Fungible Insights

Jazz on the fringe, even when it hopes to end up in the middle

Pick Hits

FME
Cuts
Okka Disk

What makes Free Music Ensemble Ken Vandermark’s best pure improv showcase is how conducive bassist Nate McBride and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are to his basic style—rough, rock hard, punkish. That may not have been the idea when he named the group to honor Germany’s avant-noise FMP label, but this is a band that could have been designed to kick out the jams. Still, most cuts do have soft parts—clarinet with minimal accompaniment, McBride often arco—and these cohere like never before. A

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SHEILA JORDAN + CAMERON BROWN
Celebration
High Note

She grew up in a coal town, fled to the city, chased Bird, and caught his piano player. George Russell asked her to sing a song in 1962, and she would have been unforgettable for that alone. It was another decade before she worked steadily, but she waltzed away with the album on Roswell Rudd’s Flexible Flyer—long my favorite jazz album. At 76 she threw this birthday party, with just bassist Brown behind her. It’s an uncharacteristically loose and happy set, strung together from medleys with generous scat and patter, sometimes ad-libbed into the music. Makes me think she’s the only real jazz singer left—the only one worth chasing, anyhow. A MINUS


URI CAINE/BEDROCK
Shelf-Life
Winter & Winter

One problem with '70s fusion is that when pianists like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea went electric they gave off an air of slumming. That's not an issue with younger players weaned on funk, disco, and hip-hop—electronics for them are an invitation to have fun. Matthew Shipp and George Colligan are good examples, but Uri Caine—surprisingly for a guy with whole albums of Schumann and Mahler in his closet—tops them all. He got it right on the first Bedrock album: Zach Danziger's beats come first, then Tim Lefebvre's grooves, and anything he does on synth just elaborates. This one goes further, adding a guest horn here and there, even a couple of vocals, but never losing track of first principles—which for him closes with a straight Philly soul classic. A MINUS

PETER EPSTEIN/BRAD SHEPIK/MATT KILMER
Lingua Franca
Songlines

All three have interests in the world's many musics—there are subtle Indian, Balkan, and West African spices here—but all three are homegrown and play conventional instruments. Shepik's guitars intertwine with Kilmer's percussion. Epstein's alto or soprano sax floats above, as if charming snakes. A MINUS

RICH HALLEY TRIO
Mountains and Plains
Louie

The desolate, rugged landscapes in the cover snapshots are a fitting analogue to the deliberate articulation of Halley's tenor sax in this bare-bones trio. Based in Oregon and trained as a field biologist, with previous records about Saxophone Animals and Coyotes in the City, Halley obviously comes at free jazz from far afield. And he's collaborated with Dave Storrs and Clyde Reed for so long that they get the balance just right. A MINUS

ARTHUR KELL QUARTET
Traveller
Fresh Sound New Talent

Jordi Pujol named his label for an ad touting the "fresh sounds" of West Coast jazz in the '50s, but his search for nueva cool has focused on New York and Barcelona. The New Talent series produces a steady stream of Honorable Mention wannabes—tight, cleverly arranged, tepid little albums with much to admire and little to get excited about. This one is exemplary, with Kell's bass firmly anchoring his tunes, while Steve Cardenas's expansive guitar lines and Gorka Benitez's golden-toned tenor sax flesh them out. A MINUS

STEVE LACY/JOËLLE LÉANDRE
One More Time
Leo

The grand master of the soprano sax ended his long residency in Europe with a series of "farewell concerts" in 2002, made all the more final by his death last year. A box is promised, but this duo with bassist Léandre got carved out first. She's worth concentrating on, proving that the bass is a sonic tool kit of amazing breadth. But focus inevitably drifts to Lacy in an intimate performance that is both typical and exemplary. One to remember him by. A MINUS

HILARY NOBLE & REBECCA CLINE
Enclave
Zoho

Good students. Noble studied sax with George Garzone and Yusef Lateef, but he also did extra credit in Afro-Cuban percussion, and he puts both to use here. Cline picked up her piano from Joanne Brackeen and Chucho Valdés, and she delivers the whole package—she's impossible to ignore, even in the background. Whereas most Latin jazz gravitates toward siesta, leave it to a couple of Yanks to shake things up. A MINUS

TRIPTYCH MYTH
The Beautiful
AUM Fidelity

Another case where an album title has become the group name for a second album, giving reclusive pianist Cooper-Moore a bit of cover. He reminds me of Horace Tapscott—not as fast, but as dense and exacting, if anything more sensitive to the other two panels of his group, bassist Tom Abbs and drummer Chad Taylor. They play the way freedom is supposed to work—untethered but aware and complementary. A MINUS

ASSIF TSAHAR/COOPER-MOORE/HAMID DRAKE
Lost Brother
Hopscotch

Cooper-Moore emerges as a double threat: no piano, just homemade toys. His ashimba slips in between Drake's frame drums for stretches of pan-African groove, with Tsahar's bass clarinet gently tooting along. But when Cooper-Moore cranks up the twang of his one-stringed diddley bow, Tsahar switches to tenor sax and his usual Aylerisms lurch into overdrive, a style we might as well call avant-honk. A MINUS

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