No Training Wheels Necessary


Pick Hits

Nils Petter Molvaer


Thirsty Ear

Molvaer’s fusion is the proper heir to Miles Davis’s in two respects: He’s a master at getting the rhythm tight, and his trumpet adds a bare minimum of human voice without detracting from the machines. His programmed beats grow more complex and varied each time out, here opening up new paths ranging from chill-out to a striking Sidsel Endresen vocal. Three cuts return from An American Compilation, which also overlaps Streamer in Thirsty Ear’s campaign to catch up with Molvaer’s Europe-only releases. Consumers can weigh the redundancies and bait, but this is where the others were heading. A

The Vandermark 5

Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4


Two bonus discs from early editions of studio albums, one exploring Sonny Rollins’s compositions from the ’60s, the other engaging Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Both sources manifested freedom less in form than through their outsized personalities. The V5’s front line of two saxes plus dirt trombone spreads those singularities out and formalizes the innovations. But they also preserve the familiar heads, providing handles for the mischief that follows and eliciting some of the group’s most boisterous, and accessible, play. A

Omer Avital

The Ancient Art of Giving


The second installment in Avital’s archives, Room to Grow, started to make the case for the Israeli bassist as a catalyst for cutting-edge post-bop in the late ’90s, but this is the album where the payoff becomes clear. His quintet is structured for hard bop, but he lets the rhythm slosh around, and once they get warmed up, Mark Turner’s tenor sax and Avishai Cohen’s trumpet break loose. A MINUS

Ignacio Berroa


Blue Note

Like Chano Pozo in 1947, trap drummer Berroa moved to New York in 1980 and found a job in Dizzy Gillespie’s band. But his Afro-Cuban roots were attenuated—he blames Castro for suppressing Yoruba religion and restricting his schooling to the Euro classics. Even here, Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano and Felipe Lamoglia’s saxophones provide the Cuban rhythms, not Berroa’s trad percussion. An effective pan-American synthesis, codified. A MINUS

Scott Hamilton

Nocturnes & Serenades


Slow standards, with “Autumn Nocturne” and Serenade in Blue” justifying the title, “You Go to My Head” and “Chelsea Bridge” more instantly recognizable, and “Man With a Horn” his calling card. He’s made virtually the same record before, and he’ll no doubt do it again. After all, who does it better? A MINUS


Hi Ha

Fresh Sound New Talent

Sergi Sirvent is an up-and-coming Barcelona-based pianist with a handful of tantalizing albums—duets with guitarist Santi Careta and drummer Xavi Maureta, a Free Quartet with two drummers, a Thelonious Monk–inspired group called the Unexpected. Those all seemed like rough sketches, but guitarist Jordi Matas fills out a finely balanced quartet here. A MINUS

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid

The Exchange Session Vol. 1


Better known as Four Tet, Hebden’s instrument is laptop, on which he improvises in real time—at least in how he deploys samples that are sometimes jazzlike and often reminiscent of George Russell’s electronic sonatas. Reid, following the model of Rashied Ali’s Duo Exchange, answers on drums, and as you’d expect from a guy who’s worked for James Brown and Fela Kuti, often finds a groove. A MINUS

Frank Hewitt

Fresh from the Cooler [1996]


A bebop pianist who almost slipped through 66 years of life without leaving a trace, Hewitt built enough of a cult during his Smalls residency to inspire a label in no small part dedicated to his legacy. His fourth posthumous release features a trio that steps gingerly around jazz standards such as “Cherokee” and “Monk’s Mood”—nothing fancy, just a rare touch of melodic nuance. A MINUS

Andrew Hill

Pax [1965]

Blue Note

The recent Time Lines, the avant-pianist’s second return to Blue Note, strikes me as his career average album, but his elevation to living legend has spurred the label into restoring his catalog. A few years ago only the universally revered Point of Departure was in print. Now, recommended reissues include Black Fire, Smoke Stack, Judgment!, Andrew!!!, and the rediscovered Dance with Death. On another obscure one, he holds the center down so firmly that Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson can go as far out as they ever got. A MINUS

Maurice Hines

To Nat “King” Cole With Love


Gregory’s big brother comes close enough to the mark to beg the question, why not stick with the originals? Hines’s smooth, agile baritone can’t touch Cole’s one-of-kind voice. But the band spans Cole’s career, with more muscle than the Trio and none of the dross of his orchestras. And because Cole was the hippest of the pre-rock pop stars (by a margin that has only grown since), the songs live on. A MINUS

Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker

Palm of Soul

AUM Fidelity

Driven from his home by Katrina, storied but little-documented avant-saxophonist Jordan headed for New York to a cult hero’s welcome. At 70, he shows signs of mellowing a bit—or maybe he’s just amused by his playmates, who augment their world-class bass and drums with world-class toys like guimbri and tablas. A MINUS

Diana Krall

From This Moment On


The Clayton–Hamilton Jazz Orchestra doesn’t split the difference between Billy May and Nelson Riddle so much as aggregate the virtues of each, but they’re no more useful than May and Riddle without a commanding singer. And Krall, who’s always been able to put over a song, exerts the necessary authority. And if songs like “Come Dance With Me” and “It Could Happen to You” invite Sinatra comparisons, she’s up for that too. A MINUS

Bucky Pizzarelli

5 for Freddie: Bucky’s Tribute to Freddie Green


The rhythm section tracks Basie’s legends well enough—Mickey Roker for Jo Jones, Jay Leonhart for Walter Page, John Bunch for the Count—and Pizzarelli can certainly keep the engine humming. But Green was famous for never taking a solo, which leaves the guitarist in need of someone else for the spotlight. Enter Warren Vaché as Sweets Edison, even lighter on cornet, just enough voice to focus these old swing warhorses, and totally at home. A MINUS


Warren Vaché and the Scottish Ensemble

Don’t Look Back


Fronting a phalanx of strings has been a stock dream of virtuosos since before Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins, but few have made anything interesting out of the opportunity—two exceptions are Stan Getz’s Focus, because of the futurist strings, and Art Pepper’s Winter Moon, in spite of them. Vaché might have fared relatively well here—as he has in such intimate settings as his Bill Charlap duet 2Gether—but the 12-strong, baroque-rooted Scottish Ensemble is dead weight. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News


Maurice El Médioni Meets Roberto Rodriguez

Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions (Piranha)

An Algerian-Sephardic twist on Rodriguez’s Cuban-Ashkenazi synthesis.

Billy Stein Trio

Hybrids (Barking Hoop)

After decades of quiet refinement, subtle shadings of guitar, bass, and drums.

Sergi Sirvent & Xavi Maureta

Lines Over Rhythm (Fresh Sound New Talent)

They start with six from Bird, then lose the training wheels.

Ellery Eskelin

Quiet Music (Prime Source)

The avant-saxophonist’s title isn’t irony, but his sprawling trio-plus-voice doesn’t make quiet any easier.

Regina Carter

I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey (Verve)

One last swing through the ’40s, in remembrance of Mom.

Tomasz Stanko Quartet

Lontano (ECM)

Slow, bleak, haunting, and so subtly understated you’d think inscrutability was the point.

Von Freeman

Good Forever (Premonition)

At 84 he finally learns to relax and stretch out on a ballad.

Mark Helias’s Open Loose

Atomic Clock (Radio Legs Music)

Bassist-led sax-drums trio, with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey on the rough edges.

Samo Salamon Quartet

Two Hours (Fresh Sound New Talent)

Slovenian guitarist hires Mark Helias’s Open Loose trio for backup —a gutsy move.

Sathima Bea Benjamin

Song Spirit [1963–2002] (Ekapa)

A jazz singer 40 years out of Africa— the roots thin out, but the pianists keep coming.

Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet

Way Out East (Songlines)

Where wild but princely bassoon and cello roam.

Frank Morgan

Reflections (High Note)

Sooner or later, some of Bird’s children grow up.

Dennis González Boston Project

No Photograph Available (Clean Feed)

Working the kinks out on the road to NY Midnight Suite.

John Hicks

Sweet Love of Mine (High Note)

Cut a month before his death: poignant solo piano, plus further proof of how he lifted everyone around him, even Elise Wood’s flutes and Javon Jackson’s sax.

Sonny Simmons

I’ll See You When You Get There (Jazzaway)

Minimal Sonny, his alto sax or English horn solos barely clad in admiring bass, piano, or drums.

Kali Z. Fasteau/Kidd Jordan

People of the Ninth: New Orleans and the Hurricane 2005 (Flying Note)

She fetes the hero of New Orleans, and he centers her eclecticism.


Cheryl Bentyne

The Book of Love


David “Fathead” Newman


(High Note)

Charles Tolliver Big Band

With Love

(Blue Note/Mosaic)