You can learn all sorts of things by listening to jazz today. Thanks to These Are the Words, I can drop "Gematria" into a conversation, even if I don't pretend to understand how it works. And without the cover version of his "My Sistr" on Matana Roberts's Live in London (Central Control), I might never have heard of Frankie Sparo, a gloomy Canadian singer/songwriter from about 10 years ago and a new favorite of mine, with as expressive a monotone as Nick Drake's or Street Hassle–era Lou Reed. Even if Roberts's 27-minute expansion captures just enough of the tune's fretful drone to send you out in search of the original, it does prove her ability to hold your interest throughout a largely improvised performance of epic length—in lieu of one long outburst, the Chicago-born/New York–based alto saxophonist and her British rhythm section break their statements up into thematic episodes of varying length and intensity, and you're with them from beginning to end. That Roberts, whom many of us first heard with Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar a few years ago, has a mile-wide vibrato like Albert Ayler's without the lunge is just one of the reasons Live in London conjures images of Village coffeehouses and lofts circa 1964; there's also pianist Robert Mitchell's Cecil-like attack, drummer Chris Vataloro's shades-of-Milford Graves tabla rhythms, and an overall sense of big things about to break loose. The live set, taken from a BBC broadcast, seems oddly inverted, with the more outside stuff at the beginning and a chordal romp and Monk's "Oska T" (miscredited to Ellington) together toward the end. But this is hardly a complaint.

Steven Lugerner's new double album reveals his compositional talent.
John Rogers
Steven Lugerner's new double album reveals his compositional talent.

Roberts, who is coy about revealing her age but appears to be in her early thirties, has an album called Coin Coin due in May. There's also something new coming from Lugerner: For Brian Wilson, by a trio he belongs to called the Chives. What's the point of being young if you're not going to be prolific, too? Never mind if it's good for business.

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