Jazz Consumer Guide: Low-End Theories

Bassists shine, even amid the dark age of conservatism

Pick Hits

Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra Ashcan Rantings | Clean Feed Like Mingus, Lane plays a mean bass, composes pieces that encapsulate the entire jazz tradition and then some, and runs a band that sounds even bigger than it is. His new group dispenses with guitar to deploy seven horns, doubling up on trumpet and trombone for cozy warmth as well as freewheeling action. Yet below all that brass, the bass dominates the tone and pulse, holding the power back so it's more implied than felt, except when the throttle opens. A

William Parker I Plan to Stay a Believer | AUM Fidelity Long awaited. Parker unveiled his inside take on Curtis Mayfield's political thoughts in 2001 and has shopped it around ever since, finally collecting slices from six concerts up through 2008 onto two discs. Leena Conquest sings, Amiri Baraka waxes eloquent, ad hoc choirs come and go, and the groove picks up some swing and a bunch of horns. "This Is My Country" could shut down a tea party, or launch another. A

Angles Epileptical West | Clean Feed Leader/alto-saxophonist Martin Küchen's other group is Exploding Customer. Trumpeter Magnus Broo's main group is Atomic. There seem to be scads of young Scandinavians who cut their teeth in rock bands, then switched to jazz when they found they could play wilder, and maybe even louder. A sextet, with trombone for extra dirt and vibes for extra sparkle, live and loose in Coimbra. A

Tommy Babin's Benzene Your Body Is Your Prison | Drip Audio Although the hype sheet suggests "improv/space rock," this is more dense than spacey, and doesn't rock so much as bring the noize. The bassist-leader introduces two Chads, his star MacQuarrie on guitar, and Makela beefing up the bottom on bari sax. The group name and title suggest art/music that's toxic and inflammable, and maybe we're too far gone not to indulge it. A MINUS

The Nels Cline Singers Initiate | Cryptogramophone No vocals, just a guitar trio that's been around a while, took a backseat while Cline pursued other projects (including a day job with Wilco), then decided they had something to prove. Two discs, a brainy one cut in the studio with lots of ideas and a few guests, and a brawny one recorded live that sounds like Cline learned something playing arenas, and that he's delighted not to be backing a vocalist. A MINUS

Anat Cohen Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard | Anzic A couple of songs beg comparison to Barney Bigard and don't flinch, and her "Body and Soul" is worthy of Gary Giddins's mixtape. It helps that the Peter WashingtonLewis Nash rhythm section is the best that mainstream has to offer, and that pianist Benny Green keeps pace. Helps even more that she answers any reservations I had about her poll-winning clarinet work. A MINUS

Freddy Cole Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B | HighNote Mr. B is '40s crooner Billy Eckstine, whose rich baritone and studly swagger have left him irretrievably passé. No such problem for Cole, whose soft touch pries these gems loose as surely as Houston Person's tenor sax shines them up. A MINUS

Bill Frisell Beautiful Dreamers | Savoy Jazz The Norman Rockwell of jazz guitarists, growing ever more comfortable framing his string-toned Americana, with Eyvind Kang's viola for flair and Rudy Royston's drums for emphasis. The signposts are as familiar as "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Goin' Out of My Head." The originals cast unexpected highlights. A MINUS

Fred Hersch Trio Whirl | Palmetto Returning from a two-month coma: They say near-death focuses the mind, but so does working with a superior bass-drums combo—John Hébert and Eric McPherson—and focusing on your own legacy instead of cranking out another songbook tribute. If he sounds like his idol, Bill Evans, he isn't bouncing back. He's just being true. A MINUS

Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors Rhyme & Reason | Inarhyme A Russian saxophonist from deep in the Urals, Kireyev worked his way through Poland to the U.S., where he studied under Bud Shank. His recent Mandala tapped into diverse streams of world fusion, but here he teams up with pianist Javors for an album of insouciant mainstream, fresh enough to do his late mentor proud. A MINUS

Myra Melford's Be Bread The Whole Tree Gone | Firehouse 12 She's a dazzling piano player when she takes charge, but mostly she holds back, letting Brandon Ross's guitar, Ben Goldberg's clarinet, and Cuong Vu's trumpet shape and color her seductive compositions. When she does cut loose, the whole band lifts up. A MINUS

Sounds of Liberation Sounds of Liberation [1972] | Porter Before the dark age of conservatism descended upon us, before Reagan, just before Watergate, this is what the future that might have been sounded like: funky conga rhythms sprinkled with sparkling Khan Jamal vibes, topped with Byard Lancaster's avant-sax all but screaming freedom, justice, good times. A MINUS

The Stryker/Slagle Band Keeper | Panorama Dave Stryker's fleet guitar changes, warmed up with Steve Slagle's blues-inflected alto sax, with dependable bassist Jay Anderson and redoubtable drummer Victor Lewis keeping time: Postbop journeymen pull a minor masterpiece out of decades of earnest toil. A MINUS

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