dog, it's tempting to call this Peter Brötzmann's easy listening album, but it's only easier. His increasing use of clarinet and tarogato does take a little wind out of his sails, but even on tenor sax it's possible to follow his intense yet inventive lines without feeling the need to duck. It helps that his is the only horn. It also helps that drummer Peeter Uuskyla stays on the case no matter what. A MINUS

AVISHAI COHEN TRIO & ENSEMBLE
At Home
RazDaz/Sunnyside

Cohen writes that "the main engine driving this record is a trio," but he's being too modest. It's the bassist, and engine is the operative word because Cohen's pieces build around the pulse of his bass. Half are trios with pianist Sam Barsh and drummer Mark Giuliana; the other half add horns for color, most notably Yosvany Terry's saxophones. A MINUS

DAVE DOUGLAS/LOUIS SCLAVIS/ PEGGY LEE/DYLAN VAN DER SCHYFF
Bow River Falls
Premonition

One unusual thing about Douglas is how much he's rooted in European folk traditions—mostly Slavic (Tiny Bell Trio) and Jewish (Masada). This evenly balanced collaboration with French clarinetist Louis Sclavis and the young Canadian cello-drums team continues in this vein. Sclavis is central, the backbone for pieces that spring Douglas loose. This compares favorably to the follow-up, Mountain Passages, where Sclavis is replaced by the extra horn power of Michael Moore and Marcus Rojas while the all-Douglas program gets way too complex. A MINUS

GERD DUDEK/BUSCHI NIEBERGALL/ EDWARD VESALA
Open [1977]
Atavistic

The records revisited by Atavistic's Unheard Music Series went unheard for reasons—Baby Dodds talking and Sun Ra lullabies are novelties at best. Free jazz from '70s Europe holds up better, but old Brötzmann and Schlippenbach are unlikely to convince non-fans, and rarities from Keith Hazevoet and Mario Schiano will never be more than cult items. So this one is a find. Dudek pursues Coltrane's ghost on two saxophones, flute, and shenai—a double-reed oboe from India, like blowing into a buzz saw. Bass and drums aren't supporting roles; they add dimensions. A MINUS

FME
Underground
Okka Disk

The initials stand for Free Music Ensemble, a nod to the famous FMP label, but if free suggests falling back on your instinctive wits, for Ken Vandermark that means blowing with rock roughness and r&b honk. Especially when the group is built around Nate McBride of Spaceways Inc. and Tripleplay and Paal Nilssen-Love of School Days. A MINUS

THE FRANK AND JOE SHOW
33 1/3
Hyena

The three vocal spots—campy Janis Siegel on "Don't Fence Me In," debonair Dr. John on "Sheik of Araby," torchy Jane Monheit on "Besame Mucho"—shine so bright you wish they'd recruited more guests, but guitarist Frank Vignola has to get his licks in, beginning his beguine and jamming Mozart, ramrodding Rimsky-Korsakov at Dave Edmunds speeds, and ending in a shimmering oasis of "Stardust." A MINUS

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