Jazz Consumer Guide: Chasing Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, or Something Else Entirely

Houston Person
The Art & Soul of Houston Person [1996–2008]
[High Note]

Joe Fields recorded Person's debut at Prestige in 1966. When Fields moved on to found the Muse and High Note labels, Person was his first hire: a slow-moving, easy-swinging soul man, so consistent that the biggest problem has been differentiating between his albums. This three-CD set settles that: Thirty classic songs from a dozen mature albums sum him up perfectly. Irresistible for anyone with a taste for tenor sax and a sense of jazz's grand historical arc. A

Randy Sandke
Unconventional Wisdom
[Arbors]

So rooted in tradition that he named his son Bix, so postmodern that he conceived two of his best albums as Inside Out and Outside In. This one covers all the bases, with his originals fitting seamlessly among standards from Berlin, Porter, and Carmichael, alongside scattered threads from Debussy to Jobim to Bill Evans. Bassist Nicki Parrott adds charming vocals on four tracks, guitarist Howard Alden provides elegant support, and Sandke plays some of the hottest trumpet of his career. A

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
REA
[Ronin Rhythm]

Repetitive rhythms are so fundamental to Bärtsch's aesthetic that he even overdubs his Piano Solo album, one of six albums of "Ritual Groove Music" that predate his two more luxurious ECM releases. The albums are all of a piece—the first two less consistent, Live punchier, AER more refined—but this one, the fifth, is sublime, its simple, shifting rhythmic figures building imperceptibly to gratifying climaxes. A

The Gust Spenos Quartet
Swing Theory 

[Swing Theory]


A sax-toting neurologist from Indianapolis juices up his moonlighting
 quartet with guests like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and gravelly vocalist 
Everett Greene. The latter’s two cuts are slow to let the personality take
 over from the voice, but the band swings Berlin-to-Gillespie standards with
 such authority that they may have a theory hiding amid the math. A MINUS

Jerry Bergonzi
Tenor Talk
[Savant]

A Boston-bred mainstream tenor saxophonist with a minor in Coltrane and a dozen solid-plus albums to his credit turns it up a notch, if only to keep a step ahead of the young, hitherto-unknown Italians in his band: Renato Chicco on piano and Andrea Michelutti on drums. A MINUS

Kenny Garrett
Sketches of MD
[Mack Avenue]

Garrett's first live album is a nod to Miles Davis, who hired him at the crossroads of their careers. Would be no big deal, but he crosses late-Miles funk with the orgiastic Coltrane-isms that Miles missed out on. Better still, he gets Pharoah Sanders to deliver them in person. A MINUS

Kris Davis
Rye Eclipse
[Fresh Sound New Talent]

A contest of daredevils. From the beginning, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby gave her group a rough edge, but three albums in, they've all caught the bug. Bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis pull the rhythm apart at the seams, and the pianist-leader plunges in with rough block chords, but the trade-offs can be intricate, as in "Wayne Oskar," when the piano leads into intriguing abstractions, then backs off as Malaby finishes the thought. A MINUS

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Kinsmen
[Pi]

Like Jason Kao Hwang, Mahanthappa is one of a growing cadre of second-generation Americans who've gone back to study their ancestral culture for clues to moving forward. His previous efforts smeared Indian effects atop his Coltrane-isms, but this time, he starts with the masters—most important, Kadri Gopalnath, who did the hard work of translating Indian classical music to alto sax, a solid foundation on which to build rich textures. A MINUS

Donny McCaslin Trio
Recommended Tools
[Greenleaf Music]

Long a rising tenor-sax star, he finally strips down to a format where his chops break away from his post-bop ambitions—like he's strayed from Chris Potter's footsteps to chase after Sonny Rollins. A MINUS

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
This Is Our Moosic
[Hot Cup]

Moving forward in history from their bebop terrorism, Moppa Elliott's gang appropriates his home turf of Moosic, Pennsylvania, to play on and around Ornette Coleman. Often sounds like a deranged New Orleans brass band, sometimes even breaking into melody. A MINUS

Soprano Summit
In 1975 and More [1975–79]
[Arbors]

Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber formed their double–soprano sax group in 1972, met frequently through the end of the decade, and held occasional reunions as late as 2001. Sidney Bechet was their obvious focus, but these archives include a session devoted to Jelly Roll Morton, and two non-summits: a Davern clarinet trio and a Wilber group with Ruby Braff. A MINUS

Bill Frisell
History, Mystery
[Nonesuch]

The string quartet at the heart of Frisell's latest revision of classical Americana—all name jazz musicians—forms the sea that his guitar swims through, occasionally rising up in wonder. They go to Sam Cooke for inspiration and Mali for blues—and check tunes by Monk and Konitz—but those are merely outposts, as Frisell's writing subsumes all before it. Greg Tardy's sax and Ron Miles's cornet are rare enough to be treats. A MINUS

David S. Ware
Shakti
[AUM Fidelity]

A new quartet, with guitarist Joe Morris the second seed. The Indian motifs are part of Ware's spiritual quest, but when he plays, it's hard to escape the here and now. While most tenor saxophonists try to sound like John Coltrane, Ware has simply lived the life, finding his own unique way, elevating everyone around him. A MINUS

Cassandra Wilson
Loverly [Blue Note]
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