By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
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
TUM 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
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
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
BAG 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 
Cuneiform 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
Skirl 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
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
Tzadik 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
Normal as Blueberry Pie
Verve A younger, hipper, jazzier Doris Day, kind of like the budding artiste herself.
The German Projekt
The German Projekt Von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe. Maybe Brecht/Weill and Hollaender do sound better in the original German.
Table Pounding Who better than Fred Wesley to add funky bottom to David Krakauer's klezmer clarinet?
Dave Holland Octet
Dare2 Quintet plus extra horns, with big-band range and punch but nimbler.
Blue Note Postbop stride master rolls over classics and wears out his influences.
The Claudia Quintet + Gary Versace
Cuneiform Too rigorous for cocktail jazz, even though the soft instruments lean that way.
Posi-Tone 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
Plunge The oud is delicate and deliberate, the guitar fully charged.
Green in Blue: Early Quartets [1975-78]
ECM The bassist's first three discs, from Kurt Riisnaes's cutting sax to Juhani Aaltonen's dry flute.
The Hunting of the Snark
Jazzheads Too rowdy for chamber jazz even if the touchstones are classical, if that's what you call Ives, Grieg, Perle, et al.
Black Hawk Dance
Sunnyside Supple guitarist leads an edgy quartet where Gebhard Ullman makes most of the noise.
Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown
Cuneiform Underground Chicago with a colorful swish of vibes.
BAG Charlie Hunter fusion grooves with clarinet dressing in lieu of synth and Ron Miles's cornet for occasional bite.
Electrofone Bold swathes of soundtrack electronica, burnished with bolts of trumpet.
Clean Feed Free trumpet trio, with Doug Wieselman a double threat on clarinet and engagingly primitive guitar.
Soren Moller & Dick Oatts
The Clouds Above
Audial Another NY-DK connection, piano-sax duets that remain bracing until the flute comes out.
3 Trombone Solos
Dolfjin A limited instrument, seldom given such range of expression.
Tord Gustavsen Ensemble
ECM Piano ambience elevated by Tore Brunborg sax; W.H. Auden poetry warmed by Kristin Asbjørnson.
The First Basket
Tzadik Soundtrack for a David Vyorst film on early Jewish basketballers; a pastiche of klezmerish pieces con salsa.
Umbo Weti: A Tribute to Leon Thomas
Motéma Dwight Trible channels the avant-garde's preacher man, Ernie Watts waxes eloquent where Pharoah Sanders turned shrill.
Satoko Fujii Ma-Do
Not Two Bass and drums present, but only to heighten the piano-trumpet intercourse.
Matt Lavelle and Morcilla
The Manifestation Drama
KMB Jazz Somehow manages to get his bass clarinet in your face as much as his trumpet.
Dan Tepfer/Lee Konitz
Duos With Lee
Sunnyside Young pianist, ancient genius, no drama, nothing rushed—just pick a key and improvise.
482 Music Sax-drums improvs, like Vandermark/Nilssen-Love but more together.
Kuroi Kawa–Black River
Tzadik Crashing Satoko Fujii piano and soothing Carla Kihlstedt violin, evened out into two discs of intricate serenade.
Luis Lopes/Adam Lane/Igal Foni
What Is When
Clean Feed Starts with a dissonant guitar nod to Sonny Sharrock, ends with badass bass solo.
Those Moments Before
Strudelmedia Nods to Johnny Hodges and Henry Threadgill, with soundtrack locales from Spain to the Orient.
Beeswax Long, sinuous guitar lines intertwined with Abraham Burton's earthy sax.
Gary Peacock/Marc Copland
Pirouet Famous bassist and not nearly famous enough pianist snuggle up for discreet pleasures.
David Crowell Ensemble
Innova Philip Glass saxophonist builds on minimalist rhythmic vamps, tightly boxed but tougher than chamber jazz.
Greenleaf Music The spirit of Lester Bowie returns, trademarked by wit and funk, with a brass band "Mr. Pitiful" that is anything but.
GPE A résumé stuffer, with two Claudia Quintet cuts, some chamber music, and percussion collectives.
Cynthia Sayer Attractions Plunk Banjo picker who sings too much fronts a retro dream band featuring guitar picker Bucky Pizzarelli.
Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo
Libra Big band, no piano, lots of Kelly Churko guitar, more horns.
Fight the Big Bull
All Is Gladness in the Kingdom
Clean Feed Bigger (and louder) than ever, with Steven Bernstein joining the fray.
John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
To the One
Abstract Logix Forty years of meditation on the one true fusion.
Nonesuch The fancy technology just lets him be himself, more mellifluous than ever.
Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu
ECM Lushly resonant guitar and stately trumpet—a masterful match of color and texture.
Cuneiform Double-sax fusion group, drawing from rock the concept that you find the path to the next by paying louder.
We All Feel the Same Way
SoLyd Veteran Russian avant-garde drummer Vladimir Tarasov hooks up with Larry Ochs and Mark Dresser for twisting free improv.
The Imagine Project
Hancock As long as Wayne Shorter answers his calls, he'd do the world more good playing jazz than indulging Dave Matthews, Pink, the Chieftains, et al. B
Chamber Music Society
Heads Up Soft, shapeless strings, layered in all sorts of scat. B-
Verve Fewer tics, lamer songs. C