Jazz Consumer Guide: Play Louder, and Pray for Peace

Living legends and budding artistes alike break out, rise up, and move beyond

Billy Bang
Prayer for Peace
Back from his second tour of Vietnam, wherein he found peace in transcendent musical fusion, the violinist reflects on the dawn of apocalypse: Hiroshima, 1945. Even there, the chill gradually gives way to the fire of one of his trademark riffs, then segues into another from Compay Segundo. Joy all around, from Stuff Smith well beyond Sun Ra, with James Zollar's tart trumpet challenging Bang's razor-sharp violin. A

The Mark Lomax Trio
The State of Black America
Something about growing up in the Middle West gets you imagining that the whole country is spinning around your calm, clear-eyed pivot point. This Columbus, Ohio, sax trio picks up the pieces from the 1960s collision of black power and avant-jazz while dispensing with everything superfluous. Dean Hulett's bass and Mark Lomax's drums hold fast to their lore, while Edwin Bayard's tenor sax meditates on the blues and rises up to break down walls. A

Juhani Aaltonen Quartet
Well into his seventies, a legend in his native Finland but scarcely recognized elsewhere, Aaltonen and his thoughtful flute would sweep the U.S. polls if anyone heard his three spots here. Still, they're light, relative to his smoldering, often colossal tenor sax. A MINUS

Borah Bergman Trio
At 75, he's outgrown the Cecil Taylor likeness, placing his stately chords with remarkable precision and logic amid the flutter of Greg Cohen and the percussive spray of Kenny Wollesen. John Zorn joins in for one cut, his abrasive alto sax something else. A MINUS

Gerald Wilson Orchestra
Mack Avenue
The six-part suite commissioned for the venerable bandleader's former hometown hits all the right notes: sterling solos, including notable use of Yvette Devereaux's violin and son Anthony Wilson's guitar, backed by solid section work combining power and finesse. Two pieces cut with a star-studded New York group are even sharper. A MINUS

First Meeting
Cut the Rope
Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's noise band, free jazz in a cartoon world, the bam-pop-pow splashed large and crude. Guitarist Kelly Churko churns out the electronics, while Satoko Fujii works her piano as a percussion machine. Amusing when they're just scattering shit, and irresistible when they tap into a groove. A MINUS

John Hicks & Frank Morgan
Twogether [2005–06]
High Note
Three piano solos packed around two pairs of alto-sax duets, all standard stuff from way back when. This might seem like a lazy product concept, but it's all the more poignant in a memoir for the recently departed. A MINUS

Tin Hat
Foreign Legion
Chamber jazz, tightly arranged around the string framework of Carla Kihlstedt's violin and Mark Orton's guitar, subtly colored by Trio-breaker Ben Goldberg's clarinets. Might have been too pat, but Ara Anderson breaks out of the piano slot, emerging as a triple threat with romping pump organ and biting trumpet. A MINUS

New York Art Quartet
Old Stuff [1965]
A short-lived group long remembered (their plainly titled third album, 35th Reunion, was cut in 1999), they worked more in altoist John Tchicai's Copenhagen than in New York. These radio shots are a happy find, especially for Roswell Rudd's gritty trombone. A MINUS

Ben Perowsky Quartet
Esopus Opus
The drummer borrows three-fifths of Claudia Quintet not to match rhythmic wits, but to play with the accordion-reeds sound, covering Hendrix and the Beatles and Brazilians, all while slipping in an original funeral blues that shows how far New York has moved beyond New Orleans. A MINUS

RED Trio
RED Trio
Clean Feed
Prepared-piano trio, where Hernani Faustino's bass is almost as percussive as, and even more discordant than, Rodrigo Pinheiro's piano, while Gabriel Ferrandini's percussion is nothing but. A MINUS

Roberto Rodriguez
Timba Talmud
Mixing violin and clarinet with congas, his Cuban-Klezmer fusion is skin-deep, a mash-up inspired by juxtaposing titles like "Mambo Kitsch," "Timba Talmud," and "Descarga 1492." (Does that last one mean "party like the Inquisition just started?") It is party music, fusing the ecstatic impulses of two cultures. He even parties for Obama. A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

Nellie McKay
Normal as Blueberry Pie
A younger, hipper, jazzier Doris Day, kind of like the budding artiste herself.

Andrea Fultz
The German Projekt
The German Projekt
Von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe. Maybe Brecht/Weill and Hollaender do sound better in the original German.

Abraham Inc.
Tweet Tweet
Table Pounding
Who better than Fred Wesley to add funky bottom to David Krakauer's klezmer clarinet?

Dave Holland Octet
Quintet plus extra horns, with big-band range and punch but nimbler.

Jason Moran
Blue Note
Postbop stride master rolls over classics and wears out his influences.

The Claudia Quintet + Gary Versace
Royal Toast
Too rigorous for cocktail jazz, even though the soft instruments lean that way.

Brandon Wright
Boiling Point
Auspicious tenor-sax debut runs in fast company and burns up the track.

Bernardo Sassetti Trio
Clean Feed
Soundtrack piano, calm and composed, pretty but spare—more like serene.

The Gordon Grdina Trio
. . . If Accident Will
The oud is delicate and deliberate, the guitar fully charged.

Arild Andersen
Green in Blue: Early Quartets [1975-78]
The bassist's first three discs, from Kurt Riisnaes's cutting sax to Juhani Aaltonen's dry flute.

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