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Jazz Miscellany...

Artists reviewed on this page:
Cannonball Adderley - Alt Tal - Sumru Ağıryürüyen & Anıl Eraslan - Alex Bellegarde Quartet - Art Ensemble Of Chicago - B'Shnorkestra - Matt Belzer's Connections - Bobo Bazinsky In The Bronx - Andrea Brachfeld/Phoenix Rising - Kenny Burrell - Frank Butrey - Paul Carr - Terri Lyne Carrington - Ron Carter - Greg Chako - LaVerne Christie Trio - Stanley Clarke - Alex Clements - Perry Conticchio - Larry Coryell - Roxy Coss - Matt Criscuolo - Luis Diaz Quintet - Rob Diener & Anomaly - Sean Driscoll Group - Candy Dulfer - José Duque's Zumbatres - Gene Ess - Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion - Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - Eric Frazier - Terry Gibbs - Benny Golson - Vince Guaraldi Trio - Andreas Hagiioannu - The Steve Hall Quintet - Wilbur Harden - Bill Hart - Bruce A. Henry - Conrad Herwig - Andrew Hill - David Hines - The Pamela Hines Trio - Allan Holdsworth - Freddie Hubbard - The Intention - Carlos Jiménez - Melvin Jones - Kenny Kirkland - Ilona Knopfler - Pete La Roca Sims - Lawrence Lebo - Ramsey Lewis - Elisabeth Lohninger - Jeff Lorber Fusion - The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin - Donald Malloy - Mitch Marcus Quintet - Branford Marsalis - Wynton Marsalis - Eugene Maslov - Shawn Maxwell - The Meeting - Grachan Moncur III - Mosaic - Greg Osby - Gabriel Palatchi Band - Charlie Parker - Kalyan Pathak & Jayho Jazzmata - Debbie Poryes Trio - Michaela Rabitsch & Robert Pawlik - Return To Forever - Sam Rivers - Sonny Rollins - Kurt Rosenwinkel - Gonzalo Rubalcaba - Patrice Rushen / Stanley Clarke / Ndugu Chancler - Tom Scott & The L.A. Express - Avery Sharpe - Herb Silverstein - Jimmy Smith - Jay Soto - 3d - 35 Days In May - U.O. Project - V.S.O.P. - Walk East - Gerald Wilson Orchestra - Woody Witt - Renée Yoxon/Mark Ferguson - Zen Zadravec Quartet

Here's where we've put jazz artists we've got only a few records by (or even only one), but we thought you might benefit from our severely limited experience. These reviews should be taken with a larger grain of salt than usual. Note: Geri Allen, Eric Dolphy, Duke Ellington, Chris Greene, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter and Weather Report, Sun Ra, McCoy Tyner and Cassandra Wilson have moved on to their own pages. (DBW)

Cannonball Adderley, The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago (1959)
Recently rereleased as Cannonball And Coltrane because of the marketability of John Coltrane, and it actually sounds more or less like a co-led record. Trane has two fine compositions: "Grand Central" is propulsive and complex, similar to the best tunes on Giant Steps with Adderley's soloing a worthy addition; "The Sleeper" is a gentle blues. Adderley has one original ("Wabash") and outstanding, Bird-like playing throughout. Each has a ballad solo feature, highlighting their strikingly different, but very successful approaches. The rhythm section is Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, all of whom - like Adderley and Coltrane - were working with Miles Davis at the time, and they stay in the background, letting the saxes run the show. (DBW)

Sumru Ağıryürüyen & Anıl Eraslan, Sert Sessizler (2012)
A vocalist/cello duo, which is like calling Salvador Dali a landscape painter. Cellist Eraslan focuses largely on extramusical sounds, while Ağıryürüyen layers whispers and moans above, below and around him ("Blok"). It might sound like a self-indulgent enterprise, and even if you're open to this sort of thing you'll wonder how they can sustain listener interest for a whole LP, but the results are striking at worst, terrifying at best "Beş Yukarı"; "Üç Aşağı). At times her sustained wails are reminiscent of Yoko Ono, but really the better comparison is someone like Mike Patton: her broad palette of vocalizations is an extension of an actual singing range ("Çereşkon Çorna Vişniçko," intoned like Rojda), not a substitute for one. Likewise, Eraslan can play lovely, precise runs on cello ("Saraband"), though most of the time he chooses not to ("Sıradaki"). A couple of tracks are gimmicks ("ŞŞŞŞT," where she keeps shushing him as he plays louder and louder) but they're mercifully brief, and the overall effect is as powerful as it is disquieting. (DBW)

Alt Tal, Open The Gates! (2007)
A trio led by saxophonist David Alt (who wrote all the tunes) with Kenny Annis (bass) and Andrew Ryan (drums). They range from the walking bass bop of "Elaine" to the Five Elements-sounding "Mossad," and the band brings the same vibrancy to every style, often giving the impression that more than three instruments are playing ("Jasmine"). The approach is simple: generally Ryan and Annis set up a basic vamp and Alt states a brief theme before starting to solo. It would be easy for the proceedings to sound diffuse or scattered, and the results can be unmemorable ("The Nymph") but never clichéd. I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again: it's easy to attempt Kind Of Blue-style open landscapes but tough to pull it off, and at times these guys rise to that level (the languid, vaguely Middle Eastern "Seven O'Clock Tune"). One thing I'm not crazy about, though, is that - much like this review - many of the tunes ("Force Of Nature") come to an abrupt end. (DBW)

Art Ensemble Of Chicago With Fontella Bass (1970)
Though formed in 1965 in Chicago, this free jazz collective started making its mark after repairing to Paris at the end of the Sixties. Though usually horn-heavy and instrumental, the Ensemble was briefly augmented by Fontella Bass, singer/co-writer of "Rescue Me" and by this point wife of AEoC trumpeter Lester Bowie. Apart from their main instruments, everyone also doubles on a vast array of percussion, which together with the vocal chants shows a strong African influence, balanced against the collective soloing that often sounds chaotic despite, for example, Roscoe Mitchell's evident prowess on several reed instruments. The obvious point of comparison is Sun Ra's Arkestra (in particular Comet Kohoutek, also a live record with vocals) and the Ensemble's conceptions are both less arresting, and less inventive. Thus, extending each tune to twenty minutes (there are two side-long cuts) invites more blather - Bass's ad libs grow particularly desperate by the middle of "How Strange" - than brilliance. On the other hand, the Ensemble's reliance on acoustic instruments sidesteps Sun Ra's more self-consciously oddball moments, allowing for gorgeous brass/drums interplay toward the end of "Horn Web" - Famoudou Don Moye plays within standard jazz timekeeping parameters, which apparently renders him anathema to free jazz fans but gives someone like me a way to grasp what the band is trying to achieve. (DBW)

Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Les Stances A Sophie (1970)
As a film soundtrack - recorded shortly after the previous album - this naturally consists of shorter pieces, apart from "Theme Libre," where the group stretches out in more typical fashion. They're also punchier ("Theme De Celine"), by and large: "Theme De Yoyo," with a repeated blues-based horn line and couplets from Bass, is strikingly un-avant garde, and oddly enough it became perhaps the group's best-known tune; "Variations Sur Theme De Monteverdi II" has Bowie soloing conventionally over walking bass, but haunted by two ghostly flutes. When they stick to their experimental ethos - which is most of the time - they still convey a wide range of moods (the contemplative "Proverbes I"), making this an approachable introduction to the Ensemble though it's far from typical. (DBW)

B'shnorkestra, Go To Orange (2013)
An alternative chamber orchestra led by Seattle-based trumpeter/composer Samantha Boshnack, I wouldn't necessarily classify this as jazz, except that Boshnack also leads two jazz bands (Reptet and Sam Boshnack Quintet). There's little improvisation (apart from a wild sax solo on "Skarkiselk"), which is unusual jazzwise though hardly unprecedented - Monk's "Crepescule With Nellie" is a well known chamber piece - and When solos do occur, they're woven into the fabric of the tune ("La Noche Negra," an uneven Latin pastiche). In some ways Boshnack's arrangements remind me of movie scores - partly because her use of scraped, half-strangled strings recalls Bernard Herrmann (at least when she's not ranging into folk and country western), but mostly because the ebb and flow of tension and release don't fit pop parameters ("Move" slinks off with its tail between its legs, just when you're expecting a crescendo) - though with none of the background-ness that implies. Drummer Greg Campbell plays a major role in keeping the disparate instrumental lines from flying off into space, keeping them in orbit around a central pulse ("Zim"). All four tunes from the 2011 Live At Ranier Valley Cultural Center EP (the group's first gig) are reinterpreted, and while that recording hints at the strength of the concept, they've taken large steps forward. The execution is masterful - every piece and every part is exquisitely rendered - and the project combines ambition with playfulness ("B'shultimate"). So although a few bits may be too clever for their own good (the clashing rhythms undercutting R&B horn lines on "Move"; the intentionally straight-laced "Symposium"), on the whole the album is as rewarding as it is risk-taking. (DBW)

Alex Bellegarde Quartet, Caminando (2006)
Montreal is crawling with jazz musicians, and acoustic bassist Bellegarde beat them all out for a 2005 composition award at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. All the tunes here are his, based on Cuban rhythms. Helping out are Cuban pianist Yoël Diaz, whose astonishing classicist technique ("Native") reminds me of Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Cuban congüero Orlando Lavielle. Adding more standard post-bop flavor are alto saxophonist Erik Hove (playing in a harsh Trane-ish idiom) and drummer Yvon Plouffe. Apart from a couple of features ("Driving On A Rainy Night"), Bellegarde is content to stay on the sidelines most of the time (I saw him playing as a duo with Hove, and he was much more outfront) but he continually prods the band forward with concise, muscular figures (title track). The focus here is on the compositions, and they're tasty and distinct, from the lively take on timba "La Vaca" to the laid-back "Native" to straight jazz numbers like "A Blues Or Not" and "Got Lip." While so many jazz numbers are just a bunch of notes thrown over the chord chart, Bellegarde always starts with a memorable theme: "Timba Time" is one of the catchiest things I've heard in years, with a lithe melody and fun, frisky playing all around. (DBW)

Matt Belzer's Connections (2005)
Saxophonist Belzer is working with a full quartet this time - Jon Ozment (keys), Drew Waters (bass), and Scott Tiemann (drums) - after a 2004 album with just Tiemann. He also multi-tracks himself (on flute and clarinet) to thicken up the mix further ("Deep Focus"). Again, his music is challenging, with stop-on-a-dime syncopation and enormous melodic leaps, and a lot of fun ("Misfit The Second"). The other players are sharp (Ozment's comping is particularly fine), so if I enjoy the duo record more, it's because the full band sound is less striking and more conventional:: the ballad "The Ember Waltz" is ordinary, though "Tinjitu" is a plush, R&B-influenced groove that I enjoy more than most of the acerbic fragmentation ("No Blues On Mars (It's All Red)"). No covers this time; produced by Belzer. (DBW)

