No Training Wheels Necessary

Ferocious homage mingles with daring fusion, looking both back and beyond

 Pick Hits

Nils Petter Molvaer
Thirsty Ear

Molvaer's fusion is the proper heir to Miles Davis's in two respects: He's a master at getting the rhythm tight, and his trumpet adds a bare minimum of human voice without detracting from the machines. His programmed beats grow more complex and varied each time out, here opening up new paths ranging from chill-out to a striking Sidsel Endresen vocal. Three cuts return from An American Compilation, which also overlaps Streamer in Thirsty Ear's campaign to catch up with Molvaer's Europe-only releases. Consumers can weigh the redundancies and bait, but this is where the others were heading. A

The Vandermark 5
Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4

Two bonus discs from early editions of studio albums, one exploring Sonny Rollins's compositions from the '60s, the other engaging Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Both sources manifested freedom less in form than through their outsized personalities. The V5's front line of two saxes plus dirt trombone spreads those singularities out and formalizes the innovations. But they also preserve the familiar heads, providing handles for the mischief that follows and eliciting some of the group's most boisterous, and accessible, play. A

Omer Avital
The Ancient Art of Giving

The second installment in Avital's archives, Room to Grow, started to make the case for the Israeli bassist as a catalyst for cutting-edge post-bop in the late '90s, but this is the album where the payoff becomes clear. His quintet is structured for hard bop, but he lets the rhythm slosh around, and once they get warmed up, Mark Turner's tenor sax and Avishai Cohen's trumpet break loose. A MINUS

Ignacio Berroa
Blue Note

Like Chano Pozo in 1947, trap drummer Berroa moved to New York in 1980 and found a job in Dizzy Gillespie's band. But his Afro-Cuban roots were attenuated—he blames Castro for suppressing Yoruba religion and restricting his schooling to the Euro classics. Even here, Gonzalo Rubalcaba's piano and Felipe Lamoglia's saxophones provide the Cuban rhythms, not Berroa's trad percussion. An effective pan-American synthesis, codified. A MINUS

Scott Hamilton
Nocturnes & Serenades

Slow standards, with "Autumn Nocturne" and Serenade in Blue" justifying the title, "You Go to My Head" and "Chelsea Bridge" more instantly recognizable, and "Man With a Horn" his calling card. He's made virtually the same record before, and he'll no doubt do it again. After all, who does it better? A MINUS

Hi Ha
Fresh Sound New Talent

Sergi Sirvent is an up-and-coming Barcelona-based pianist with a handful of tantalizing albums—duets with guitarist Santi Careta and drummer Xavi Maureta, a Free Quartet with two drummers, a Thelonious Monk–inspired group called the Unexpected. Those all seemed like rough sketches, but guitarist Jordi Matas fills out a finely balanced quartet here. A MINUS

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid
The Exchange Session Vol. 1

Better known as Four Tet, Hebden's instrument is laptop, on which he improvises in real time—at least in how he deploys samples that are sometimes jazzlike and often reminiscent of George Russell's electronic sonatas. Reid, following the model of Rashied Ali's Duo Exchange, answers on drums, and as you'd expect from a guy who's worked for James Brown and Fela Kuti, often finds a groove. A MINUS

Frank Hewitt
Fresh from the Cooler [1996]

A bebop pianist who almost slipped through 66 years of life without leaving a trace, Hewitt built enough of a cult during his Smalls residency to inspire a label in no small part dedicated to his legacy. His fourth posthumous release features a trio that steps gingerly around jazz standards such as "Cherokee" and "Monk's Mood"—nothing fancy, just a rare touch of melodic nuance. A MINUS

Andrew Hill
Pax [1965]
Blue Note

The recent Time Lines, the avant-pianist's second return to Blue Note, strikes me as his career average album, but his elevation to living legend has spurred the label into restoring his catalog. A few years ago only the universally revered Point of Departure was in print. Now, recommended reissues include Black Fire, Smoke Stack, Judgment!, Andrew!!!, and the rediscovered Dance with Death. On another obscure one, he holds the center down so firmly that Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson can go as far out as they ever got. A MINUS

Maurice Hines
To Nat "King" Cole With Love

Gregory's big brother comes close enough to the mark to beg the question, why not stick with the originals? Hines's smooth, agile baritone can't touch Cole's one-of-kind voice. But the band spans Cole's career, with more muscle than the Trio and none of the dross of his orchestras. And because Cole was the hippest of the pre-rock pop stars (by a margin that has only grown since), the songs live on. A MINUS

Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker
Palm of Soul
AUM Fidelity

Driven from his home by Katrina, storied but little-documented avant-saxophonist Jordan headed for New York to a cult hero's welcome. At 70, he shows signs of mellowing a bit—or maybe he's just amused by his playmates, who augment their world-class bass and drums with world-class toys like guimbri and tablas. A MINUS

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