Jazz Consumer Guide: Loosening (or Tightening) Up

Or slicing, or muscling—anything but letting up, really

Rova
The Juke Box Suite
Not Two

A saxophone quartet—as tight as non-stars can be after 20 years of interaction—loosen up with a world-music jukebox concept. With Bruce Raskin's baritone the prime mover, the pulse doesn't let up, and the themes—Finnish folk to choro to Afro-Balkan to mambo to the White Stripes—give them plenty of accessible ideas to work with. The slower unison themes are rich, the breakaways startling. A MINUS

Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love
Hairy Bones
Okka Disk

The rock-schooled younger generation keeps the beat neatly tucked in instead of letting it run free, inducing the elders to twist their unusual horns—Kondo gets synth effects on electric trumpet, Brötzmann mixes tárogató and clarinet with his saxes—into tight wads of sound, achieving an intensity that no longer depends, as it did in their younger days, on sheer volume. A MINUS

Curlew
1st Album/Live at CBGB 1980
DMG/ARC

If this be fusion, the rock component is New York No Wave, punk's dead end. The jazz side provides the skills to beat funky and free simultaneously, and to forgo vocals in favor of George Cartwright's ecstatic sax. A MINUS

Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Unity
Ancients Speak
Live Wired

The moderns speak in hip-hop tongues, homologues to ancient drums, but cross-bred like crazy, even if you can trace all of it, like damn near everything else, back to Africa. Gibbs is a bassist who has worked under band names from Defunkt to Harriet Tubman, with side credits ranging from Sonny Sharrock to Marisa Monte to John Zorn to Femi Kuti—a career he finally unifies. A MINUS

Abdullah Ibrahim
Senzo
Sunnyside

A WDR radio shot of the pianist playing solo: a long, slow meditation that deftly sums up his career, stressing logic and craftsmanship over his signature South African riffs, which are reduced here to rough diamonds. A MINUS

Darren Johnston
The Edge of the Forest
Clean Feed

Ben Goldberg's clarinet takes flight immediately, with Sheldon Brown adding extra oomph on tenor sax and bass clarinet while the leader pokes in bits of trumpet and lays in wait for his breaks. This is postbop that looks forward, with such a broad range of moves and details that you have to credit the composer. These days, virtually all jazz musicians claim that title, but few convince you it matters. A MINUS

Jim McAuley
The Ultimate Frog
Drip Audio

An enigmatic guitarist from Kansas via Los Angeles offers two discs of homespun duos, rotating Nels Cline for denser guitar, Alex Cline for percussive backdrop, Ken Filiano for bass harmonics, and the late Leroy Jenkins for sharp-edged violin. Call it a cross between Derek Bailey freestyle and John Fahey organicism. A MINUS

Francisco Mela
Cirio
Half Note

Afro-Cuban rhythmic vamps, no more complicated than they have to be, allowing the international all-stars to follow suit: Lionel Loueke's guitar finds the groove, Jason Moran's piano learns new tricks, Mark Turner's sax stutters with shaded eloquence. A MINUS

Zaid Nasser
Escape From New York
Smalls

An alto saxophonist who risks sounding like Charlie Parker and winds up showing how it should be done. He taps Ellington for two tunes, wails through "Chinatown My Chinatown," plucks a barnburner from old-time bebop pianist George Wallington, and strings them together with a couple originals, including one from pianist Sacha Perry. Not a tribute. More like 55th Street is back in business. A MINUS

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
The Moment's Energy
ECM

Parker's towering career in the European avant-garde has roughly the same size and shape as Anthony Braxton's, with hundreds of obscure albums spanning 40 years. Odd then that his one widely distributed label should showcase a large and eclectic ensemble that all but buries his utterly distinctive soprano sax. Still, this is a breakthrough, with the electronics finally eclipsing the acoustic instruments even as Peter Evans's trumpet and Ned Rothenberg's reeds raise the bar. A MINUS

Andy Sheppard
Movements in Colour
ECM

Kuljit Bhamra's tabla adds soft percussion to the gentle grooves of Arild Andersen's bass and the complementary guitars of Eivind Aarset and John Paricelli—graceful, compelling movement. The colors come from soprano and tenor sax, generally going with the flow but often rising in full flower above it. A MINUS

Lisa Sokolov
A Quiet Thing
Laughing Horse

A therapist by trade, she gets so deep under the skin of these songs that you can feel the synapses firing as she makes them squirm, most clearly in covers she slices up in unexpected ways. Her "Lush Life" is cold and stony; the fear of death in her "Ol' Man River" shakes you to the bone. A MINUS

Ken Vandermark
Collected Fiction
Okka Disk

Two discs of improv duets with four bassists well known from Vandermark groups, conceptualized as day and night—the former bristling with avant interchanges, the latter slower and quieter, as close to Quiet Storm as Vandermark is likely to get. A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker
Beyond Quantum
Tzadik

Over five meetings, the avant-garde legends turn exquisite craftsmanship into explosive chemistry.

Béla Fleck
Throw Down Your Heart
Rounder

Returns the banjo to its native Africa, where it best suits rural backwaters.

Larry Ochs/Sax & Drumming Core
Out Trios Volume Five: Up From Under
Atavistic

Rova sax-quartet man goes it alone, with two drummers hard on his tail.

Anat Cohen
Notes From the Village
Anzic

Focusing on her clarinet by popular demand, but still wielding a bass tenor.

Roy Nathanson
Subway Moon
Yellow Bird/Enja

Notes from the underground, delivered sotto voce with squiggly sax and brass.

Jim Snidero
Crossfire
Savant

Flashy mainstream alto saxophonist teams up with guitarist Paul Bollenback for a sweet, snazzy little quartet.