Andrea Brachfeld/Phoenix Rising, Remembered Dreams (2000)
Flautist/composer Andrea Brachfeld cut her teeth in Latin bands like Charanga '76, though she also has classical training and plenty of jazz experience. This independently-released CD reflects those influences, eight tunes written by Brachfeld that range from reflective mood pieces ("Mojivin Sun") to swinging Latin jazz ("Le Metro J"). The end result is an album that's soothing, but with enough energy and variety that it's never boring. All the compositions are solid ("Quatemala's Dance"), tuneful and pleasant, if not always memorable ("Latin Sunset" is based on such familiar themes it almost sounds like a standard). Several of the pieces are engaging mini-suites: the title track shifts smoothly from quiet contemplation (aided by light touches of synth) to rip-roaring salsa, while "Osiana" changes from stratospheric lyricism to funky jazz, and back again. Brachfeld's tone is clear and confident, though I have to admit I find the flute too limited in tonal variety to really hold its own as a lead instrument, except in the hands of José Luis Cortés. There are two alternating backup bands, both extremely competent: pianists Bob Quaranta and Taurey Butler, bassists Lincoln Goines (positively empathic on "Afra Jade") and Kip Reed, drummers Kim Plainfield and Karl Lathiam, and percussionists Louis Bauzo and Chuggy Carter. (DBW)

Andrea Brachfeld, Lotus Blossom (2015)
Over the past twenty years (and half a dozen albums I haven't heard yet), Brachfeld has moved squarely into mainstream jazz, covering "What A Little Moonlight Can Do" and not one but two Strayhorn standards (title track). She sounds completely at home there, brimming over with brio as well as ideas: her marvelous technique ("Conception") is always used in service of the song's mood, from the pensive "If I Love Again" to the scorching "Changin' Up." Generally acoustic post-bop, but Brachfield mixes it up a bit, venturing into New Orleans second line on Herbie Mann's "Memphis Underground" (where she makes dramatic use of the piccolo's sky-high range) and doesn't completely supress her Latin side ("Queen Girl"). The backing musicians - Bill O'Connell (piano), Rufus Reid (who literally wrote the book on bass), Winard Harper (drums) - ride all these changes with sensitivity and aplomb ("A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing," which never drifts though the intensity level waxes and wanes). If, like me, you're usually wary of jazz vocalists, don't worry: not only is guest Nancy Harms tasteful on the opening and closing of "There Was A Time" (not the James Brown"> number), the tune kicks into thrilling high gear in between. So far so good, but the area where modern jazz albums usually run into trouble - the original compositions - is a particular strong point for Brachfeld, as each of her songs is not only memorable but has its own character ("This Is"). Fine as her taste in standards is, I'm hoping for a few more originals on the next one. (DBW)

Kenny Burrell, Kenny Burrell (1960)
Burrell plays mild jazz guitar, backed by the well-mannered rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. Cecil Payne adds some flair on baritone sax, but the record remains an average (at best) bop record. The tunes are mostly by Burrell ("Don't Cry Baby") and very conventional, plus one standard (Cole Porter's "All Of You") and Bud Powell's "Strictly Confidential." (DBW)

Frank Butrey, Malicious Delicious (2009)
A prodigiously gifted guitarist and composer, Butrey has so much to say he has trouble staying on one topic: on the opening "Boisterous Voicesterous" (yeah, I know) Butrey starts with frisky, clean comping recalling Stanley Jordan, moves though turgid Mahavishnuisms, then generates Fripp-like soundscapes behind solos from Clifton Kellem (bass) and Tony Wyatt (drums). And the album's the same way, deftly swinging through funk fusion ("Dodges, Denials And Delays," with terrific bass from former Root Leonard Hubbard), sunny acoustic picking ("Nieces And Nephews"), acerbic, Holdsworthian heroics ("This End Up"), and some straightforward small-combo jazz ("Dimitri, Birks And Dewey"). Miraculously, it stays cogent, because the the individual themes are distinctive (title track) and fully realized, transitioning without evident stitch marks. And if you're a Bucketheadhead, Butrey has many of the same strengths but with a jazz orientation: through all the quick changes, the rhythm section always stays in the pocket. (DBW)

Paul Carr, Musically Yours (2008)
Out of my element once again, I'm trying to review a tribute to tenor sax giant Joe Henderson even though I'm barely familiar with his work. Anyway, Carr is a polished tenor player and composer, and he's assembled a crack band - Terell Stafford, trumpet; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Michael Bowie, bass; Lewis Nash, drums - to tackle five Henderson tunes plus three standards and two originals ("Classroom Agenda"). Carr achieves a good balance between precise ensemble work (title track) and wide-open soloing, winding up with a dramatic unaccompanied version of Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now." Henderson's compositions are hard to pigeonhole, using basic bop building blocks to engage a range of emotions from the lighthearted "Mamacita" to the love song "Y Todavia La Quiero" to the awe-inspiring "Black Narcissus," and the band finds the heart of each. The tribute accomplishes a dual mission: after listening to this, you'll want to hear more of Henderson and more from Carr. (DBW)

Terri Lyne Carrington, Real Life Story (1989)
A session drummer with very good connections, Carrington's solo effort is packed with talent: Patrice Rushen plays keyboards on almost every track; sax players include Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington Jr., Gerald Albright and Greg Osby; Carlos Santana, John Scofield and Hiram Bullock on guitar, plus Don Alias on drums and Dianne Reeves adds backing vocals. Albright shines on his feature, a cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird," and Santana's contributions on "Human Revolution" are pleasant though routine for him. But the star of the album is bassist Keith Jones, consistently centered and exploratory. The tunes are mostly Carrington originals, and they're far too cool for my taste: both instrumentals ("Pleasant Dreams") and Carrington's vocal features ("More Than Woman") are unpreposessing and bland. The most lively and enjoyable tracks are the shortest: "Skeptic Alert" is an angular excerpt from a jam by Carrington, Osby and Scofield, and "Obstacle Illusion," co-written and co-performed by Carrington and Rushen, is unpredictable and full of ideas. (Rushen's other composition, "Shhh," has the gentleness of her usual work but not the fire.) Worth a listen just for the contemporary jazz star power, but nothing to hunt down. (DBW)

Ron Carter, Anything Goes (1976)
Ron Carter's a fantastic acoustic bass player and an able composer, but here he's on electric bass, playing bland samba-tinged fusion. The title tune, by Cole Porter, is pretty silly, but the low point is a rendition of "Baretta's Theme." The band includes a horde of prominent session cats: Eric Gale on guitar, the Brecker brothers on horns, Hubert Laws on flute, David Sanborn and Phil Woods on alto sax, and Ralph MacDonald on percussion (I guess Paulinho Da Costa was tied up). (DBW)

Greg Chako, Paint A Picture, Tell A Story (2007)
Singapore-based guitarist Greg Chako is well-versed in a variety of jazz forms, but rather than trying to blow you away with his facility he's content to serve up one unpretentious, carefully constructed song after another. He moves so smoothly from sophisticated ballad ("With Full Heart And Teary Eyes") through TOP-style groove ("What 'Da Funk") to hard bop ("Cycles"), both originals ("Marilyn's Dilemma") and covers ("The End Of A Love Affair"), the multiplicity of approaches always feels natural. In fact, my only problem with the disc is that everything's so smooth it sometimes verges on 70s-y fusion overproduction ("Hurry Up And Wait") - if it weren't quite so professional it might be more rousing. The band includes well-knowns - Don Byron; Delfeayo Marsalis - and relative unknowns - teenage percussionist Jayagowtham - and each finds his own way into the tunes without dominating the narrative. "Murtabop" is the best example of Chako pulling these threads together, opening and closing with a Trane circa '65-like dramatic crescendo, while in between it's a mellow but insistent bop theme backed by an Indian drum called a mridangam (though it sounds like tabla to the untrained ear). (DBW)

LaVerne Christie Trio, East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon (2007)
I often stay away from guitar-led jazz trios, especially ones that play a lot of standards, because they tend to be well-meaning and well-trained, but overly restrained, risk-averse and colorless. But Christie has guts as well as chops - she plays like a hard bop horn player, in all the good ways - and makes an original statement no matter how familiar the tune is (Monk's "Well You Needn't"; Hancock's "Dolphin Dance"). Though the band members didn't write any of the songs, some are fairly obscure (Gerry Mulligan's "Line For Lyons") and they draw from a variety of eras (Charlie Parker's "My Little Suede Shoes"; "Stardust") to avoid any whiff of staleness. And while the mood is generally boisterous the trio doesn't shy away from tenderness on the ballads (Sammy Cahn's "Be My Love"). (DBW)

Stanley Clarke, School Days (1976)
Clarke's got bass technique to burn, on both acoustic and electric, and he flourished in the technique-worshipping 70s, but nowadays his catalog makes pretty thin listening. If Return To Forever's music was needlessly inaccessible, Clarke (RTF's bassist) goes to the other extreme in his solo work, with mindless riff tunes (title track, "Life Is Just A Game" with George Duke) that would disgrace the average heavy metal band. The changes of pace ("Quiet Afternoon") are no more substantial, as Clarke repeatedly emphasizes his fleet fingers rather than melodic invention. The format is guitar (Raymond Gomez and Icarus Johnson)/bass/drums (Gerry Brown and Steve Gadd), with infrequent keyboard intrusions (David Sancious), and though the guitarists usually occupy center stage, the crisp drumming is the highlight ("The Dancer"). The one acoustic track is the rambling semi-improvisation "Desert Song" featuring John McLaughlin and percussionist Milt Holland. I've managed to lose my copy of Clarke's Journey To Love (1975), but it's similarly weak, though a Jeff Beck guest shot does liven things up a jot. (DBW)

Stanley Clarke, Hideaway (1986)
By the late Reagan era, everyone was reaching for tranquilizers, and Clarke served up some mushy synth-based EZ listening jazz (title track, "My Love Her Inspiration") and drippy vocal ballads ("Where Do We Go" sung by Angela Bofill; "I'm Here To Stay" co-written and sung by Larry Graham in his "One In A Million You" mode). Stanley Jordan pops up on Stevie Wonder's ballad "Overjoyed," and it's still muzak, though he makes it more pleasant. Clarke tries to toughen up on a couple of tracks with programmed drums ("Listen To The Beat Of Your Heart" featuring Bernard Jackson imitating Michael Jackson), but it's so clinical there's no impact - worse yet, he resurrects the boneheaded funk stylings of School Days on "Old Friends." A bunch of high-powered players are wasted: Stewart Copeland and Herbie Hancock stick to the lame groove of "The Boys Of Johnson Street"; Pat Leonard and Alan Pasqua pile on dull synth layers; Paul Jackson Jr. plays toothless variations on his usual rhythm guitar style. The silver lining is, the record is so infuriatingly banal you may be roused to smash the musical-industrial complex. (DBW)

