Jazz Consumer Guide: Mocking Traditions, or Joining Them


Pick Hits

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman

Dual Identity | Clean Feed

Two alto saxmen, rising stars at least according to Downbeat‘s critics, in a free-jazz quintet mediated by guitarist Liberty Ellman. Mahanthappa has sopped up Coltrane and the Karnatic tradition, but here blends in with Lehman, who learned his stuff from Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, with a more accessible take on the latter’s compositional discipline. No jousts or flights of fancy­, just dense patterns swung over freewheeling rhythm—all live, no less. A

Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Forty Fort | Hot Cup

The history lesson this time spotlights a 1962 Roy Haynes album, Out of the Afternoon, mostly exploited for its cover, a shot of the band lost in the woods, overdressed and underequipped. Haynes had Roland Kirk doubling up on his horns, but Moppa Elliott gets a similar flair from two players, and skips Tommy Flanagan’s piano, which would only slow things down. They’ve grown out of their juvenile terrorism, delighted that they’ve now secured a slot in the tradition they used to mock. A

Ben Allison

Think Free | Palmetto

A bassist-composer needs someone to step out front, and that’s violinist Jenny Scheinman here. She brings out the sweetness in Allison’s supple, easy-flowing melodies, with guitar and trumpet playing off the edges. A MINUS

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra

Where or When | Owl Studios

From Indianapolis, a genuine territory band working venerable standards, framed in finely oiled antique wood, with brass for sparkle (not bombast) and distinctive boy/girl singers. Everett Greene glides over the lyrics, his deep voice honed to a suave elegance. Cynthia Layne cuts deep into her songs, a feisty contrast. A MINUS

Ralph Carney

Serious Jass Project | Akron Cracker

Sax/clarinet player, started in Akron rock band Tin Huey, toured with Tom Waits, wound up in various San Francisco projects, like this old-time, good-time band. Mostly Ellington, with a Dave Bartholomew boogie and a honking shot of Big Jay McNeely—not exactly trad jazz, but these days, the ’30s and the ’50s get to help each other out. A MINUS

Bill Frisell

Disfarmer | Nonesuch

Another slice of Americana, stripped down to strings (including pedal steel and fiddle) tuned to Depression-era photos of farmers. Frisell’s originals are bare soundtrack sketches, with titles like, “Think,” “Drink,” and “Play.” But the indelible melodies of covers like “That’s All Right, Mama” and “Lovesick Blues” jump from the grooves, spreading their warmth. A MINUS

Jan Garbarek Group

Dresden | ECM

The Norwegian saxophonist’s normally crystalline tone is a bit muddied in this rare live double, as is the conceptual clarity of the studio albums that wove together music from all over the world. The pieces are here for a recap of a remarkable 40-year career, but the lesson is that it’s still a work-in-progress. A MINUS

Darius Jones Trio

Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) | AUM Fidelity

Beauty is in the ear of the beholder, but this is raw for sure, with a down and dirty blues base and plenty of squawk on the uptake. He keeps his alto sax down in the tenor range where it sounds scrawny and mean, until he slows down and Cooper-Moore switches from roughhousing diddley-bow back to piano. Elegant, but not sure about beautiful. A MINUS

PianoCircus Feat. Bill Bruford

Skin and Wire | Summerfold

Four pianists, the drummer, and bass guitarist Julian Crampton play the music of Colin Riley, a “composer of no fixed indoctrination” who gets them started with some programming. Riley moves beyond minimalism, breaking his patterns into sharp edges, never letting his ambient stretches get too predictable. A MINUS

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron

Dream Dance | CAM Jazz

An all-star piano trio to rival Keith Jarrett’s, if anything less mannered, lighter, spryer. They’ve played together for most of the past decade, churning out one fine album after another. This one is distinguished by its range: fast, slow, dense, quiet, graceful in any mode and tempo. A MINUS

Radio I-Ching

No Wave Au Go Go | Resonant Music

Avant-wandering rock refugees—Andy Haas on curved soprano sax and electronics, Don Fiorino on guitar-like things, Dee Pop on percussion—pull together. Their worldbeat originals smoke the jazz covers, which serve as ethereal exotica, except for “Judgment Day,” which redeems their faith in Americana. A MINUS

Wadada Leo Smith

Spiritual Dimensions | Cuneiform

Two discs, two live sets, two bands, one trumpet unifying two approaches to a semi-popular niche the AACM veteran spent most of his career avoiding. The Golden Quintet juxtaposes him with pianist Vijay Iyer and doubles up on drums, while Organic plugs in three or four guitars and an extra bass, riding on his Yo Miles fusion concept without getting trapped by it. A MINUS

Tomasz Stanko Quintet

Dark Eyes | ECM

The avant-garde trumpeter from Poland continues to age gracefully, picking up another group of youngsters, notably Jakob Bro on guitar and Alexi Tuomarila on piano, and keeps firmly in front of them. A fierce section early on makes you wish he’d do that more often, but even when the melodies turn pleasant, his trumpet is singular. A MINUS

Matt Wilson Quartet

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark | Palmetto

Andrew D’Angelo lives and, after a brutal illness, is back, as fierce as ever, facing his alto sax off against Jeff Lederer’s tenor. No postbop niceties this time. The drummer has to raise his game just to keep up—and he does. A MINUS

John Zorn

Alhambra Love Songs | Tzadik

A composer’s album, like recent work attributed to Bach or Brahms, or, more to the point, like Zorn’s own voluminous Filmworks—simple and elegant pieces for a Rob Burger piano trio. In fact, several pieces are dedicated to filmmakers, although the opening Vince Guaraldi dedication frames Zorn’s ambitions: popular, as in accessible—not pop, never schmaltz. A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

Maria Muldaur

Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy | Stony Plain

More songs about failing banks and two-timing preachers—the panic is on, but she at least has a plan.

