Jazz Consumer Guide: Festival Visions

William Parker's New York festival pays dividends for record buyers everywhere

Jazz Consumer Guide

William Parker
Double Sunrise Over Neptune
AUM Fidelity

A large group with freewheeling horns, a string quartet (plus bass), oud, guitar (or banjo), two drummers, and an operatic singer from India named Sageeta Bandyopadhyay. Remarkably, it all holds together, paced by a metronomic bassline that Parker subcontracts so he can work on exotica, including the West African lute called the doson ngoni and squeaky double-reed instruments. The sort of miracle Sun Ra used to conjure up, but two planets further out from Ra's home base. A

Rob Brown Ensemble
Crown Trunk Root Funk
AUM Fidelity

An unsung hero of many William Parker projects, alto saxophonist Brown finally gets his showcase, leading a superb quartet that started as a Vision Festival gig and worked its way into the studio. Parker is the bassist, of course; Gerald Cleaver, drums; and Craig Taborn will turn some ears with his piano. Brown's slower pieces take a while to settle in. His fast ones are breath-taking. A MINUS

Bloodcount
Seconds (1997)
Screwgun
William Parker
Double Sunrise Over Neptune
AUM Fidelity
William Parker
Double Sunrise Over Neptune
AUM Fidelity
Rob Brown Ensemble
Crown Trunk Root Funk
AUM Fidelity
Rob Brown Ensemble
Crown Trunk Root Funk
AUM Fidelity

Originally filmed in 1994, the DVD component of this three-disc package offers little visually, but rehearsal shots strip the seamless music to basic elements, all of which seem to flow through drummer Jim Black's body. Three years later, those elements merge into the mesmerizing live sets spread over two CDs here; the main trick is how the two reeds—Tim Berne on alto and baritone sax, Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet—intertwine in a single, complex harmonic thread. A MINUS

The Roy Campbell Ensemble
Akhenaten Suite
AUM Fidelity

The two multi-part suites are hard to gauge as Egyptology, but their depth of feeling is palpable. Billy Bang's violin carries most of the load, the backdrop for Bryan Carrott's eccentric vibes and Campbell's avant-twisted trumpet—shades of Gillespie moving ever deeper into African myth. The closing "Sunset on the Nile" is lighter and gentler, the river of life. A MINUS

Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards
Thumpin' and Bumpin'
Stomp Off

Trad jazz still yoked to banjo and tuba, but a little more modern, with sax replacing the second cornet and the 1924-to-1937 Harlem repertoire carrying them well into the swing era. Des Plantes is a stride pianist who sings a bit, a scholar from Ohio who makes the old sound bright and shiny-new, without even a whiff of irony. A MINUS

Brent Jensen
One More Mile
Origin

Studied under Lee Konitz. Teaches woodwinds in Idaho. Doesn't write much, covering Dizzy Gillespie and Sam Rivers while drawing on his band, effectively his Seattle label's house rhythm section. Sticks with soprano sax, getting a distinctive tone plied with rigorous logic and panache. I run across a lot of good players in out-of-the-way places, but Jensen belongs in a higher league. A MINUS

Alex Kontorovich
Deep Minor
Shamsa

From Russia to Israel to the U.S., where he plays klezmer clarinet and edgy alto sax. Also teaches math at Brown while researching game theory and stochastic processes—sounds like some of the latter figured into his "New Orleans Funeral March" and "Waltz for Piazzolla." Brandon Seabrook consistently sets him up with guitar and banjo, and Midrash Mish Mosh drummer Aaron Alexander has the beat down pat. A MINUS

Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson
Big Picture
Cryptogramophone

Taking a cue from their first names, they call themselves Trio M, but are established enough to keep their names on the spine. I figure the complex, cerebral stuff is pianist Melford's, and credit the bouncy bits to drummer Wilson. There's no doubt that the weird arco bass is Dresser's. He has a huge reputation, but rarely makes albums you can kick back and enjoy. This is the exception. A MINUS

Nublu Orchestra
Conducted by Butch Morris
Nublu

Morris's registered trademark (Conduction®) still reads like mumbo-jumbo, but he does have an uncanny knack for keeping large groups creative and clutter-free—nowhere more so than with this Avenue C house band, featuring horns from downtown jazzbos and vocals from underworld refugees (Love Trio, Forro in the Dark, Brazilian Girls). A MINUS

Slow Poke
At Home (1998)
Palmetto

Recorded by Lounge Lizards/Sex Mob bassist Tony Scherr at home in Brooklyn, laid-back blues for sophisticates with no reason to be blue. Slide-guitarist Dave Tronzo stretches out melodies by Duke Ellington and Neil Young, and saxophonist Michael Blake sails effortlessly along. A MINUS

Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers
Crazy Rhythm
Delmark

A career summary, tacking eight new tracks onto the reissue of a 40-year-old LP. The extension is seamless: Trad jazz hasn't evolved much, at least for the banjo and drum changes. More importantly, Kim Cusack returns on clarinet and alto sax, contrasting sharply and sweetly with Walbridge's tuba. Minor instruments in most such bands, they take the spotlight here. A MINUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION

The Harry Allen–Joe Cohn Quartet
Music From "Guys and Dolls" [Arbors]
The singers follow the book; the leaders rise above it.

Grupo Los Santos
Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea [Deep Tone]
Rumba in the Bronx, with Brazilian twists to Paul Carlon's sax and Pete Smith's guitar.

Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins
Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands [Victoria]
Two generations of stride pianists recall the master in five solos and 12 duets.

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