Alex Clements, Waiting For You... (2007)
It's easy to be knocked out by the explosive sounds of a McCoy Tyner, but the subtle charms of an Alex Clements can take a bit more time to appreciate. Initially his quartet may seem a bit too laid back or tentative - almost cocktail music - but keep listening and you'll find yourself carried away by the melodicism (title track). Alain Bradette has a liquid tone on both soprano ("Old Balsam") and tenor sax, and fits well with the sedate, moderate groove. Chances to shine are less frequent for drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Chris Queenan ("Emily's Song"), though they are better heard on the rare upbeat tunes ("Blues For GB"). Everything's by Clement except for Bradette's "Mist On The Water" and Gerg Bush's "Nuits De Paris"; at times the tunes are a bit pat ("New Horizons"), but more often they're compelling (the gentle but firm "All I Can Give"). (DBW)

Perry Conticchio, Speak Your Truth (2005)
A ton of tenor sax players approximate John Coltrane's tone, but very few come anywhere near his forcefulness and clarity of purpose. Perry Conticchio does, furiously spewing notes on mind-expanding uptempo tunes (title track), then playing lyrically - but no less intensely - on ballads ("Midnight Rain"). But he's not a clone, with a flowing melodic style of his own; the only spot where the Trane worship gets out of hand is on "PD's Blues," where he whips out the soprano sax to play an uptempo waltz. Eight of the twelve songs are his, and they're solid if not terribly memorable ("November"); he also takes on a couple of standards ("I Can't Get Started"). Though guests Joseph Brotherton (trumpet) and Wayne Wilentz (piano, notably on "Samba Stephania") appear on two cuts each, most of the support is from Conticchio's working quartet - Andrew Elliot Cox (bass), Lawrence "Bubbles" Dean (drums) and Rodney Richardson (guitar). Too much space is turned over to Richardson, who tends to rain rising and falling eighth notes without the dynamics changes, melodic leaps or rhythmic invention that might create some interest ("Blues For Dave"), though he does shine on "Hyperbole." Yes, Conticchio has a web site, thanks for asking. (DBW)

Larry Coryell, Tricycles (2004)
Jazz guitarist Larry Coryell has been around since the mid-60s, but he's never had as high a profile as other fusion pioneers like John McLaughlin or George Benson. Which is a shame, because as this trio date - recorded in Germany - shows, he's a remarkable talent, shifting smoothly from laid-back decorative fills to head-spinning licks and mobile chord shapes ("Good Citizen Swallow") with no taint of self-conscious flash. Most of the material is by Coryell, though bassist Marc Egan contributes the title track and there are three covers: Monk's "'Round Midnight" and "Well You Needn't," and a solo acoustic version of Beatles's "She's Leaving Home." In his liner notes, Coryell singles out the jointly written "Three Way Split" as the highlight, but to me it's the only subpar tune on the disc, an chaotic scramble that must've been more fun to play than it is to hear. Egan covers all the bases, supplying a steady foundation when necessary, holding rock-solid vamps ("Dragon Gate"), then floating on fretless, Jaco-style (title track); drummer Paul Wertico only gets one brief solo ("Spaces Revisited"), and adds backing that's tasteful if not startling. Apparently, Coryell's 60s and 70s work is tough to find, because he worked with a huge variety of bands on small, neglected labels, but I'll be looking for it. (DBW)

Roxy Coss (2010)
A young wind player from Seattle, Coss won a bunch of scholarships and awards in school, so you'd expect her to be highly skilled - and she is, with rapid, unforced precision on tenor and soprano sax, and flute. You might expect her to be rooted in a textbook bop idiom - and she's that as well, leading a quintet (augmented by guitarist Ryan Brennan on several numbers) with midpaced, melancholy echoes of late 50s Miles Davis (Kate Miller's trumpet blending smoothly with the leader). But you probably wouldn't expect her to play with the unassuming clarity and wise restraint of an oldtimer with nothing to prove ("Wandering One"). Some cockiness shows in her song selection - all by Coss, not a standard in sight - and she's not shy about claiming solo space (a flute tour de force on the Latin jazz "A New Time") but there's no grandstanding, no wasted notes. The rhythm section (bassist Kellen Harrison and drummer/engineer Shawn Baltazor) stays in the background; pianist Justin Kauflin was a bit too mellow for the room, his Rhodes comping often calling to mind Bob James's Taxi theme. Though Coss is fluid on each instrument, she communicates best on tenor: during "Lately" and "July" I plumb forgot I was listening to a record, swept away on the emotional journey. The melodies aren't striking ("The Slow Ascent" is probably the most memorable), but Coss is about creating moods, not planting earworms, and whether she picked that up in school, or somewhere else, or was born with it, I'm glad she's sharing. I caught a different version of the Quintet live and reviewed the show here. (DBW)

Roxy Coss, Restless Idealism (2016)
A longer break between albums than I was hoping for, but the good news is the tunes are all Coss originals, and the better news is they're as powerful as the last batch ("The Story Of Fiona"). From the opening "Don't Cross The Coss" - a Parkerian Rhythm Changes head, with Jeremy Pelt guesting on trumpet - there's a crisper approach than the often dreamy debut. The band digs in to the straight-ahead vibe, particularly Willie Jones III (drums) and Chris Pattishall (piano) ("Push"), and even in the reflective moments you sense their readiness to kick it back into high gear. Further changing the texture, most of the disc has no other horn, with guitarist Alex Wintz stepping up to fill the melodic function. Despite the changes, Coss retains her enviable ability to evoke moods ("Waiting," smooth yet slightly unsettling). (DBW)

Roxy Coss, Chasing The Unicorn (2017)
Since a second album is often called a sophomore release, would that make this a junior release? In any case, Coss has two complementary agenda items this time out, trying a more freewheeling approach to composition while putting more emphasis on her playing than her writing. As part of that plan, she includes covers for the first time: jazz classics like Wayne Shorter's "Virgo" but also Willie Nelson's "Crazy" and McCartney's "Oh! Darling." As someone who listens to music mostly for the compositions, this development isn't exactly up my alley, though I will say Coss displays a broader range of approaches, e.g. letting it rip on Joe Henderson's "A Shade Of Jade," and as before her melodic statements are forceful and her solos are inventive ("Endless Cycle"). Though I'm a bit bummed Coss isn't playing flute these days it is nice to hear her on the oft-neglected bass clarinet (the multi-tracked title cut). A new band apart from Wintz: Glenn Zaleski (piano), Rick Rosato (bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums). (DBW)

Matt Criscuolo, Lotus Blossom (2005)
If it sometimes seems that everyone in jazz either plays fiery hard bop or wimpy elevator music, here's something in between. Bronx-bred alto saxophonist Criscuolo knows the difference between mellow and mushy, and he completely avoids the latter no matter how slow the tempo gets. From the opening Billy Strayhorn tune (title track), the mood is gentle but firm, never overdone. The rest of the band - Larry Willis (piano), Steve Davis (trombone), Phil Bowler (bass), Eric McPherson (drums) and Ray Mantilla (percussion) - is down with the program, eschewing overplaying without falling victim to timidity. Willis is the most prominent soloist apart from the leader, and he delivers (the standard "Everything I Have Is Yours"), so that the most stretched-out numbers never seem too long ("Julian's Pencil"). Most of the tunes are originals, and they're striking, whether they're brisk ("To Wisdom The Prize"; "The Big Push," with an offhanded melodicism that makes it sound like a standard) or laid-back ("Song For Kerry"). Get more info at his site. (DBW)

Luis Diaz Quintet, On The Edge (1996)
Powerhouse acoustic jazz with a strong Latin component, the band is clearly inspired by Eddie Palmieri (there's even a tune called "Palmieri's Mood" featuring his cohort Brian Lynch) but is far from derivative. Pianist Rick Germanson shows extraordinary invention and range, pounding the keys into oblivion on the swinging numbers (title track), but playing tenderly on the jazz standard "When I Fall In Love"; bassist Jim Paolo likewise is equally at home providing a slow, funky foundation on Horace Silver's "Safari" or leaping all over the fretboard on "Palmieri's Mood." Trumpeter Mike Flog wrote most of the originals (including the lovely "Ballad For Lynn") and plays compact, melodic solos, and drummer David Bayles backs everything up with a disarming light touch. In fact, the band member making the smallest audible contribution is the leader/producer, percussionist Diaz, whose work on congas is solid but unsurprising. Then again, why show off when your band is this solid? Endlessly listenable; one hopes the Quintet is still working and recording together. (DBW)

Rob Diener & Anomaly, Some Assembly Required (2006)
There are a zillion groups that put jazz horns over a funk rhythm section, but none of them sound like Diener's combo (hence the name, I expect). Much of the credit goes to the tunes - guitarist Marty Bonk wrote everything except the standard "Bye Bye Blackbird" - which are continually off-kilter without ever losing hold of reality ("A Musical Salute To Iceland (Our Friends To The North)"). Often the horns are arranged into tightly interwoven lines that sound almost like collective improvisation to pleasing effect ("Pop-Bop"; "The Three Brothers (From A Dysfunctional Family)"). And Bonk's no mean soloist, either ("Mikey's House"). But I have praise left over for Diener, who produced in addition to laying down nifty solos ("From The Heart," an evocative ballad), and the rest of the band (the bar blues "Scooter And Stretch" features wailing sax from Chris Heslop). Weak link is "Ode To Husqvarna," a nice tune that unfortunately spotlights a cheesy keyboard tone from Mike Grossman and a lengthy, overly mechanical drum solo from Paul Gallello. (DBW)

Sean Driscoll Group, Islands (1998)
Extremely competent lite jazz that nonetheless never really grabs your attention. Hailing from Boston, Driscoll (guitarist/songwriter) is quite good at what he does - creating soothing soundscapes with just enough melody to not be mistaken for New Age - and his solo lines (free of any bends, effects or distortion) are perfectly fluid. Saxophonist Bill Vint's tone is Sanborn-smooth, but is just too bland to be the featured instrument on track after track ("Where We're From"). Keyboardist (and co-producer, with Driscoll) Patrik Andrén doesn't solo often, though when he does it's usually worth hearing ("Bright Spot"). The rhythm section - Carlos Sanoja (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums), Doug Hinrichs (percussion) - is even more mild-mannered. There's a place for music that's pleasant, unchallenging and unthreatening: a dentist's office. On my turntable, I expect more, but this could definitely help you relax at the end of the day. The opening "Half Circle, Half Square" is the only track with significant energy - one hopes the band will continue in this direction. Musician picked this group as a winner of its "Best Unsigned Band" competition; you can find this disc through the band's web page. (DBW)

Candy Dulfer, Sax-A-Go-Go (1993)
And if you think that's a dumb title, her previous album was called Saxuality. This is derivative faux funk fusion, with absolutely no personality; even the Prince-penned "Saturday Afternoon" is boring. There's nothing the matter with Dulfer's technique (she plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone), but her interpretations are strictly by the book. Most of the album is written, produced and performed by Ulco Bed; the JB Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley & Pee Wee Ellis) drop in on "Jamming," easily the album's high point. (DBW)