Zaid Nasser
Off Minor
Smalls

Classical bebopper, smoother and slicker than Bird, and not in such a hurry.

Isotope
Golden Section
Cuneiform

Unreleased sets unleash Gary Boyle, spinning Montgomery-size note strings with McLaughlin-inspired steeliness.

Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love
Tomorrow Came Today
Smalltown Superjazz

Dual pleasure with the avant-garde's grand old double-threat: sax and trumpet, both uncompromising.

Darren Johnston/Fred Frith/Larry Ochs/Devin Hoff/Ches Smith
Reasons for Moving
Not Two

Two fierce horns orbit around Frith's dense guitar, the gravity that holds them in thrall.

Adrian Iaies Trio + Michael Zisman
Vals de la 81st & Columbus
Sunnyside

Tango, of course, with Argentine pianist Iaies prancing, and Zisman's bandoneon filling the room with lush, soulful sound.

Lajos Dudas
Jazz on Stage
Jazz Stick

Bop-easy clarinet, sort of a Hungarian Buddy DeFranco—with guitarist sidekick Philipp van Endert, sometimes more.

Steven Bernstein/Marcus Rojas/Kresten Osgood
Tattoos and Mushrooms
ILK

Solemn trumpet-tuba-drums trio beats down Monk, Mingus, Hank Williams, and some ragged blues.

Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra
Strange Strings [1966]
Atavistic

Waves of mysterious bowed and plucked string instruments crash on a shore of log drums and tympani, with a squeaky-door bonus.

Joe Lovano Us Five
Folk Art
Blue Note

The very young band liberates his idiosyncrasies, like playing straight alto sax and tárogató at once—his Rahsaan Roland Kirk phase.

Denman Maroney Quintet
Udentity
Clean Feed

Trumpet and reeds play (relatively) straight, compared to the strange stuff coming out of the hyperpiano.

On Ka'a Davis
Seeds of Djuke
Live Wired Music

Searching for deepest, darkest Africa on the Lower East Side.

Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmüller
Full Blast/Black Hole
Atavistic

High-energy physicists attacking the building blocks of the universe, mostly with clarinet to minimize the damage.

Joe McPhee/Peter Brötzmann/Kent Kessler/Michael Zerang
Guts
Okka Disk

Two unrepentant veterans of four decades of free-jazz wars, swapping riffs over roiling rhythms.

Maybe Monday
Unsquare
Intakt

Fred Frith guitar, Miya Masaoka koto, and Larry Ochs sax, with guest electronics swirling around no discrete point.

Nathan Eklund
Trip to the Casbah
Jazz Excursion

Another Donny McCaslin sideman tour de force, jump-starting a postbop trumpeter in a hurry.

Evan Parker/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten
The Brewery Tap
Smalltown Superjazz

The prime saxophonist of England's avant-garde sticks to tenor for these pensive improvs, rounded out by a tough young bassist.

Bruno Råberg
Lifelines
Orbis Music

Two discs of Chris Cheek sax and Ben Monder guitar, framed by the bassist-leader into tasty postbop.

Townhouse Orchestra
Belle Ville
Clean Feed

On two long, towering improvs, Evan Parker does his usual tenor-sax thing with bass, drums, and Sten Sandell's piano mischief.

Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner/U.T. Gandhi
Melos
ECM

Gurdjieff melodicism, if not mysticism—the real chamber jazz.

Chuck Bernstein
Delta Berimbau Blues
CMB

Minimalist gutbucket blues played on a Brazilian diddley bow, with Roswell Rudd for a choice cut.

François Carrier/Michel Lambert
Nada
Creative Sources

Twenty rough sketches, a catalog of sax ideas with a thin veil of drums.

Exploding Customer
At Your Service
Ayler

Two-horn quartet from Sweden play free bop with garage-rock energy, except when they're teasing a vibe.

Fat Cat Big Band
Meditations on the War for Whose Great God Is the Most High You Are God/Angels Praying for Freedom
Smalls

Two separate discs cross Ellington and Mingus for postbop swing and back-to-the-future politics.

Rogério Bicudo/Sean Bergin
Mixing It
Pingo

Expats from Brazil and South Africa play show-and-tell duets, like Getz and Bonfa, with half the chops and a bit more charm.

Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra
Secrets of the Sun
Atavistic

Space drums and space birds among the scattered lineups and rotating instruments, with Ra's rough piano jumping hither and yon.

Daniel Levin Trio
Fuhuffah
Clean Feed

Clear, sharp cello, muscled up with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten's bass and accented by Gerald Cleaver's drums.

Jon Irabagon
I Don't Hear Nothin' But the Blues
Loyal Label

Mostly the alto saxophonist does the killing.

The Thing
Now and Forever [2000–05]
Smalltown Superjazz

Mats Gustafsson's Don Cherry tribute band morphs into an acoustic postrock monster, badder than the Bad Plus in every way.

Michael Blake/Kresten Osgood
Control This
Clean Feed

Ex–Lounge Lizard saxophonist walks on the wild side, his drummer shifting every which way.

Atomic/School Days
Distil
Okka Disk

Another Vandermark's Oslo-Chicago mashup, not as studious as Powerhouse Sound—more like the wrap-up party.

Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love
Sweet Sweat
Smalltown Superjazz

Cranky machine-gun sax with tart percussive interference.

Duds

Fire Room
Broken Music
Atavistic

Lasse Marhaug's electronics short-circuit Vandermark/Nilssen-Love. B

Christian McBride & Inside Straight
Kind of Brown
Mack Avenue

A flighty quintet like Dave Holland's, just not as well drilled; short on chops, too. B

Terri Lyne Carrington
More to Say . . .
Koch

Project Mersh confusion: Even in jazz, there's more to selling out than just playing crap. C-

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