WILLIAM PARKER QUARTET
This is Parker’s pianoless quartet, a format that demands two horn players who can dance—who play together even when they seem to be flying off at odd tangents. Trumpeter Lewis Barnes and alto saxist Rob Brown, little known outside of Parker’s discography, make a lovely couple. But in this quartet bassist Parker and drummer Hamid Drake aren’t content to keep time: They, too, dance. Perfect balance—the political analog is equality—is impossible to achieve, but if you listen to this record four times, each time focusing on a player, you’ll hear four slightly distinct albums, each one coherent. They did it. A
TOMMY SMITH & BRIAN KELLOCK
Cherokee” may have been God’s gift to saxophonists, but none have played it as delicately and sensitively as Smith does here. It leads into a series of exquisite ballads, from “Moonlight in Vermont” to “Skylark,” each more lovely than the last. And this isn’t one of those ballads albums, either. Smith picks up the pace with “Honeysuckle Rose” and reaches into his bebop bag on “Bernie’s Tune,” where Kellock finally emerges from his supporting role to show you how Bud Powell might have done it. Smith was astonishing back in his teens. Now he’s managed to get past that stage and become well-rounded. A
Coltrane’s soprano sax had an Indian-Near Eastern tone that imparted distance to his perpetual searching, but framed by Abbasi’s Indian-spiced soul jazz, Dave Liebman’s soprano sax sounds like he’s found something. His horn is the highlight here, but Abbasi’s snaky guitar is the charm. A MINUS
THE BLUEPRINT PROJECT
Creative Nation Music
Jared Sims (saxes), Eric Hofbauer (guitar), and Tyson Rogers (piano) split the writing credits with little evident pecking order or stylistic uniqueness. They are talented, well educated, thoroughly modern. They can do post-bop, post-Monk, post-Ornette; they can play gospel and tango and free. All they needed was bass and drums, so they hired Cecil McBee and Matt Wilson. One of the few jazz groups that feels communal. A MINUS
With a career that started with Machine Gun, the big bang of European free jazz, and unfolded through smaller group efforts with titles like Die Like a Dog, it’s tempting to call this Peter Brötzmann’s easy listening album, but it’s only easier. His increasing use of clarinet and tarogato does take a little wind out of his sails, but even on tenor sax it’s possible to follow his intense yet inventive lines without feeling the need to duck. It helps that his is the only horn. It also helps that drummer Peeter Uuskyla stays on the case no matter what. A MINUS
AVISHAI COHEN TRIO & ENSEMBLE
Cohen writes that “the main engine driving this record is a trio,” but he’s being too modest. It’s the bassist, and engine is the operative word because Cohen’s pieces build around the pulse of his bass. Half are trios with pianist Sam Barsh and drummer Mark Giuliana; the other half add horns for color, most notably Yosvany Terry’s saxophones. A MINUS
DAVE DOUGLAS/LOUIS SCLAVIS/ PEGGY LEE/DYLAN VAN DER SCHYFF
Bow River Falls
One unusual thing about Douglas is how much he’s rooted in European folk traditions—mostly Slavic (Tiny Bell Trio) and Jewish (Masada). This evenly balanced collaboration with French clarinetist Louis Sclavis and the young Canadian cello-drums team continues in this vein. Sclavis is central, the backbone for pieces that spring Douglas loose. This compares favorably to the follow-up, Mountain Passages, where Sclavis is replaced by the extra horn power of Michael Moore and Marcus Rojas while the all-Douglas program gets way too complex. A MINUS
GERD DUDEK/BUSCHI NIEBERGALL/ EDWARD VESALA
The records revisited by Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series went unheard for reasons—Baby Dodds talking and Sun Ra lullabies are novelties at best. Free jazz from ’70s Europe holds up better, but old Brötzmann and Schlippenbach are unlikely to convince non-fans, and rarities from Keith Hazevoet and Mario Schiano will never be more than cult items. So this one is a find. Dudek pursues Coltrane’s ghost on two saxophones, flute, and shenai—a double-reed oboe from India, like blowing into a buzz saw. Bass and drums aren’t supporting roles; they add dimensions. A MINUS
The initials stand for Free Music Ensemble, a nod to the famous FMP label, but if free suggests falling back on your instinctive wits, for Ken Vandermark that means blowing with rock roughness and r&b honk. Especially when the group is built around Nate McBride of Spaceways Inc. and Tripleplay and Paal Nilssen-Love of School Days. A MINUS