José Duque's Zumbatres, Far Away (2006)
Who knew Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was home to a quality Latin jazz band? Venezuelan-born percussionist/leader Duque wrote all nine tunes, and while most of them are fairly lively ("Rumbatres"), he shows a talent for sensitive but not sappy ballad composition on the dreamy verse section of "Far Away." At the same time, the tunes can be lacking in originality ("El Gato Enmo" sounds a lot like "Nature Boy" - until the acid jazz "Chill Out" outro, at least). Pianist Dan Shure has a sure hand on the salsa vamps, and is equally deft as a soloist, where he comes out of a more-or-less straight jazz bag. While the acoustic bass can get buried in Latin jazz, the lack of a horn section and Duque's light touch leaves room for Nate Therrien to be heard, and he claims his space without showboating. Electric guitarist Phil Sargent plays in the Wes Montgomery-inspired style of eighth notes in a steady cadence and unvarying tone; it's not my cup of tea but he's up to standard. The disc comes with three live performances as bonus tracks; the band (Sargent especially) really shines on "Gathering In Blue") though they get a bit lost on the ensemble sections of "Danilo." Find out more at Duque's web site. (DBW)

Gene Ess, Sandbox And Sanctum (2005)
Subtitled "Song Cycle For Quartet," and the compositions live up to the pretensions. Ess plays sedate, uneffected, laid-back jazz guitar - in other words, the kind of jazz guitar I don't usually like - but his tunes are robust, and captivating ("Ryo," which alternates between slow lyrical lines and zippy riffs). Not to mention varied: the band ranges from uptempo improvisation over walking bass ("Free 2 Fast") to classical-style guitar ("Ballad For A Swordsman") to the measured, near-R&B groove of "Kerama Professional" without a false step. Well, you might consider the lengthy pseudo-Trane "Baptisma Pyros," based on an endlessly repeated ascending scale, a misstep. Saxophonist Donny McCaslin makes up the bulk of the solo space on tenor and soprano ("Sun Matsuri"); Harvie S (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums) are quite active (see "Noh Country") but in supporting roles. Self-produced; upcoming gigs and more info at Gene's site. (DBW)

Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion, The Magician (2007)
I don't want to say Bronx-born session conguero extraordinaire Sammy Figueroa is getting older, but he's moved to Miami and started playing jazz. Just kidding: Figueroa has done jazz sessions since the beginning of his career, though he's better known for salsa and pop, and he hasn't retired to Florida by any means: he leads two bands and frequently plays live (I recently reviewed a show by his other group, the horn-free Cal Tjader tribute Sally's Tomato). The Latin Jazz Explosion is a small combo with more empasis on the jazz than the Latin: the horn players get most of the solos, and the arrangements are generally spacious and strolling rather than the tight ensemble playing and crescendos you'd expect of a Puente or Palmieri. Four of the nine tunes are standards (a sharp arrangement of Miles Davis and Victor Feldman's "Seven Steps To Heaven"), all by jazz musicians (Horace Silver's "Gregory Is Here"); there are three originals by bassist Gabriel Vivas ("Festos Do Norte") and two by pianist Silvano Monasterios ("Crossroads," a fine tune that's not coincidentally the most Latinized). Figueroa was never a showboat, but here I wish he'd grabbed a bit more of the limelight: saxophonists John Michaelak and Troy Roberts gobble a lot of solo space and their playing is appropriate but generic. Produced by Rachel Faro and Figueroa. (DBW)

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Left Of Cool (1998)
Béla Fleck is the world's greatest jazz banjoist, which might not sound like much. But actually, his phenomenal speed, broad musical influences, and intelligent musicality have won him endless critical acclaim and steady commercial success over the last two decades. This time around he adds saxophonist Jeff Coffin to his previous trio. I'd love to say that it adds a new dimension to his sound, but I haven't heard his previous records and can't confirm that. What it definitely does do is give the band a reassuringly familiar jazz ambience, which frankly might not be a good thing; Coffin plays with verve, but his own solos are somewhat generic ("Sojourn Of Arjuna"). It doesn't help that when Fleck picks up the electric banjo, it comes out sounding like any old 70s jazz-fusion guitar. Still, though, there's tons of stylistic variety here, not just jazz but ragtime ("Sleeping Dogs Lie"), nutty World Music ("Prelude To Silence"), and even a mellow flavor of raga-rock (the gorgeous instrumental "shanti," with Fleck playing utterly convincing "sitar banjo"). The rest of the band's musicianship is extraordinary - bassist Vic Wooten has awe-inspiring technique and a total command of jazz, funk, and R & B, and he can play the cello; and both he and his brother Future Man are fine vocalists. That matters on the three full-blown pop songs: the mellow jazz ballad "Step Quiet" (with Amy Grant on vocals); the smooth funk-soul number "Let Me Be The One," and the catchy "Communication," with Dave Matthews sharing the vocal (he's also on "Trouble And Strife"). But the music is consistently entertaining even when on the many instrumentals, whether New Agey ("Oddity"; the bluegrass-flavored "Big Country") or jazz-fusion ("Throwdown"; "The Big Blink"). I'm not qualified to say that this is the jazz record of the year, but it sure the hell is a good listen. Produced by Fleck; about half the tunes were co-written by band members. We've reviewed the band's 1998 tour on our concerts page. (JA)

Fourthought (2010)
The quartet led by Manuel Weyand (drums) and Nick Biello (alto/soprano sax) has one weakness: puns ("Rumi-Native"). Their strengths are many, starting with an unapologetic, uncomplicated affection for hard-charging post-bop ("Laurceny" - I warned you about the puns). The forthright approach generates emotional resonance, on the contemplative numbers ("Intercession") as much as on the barn-burners. Another big plus is distinctive compositions ("Arrival"; the extended live sketch "Amethyst"). The one standard, "Green Dolphin Street," sounds equally fresh, with a memorable piano ostinato and a coda featuring laugh-out-loud rhythmic hijinks from Weyand. The solos, you ask? Uniformly expressive and intriguing, never showy: Biello gets most of the solo space and puts it to good use, but the others have their moments as well (bassist Cameron Kayne's limber playing on "Intercession"). (DBW)

Eric Frazier, Find Yourself (Then Find Me) (2004)
It's rare you find a conga player leading a band that doesn't play Latin music, and at times New York-based Frazier is drowned out by horns, piano, or the rest of the rhythm section ("Walk The Walk"). But he wrote, produced, and arranged or co-arranged everything here, so he clearly deserves most of the credit for this pleasant soft-funk excursion, which often has a playful tunefulness reminiscent of Patrice Rushen ("Talking Silly"). The mood is consistent, but the music does stretch a bit, from the pensive "It's All Love" to the Latin-tinged "Bueno Gente" (with Karen Joseph on flute) to the exuberant 40s R&B "Nobody Knows Me." Things do bog down a bit on some songs with Frazier vocals, where he goes too far into arch nightclub hepcatness ("If I Didn't Know"), and a lack of originality permeates the enterprise, but it's a fun listen. The personnel varies, but Danny Mixon (piano), Wayne Jeffery (guitar), Todd Isler (drums) and David Lee Jones and Wayne Escofery (sax) are heard more often than not. Reggie Workman guests on "Don't Get Too Close"; otherwise Eric Lemon is on bass. (DBW)

Terry Gibbs, From Me To You: A Tribute To Lionel Hampton (2002)
Gibbs isn't as famous a vibraphonist as Lionel Hampton or Milt Jackson, but he's been leading bands for decades - Alice MacLeod played piano for him before she became Alice Coltrane - and he's a hell of a player. (He's not much of a singer, though he does essay three numbers here (Ellington's "Ring Dem Bells").) Most of the material is either written by or associated with Hampton ("Flying Home," "Midnight Sun"), plus a few new songs from Gibbs ("Blues For Hamp"), and it's big band swing as played by a small band. Gibbs shines on all his features, from the tender title track up to the lightning-fast "Gates Got Rhythm." The rest of the players don't get much room to spread out, though, aside from Barbara Morrison's vocal on "Evil Gal Blues." The band includes Mike Melvoin (Wendy's dad), piano; Joey DeFrancesco, organ; Anthony Wilson, guitar; Pete Christlieb, tenor sax; Dave Carpenter, bass; and Jeff Hamilton, drums. (DBW)

Benny Golson Group, Remembering Clifford (1998)
Now in his early eighties, tenor sax Benny Golson is one of the few bebop giants still touring, and I'll try to check him out, but I don't think this disc presents him to best advantage. He's perhaps best known for composing "I Remember Clifford" - in memory of short-lived trumpeter Clifford Brown - in the mid-50s. That tune is reworked here as "Brown Immortal," and the album also attempts to capture Brown's spirit in John Swana's trumpet and the band's unscholarly but serious take on hard bop. I wish this hadn't been the first Golson disc I picked up, because Ron Blake is also on tenor and it's hard to tell who's who: I'm assuming Blake's playing the rapid-fire Coltrane-esque lines and Golson's playing the more lyrical solos (the tender "You're The First To Know") but I may be dead wrong. The rhythm section (Mike Ledonne, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums) is too sedate for my taste, but they provide a stable platform for the horns. Tito Puente and Carlos "Patato" Valdes, both appearing on "Tito Puente," are the only guests. Most of the songs are new Golson originals - "Five Spot After Dark" (by Golson), "Lullaby Of Birdland" (by George Shearing) and "Dear Old Stockholm" (traditional) are jazz standards - and they're enjoyable ("Matinee") though I don't hear anything that marks him as a master. (DBW)

Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Though Guaraldi won a Grammy for 1962's Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus, and recorded with such notables as Carl Tjader, he's associated primarily with his work for Peanuts TV specials. This first effort was the most successful, an unlikely mix of West Coast jazz cool and Charles Schulz's Minnesota melancholy that manages to perfectly capture the strip's thoughtful, sweet-sad aesthetic ("Christmas Time Is Here"). The gloom lifts, though, on the crisply swinging "Linus And Lucy," which has become known worldwide as the Charlie Brown theme. In addition to Guaraldi's originals ("Skating"), there are a number of standards ("O Tannenbaum") and a fine, pensive rendition of "Greensleeves." It's brief, and a few tracks have children singing, which jars the mood a bit ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"), but it's still one of the only holiday albums I'm happy to hear out of season. (DBW)

Andreas Hagiioannu, Far & Wide (2006)
I'm not usually a fan of jazz guitar, but that's because most jazz guitarists aren't Andreas Hagiioannu. He plays in the laid-back, Wes Montgomery-influenced style that often bores me, but his rich, warm tone is enchanting, and every note rings true. Similarly, the compositions - all originals - are never groundbreaking, but they're uniformly well constructed: I was sure some of them were standards, not because they were derivative but because they sounded timeless ("Monsieur Reynard"). Hagiioannu is also set apart by finger-picking, which he incorporates into the jazz trio format, and also on several lyrical unaccompanied pieces ("Newborn"). In fact, the guitar-only numbers may be even better than the trio cuts: drummer Alan Savage doesn't contribute much beyond a steady beat, and bassist Dirk Griffin lends strong support but sometimes sounds lost when soloing ("Strange Days"). (DBW)

