Jazz Consumer Guide: Mocking Traditions, or Joining Them

Plus suave elegance, raw non-beauty, and other works-in-progress

Pick Hits

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman
Dual Identity | Clean Feed
Two alto saxmen, rising stars at least according to Downbeat's critics, in a free-jazz quintet mediated by guitarist Liberty Ellman. Mahanthappa has sopped up Coltrane and the Karnatic tradition, but here blends in with Lehman, who learned his stuff from Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, with a more accessible take on the latter's compositional discipline. No jousts or flights of fancy­, just dense patterns swung over freewheeling rhythm—all live, no less. A

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Forty Fort | Hot Cup
The history lesson this time spotlights a 1962 Roy Haynes album, Out of the Afternoon, mostly exploited for its cover, a shot of the band lost in the woods, overdressed and underequipped. Haynes had Roland Kirk doubling up on his horns, but Moppa Elliott gets a similar flair from two players, and skips Tommy Flanagan's piano, which would only slow things down. They've grown out of their juvenile terrorism, delighted that they've now secured a slot in the tradition they used to mock. A

Ben Allison
Think Free | Palmetto
A bassist-composer needs someone to step out front, and that's violinist Jenny Scheinman here. She brings out the sweetness in Allison's supple, easy-flowing melodies, with guitar and trumpet playing off the edges. A MINUS

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
Where or When | Owl Studios
From Indianapolis, a genuine territory band working venerable standards, framed in finely oiled antique wood, with brass for sparkle (not bombast) and distinctive boy/girl singers. Everett Greene glides over the lyrics, his deep voice honed to a suave elegance. Cynthia Layne cuts deep into her songs, a feisty contrast. A MINUS

Ralph Carney
Serious Jass Project | Akron Cracker
Sax/clarinet player, started in Akron rock band Tin Huey, toured with Tom Waits, wound up in various San Francisco projects, like this old-time, good-time band. Mostly Ellington, with a Dave Bartholomew boogie and a honking shot of Big Jay McNeely—not exactly trad jazz, but these days, the '30s and the '50s get to help each other out. A MINUS

Bill Frisell
Disfarmer | Nonesuch
Another slice of Americana, stripped down to strings (including pedal steel and fiddle) tuned to Depression-era photos of farmers. Frisell's originals are bare soundtrack sketches, with titles like, "Think," "Drink," and "Play." But the indelible melodies of covers like "That's All Right, Mama" and "Lovesick Blues" jump from the grooves, spreading their warmth. A MINUS

Jan Garbarek Group
Dresden | ECM
The Norwegian saxophonist's normally crystalline tone is a bit muddied in this rare live double, as is the conceptual clarity of the studio albums that wove together music from all over the world. The pieces are here for a recap of a remarkable 40-year career, but the lesson is that it's still a work-in-progress. A MINUS

Darius Jones Trio
Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) | AUM Fidelity
Beauty is in the ear of the beholder, but this is raw for sure, with a down and dirty blues base and plenty of squawk on the uptake. He keeps his alto sax down in the tenor range where it sounds scrawny and mean, until he slows down and Cooper-Moore switches from roughhousing diddley-bow back to piano. Elegant, but not sure about beautiful. A MINUS

PianoCircus Feat. Bill Bruford
Skin and Wire | Summerfold
Four pianists, the drummer, and bass guitarist Julian Crampton play the music of Colin Riley, a "composer of no fixed indoctrination" who gets them started with some programming. Riley moves beyond minimalism, breaking his patterns into sharp edges, never letting his ambient stretches get too predictable. A MINUS

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron
Dream Dance | CAM Jazz
An all-star piano trio to rival Keith Jarrett's, if anything less mannered, lighter, spryer. They've played together for most of the past decade, churning out one fine album after another. This one is distinguished by its range: fast, slow, dense, quiet, graceful in any mode and tempo. A MINUS

Radio I-Ching
No Wave Au Go Go | Resonant Music
Avant-wandering rock refugees—Andy Haas on curved soprano sax and electronics, Don Fiorino on guitar-like things, Dee Pop on percussion—pull together. Their worldbeat originals smoke the jazz covers, which serve as ethereal exotica, except for "Judgment Day," which redeems their faith in Americana. A MINUS

Wadada Leo Smith
Spiritual Dimensions | Cuneiform
Two discs, two live sets, two bands, one trumpet unifying two approaches to a semi-popular niche the AACM veteran spent most of his career avoiding. The Golden Quintet juxtaposes him with pianist Vijay Iyer and doubles up on drums, while Organic plugs in three or four guitars and an extra bass, riding on his Yo Miles fusion concept without getting trapped by it. A MINUS

Tomasz Stanko Quintet
Dark Eyes | ECM
The avant-garde trumpeter from Poland continues to age gracefully, picking up another group of youngsters, notably Jakob Bro on guitar and Alexi Tuomarila on piano, and keeps firmly in front of them. A fierce section early on makes you wish he'd do that more often, but even when the melodies turn pleasant, his trumpet is singular. A MINUS

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