THE FRANK AND JOE SHOW
The three vocal spots—campy Janis Siegel on “Don’t Fence Me In,” debonair Dr. John on “Sheik of Araby,” torchy Jane Monheit on “Besame Mucho”—shine so bright you wish they’d recruited more guests, but guitarist Frank Vignola has to get his licks in, beginning his beguine and jamming Mozart, ramrodding Rimsky-Korsakov at Dave Edmunds speeds, and ending in a shimmering oasis of “Stardust.” A MINUS
Back in New York
He’s looking almost as old as his saxophone, but he sounds fabulous—so comfortable in his own sound that the comparisons to Sims and Getz and Prez were just grasping at reeds. And now that he’s moved to London top U.S. players jump at the chance to play with him. This time his pickup band is Bill Charlap’s trio—the one with the Washingtons, unrelated but they play together more often than most twins. His best in more than a decade. A MINUS
RAPHE MALIK QUARTET
Last Set: Live at the 1369 Jazz Club 
Historically interesting as Malik’s only recording between 1979, when he left Cecil Taylor’s group, and his return in the ’90s. Also because he shares the spotlight with Frank Wright, a rarely heard tenor saxophonist from the avant ’60s. Also because this is one of the earliest recordings where William Parker really flashes his bass. A rare case where the avant-garde gets down and dirty. So much fun that Wright took to singing. So much fun you won’t mind that he sucks. A MINUS
Parker’s past work with piano trios leaned heavily toward brawling with the likes of Cecil Taylor and Matthew Shipp. But this time he goes outside his usual circle, tapping drummer Michael Thompson and unknown Eri Yamamoto, an inside-out pianist who reminds me of Geri Allen. Probably the idea is to spotlight his songwriting—based on folk melodies, some surprisingly pretty, a couple roughed up by old habits, including a Taylorized take on Bud Powell. And by all means keep one ear cocked for the bass. A MINUS
STEVE SHAPIRO AND PAT BERGESON
Sons of Sound
On their own, Shapiro’s vibes and Bergeson’s guitar would be a fine lounge act. But their guests pay off: Annie Sellick has an exceptionally pleasing standards voice, and she alternates with Scott Kreitzer, who does his vocalizing through a tenor sax. A MINUS
Dud of the Month
When I Fall in Love
If he’s the new Chet Baker, then the original could pass for Fats Navarro. But at least this album breaks out of the smooth-jazz formula: no funk, no groove, no beat. On irresistible songs, Botti’s plaintive trumpet backed by string orchestra is gorgeous enough. But he can’t salvage tripe like “Cinema Paradiso,” and three cuts with guest vocalists, including his fairy godfather Sting, further dull the mood. N.B.: the bestselling mostly instrumental jazz album of the past two years. B MINUS
Additional Consumer News
Most valuable sideman on a handful of albums last year steps forward.
PER HENRIK WALLIN
Burning in Stockholm 
The piano rocks, setting up cascades of rhythm for bass and drums to bounce off of.
Jazz standards with mandolinist Paul Buskirk; like Picasso, he can palm off doodles as genius.
RAPHE MALIK/JOE MCPHEE/DONALD ROBINSON
Drummer, trumpet, soprano sax, or more trumpet: Sparks fly.
Free jazz played slow lets you follow the logic.
Sink or Swim
Fresh Sound New Talent
Flounders a bit at first but by the end he’s swimming with Coltrane.
Underground Chicago guitarist goes smooth, the synth matrix redoubling groove and quirk.
MICHIEL SCHEEN QUARTET
Dance, M y Dear?
Odd twists and sharp angles, post-Monk, post-Mengelberg even.
One Foot in the Swamp
Gumbo, corn fritters, homegrown pennywhistle jive.
BRÖTZMANN CLARINET PROJECT
Berlin Djungle 
Six clarinets instead of the usual sax mob soften the squall, so enjoy the breeze.
RICARDO SILVEIRA/ LUIZ AVELLAR
Live: Play the Music of Milton Nascimento
Stripped way down, the delicate songs reveal hidden strengths and wry subtleties.
No One Ever Works Alone
Three free saxes (or clarinets), never reducing themselves to a choir.
Sonny II: The Music of Sonny Sharrock
Winter & Winter
Eschewing flash, solo guitar puzzles over the melodies.
BOBBY WATSON & HORIZON
Victor Lewis & the Jazz Messengers make their long-awaited return.
Sonny Simmons as workhorse improviser, Michael Marcus on cosmic saxello, Jay Rosen’s drums hold it together.
FRED HESS QUARTET
Leaning toward his Lester Young side Hess sounds even more like Von Freeman.
THE FRANK AND JOE SHOW
Spaceship Lullaby [1954-60]