The Steve Hall Quintet (2005)
West Coast vet Steve Hall is "keeping the Hammond organ, hard-bop tradition alive." Gee, and I thought The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul had a narrowly defined genre. Anyway, he does play hard bop with a bassless, organ-led combo - Cal Hudson (saxes), Richard Watson (trumpet), Peter Schwimmer (guitar) and Kenny Morse (drums) - and they're on the ball. The mellow California sound isn't exactly my bag, though, and the soloists aren't striking: Schwimmer's guitar veers toward faceless jazzbo twiddling, though he busts out some surprising banjo on the otherwise R&B-fusion "What You Say To That?" Watson contributes most of the best solos, with a warm, measured melodicism. The well chosen covers include "Monk's Dream," "Silver's Serenade," Moment's Notice" and Shorter's "Witch Hunt." Many of the originals are middling - they hold your attention while they're on, but no longer - apart from the excellent "On A Scale Of One To Five." (DBW)

Wilbur Harden, Mainstream (1958)
This is a blowing session, given character and foundation by flugelhornist Harden's tunes (mostly stomping blues), and lifted by John Coltrane's frenetic soloing, from his "sheets of sound" period. The other musicians are Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. The CD I have is retitled Countdown by Coltrane and Harden, and includes a number of alternate takes and one composition ("Countdown") not featured on Mainstream at all - if you can find this configuration, it's worth another half-star. (DBW)

Bill Hart, Subject To Change (2008)
Atlanta guitarist Bill Hart is a very proficient student of Jeff Beck circa 1976, imitating every tonal shading and effect (the controlled dives on "You're Next"; ending phrases on an upward bend on "On My Way Home") over fairly loud, somewhat funky fusion backing ("Look Out For June"). If you're going to rip someone off - and let's face it, almost every musician is - Beck's a great starting point. The problem is, Hart doesn't bring much of himself to the mix, so eventually the album sounds like a pastiche ("You're Next"). Also, Hart's melodic invention isn't outstanding, so he doesn't hold your attention on the mellower fare ("Jim Gilligan"; the acoustic "Sara's Song"). He does come up with a couple of tense, memorable compositions, though - "Canadese Africano" - and the faster numbers are invigorating if not exactly original ("Loose Gravel"). Most tracks feature the very sharp Enrico Galetta on bass and Tony Night on drums, though a bunch have those respective positions filled by Gary Wilkins and either Jef Van Veen or Charles Marvray. Mike Stern guests on "What Are You Doing" and "This Is Why." Self-produced. (DBW)

Bruce A. Henry, Connections (2004)
Twin Cities jazz singer Bruce Henry tackles everything from blues ("House Of The Rising Sun") to show tunes (Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Sound Of Music") to modal bop (Coltrane's "Equinox," with words by Gil Scott Heron) to fusion (Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay"). Don't answer yet, you also get a Quiet Storm reading of Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood" and a rousing ride through Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" (also famously recorded by Trane). The instrumentation ranges from mandolin and violin ("Moon") to rhythm section and sax ("Equinox") and all the way to full horn section ("Darker Brother/I Too Sing America"). He even finds room for some originals - the downbeat meditation "Africa Cries"; the similarly slow "Moon" - and the music for "Darker Brother" (words by Langston Hughes). The one significant misstep is the jive swing version of Earth, Wind & Fire's hard funk "Mighty Mighty." So, okay, he's got taste, but can he sing? Well, his warm baritone is capable and flexible, but I have to admit it doesn't really grab me: his delivery is so smooth it doesn't convey much personality. Then again, I'm not a big fan of jazz vocals in the first place, so if you're looking for an updated version of, say, Herb Jeffries, Henry's your man. Though Henry holds the spotlight, some of the large cast gets to shine: some of the more notable are pianist Sean Turner ("Rising Sun"), saxophonist Michael Lewis ("Equinox") and Larry Carlton-like guitarist Dean Magraw ("Africa Cries"). Most tunes were arranged by keyboardist Adi Yeshaya; bassist Anthony Cox arranged "Red Clay." Self-produced. (DBW)

Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side Of John Coltrane (1996)
There have been several album-length Thelonious Monk tributes by Latin bands, so Eddie Palmieri's trombonist Conrad Herwig figured he'd do the same for John Coltrane. Difference is, Monk's off-kilter melodic lines and unpredictable changes are tailor-made for swinging polyrhythmic reinterpretation, and Trane's intense harmonic explorations aren't. Herwig's attempts to demonstrate a connection fall flat: adding santería vocalist Milton Cardona to Trane's "A Love Supreme" doesn't make any musical sense, while the Latin percussion on slow tunes like "Naima" just sounds jive. Still, the musicianship is good enough that the record's worth hearing anyway: "Blue Train" is pure blues-based Latin jazz with nothing Trane-like about it, but Ronnie Cuber's baritone sax solo and Palmieri's usual fierce piano backing are top notch; Herwig's flexible playing throughout is fascinating. Palmieri turns up on three tracks, and most of his band appears; otherwise, the most notable guest is Dave Valentín, who contributes flute to the lengthy "Afro-Blue" (by Mongo Santamaria - all the other tunes are by Coltrane). Produced by Bob Belden and Herwig. (DBW)

Andrew Hill, Point Of Departure (1964)
Chicago-born pianist Andrew Hill released a stream of 1960s LPs on Blue Note, and they've achieved high critical regard though they didn't make a huge splash on initial release. This is the only one I've heard, but it seems clear that Hill's easier to appreciate in hindsight because he's something of a missing link between Herbie Hancock (rooted in jazz tradition but with tendrils reaching out every which way) and Cecil Taylor (pure free jazz, with few audible antecedents). He shifts casually from chart-based soloing to impressionistic statements that bear no evident musical relationship to the underlying tune, and unlike Taylor, Hill is more laid-back than fiery, so even when his playing is furthest out it doesn't call attention to that fact. On this date, Hill's compatriots include both widely respected mainstream talents (drummer Tony Williams, tenor Joe Henderson, trumpeter Kenny Dorham) and experimentalists who, shall we say, divided audience opinion (Eric Dolphy on alto, flute and bass clarinet; bassist Richard Davis). At times it's an uneasy blend (Dolphy's abstruse solo when the rhythm section is at its most conventional on "New Monastery"; "Spectrum" lurches to a halt before abruptly launching into a recapitulation), at others it's a bracing brew of disparate emotions ("Flight 19," which sounds like two songs played simultaneously but in a good way). As fascinating as much of this is from a historical perspective, though, I have to confess that I don't find the compositions anywhere near as gripping or memorable as contemporaneous works by Hancock, Dolphy or Shorter (to say nothing of Monk, Davis and Coltrane). I have the 1999 remaster with three alternate takes, and as usual it's nice to have both: Dolphy's effusive solo stands out on the originally released take of the contemplative "Dedication," while the alternate sports extraordinary turns from Joe Henderson and the leader. (DBW)

David Hines, Nebula (2005)
In the high-energy 70s fusion tradition of Return To Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra, and while it would probably be a better use of my time to review those pioneering artists, this is a pleasant diversion. Bassist Hines wrote all the tunes, and they're sophisticated, keeping well clear of worn-out funk vamping; he's also a highly accomplished soloist ("No Loops"). There's one nod to Cool Jazz, the classical guitar-enhanced, fretless bass-underpinned "Lucia"; otherwise, they stick to the uptempo program. The problem I have with the disc is the same problem I usually have with 70s fusion: the compositions are clever but not memorable, and too often the frenetic note fusillades don't add up to much... I'd gladly trade some proficiency for more raw feeling. Also, the arrangements are low on variety apart from the title track, where keyboardist/producer Steve Hunt pours out Jan Hammer-y synth lines, then switches to acoustic piano for the fade. The only guest is Allan Holdsworth, who adds his usual rapid-fire soloing to "Skippy" and "Antillia." (DBW)

The Pamela Hines Trio, Drop 2 (2006)
Massachusetts-based pianist Pamela Hines has a strong, deft tone on uptempo bop ("East Of The Sun"), and can bring the same authority to time-worn standards (Van Heusen/Burke's "It Can Happen To You") or slower numbers (title track). Standup bassist John Lockwood ably uses the space afforded him by the trio format, building some exciting solos ("This Can't Be Love"), and drummer Bob Guilotti is an able timekeeper ("The Boy Next Door"). However, Hines turns over almost half her album to corny kitsch: there are two numbers (both self-penned) with grating, jive vocals by April Hall ("Green Line"), and the disc opens with an unconscionably slow, Muzak-y rendition of the Beatles' "I Will." Hines has a lot of talent, but I have a suspicion that you'll be able to hear it better on other releases. (DBW)

Allan Holdsworth, Atavachron (1985)
One of the premier guitarists straddling the line between prog rock and jazz, Allan Holdsworth has a complicated discography I know next to nothing about. This much I can tell you: he's a remarkable player and well worth hearing. However, I'm not really sure if this is the place to start. It does deliver plenty of his two signature motifs: astounding rapid riffery ("Non Brewed Condiment") and soothing background noises generated on his "synthaxe" (basically a synthesizer that looks and feels like a guitar). There's also a guest spot by Tony Williams ("Looking Glass"), and the rhythm section is quite competent (Jimmy Johnson, bass; Gary Husband, drums) if predictable in an early 80s jazz-fusion way. But everything falls apart on two tunes featuring the incredibly annoying synth drum player Chad Wackerman. "The Dominant Plague" has one of the stronger melodies on the record, but the combination of Wackerman's random palette of artifical percussive tones and Holdsworth's equally artificial-sounding synth lines renders it a piece of period shtick. When Wackerman shows up later, it's to interrupt the otherwise deadly serious vocal-plus-synth meditation "All Our Yesterdays" (featuring the icy soprano Rowanne Mark) with an interlude of completely distracting noise making. But Holdsworth's such a jaw-dropping technician that I don't regret having bought the thing. Produced by Holdsworth. Billy Childs and Alan Pasqua split the keyboard duties. (JA)

Freddie Hubbard, Red Clay (1970)
This is the best marriage I've heard of 60s jazz and R&B styles: solid drumming (by Lenny White, later with Return To Forever) and bass vamps (credit Ron Carter), with plenty of space left open for solos. The title track is a masterpiece, starting with the free blowing Hubbard had contributed to John Coltrane's Ascension, then shifts to a loping tune that manages to be funky and smooth at the same time. The other tracks explore the synthesis in different ways, sometimes shifting between bop and R&B in short order. Hubbard's soloing is beautifully melodic and rhythmic; Herbie Hancock is on hand, dishing out rhythm guitar-like accompaniment on electric piano (and occasionally organ), although the instrument's lack of dynamic range seems to impede his soloing. Joe Henderson also wails on tenor sax. (DBW)

Freddie Hubbard, MMTC: Monk, Miles, Trane & Cannon (1995)
Who could possibly diss this record, with one acknowledged jazz legend paying tribute to four more? Well, it's actually a rather predictable hard bop set: one tune each by Monk, Miles Davis, Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, and one tribute to each written by Hubbard. The new compositions are pleasant homages ("One Of A Kind" for Miles is the most forceful) but that's all they are, which goes for the standards too: "Naima" is taken at a faster tempo, but the rest aren't reinterpreted at all ("Off Minor"). The young band is Vincent Herring, Javon Jackson and Gary Smulyan (saxes), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Stephen Scott (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Carl Allen (drums), and they're more than competent (particularly the rhythm section) but so respectful of the leader that they don't add much of their own personality to the proceedings. Most people considering buying the record will already have so many better recordings by all five giants of jazz that there's not much point in getting this one too. (DBW)

