Jazz Consumer Guide: Chasing Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, or Something Else Entirely

Houston Person
The Art & Soul of Houston Person [1996–2008]
[High Note]

Joe Fields recorded Person's debut at Prestige in 1966. When Fields moved on to found the Muse and High Note labels, Person was his first hire: a slow-moving, easy-swinging soul man, so consistent that the biggest problem has been differentiating between his albums. This three-CD set settles that: Thirty classic songs from a dozen mature albums sum him up perfectly. Irresistible for anyone with a taste for tenor sax and a sense of jazz's grand historical arc. A

Randy Sandke
Unconventional Wisdom

So rooted in tradition that he named his son Bix, so postmodern that he conceived two of his best albums as Inside Out and Outside In. This one covers all the bases, with his originals fitting seamlessly among standards from Berlin, Porter, and Carmichael, alongside scattered threads from Debussy to Jobim to Bill Evans. Bassist Nicki Parrott adds charming vocals on four tracks, guitarist Howard Alden provides elegant support, and Sandke plays some of the hottest trumpet of his career. A

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Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
[Ronin Rhythm]

Repetitive rhythms are so fundamental to Bärtsch's aesthetic that he even overdubs his Piano Solo album, one of six albums of "Ritual Groove Music" that predate his two more luxurious ECM releases. The albums are all of a piece—the first two less consistent, Live punchier, AER more refined—but this one, the fifth, is sublime, its simple, shifting rhythmic figures building imperceptibly to gratifying climaxes. A

The Gust Spenos Quartet
Swing Theory 

[Swing Theory]

A sax-toting neurologist from Indianapolis juices up his moonlighting
 quartet with guests like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and gravelly vocalist 
Everett Greene. The latter’s two cuts are slow to let the personality take
 over from the voice, but the band swings Berlin-to-Gillespie standards with
 such authority that they may have a theory hiding amid the math. A MINUS

Jerry Bergonzi
Tenor Talk

A Boston-bred mainstream tenor saxophonist with a minor in Coltrane and a dozen solid-plus albums to his credit turns it up a notch, if only to keep a step ahead of the young, hitherto-unknown Italians in his band: Renato Chicco on piano and Andrea Michelutti on drums. A MINUS

Kenny Garrett
Sketches of MD
[Mack Avenue]

Garrett's first live album is a nod to Miles Davis, who hired him at the crossroads of their careers. Would be no big deal, but he crosses late-Miles funk with the orgiastic Coltrane-isms that Miles missed out on. Better still, he gets Pharoah Sanders to deliver them in person. A MINUS

Kris Davis
Rye Eclipse
[Fresh Sound New Talent]

A contest of daredevils. From the beginning, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby gave her group a rough edge, but three albums in, they've all caught the bug. Bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis pull the rhythm apart at the seams, and the pianist-leader plunges in with rough block chords, but the trade-offs can be intricate, as in "Wayne Oskar," when the piano leads into intriguing abstractions, then backs off as Malaby finishes the thought. A MINUS

Rudresh Mahanthappa

Like Jason Kao Hwang, Mahanthappa is one of a growing cadre of second-generation Americans who've gone back to study their ancestral culture for clues to moving forward. His previous efforts smeared Indian effects atop his Coltrane-isms, but this time, he starts with the masters—most important, Kadri Gopalnath, who did the hard work of translating Indian classical music to alto sax, a solid foundation on which to build rich textures. A MINUS

Donny McCaslin Trio
Recommended Tools
[Greenleaf Music]

Long a rising tenor-sax star, he finally strips down to a format where his chops break away from his post-bop ambitions—like he's strayed from Chris Potter's footsteps to chase after Sonny Rollins. A MINUS

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
This Is Our Moosic
[Hot Cup]

Moving forward in history from their bebop terrorism, Moppa Elliott's gang appropriates his home turf of Moosic, Pennsylvania, to play on and around Ornette Coleman. Often sounds like a deranged New Orleans brass band, sometimes even breaking into melody. A MINUS

Soprano Summit
In 1975 and More [1975–79]

Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber formed their double–soprano sax group in 1972, met frequently through the end of the decade, and held occasional reunions as late as 2001. Sidney Bechet was their obvious focus, but these archives include a session devoted to Jelly Roll Morton, and two non-summits: a Davern clarinet trio and a Wilber group with Ruby Braff. A MINUS

Bill Frisell
History, Mystery

The string quartet at the heart of Frisell's latest revision of classical Americana—all name jazz musicians—forms the sea that his guitar swims through, occasionally rising up in wonder. They go to Sam Cooke for inspiration and Mali for blues—and check tunes by Monk and Konitz—but those are merely outposts, as Frisell's writing subsumes all before it. Greg Tardy's sax and Ron Miles's cornet are rare enough to be treats. A MINUS

David S. Ware
[AUM Fidelity]


A new quartet, with guitarist Joe Morris the second seed. The Indian motifs are part of Ware's spiritual quest, but when he plays, it's hard to escape the here and now. While most tenor saxophonists try to sound like John Coltrane, Ware has simply lived the life, finding his own unique way, elevating everyone around him. A MINUS

Cassandra Wilson
Loverly [Blue Note]

After numerous attempts to modernize the songbook and capitalize on a deep voice invoking Vaughan-Carter-Lincoln, she retreats into a scattered set of old songs and comes up with her most satisfying album. It's all in the details: the Jason Moran piano that drives "Caravan," the upbeat sass of "St. James Infirmary," and the way she wraps her voice around Reginald Veal's solo bass on "The Very Thought of You." A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

The Microscopic Septet
Lobster Leaps In

Vintage postmoderns regroup for a rousing round of trad jazz in a tradition wholly their own.

