On first approximation, this is a piano trio with Steve Lehman playing the bass parts on alto and sopranino sax, where they take on a life of their own. Lehman has such a strained, narrow tone that his work tends to duck behind the piano, anchoring the rhythm and painting the background. But then, the pianist is Vijay Iyer, who can lead by sheer percussive force and has a knack for putting the finishing touches on whatever Lehman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee throw at him. A MINUS
DENNIS GONZÁLEZ SPIRIT MERIDIAN
(Clean Feed )
The good doctor’s prescription for a country “sick with Bush” is “Bush Medicine”—a calypso fragment recalling “St. Thomas” with an Ornette twist, but fractured into discrete bits. Small pleasures—take them when you can. Oliver Lake’s playfulness enhances Gonz spiritfulness, while the rhythm section keeps things loose. Of course, Bush Medicine is only a palliative. A cure starts with surgery, and rehabilitation is likely to be slow and wrenching, with so much damage to be undone, and so much that cannot be undone.
An appropriate title, especially since he’s already used Solid. A feisty original lets him show off his huge tone and plentiful chops. Then he works through the covers, a range of post-bop swing including one by redoubtable pianist Harold Mabern and a pair by Lerner and Loewe that he takes to the races. The center of the mainstream, but far from dead.
SCOTT AMENDOLA BAND
This turns the Nels Cline Singers on their head, adding Jeff Parker’s sweet guitar to Cline’s sour, reinforcing the string sound with Jenny Scheinman’s violin. Amendola supplements his drums with electronics, for groove and textures you’d have to be hard of hearing to reduce to ambient. A MINUS
PIERRE DØRGE & NEW JUNGLE ORCHESTRA
Dancing Cheek to Cheek
Two nods to Tin Pan Alley: “Cheek to Cheek” done Louis-Ella style, except that this Louis is Ray Anderson, and “Body and Soul” slowed to a savory crawl by Josephine Cronholm. The rest of the album is Afro-Danish big band, griots and pennywhistles, references to Mingus and Sun Ra, and a Dukish impression of Jakarta. Dørge, like his Jungle Music idol, plays orchestra, but when the occasion calls for it he also fills in smartly on guitar. A MINUS
Granelli’s music, constructed from clarinets and baritone sax, guitars and cello, has a spare, windswept quality well suited to Rinde Eckert’s plainspoken words about Billy the Kid and the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The words make you think, as with the story of a sheriff who quit after shooting a man, troubled not by regret but how certain he was that he was in the right: “It’s a dangerous thing that kind of certainty. I believe doubt is what keeps us sane. Without it a man becomes a monster.” A MINUS
The byword on Hall is subtle, but this live trio anchored by bassist Scott Colley provokes the veteran guitarist to reveal, if not himself, at least his bag of tricks: bright lines that take off from Colley’s contrasting bass, tight chords that compress the rhythm, effects that synthesize a nimble sax on Sonny Rollins’s “St. Thomas.” A MINUS
The Peace Between Our Companies
This starts with the trio’s signature sound, drums so sharp and loud they shoot right through you. The drummer is Dave King, better known for his other band, the Bad Plus. While the latter prides itself as an acoustic piano trio, this one rides happily on Erik Fratzke’s electric bass, with multi-reedist Michael Lewis adding a voice. The pieces alternate between hard and soft. In soft mode they go for avant-scratch; in hard mode Lewis rocks Ayler/Coltrane while King knocks your socks off. A MINUS
Led by the drummer, but Guadeloupean Jacques Schwarz-Bart could write a book on state-of-the-art tenor sax, and French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc can dazzle even when dutifully helping out. Recorded live at Fat Cat, it sneaks up on you, like the realization that you’ve just had a real good time. A MINUS
Meets Ray Anderson
When they turn up the heat the Danish guitar-organ-drums trio are more rockish than their soul jazz avatars. And when they dial it down they’re knee-deep in the blues. Neither trait is all that remarkable, but their meeting with the trombone master was inspired. After all, Anderson’s first language is gutbucket, so when he growls and groans he delivers the dirt this band needs. But he can improvise on their grind, punching out lightning solos then diving back into the grime. A MINUS
Fresh Sound New Talent
This piano trio moves slowly but efficiently, like a team of rock climbers negotiating difficult terrain. Teamwork matters because Lossing’s compositions leave many variables to be resolved on the fly.