The Intention (2005)
On paper, this Syracuse jazz lounge duo - Mark Nanni, vocals and piano; David Salce, drums - sounds unforgivably twee: a set of hoary, corny tunes ("Hello, Dolly" - I'm serious) played perfectly straight, with a variety of guests making the sound even more old-timey (Joe Davoli adds mandolin to "All Of Me"). Which makes it all the more impressive that the album is not only compellingly sincere, but also consistently fresh and challenging. How do they do that? In part, it's clear that the duo's affection for the material is genuine. Quality guests like ace clarinetist Pier Paolo Polzonetti ("The Spell") and trumpeter Jeff Stockham ("Marie") also help. The original material shows both polish and passion ("A Gusty Day"), if the melodies aren't always memorable ("Marie"). I think the best explanation, though, is the simplest: Nanni - whose main gig is Americana band Los Blancos - is a striking vocalist (unvarnished and affecting on "Body And Soul") and pianist ("In The Still Of The Night"), whose flexibility and dexterity put new wine into old bottles. (DBW)

Carlos Jiménez, Arriving (2005)
Small-combo Latin jazz, particularly flute-led, always runs the risk of becoming superficial background music. Jiménez is at higher risk, because he has a low-key, mellow sensibility, but fortunately he beats the odds: the ballads ("My Allison") are sensitive but not sappy, while the high-gear numbers show welcome unpredictability ("Tomando Café"). Similarly, the compositions don't knock you off your chair, but feel like they've always been in your life, like a favorite uncle ("Tunnel Of Flowers"). The elegant closing run through the Miles Davis standard "So What" (featuring Dave Valentín) exemplifies the unhurried, subtle but substantive approach, though the centerpiece is the contemplative, moving title track. The backing band is Hilton Ruiz (piano), Geoff Brennan (bass), Guillermo Jiménez (timbales), Aryam Vázquez (congas) and Adam Weber (drums); Lewis Khan guests on "Flute & Violin." (DBW)

Melvin Jones, Pivot (2011)
Atlanta-based trumpeter Melvin Jones tends toward fiery ensemble passages and small combos, in the basic tradition of Dizzy Gillespie ("Dizzyspell," complete with Latin rhythm) and Freddie Hubbard (the opening "The Jug-or-Knot"). The compositions aren't at that level, but they're solid; everything is by Jones or a bandmate (pianist Louis Heriveaux's slinky "Inner Tubes"; saxophonist Mace Hibbard's "Goodnight Moon") except for Richard Smallwood's sublime modern gospel song "Angels," which gets a busy treatment here. The horns tend to dominate the fast numbers ("Inception," with a dauntingly fleet Hibbard solo), while Heriveaux shines on the changes of pace (the almost pastoral title track). As I find in a lot of current jazz, though, everyone has a highly developed technique but no particularly individual style or approach: while each number is satisfying within its limits ("Funkytown Shuffle"), there's precious little transcendence. (DBW)

Kenny Kirkland (1991)
An extremely creative and capable pianist, Kirkland made an impact before his early death at the age of 43; he came to public notice as one of Wynton Marsalis' Young Traditionalists, but soon expanded beyond that particular bag. As far as I know this is his only album as a leader, and it's disappointing considering the quality of his sideman work: many of the tunes run out of steam ("Steepian Faith") or just weren't that great to begin with (the Trane tribute "Mr. J.C."). Oddly, Kirkland seems determined to stay in the background even though it's his record, leaving most of the solo space for the horn players (Branford Marsalis on most tracks, though Roderick Ward is excellent on the Ornette Coleman tune "When Will The Blues Leave"). The record is distinguished by several Latin jazz arrangements, two featuring Don Alias on percussion, while two more feature the top-notch rhythm section of Andy & Jerry Gonzalez. An entertaining record, but below the expectations Kirkland had created for himself. (DBW)

Ilona Knopfler, Some Kind Of Wonderful (2003)
I don't usually like jazz vocals because they're overly mannered and more focused on showing how much the singer can hold back than on how much they can deliver. Knopfler's an exception because her singing is so straightforward, and she's not afraid to show unvarnished feeling. In fact, it seems that the tackier the tune is, the more determined she becomes to unearth genuine emotion (Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" actually becomes a highlight in her hands). On her debut release, she tackles a slate of 60s pop tunes, from "Alfie" to "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." She makes some nice choices including two songs by the often overlooked Zombies ("Time Of The Season" and "(S)He's Not There"), and it's no mean feat to sing a Ray Charles number without making a fool of yourself ("Unchain My Heart"). Too often, though, the arrangements stick too close to the originals, and sound more like lounge covers than jazz reworkings (Van Morrison's "Moondance"; the overrecorded "Something"). Eugene Maslov is on piano, and while his recent solo album tends toward the harsh and acerbic, here he provides subtle, sensitive accompaniment. The rest of the band is Bill Armstrong, trumpet; Pat Kelley, guitar; Dave Carpenter, bass; Skeeto Valdez, drums; and Lenny Castro, percussion. Produced by Gretchen Carhartt and Tom Robinson. (DBW)

Pete La Roca, Basra (1964)
Before listening to this disc, I knew exactly two things about Pete "La Roca" Sims: 1) He had acquired the "LaRoca" moniker while playing in Latin bands; and 2) he was the drummer in the original John Coltrane Quartet. Steve Kuhn was the pianist in that outfit and he's also present, complemented by bassist Steve Swallow and tenor sax master Joe Henderson - "Lazy Afternoon" does recall Trane ballads like "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," but the band doesn't get stuck in one bag. The compositions vary from the spacey, spacious title track to the jaunty bop blues "Candu" to the salsafied "Malaguena" (La Roca picked up something from those Latin bands besides a surname). Even when the tunes aren't extraordinary, Henderson is ("Eiderdown"), and the backing is crisp and forthright. There were a limited number of first-rate records cut during the Rudy Van Gelder Era, but an incredible number of worthwhile second-rate ones, and this is an excellent example of the latter. (DBW)

Lawrence Lebo, Don't Call Her Larry, Volume 3: American Roots (2010)
It takes some kind of self-confidence to tackle a bare-bones blues like H.J. Rome's "On Time" with nothing to hide behind but a walking bass. Lebo has the self-confidence, but more importantly she's got the timing, vocal precision and dramatic sense to bring her haunted/haunting sensibility to life. She works proudly in anachronistic forms like old-school folk and Western swing, which can be precious at times ("Cowboy Swinging Boogie Woogie") but more often is heartfelt and effective ("Rose, Rose"; "It's Not The First Time"). What's even more rare, her own tunes ("A Promise That I Can Keep"; "Lawrence's Working Girl Blues") sound as timeless as the standards she interprets (Sammy Cahn's "I Should Care"). All this may sound simple, and in fact it is, but then much of the most profound art is. Backing comes from Denny Croy (bass); Rich Cunha, Nicholas Kirgo and Tony Mandracchia (guitars); Steve Mugalian (drums), with touches of accordion and piano, though no one blocks Lebo's spotlight for long. (DBW)

Ramsey Lewis, Love Notes (1977)
In fairness to Lewis, he was doing the pop/jazz thing back in the 60s, way before fusion came along. But that still doesn't explain why his rhythm section sounds so lifeless: at times, Lewis's playing is up to the level of Patrice Rushen's pop work, but the backing and compositions never come close ("Stash Dash"). I picked this up because there are two donations from Stevie Wonder - "Spring High" and the title track - but they're even more trivial and toothless than the rest, just aimless riffing. Apparently Wonder added keyboards, as did Jimmy Bryant and Terry Fryer, which makes me wonder what Lewis actually did, since none of the tunes are his either. Ron Harris's "Shining" is the one vocal number, a close copy of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star." The one tune that's energetic - Derf Reklaw Raheem's hideously titled "Chili Today, Hot Tamale" - is an amusing if scattershot salsa pastiche. Produced by Lewis and Bert deCoteaux. Bonus essay question: does an artist deserve extra credit for funking up a bathetic Adult Contemporary tune ("Evergreen"), or is that just rewarding people for aiming so low as to make mediocrity sound like a revelation? (DBW)

Elisabeth Lohninger, The Only Way Out Is Up (2006)
It's easy to find a "jazz singer" who's trying to come off as cute, clever and/or saucy, but it's hard to find someone who's actually using the voice as an instrument to make jazz music - fortunately, Elisabeth Lohninger is one of the latter. She tackles small-combo acoustic jazz ("Falling Grace") and even Weather Report-style fusion ("Free To Fall"), at times soaring wordlessly like a wind instrument ("Swimming Upstream"), and even when she's interpreting a chestnut like "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" the focus stays on the song. She's backed up by Walter Fischbacher (piano), Chris Tarry (bass) and Hari Ganglberger (drums, thunderously on "Delirious Joy"), with a few guests: Donny McCaslin adds stomping tenor sax to the swinging title track, among others. Since the performances are top-notch and the mood is unsullied, when Lohninger's compositions - she wrote almost everything here - are memorable the record is a treasure ("The Weather In New York City," a Fischbacher high point), and when they're merely backdrops ("Falling Grace," too gentle by half; the meandering "Mirage") there's still a lot to enjoy. (DBW)

Jeff Lorber Fusion, Galaxian (1980)
Great art is expected to be incautious, heedless of popular convention and public acceptance alike. But surely there's also a place for art that treads more carefully, that prizes economic expression and organization over Dionysian abandon. Keyboardist/bandleader/composer Jeff Lorber's concept of fusion is R&B without the rough edges, so he's constantly close to Muzak territory, but never slips over thanks to his painstaking emphasis on melodicism ("Bright Sky") and effective use of multipart structure. The ballads are taut and unsentimental ("Seventh Mountain," "Think Back And Remember"), the funk is subtle ("Monster Man," with Stanley Clarke guesting on bass), the lite jazz is buoyant ("Night Love"). You'd never dream that the band's sax player (Kenny Gorelick) was destined to become an symbol of bad taste in his solo career as Kenny G; the other members are Danny Wilson (bass) and Dennis Bradford (drums), with Dean Parks adding occasional guitars. I wouldn't defend this as great art, but I'd rather listen to it than the Sex Pistols any day. (DBW)

