The Raw Power of a Fresh Start

Pleasurable epitaphs, avant-garde daring, and wonder-filled immigrant songs

Maria Anadon
A Jazzy Way

Anadon turns her back on her native Portugal and takes a bite of "Old Devil Moon" and a dozen more show tunes and vocalese skits. Her Women of the World band, with Japanese Tomoko Ohno on piano and Israeli Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, are no less at home—more proof that sometimes immigrants discover wonders we take for granted, making them the best Americans. A MINUS

Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake
From the River to the Ocean
Thrill Jockey

The grizzled AACM saxophonist has never sounded more congenial. Life's been good lately: He got a fresh start when the Social Security checks started arriving and his virtual son developed into one of the world's outstanding percussionists. This makes five straight winners, the novelty this time being the addition of guitarist Jeff Parker. A MINUS

Pablo Aslan
Buenos Aires Tango Standards

The Argentine bassist's Avantango pushed his national heritage to extremes, dramatizing tango's twists and turns. This second album takes a different tack, eschewing bandoneón and violin in favor of a standard jazz quintet. The standards are more orthodox, but subtler and less jagged, opening up the melodies, as jazz is wont to do. A MINUS

Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe
Above & Beyond
Justin Time

The fire-breathing tenor saxophonist was down to one lung here, so out of breath by the end of the gig that the promoter wanted to call an ambulance. Lowe died a few months later, leaving this as his last testament—all upbeat, with hard piano and swinging fiddle. Lowe makes up in clarity what he lacks in volume, his pleasure staving off the pain. A MINUS

Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra

His 25 years' worth of trips to the Bordeaux Jazz Festival pay off, with the locals—including turntablists, rappers, and 12 percussionists—expanding El'Zabar's trio, a/k/a the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, to 39 pieces. The big band doesn't blow hot and brassy. Rather, they fill in details so subtly that it takes a while to realize how far they've expanded El'Zabar's world-brotherhood shtick. A MINUS

David Murray Black Saint Quartet
Sacred Ground
Justin Time

Begins and ends with two Ishmael Reed lyrics sung by Cassandra Wilson: The title cut, tied to Murray's soundtrack for the Marco Williams film Banished, recalls atrocities between 1890 and 1930, when rioting white mobs drove thousands of black Americans from their homes, clearing out whole neighborhoods; the closer conjures up an ancient Cassandra as "The Prophet of Doom." In between, Murray waxes poetic—lamenting the past, redeeming the present, offering hope for the future. A

Joshua Redman
Back East

Before the East takes over with two originals and Coltrane's "India" (the latter a last session with father Dewey), Redman has some fun with the West, including a rollicking "I'm an Old Cowhand." He earns his right to play soprano sax on three cuts, and the last time his tenor was this robust was when he played Lester Young in Kansas City. AMINUS

Logan Richardson
Cerebral Flow
Fresh Sound New Talent

The debut album from a Kansas City alto saxophonist starts a cappella, then takes flight over free rhythms acutely accented by Mike Pinto's vibes. Next up is a wry-toned ballad with Mike Moreno's guitar filling in. Step by step, Richardson works around the edges, showing everything you can do with an alto sax except sit on it. A MINUS

Sonic Liberation Front
Change Over Time
High Two

Their third album offers more of the same mix of Afro-Cuban Lucumi rhythms, avant-garde daring, and communal popcraft. Drummer Kevin Diehl studied with Rashied Ali before taking up the bata drums and launching his revolution. This time the songs don't go much beyond chants (compared to their sweet and sour Ashé a Go-Go), but the avant-ethnic fusion is still potent, and Dan Scofield's sax rises to the call. A MINUS

The Tierney Sutton Band
On the Other Side

She declares her pursuit with eight songs featuring "happy" in the title, plus "You Are My Sunshine," "Smile," and "Great Day!"—more fascinated with the search than the attainment, which she has reservations about anyway. Maybe that explains the odd song out, "Haunted Heart": The whole album feels haunted, from its tentative opening, "Get Happy," to its wistful closer, "Smile." Last time her shtick was "I'm with the band"; this time the band's with her. A MINUS

Albert van Veenendaal/Meinrad Kneer/Yonga Sun
Predictable Point of Impact
Evil Rabbit

Dutch piano trio, mostly hard rhythmic stuff, which Kneer's bass and Sun's percussion are clearly up for. Van Veenendaal's prepared piano offers some surprises, especially when the group slows down a bit. Dutch avant-garde jazz is known for biting humor—here, the joke is edge and energy you can still tap your toes to. A MINUS

Pick Hits

Jewels and Binoculars
Ships with Tattooed Sails

Michael Moore plays more alto sax and less clarinet on this trio's third volume of wordless Dylan songs, which should give them a harder edge. But the trio—which includes Lindsey Horner on bass and Michael Vatcher on drums—sounds more serene than ever, a feat of meticulous balance. The two previous volumes picked off the more obvious tunes, so most here slip past me unrecognized, doing what filler should do: holding the album together around landmarks like "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," one of three tracks with Bill Frisell, whose Americana interests are right at home. A

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