The Godforgottens

Never Forgotten, Always Remembered | Clean Feed

Sten Sandell’s organ doesn’t trip up the free rhythm, and Magnus Broo’s trumpet burns bright.

Anders Nilsson

AORTA Ensemble | Kopasetic

Swedish-American merger: double sax, double bass, double drums, whole lotta guitar.

Anthony Braxton/Maral Yakshieva

Improvisations (Duo) [2008] | SoLyd

Two disc-long sax-piano improvs, the master taking it easy through the paces.

Randy Brecker

Nostalgic Journey | Summit

Sharp trumpet leads on Wlodek Pawlik’s suite, his piano trio backed by a Bialystok orchestra that strikes a nice balance.

Timucin Sahin Quartet

Bafa | Between the Lines

Turkish guitarist weaves his way in and around a risk-taking John O’Gallagher sax trio.

Gebhard Ullmann

Don’t Touch My Music, Vol. I | Not Two

A 50th-birthday milestone, with Julian Arguëlles and Steve Swell offsetting, and disciplining, the leader’s reeds.

Mose Allison

The Way of the World | Anti-

A cool little cluster of perpetual inquisitiveness thinks up modest proposals and turns out all right.

The Nice Guy Trio

Here Comes . . . the Nice Guy Trio | Porto Franco

Mingus meets Weill and other discreet pleasures, mostly trumpet-accordion-bass, with occasional guests.

Jeff Healey

Last Call | Stony Plain

Deeper into trad jazz, dubbing his trumpet and vocals over his roughest, nastiest Eddie Lang guitar, with Venuti-ish violin, too.

Jon Irabagon

The Observer | Concord

MOPDTK slasher won a Monk prize, a contract, and Stan Getz’s old rhythm section; he responds by reconstructing the bebop he used to tear apart.

Rodrigo Amado

Motion Trio | European Echoes

His usual sax tour de force, running circles around cello and drums.

Quartet Offensive

Carnivore | Morphius

Punk-fusion quintet, softened with bass clarinet and fuzz guitar.

Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne

Bombella | Sunnyside

Fancy how the big band fleshes everything out on its own terms, but Africa runs deep, even with piccolo flute subbed for pennywhistle.

Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls

Seize the Time | Naim

Hard times, clampdowns, freedom through solidarity, even in Nazi USA—Mingus lives, and Max Roach, too!

Ehud Asherie

Modern Life | Posi-Tone

With Harry Allen, a debonair throwback to the 1940s, when modernity meant something.

Greg Burk

Many Worlds | 482 Music

Bouncing, blinking leptons, dancing clusters of taus, discordance that surely can’t be mere chaos.

Ben Stapp Trio

Ecstasis | Uqbar

Tony Malaby’s tenor sax runs roughshod, but his soprano is the perfect foil for the leader’s tuba.

Andrew Rathbun

Where We Are Now | SteepleChase

The new standard postbop quintet, guitar vying with piano in lieu of a second horn, and tenor sax still in charge.

The New Jazz Composers Octet

The Turning Gate | Motema Music

Postbop composers scratching each other’s back, bolstered by enough horns to keep everyone flying.

Joey DeFrancesco

Snapshot | High Note

Regroups the original trio he made his rep with, grinding with grooveful guitarist Paul Bollenback.

Linda Oh Trio

Entry | Linda Oh Music

Bassist-led, balanced sound and structure, with Ambrose Akinmusire’s trumpet for ear candy.


The Epidemic of Ideas | Thirsty Ear

Rebel souls from Chicago awash with ideas, mostly of the postrock/freebop sort.

Jerry Bergonzi

Three for All | Savant

More tenor talk—simply put, as usual.

David S. Ware

Saturnian | AUM Fidelity

The inevitable solo tenor sax-stritch-saxello album, practice as slow-motion performance.


Deep Night | Gaucho

San Francisco gypsies roast Django-fied oldies in their hot club.

Fernando Benadon

Intuitivo | Innova

String music, a quartet with bass instead of cello, alongside some clarinet and percussion.

Dan Aran

Breathing | Smalls

Soft-touch drummer hosts friends for eclectic postbop exercises.

Ben Neill

Night Science | Thirsty Ear

One-man trumpet-flavored jazztronica, like Nils Petter Molvaer divorced from the jazz moment.


Strange Cousin | Evergreene Music

Cosmopolitan hillbilly music, a Don Cherry passport stamped with Balkan accents.

Houston Person

Mellow | High Note

God blesses the tenor saxophonist who’s got his own.

Ralph Bowen

Dedicated | Posi-Tone

Solo tenor sax is the purest voice in jazz, as this one proves with the help of a first-rate mainstream band.

Gebhard Ullmann

Don’t Touch My Music, Vol. II | Not Two

A second helping, a bit sloppier and rowdier than the first.

Dom Minasi String Quartet

Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder | Konnex

Guitar-violin-cello-bass, close enough for cranky avant-chamber music.



The Dark | Origin

Sax-trumpet-piano trio, faint figures unmoved by rhythm. C PLUS

Trombone Shorty

Backatown | Verve Forecast

New Orleans horn line tricked up with synth beats, and bogged down with guest vocals and a stab at grunge. C PLUS