The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)
Having already graduated from Miles Davis' band and then quickly cut a couple of albums as a member of Tony Williams' Lifetime and as a solo act, British guitarist John McLaughlin proceeded to form an instrumental quintet and record what I think is the landmark album of the early 70s jazz-fusion movement. Unlike the aimless and overloud Bitches Brew, this record is both entertaining and sophisticated. McLaughlin is positively ferocious, blazing away on track after track - and the rest of the band is just as good: the rhythm section of Billy Cobham (drums) and Rick Laird (bass) can handle the trickiest time signatures ("Meeting Of The Spirits"), synth player Jan Hammer is flashy but solidly musical, and Jerry Goodman's equally speedy violin riffs give them a unique sound. They alternate effectively between breathtakingly tight ensemble playing and risky, energetic solos ("Vital Transformation"; "Awakening"). And they break up the electrified monotony with an odd, soothing acoustic number ("A Lotus On Irish Streams"), a trippy, wah-wah drenched riff tune ("The Dance Of The Maya"), and a couple of extremely tasteful down-tempo ballads ("Dawn"; "You Know You Know"). It only falls apart on some of the longer, louder solos, which almost sound like Hendrix's weaker late-period studio jams ("The Noonward Race"). Produced and entirely written by McLaughlin. The Orchestra released several more records before McLaughlin went acoustic and Hammer left to lead his own band and appear on a couple of Jeff Beck records that are very much in this mold. (JA)

Donald Malloy, Spirituality (2009)
Musicians often seem intimidated when they tackle ultra-heavy topics, but trumpeter Donald Malloy's set of tunes for sextet has a familiar, refreshingly offhand relationship with its heavenly subject matter. Most of the songs are named for orishas - gods or goddesses in Yoruba/Santería tradition - but the music doesn't show much Caribbean or African influence: it's more or less conventional post-bop ("Baba Feruru" has a contemplative opening straight out of mid-60s Shorter). "Nora East" is a ballad, most of the rest is vigorously uptempo ("Orunmila"). Several the tunes are obvious ("On The Path" could almost be a TV theme), but often they're intriguing ("Ibarago"), underpinning elegant solo statements: Tia Fuller on saxes and flute shines particularly brightly, and the leader also makes commanding contributions ("Shango"); guitarist Seth Johnson is too sedate at times. Michele Rosewoman guests on piano on "Oshun"; Barbara Barrett adds vocals to that tune and "Oba." (DBW)

Mitch Marcus Quintet, The Special (2007)
It's rare that you hear a jazz combo with an electric guitar but an acoustic bass, rarer when that guitarist (Michael Abraham) plays distorted sound washes instead of mild-mannered chords, and rarer still when the horn section plays tightly arranged bop lines that could've come from a 60s exploitation movie ("Inditranego"). Now imagine all that actually making musical sense. I have to think tenor sax player Mitch Marcus came up with the bizarre blend of free jazz fusion and big band retro, as he's the leader and principal songwriter; drummer Ches Smith and second sax Sylvain Carton contributed the mammoth "Last Mourning" and the meandering "The Joey Rubber Special" respectively. Through all the abrupt mood changes, bassist George Ban-Weiss keeps cooking, the solos are on point, and the weirdness somehow sounds perfectly appropriate ("G.C."). Though Abraham's playing is often wild, it's under control, while Marcus himself is usually heard best during the record's softer moments ("Dave's Castle"). Produced by Stephen Barncard. (DBW)

Branford Marsalis, Scenes In The City (1984)
A highly enjoyable retro-bop record, complete with a high- energy homage to the John Coltrane Quartet ("Waiting For Tain"), a multi-part suite also heavily Trane- influenced ("Solstice"), and a lovely, gentle Kenny Kirkland composition featuring Marsalis on soprano ("Parable"). Less interesting are the title track - a remake of Charles Mingus' groundbreaking spoken word recording - and the aimless blues workout "No Backstage Pass." The backing musicians are exceptional: pianist Mulgrew Miller is spectacular on his tune "No Sidestepping," and Kirkland is intelligent and swinging throughout; veteran Ron Carter and upstart Charnett Moffett hold down the bottom end in style; and Jeff "Tain" Watts adds plenty of interest on drums. (DBW)

Wynton Marsalis, Black Codes (From The Underground) (1985)
The album's title refers to what Marsalis sees as a legacy of slavery: stifling one's creativity and intelligence in search of commercial success. He markedly rejects this approach, crafting dense, complex tunes in the 60s style of Wayne Shorter: the title track and "For Wee Folks" are hard to grasp and worth the effort. The complexity doesn't interfere with the emotionalism, and Marsalis is if anything underrated as a soloist. He eases up a litle on the swinging "Phryzzinian Man," then heads back to abstraction on the impressionistic "Aural Oasis." The usual Marsalis suspects are on hand: brother Branford (before he was barred for playing with Sting), Kenny Kirkland, Charnett Moffett, Tain Watts, plus Ron Carter on "Oasis." The band is endlessly creative, and you may be tempted to stop paying attention and just lie back and let it happen. And just when you think Wynton's getting too serious he throws on a light-hearted trumpet-and-bass improvised blues as a bonus track ("Blues"). (DBW)

Eugene Maslov, The Fuse Is Lit (2002)
Russian emigré Eugene Maslov has an astonishing command of the piano, playing two-handed runs with perfect clarity at the fastest tempos, bringing unflappable energy but never losing control. He shows the same qualities as a composer, inserting lyrical passages into his most ferocious tunes ("To My Teacher/To My Friend"), and tricky melody lines in funky grooves ("Entente"). Bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta keep right up with him; Hubert Laws adds flute to three tunes, Pete Christlieb adds vigorous sax to two ("Guru"), and Joe LaBarbere replaces Colaiuta on "Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow..." Everything's by Maslov except for John Lewis's "Django," Magdison & Wrubel's "The Masquerade Is Over" and an unaccompanied take on Arlen & Mercer's "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)." Produced by Stix Hooper. (DBW)

Shawn Maxwell Quartet, Maxwell's House (2009)
Led by Maxwell on alto sax, this quartet can serve up old-school bop just fine ("Shuffled," where pianist Matt Nelson in particular shows a subtle touch and emotional range). Which is great if you're looking for a band to see live, but for a new album - especially from relative youngsters - wouldn't you like something a bit new and different? Well, this quartet can do that too, smoothly incorporating heavy funk backbeats (thanks to bassist Kevin Martinez and drummer Brandon Dickert) into several tunes without pandering or seeming tongue-in-cheek ("Jathor"; "Dangerous Curve"). I don't hear as much in the ballads ("Five," which despite the titular 5/4 rhythm doesn't take off; "Ava"), and on the whole the group seems more intent on mood than melody, but they're certainly good enough at what they're good at to warrant a listen. (DBW)

The Meeting (1991)
An occasional quartet comprising three well-known session men - Ndugu Chancler (drums), Alphonso Johnson (bass), Ernie Watts (sax) - and jazz sessionwoman-turned-pop star Patrice Rushen. Emphatically co-led, with production and arrangements by the group and each member contributing to the songwriting; the one cover is Duke Ellington's "African Flower." A superprofessional group like this could sound overpolished and unafraid to take risks, and sometimes they do ("And I Think About It All The Time," by Watts and Ray Dewey, would fit right in on a Smooth Jazz playlist), but more often they're playful and exuberant ("Walk Your Talk"). The musicians sound freer than usual: Rushen actually plays more piano solos here than she did on her 1994 solo jazz album, including a particularly slippery part on "Groove Now And Then"; Chancler and Johnson (who had worked together in Weather Report) turn up the heat without ever boiling over. The low point is Chancler's rap on "Steppin' Out" (otherwise the album's entirely instrumental). Rushen's title track borrows its riff from "Let's Go Crazy," though it is spiced up with a couple of neat synth solos; and at five minutes each, most of the tunes are overlong, but just slightly. Nothing even remotely groundbreaking, but it's solidly entertaining if you like some funk in your fusion. I have the group's 1995 followup, but haven't listened to it yet - stay tuned. (DBW)

Grachan Moncur III, Evolution (1963)
Trombonist Grachan Moncur III is an unsung figure of transitional 60s jazz, whose exploration of minimal chord changes and maximal improvisation helped pave the way for free jazz. His debut as a leader features four self-penned tunes performed by a sextet: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Tony Williams (drums) and Bob Cranshaw (bass). It's a phenomenal collection of talent - [note individual performances] - and I would like to say that it's an overlooked classic. However, most of the time the backdrops are too vague to inspire the players: the title track in particular has a terminal case of meandering. "The Coaster" is the most conventional number, with a horn-punctuated head/solo/head structure, and perhaps I'm irredeemably square but it sounds like the musicians find more freedom to explore within than structure than without it. (On the other hand, "Monk In Wonderland" is fairly normal also, but doesn't produce like results.) Moncur's next album, Some Other Stuff, showcased even bigger names, including three-fifths of the mid-60s Miles Davis Quintet - you can bet I'll be checking that out sooner or later. (DBW)

Mosaic, Unsaid, Undone (2008)
I was initially put off by this quintet album because of what it wasn't: when I saw the name of wind player Matt Belzer I was expecting more of the frisky, energetic playfulness of his self-named duet and quartet projects, and I was disappointed when I didn't get it. Instead, this disc is largely an homage to the early days of fusion, with load of electric piano (from Ned Judy) and percussion (David Font on congas, bongos and such), playing extended vamps (Wayne Shorter's "Sightseeing," the one cover here). I'm no fan of the In A Silent Way period that's being referenced, but Belzer and crew manage to pay tribute to the era without being bound by its excesses. At times Belzer also evokes the spirit of Eric Dolphy, particularly when he breaks out the alto flute ("Under The Sun"), while bassist Larry Melton and drummer Mark Merella mix in more modern touches. (DBW)

Nutty, Jetsetter Jazz! The Persuasive Sounds Of Nutty (2012)
For the record, I dislike "mashups" as they're generally lazy in both concept and execution. Moreover, I dislike retro-Rat Pack even more than I disliked the original Rat Pack. So when I saw that L.A. octet Nutty was doing both at the same time - blending classic rock with cocktail lounge jazz ("Cinnamon Doll") - I thought it would be all elbow-to-the-ribs smirking. But that's why you have to actually listen to the records: This combo not only has chops to spare (the parade of solos on "Purple Panther" is breathtaking), they approach both genres with respect and even - when appropriate - subtlety. The arrangements blend songs you'd never believe would work together ("Hello Dolly Dagger"), and when they delve into serious jazz they do so with èlan ("Pleasant Valley Monkday"). Every musician pulls his weight so it's tough to single anyone out, but vocalist Joel Hile has the toughest job, as he has to sound sincere and tongue-in-cheek at the same time ("Manteca In A Bottle," with a brisk detour to Gilligan's Island), dredging up real emotion without breaking his absurd character. (DBW)

Greg Osby, Man-Talk For Moderns Vol. X (1991)
Saxophonist Greg Osby first came to my attention playing with Steve Coleman and Five Elements, and this disc - his third as a leader - features a number of M-Base-associated artists including guitarist David Gilmore, Lonnie Plaxico, and (on "Man-Talk") Coleman himself. Similarly, the technically daunting hard fusion and funky but rhythmically angular arrangements bear no small resemblance to concurrent Five Elements work like Black Science. Often, though, the funk vamps are basic, and the real interest is in the horns layered on top ("Man Talk"). On soprano Osby has a liquid tone that lends a sappy quality to the ballads ("Low Fi"; "Like So"), but better suits his fluttering improvisation on numbers like "On A Mission." Not one tune leaves a lasting impression, and the concluding "2th (Tooth)" is an aggravating exercise, as a rhythm section loop from "Cad'lack Back" is varispeeded up and down to provide chord changes for the leader to solo over - not as much fun as you might think. I don't knock Osby's reputation as a modern jazz master, I just don't hear much evidence for it here. (DBW)

