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 Washington–Lewis 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

Henry Threadgill Zooid
This Brings Us To: Volume II | Pi
More of last year's hit, and better, I'd say: The flute never flails against the tense, jagged rhythms, and contrasts neatly with tuba or trombone, while guitarist Liberty Ellman spins ever more elaborate lines. A MINUS

Vandermark 5
Annular Gift | Not Two
With Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello and electronics broadening the palette—including what sounds like a more refined return to Jeb Bishop's guitar—the band returns to Alchemia in Krakow, and whips out a furious set that stands proudly alongside the Alchemia box. A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark
Milwaukee Volume/Chicago Volume | Smalltown Superjazz
Two nights of smoldering sax and lascivious clarinet knocked about by a drummer who rocks in no known time.

3ology
With Ron Miles | Tapestry
This Colorado sax trio remains intimate enough to merit the introspective moniker, as Miles's cornet fits in and draws them out.

Allison Miller
Boom Tic Boom | Foxhaven
Drummer-led trio, an even better showcase for Myra Melford's piano than her own album.

James Blood Ulmer
In and Out | In+Out
As his grizzled vocals sink deeper into the blues, his harmolodic guitar skitters beyond.

Vijay Iyer
Solo | ACT
Can the best jazz pianist of the last decade do a solo album? Sure, easy.

Bryan and the Haggards
Pretend It's the End of the World Merle's melodies run through the mill, from Bird to Ornette to Ayler.

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
Llyria | ECM
Precision Swiss movement, more dazzling at high speed than when they settle for ambience.

Steve Turre
Delicious and Delightful | HighNote
Bright, bold flavors: Billy Harper, Larry Willis, and the trombonist, of course. Even the conch shell contributes.

Ralph Alessi
Cognitive Dissonance | CAM Jazz
Everyone's favorite sideman brings his trumpet out front, outshining even pianist Jason Moran.

Rova & the Nels Cline Singers
The Celestial Septet | New World
Sax quartet and guitar trio, a perfectly matched band, but sometimes they cancel out each other's idiosyncrasies.

Peter Evans Quartet
Live in Lisbon | Clean Feed
With pianist Ricardo Gallo tossing bombs every which way, a tough venue for a hard-playing trumpeter.

David Murray Black Saint Quartet
Live in Berlin | Jazzwerkstatt
The piano and bass slots aren't much, but muscular bass clarinet and monster sax prevail.

James Moody
4B | IPO
Finely aged standards, no rough edges, no flute—just tenor sax framed for posterity, or a romantic dinner.

Erica Lindsay/Sumi Tonooka
Initiation | ARC
Unheralded stars team up: Spare, Coltrane-ish sax thrashes a bit with rich, loquacious piano.

Paul Motian/Chris Potter/ Jason Moran
Lost in a Dream | ECM
Enigmatic drummer sets two stars adrift, trying to make sense of nothing.

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet + 1
3 Nights in Oslo | Smalltown Superjazz
Five discs, two with the large band in full fury, three cleaving off subsets deconstructing the mischief.

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton + Peter Evans
Scenes in the House of Music | Clean Feed
Trumpet enfant terrible can't rattle the old guys of the Anglo avant-garde.

Curtis Fuller
I Will Tell Her | Capri
A classic Detroit cruiser from the 1950s, the trombonist's band spiffed up with Keith Oxman's tenor sax and Al Hood's trumpet.

William Parker
At Somewhere There | Barnyard
Long bass solo, mild and creamy as those things go, followed by experiments on dousn'gouni and double flute.

Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory
Far Side | ECM
A double quartet clash: two drummers, two bassists, two thrashing pianos, trumpet sparks to ignite the leader's sax.

Nels Cline
Dirty Baby | Cryptogramophone
An art box of Ed Ruscha paintings, bracketed by a guitar tour de force on one disc, meaty scraps on another.

Gia Notte
Shades | Gnote
Tasty standards from Ellington, Weill, and the usual suspects, saxed up by Don Braden.

David Weiss & Point of Departure
Snuck In | Sunnyside
Twenty-first-century Jazz Messengers, with horns sparring, guitar slinking, and nothing as obvious as hard bop.

Nils Petter Molvaer
Hamada | Thirsty Ear
Two bass-and-drums eruptions break the Arctic chill of trumpet and electronic ambience.

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green
Apex | Pi
Ever the chameleon, he could pass for Green's old partner, Sonny Stitt, at the bebop joust.

Mort Weiss
Raising the Bar | SMS Jazz
Small businessman, picked up the clarinet at 65, plays solo on well-worn covers, gets by on charm.

Nilson Matta's Brazilian Voyage
Copacabana | Zoho
The bass pulse of Brazil, with Harry Allen's elegant sax swing and wisps of flute.

Jason Robinson
The Two Faces of Janus | Cuneiform
Backed with a fleet-footed band, with crucial interventions by Marty Ehrlich and Rudresh Mahanthappa.

Food
Quiet Inlet | ECM
Thomas Strønen's electronics overcome his percussion, devolving into ambiencelaced with Iain Ballamy reeds.

Brad Mehldau
Highway Rider | Nonesuch
Two discs of string-swept pastorale, dotted by the occasional Joshua Redman oasis.

Duds

Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis
Cerulean Landscapes | Clean Feed
Sax-piano duets, limited palette, fancy abstractions. B

Metropole Orkest
54 | Emarcy
Vince Mendoza rolls out so much red carpet for John Scofield that nobody notices the guest star. B MINUS

Puttin' on the Ritz
White Light/White Heat | Hot Cup
Sometimes, when they try to kill, they only maim themselves. C PLUS

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