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things
[482 Music]

Drummer-led freebop, with two racing saxes invoking the late-'50s Chicago underground, and flying off.

Scott DuBois

Guitarist-driven vehicle—steady enough to keep avant-saxman Gebhard Ullmann on track, wild enough to get him excited.

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition

With Pakistani-American guitarist Rez Abbasi, both sides are over the conflict, and world-class tabla player Dan Weiss is way beyond.

Maurice Horsthuis
Elastic Jargon
[Data ]

Music for many strings, including bass and guitar, the tone more classical than jazz but fresh nonetheless.

Bob Mover
It Amazes Me . . .

Slow, smoky ballads, lustrous sax, Kenny Barron accompaniment, and improbably touching vocals.

Martial Solal Trio
Longitude [CAM Jazz]

Eighty-year-old freebop pianist walks on the wild side.

The Beautiful Enabler
[Clean Feed]

Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway, grads of Anthony Braxton's '80s quartet, audition a new saxophonist: Rudresh Mahanthappa.

Charles Lloyd Quartet
Rabo de Nube

A lonely voice crying over a prickly bed of Jason Moran piano.

Collision (Duck)

Two-thirds Bad Plus and cellist Hank Roberts skewing the groove, Tim Berne's alto sax bowling over and ducking under.

Corey Wilkes
Drop It

The hot young trumpet out of Chicago, funkier than that mosquita's tweeter.

Torben Waldorff

Special award for best performance by Donny McCaslin in a supporting role.

Bill Easley
Business Man's Bounce
[18th & Vine]

An old-fashioned tenor sax honks, bops, pitches woo, and wisecracks over Nat Cole.

Steve Lehman Quartet
[Clean Feed]

"For Evan Parker" strikes me as a parody, a little joke at the end of a live, vibrant sax-trumpet parry.

Jim Hall & Bill Frisell

Intricate, intimate guitar duets, subtle and silky, with an extra quartet disc to celebrate.

Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet

Dense Vijay Iyer–led background, shredded by razor-sharp trumpet.

Sheila Jordan
Winter Sunshine
[Justin Time]

At 79, still the fan, reminiscing about her girlhood crush on Bird, wishing she could scat like Ella.

Ernestine Anderson
A Song for You
[High Note]

One of Johnny Otis's chick singers, stillswinging at 80; who wouldn't, with HoustonPerson pitching woo?

Ryan Blotnick
Music Needs You


Cool postbop guitar and suave Pete Robbins alto sax, sneaky and just a tad

Brazilian Trio


Helio Alves, Nilson Matta, Duduka Da Fonseca: names that needn’t hide behind 
a flag—not least because their piano jazz doesn’t betray a single Brazilian

Júlio Resende
Da Alma

[Clean Feed]

Soul jazz from Portugal, dreamy flights of fancy tethered to wide-awake 

Jerry Bergonzi


Solid as ever, with John Abercrombie’s guitar a classy diversion.

Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz

[Pazz Productions]

Prodigy entertains world-class group, holds her own as they play

Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski


A Clarinet Summit, the double-your-pleasure theme extended by pairing Howard
 Alden and James Chirillo on banjo and guitar.

Lee Konitz & Minsarah
Deep Lee


Past 80, Konitz continues to play difficult music with delicate aplomb, 
backed by Florian Weber’s fine piano trio.

Harry Whitaker
One Who Sees All Things [1981­82]


Avant-fusion, reverting to the true radicalism of bebop.

Bryan Beninghove
Organ Trio

[CD Baby]

Honking sax, greasy organ, loud drums—a throwback to ’60s Newark.

Tobias Gebb & Trio West
An Upper Westside Story

[Yummy House]

Witty, drummer-led piano trio fill in spaces between stand-out guests Joel
 Frahm and Champian Fulton.

Duke Robillard
A Swingin’ Session With Duke Robillard

[Stony Plain]

Blues journeyman swings and grins his way through r&b joints, tickled by 
post-Dixieland horns.

Every Woman Is a Tree 

[Clean Feed]

Swedish sextet, full of sharp angles with rough edges, three horns slugging
 it out, and vibes like the sound of breaking glass.

Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly
The Speed of Change 

[482 Music]

Drummer-led postbop, with alto sax, cello, and vibes for a light, trippy 

Bobo Stenson Trio


Triangulating Silvio Rodriguez, Alban Berg, and Ornette Coleman—into 
something else.


Bill Dixon
17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur
[AUM Fidelity]

Poor Darfur: You don't know whether to cry, vent, or slump into a stupor. B

The Bad Plus
For All I Care
[Heads Up]

Semi-simple variations reduced to a numb, disintegrating torpor by a singer loaded on lithium. B MINUS

Jon Hassell
Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street

But did it really happen if no one was conscious enough to notice? B MINUS

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