RAVISH MOMIN’S TRIO TARANA
Climbing the Banyan Tree
Indian percussion, Chinese violin, Middle Eastern oud—released in Lisbon, but recorded in that old melting pot Brooklyn. Note that Jason Kao Hwang and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz are U.S. natives, and the leader is a Hyderabadi student of the North Indian classical tradition who went to Carnegie Mellon. That none of the three are too deeply rooted in their ethnicity lets them join together as a distinctive jazz group rather than limiting them to exotic fusion. A MINUS
ONE MORE: MUSIC OF THAD JONES
A bebopper who never got over his first love, big bands, Jones is remembered mostly for his compositions and arrangements, less so for his quirkily unpolished trumpet. After his death, his famous brothers, Hank and Elvin, recorded a loving tribute called Upon Reflection (Verve). With a dream band listed alphabetically from Bob Brookmeyer to Frank Wess, this one deserves a place on the same shelf. A MINUS
In 15 years on a major label, Osby has pursued all sorts of big ideas, especially about how today’s jazz fits in history and might fit into popular culture, but his albums raised more problems than they resolved. This one delivers, largely because its ambitions are constrained within jazz itself. In a trio with bass and drums, Osby wants more than to show off his chops. He wants to make music that precludes any felt need for harmony. That would be old hat in the free world but demands uncommon discipline in the post-bop mainstream. A MINUS
To Etta With Love
That’s Etta Jones, not James. While the songbooks overlap, and both did Billie Holiday tributes, Jones never played with dynamite. Nor does Person, who produced Jones’s records from 1975 until her death in 2001, often adding his own soulful sax. On his own, he delivers the most poignant ballad album of a long career’s worth of sax balladry—perhaps because he’s got an excuse for picking sure-shot songs. A MINUS
Dud of the Month
Have You Heard
With his degree from Art Blakey’s Hard Bop U. and a master’s thesis on Joe Henderson, Jackson cut a series of mainstream tenor sax albums for Blue Note that started out impressive and wound down redundant. Since then he’s tried to refashion himself as a soul jazzer with a dash of fun but fails at both. He doesn’t have the grit to suggest he staggered into a bar straight from church, and sidekicks Dr. Lonnie Smith and Mark Whitfield don’t have enough gravity to land on dirt. Lisa Fischer moans and hectors about it being “funky in here,” but nobody in the band notices. C PLUS
Additional Consumer News
TRIOT WITH JOHN TCHICAI
As when Johnny Dyani’s township jive bursts out of the dominant gray and ominous matrix.
THE NELS CLINE SINGERS
The Giant Pin
No vocals, but the power trio plays heavy-metal jazz, replete with free drumming.
BENOIT DELBECQ UNIT
Congo drums and piano dance polyrhythms with sax and viola textures.
FRED LONBERG-HOLM TRIO
Cello-bass-drums, the leader solid and surprisingly mellow.
The Spirits Up Above
A robust mainstreaming of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but Kirk went further out than anyone here.
JAMES FINN TRIO
Plaza de Toros
Living by his wits, with momentary flashes of Spanish bravado.
The Hills Have Jazz
Skewed guitar swings on Basie, hops on Coltrane, doodles on Sun Ra.
Faith, hope, charity, a fight for life that isn’t a knee-jerk slogan.
DUO NUEVA FINLANDIA
Piano-bass improvs by Eero Ojanen and Teppo Hauta-aho, who’ve played together 40 years—tight, but never sweet.
Louis Prima’s straight lady steals his best songs, cops his best lines.
New Folk, New Blues
Don’t forget new new thing.
TORD GUSTAVSEN TRIO
Quiet, almost sedentary piano trio, but remarkably patient and precise.