Shine Balls

Tricky pitches to baffle the bluocracy; "beatable items" to aid the swing

Pick Hits

Jon Faddis

Take Wynton Marsalis, strip away the shameless propaganda ministry and his Pulitzer-seeking compositional conceits, endow him with a sense of humor and sharpen his chops a bit, and you'll be narrowing in on a description of Jon Faddis. Faddis spent most of his early career working as Dizzy Gillespie's stunt double, because he was damn near the only one up to the job. Later he moved into the institutional milieu at Carnegie Hall, a modest parallel to Marsalis's Lincoln Center coup. Releasing a mere nine albums, mostly throwaways, over 30 years, Faddis has remained out of sight and out of mind, which makes this album a revelation. The core quartet is perfectly balanced, lithe and propulsive, but the surprise is that the guest shots fit in seamlessly—African drums, Russell Malone guitar, Frank Wess flute, and best of all, Clark Terry mumbling. As for Faddis, he shows us everything worthwhile a trumpet can do. A

World Saxophone Quartet
Political Blues
Justin Time

The political situation has gotten so dire that the old masters feel compelled to write tirades. David Murray and Oliver Lake go so far as to step up to the mic, while Hamiet Bluiett recruits gospel heavyweight Carolyn Amba Hawthorne to excoriate the nation's "Amazin' Disgrace." In the first recorded understatement of his career, Murray complains that "the Republican Party is not very nice." But like most Americans, they'd still rather party than protest, so they bring their friends in. In the spirit of anger, Craig Harris weighs in on the "Bluocracy"— Lincoln Center's, presumably. They've been on the front lines of that political struggle all their careers. All Blood Ulmer has to offer is "Mannish Boy," but why not? They've always struck me as uptight without bass and drums, but with a backbeat and their blood up they're the champs. A

Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn
Journey to the Centre of an Egg
Enja/Justin Time

Kühn is best known for his duets with Ornette Coleman, a connection re- affirmed when he switches from piano to alto sax. He's an attentive partner on either instrument, pricking and prodding but never overwhelming Abou-Khalil's muscular oud. And the most valuable playing comes from someone whose name isn't on the spine—spare, propulsive frame drummer Jarrod Cagwin. A MINUS

Bill Carrothers
Shine Ball
Fresh Sound New Talent

The analogy to the banned baseball pitch is that Carrothers also applied foreign substance to his piano. The idea is to surprise the batter, or listener, with an unpredictable break, but in both cases the real trick is control. As with many spitballers, the prepared piano may itself be a feint—mostly it comes through clear and sharp, while the improvs sneak past. A MINUS

Ramón Díaz
Fresh Sound New Talent

Neither a throwback nor a dissertation in postmodern harmonic theory from a conventional hard bop quintet— trumpet and sax, piano, bass and drums. Rather, they sound like a straight step forward, a bit fancier, a cleaner sound, but with all hard bop principles intact—led by the Art Blakey of the Canary Islands. A MINUS

Eric Friedlander

ITT honcho Harold Geneen used to preach that if you make your quarters, you'll make your year. This quartet succeeds on the balance and poise of its constituent pieces. The leader's cello, Andy Laster's reeds, Stomu Takeishi's electric bass, Satoshi Takeishi's percussion—each stands out in turn. Exception: "A Closer Walk With Thee," which starts fractured and gains power as it slowly assembles itself into a whole. A MINUS

Manu Katché

Like many session drummers, he calls in chits for his own rare albums, then builds around his guests. In his ECM 'hood, the chosen neighbors are Jan Garbarek and three-fourths of Tomasz Stanko's quartet. Like many sessions drummers, Katché knows how to adapt, and here he's managed a near perfect facsimile of the ECM aesthetic—slow, free, with the horns and, especially, pianist Marcin Wasilewski out front. A MINUS

Adam Lane Trio
Zero Degree Music

As avant-jazz goes, this seems remarkably simple. Lane's pieces are all bass pulse, some slow, most fast. Vijay Anderson drums along, feeding rather than fighting the current. What saves this from tedium is saxophonist Vinny Golia, whose rapid-fire sax riffs, on tenor and squeaky soprano, never lose interest, even when he too opts for repetitive patterns. A MINUS

Joe Morris Quartet
Beautiful Existence
Clean Feed

Alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs will turn some ears here. I notice a handful of guys like him every year: scattered appearances over a decade or more, nothing that remotely looks like a career trajectory. Guitarist Morris favors long, abstract single-note lines in relatively relaxed settings. He has a sizable catalog, but he's rarely recorded with horns or a rhythm section that would push him. This group features both, and it's gratifying how seamlessly Morris fills in. A MINUS

Francis Wong
Legends & Legacies
Asian Improv

Two of Lawson Inada's poems detail the beginning and the end of America's WWII internment of Japanese Americans, while a third testifies that "something grand" can still come out of their ordeal. Glenn Horiuchi's shamisen and Miya Masaoka's koto are the sounds of the past, while tuba and Wong's reeds flesh out a jazz band of the future, straddling the globe they came from. The odd piece out is about police harassment of Latinos—or so those who don't know history would think. A MINUS

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