Gabriel Palatchi Band, Diario De Viaje (2010)
It's easy to say you've studied with Chucho Valdez, but Argentine-born, Canada-based pianist/bandleader truly sounds like he shares Valdez's searching spirit: the disc starts with crashing, Tyneresque chords before opening into a soothing son ("El Paisa"), and goes on from there to include a compelling, unironic disco tribute ("Mi Realidad"), a straightforward cumbia ("Cumbia Rabiosa") and more. Only on "Inspiración Tulumeñ" does Palatchi get too cute for his own good, switching styles frequently but without building anything lasting in any of them: "Raíces" is a much better-smelling bouquet of influences. Genre-jumping aside, the band lays down rock-solid rhythm thanks to Chema, Manuel and Gabriel González - who I'm guessing are related - on drums, percussion and bass respectively, and the compositions are both sturdy and subtle ("Chilangtotango"). The leader remains firmly in control without showing off, which is commendable considering his improvisatory prowess ("Grodo"), and space is left over for the full horn section and several guests (the lush "Por Vos" launches a fine solo from "El Bola" on flute). (DBW)

Gabriel Palatchi Band, Caja Musical (2013)
Again, Palatchi is in his element, serving up a mix of styles and capturing the essence of each one: the opening smile-inducing songo "Lo Que Se Viene"; the rollicking "Funkeando," sort of Charlie Palmieri meets James Brown. "Argentimba" is particularly fine, and "San Telmo" is a blend of Romantic piano, disco rhythm section and accordion that Alec R. Costandinos would die for, while the biggest surprise is the Grand Funk Railroad-like rocker "Purple Blood" (featuring guitarist Olmo Sosa Yulis). "Band" is a misnomer, as apart from bassist Patricio Resico no backing musician appears on a majority of the tracks, but the like-minded players Palatchi has assembled sound nothing like a patchwork: each one - violinist David Macchione; drummer Fabian Miodownik; trumpeter Juan Cruz de Urquiza - makes the most of his or her role without edging out anyone else, and Palatchi himself has no trouble staking out his own territory amid the ruckus. There are a few broad (not to say cheesy elements) - the Love Boat-esque fusion sections of "En La Palmera"; I'm still on the fence about "Klezmertango," which is extraordinarily well done but still feels a bit contrived - and I do wonder how wide an audience there is for such a determinedly backward-looking approach. But if anything about this description appeals to you, check Palatchi out: he practically oozes talent. (DBW)

Charlie Parker, The Very Best of Bird (rec. 1946-7, rel. 1978)
A legendary figure in jazz, and deservedly so: one of the first beboppers, he was that genre's foremost improviser, spinning out lovely, often bizarre melodic runs. His compositions, like most early bop, were usually based on either blues or "I Got Rhythm" changes, but many have melody lines so impressive they're still recorded today. I have no idea how to review Parker's output. We review complete albums here, and Parker released 78s. Since he died in 1955, his recordings have been packaged and repackaged in haphazard fashion, along with alternate takes - practically every note he ever recorded. This was the first collection that actually made sense: All the master takes Parker recorded for Dial in 1946 and 1947, his most influential period, and nothing else. So it's one classic after another: "Drifting On A Reed," "Relaxing At Camarillo," "Ornithology," "Yardbird Suite," Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia." Most of the cuts are with Miles Davis on trumpet, Max Roach on drums, plus Duke Jordan on piano and Tommy Potter on bass - unfortunately, due to the recording technology of the day, you can't hear the rhythm section much. (DBW)

Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker (rec. 1948-9)
This release is from the Everest Records Folk & Jazz Archive, and like most of their output it's grey market live recordings with very high musical quality and equally low audio quality. I think these are recordings from Chicago in 1948 and 1949 (based on Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," which Parker rarely performed). includes several of his most familiar compositions, most of which are also on Very Best of Bird: "Cool Blues," Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," two versions of "Ornithology." [My cassette doesn't identify the backing band.] (DBW)

Charlie Parker, Now's The Time (rec. 1952-3)
This is a Verve release, and it's actually well-organized: the tracks are two complete quartet dates, from 1952 and 1953. None of the material is available on Very Best Of Bird, and most of it's excellent: "Confirmation" and the title track are the best known. The quartet format leaves Parker maximum space to improvise, and some of the tunes don't even have themes: he just blows from start to finish. Verve could have given you a lot more for your money, though: the disc runs less than forty minutes, and about half of that is outtakes. (DBW)

Charlie Parker, Plays Cole Porter (rec. 1954, rel. 1957)
About half the tracks are with a lush, Hollywood-sounding orchestra, and pretty hard for me to listen to (the vocal version of "In The Still Of The Night" is particularly painful). But the contrast makes the small combo numbers stand out even more: Parker's at his best on numbers like "I Get A Kick Out Of You" and "Begin The Beguine." (DBW)

Kalyan Pathak & Jayho Jazzmata, The Shape Of Ragazz To Come (2000)
It's hard to find a new genre-meets-genre combo no one's already done that isn't hopelessly contrived (e.g. klezmerengue). But ragazz ("raga" + "jazz") isn't a bad idea: both raga and post-bop are based on extended improvisations over a limited number of modes and/or chords. (And of course, jazz music has been influenced by Indian modes at least as far back as John Coltrane.) What makes the record really work is that neither jazz nor raga is used as seasoning - the musicians are well versed in both idioms, and on each track they reach for a novel way to combine them. The 14-minute suite "She Said, What?" is a particularly intriguing example: vocalist Arati Shah-Yukich hauntingly delineates the raga's melody, the horns blow a related melody while the piano vamps, then solos modally, and eventually the full jazz combo comes in, culminating in a trumpet solo, then fades back to the raga. The only track I have trouble staying with is "Wanrawan," where jazz harmonies and a soprano sax solo are backgrounded to a traditional vocal melody. There's also one straight-ahead bop tune, "Wake Up And Smell The Curry." Leader Kalyan Pathak plays trap drums and tabla, and wrote and arranged all the tunes except for "Wanrawan." The rest of the band is Matt Kanelos (piano), Matt Thompson (bass), Hitesh Master (vocals, harmonium), Elizabeth Basta (vocals), Ryan Shultz (bass trumpet), Puranlal Vyas and Shivanad Bagar (Indian percussion); Ron Dewar - Trane-sounding on "Lost In The Hills Blues" - and Scott Burns alternate on sax. If you're tired of the piecemeal use of "ethnic" musics by people like Bill Laswell and Peter Gabriel, but you want to hear something beyond the same old jazz, head over to www.kalyanpathak.com. (DBW)

Debbie Poryes Trio, A Song In Jazz (2007)
Poryes is a longtime jazz teacher and pianist who hasn't recorded much, but certainly could have: her warm tone, confident touch and unhurried West Coast sensibility put me in mind of Vince Guaraldi. Most of the songs are from the 50s and earlier (Rogers and Hammerstein's "A Wonderful Guy") and though some are a bit moldy ("People") her interpretations are light and fresh ("Alone Together"). Poryes's solo reworking of Monk's "Pannonica" is an inventive treat: it's usually hard to put yourself into one of his tunes because there's already so much Monk in there. The one original ("So It Seemed") isn't striking, but it fits the genial mood perfectly. Bassist Bill Douglass and drummer David Rokeach get on board, adding intriguing accents ("I Hadn't Anyone Till You") without ever overwhelming the easygoing vibe. (DBW)

Michaela Rabitsch & Robert Pawlik Quartet, Moods (2008)
This Viennese combo is not your usual "she sings, he plays guitar" jazz couple. For one thing, Rabitsch is an accomplished, fluid trumpeter, and several tracks are instrumentals ("Trén Número Uno," one of a few Latin-tinged tunes here). They're a true partnership, with some tunes by each leader and the rest co-written (everything's an original); they both produced and arranged, and each gets chances to shine ("Quartual Guitar Madness"). They try on a bunch of styles, mixing a modal theme with nightclub vocals on the title track, getting mildly funky on "Put It In The Pocket," slowing down for a ballad ("Moond In The Dark") and speeding up for a romp ("Dance"). The try-anything attitude makes it easy to forgive them when they occasionally bubble over into kitsch ("In Silent Moments"). Bassist Karl Sayer can be hard to hear, but Joris Dudli stands out with brisk timekeeping and refreshing accents ("Afrika"). So the disc is unfailingly pleasant but rarely more than that, because the tunes are functional rather than unforgettable. (DBW)

Joshua Redman Quartet, MoodSwing (1994)
At the beginning of the 90s, tenor saxophonist Redman was hailed as the savior of traditional jazz. As his liner notes indicate, Redman seeks to recapture the emotionalism at the heart of the music, and negate the overemphasis on technique and intellectual games - to get away from the notion that you have to study jazz before you can enjoy listening to it. And he does indeed build up impressive evocative solos ("Sweet Sorrow"). But he pushes the simplicity thing a bit too far, with several tunes based on such insubstantial themes they're barely there - like he's straining too hard for another Kind Of Blue. I'd love to hear him tackle weightier material, which I believe he's done on other discs. Accompanied by Brad Mehldau (piano), Christian McBride (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). Produced by Matt Pierson. (DBW)

Chick Corea and Return To Forever, Light As A Feather (1972)
Like so many Miles Davis alumni, keyboardist Chick Corea was leading a fusion band by the early 70s. Uniquely, though, he and most of his bandmates - percussionist Airto Moreira, bassist Stanley Clarke - were also backing Stan Getz, famed for his bossa nova hits. So it's no surprise that this second disc by Corea's ensemble is heavily Brazil-influenced, with some vocals from Flora Purim ("You're Everything"), and a preponderance of airy arrangements: light electric piano runs, gentle percussion, barely-there acoustic bass. In other words, the sort of impressionistic improvisation that's either brilliance or chaos, and there's some of each here. The title track is masterful, with the fluttering piano setting an exploratory mood, and a lovely, solemn sax solo from Joe Ferrell. "Captain Marvel" is a high-octane mix of furious flute, inspired comping, and decorative voice, and "Spain" impressively demonstrates the tonal varieties of flute and Fender Rhodes, two instruments generally considered lacking in that department. In contrast, "500 Miles High" covers the same territory, alternately flailing and meandering, but never really gels - Corea's fleet, facile solo has the high "gee whiz" factor that would become more of a problem in his later work. Purim's voice is bell-clear but lacking in shading, and Moreira's percussion is surprisingly reserved. Not a key example of any fusion school, but an interesting record in its own right. (DBW)

Return To Forever featuring Chick Corea, No Mystery (1975)
Brazil's out, synths and electric guitar are in. Corea avoids the common fusion trap of playing down to his audience with obvious vamps and endless soloing over changes (a la Weather Report), but constructs a new trap: self-conscious harmonic complexity and restless geometric progressions that all too often fail to produce a musical result (the endless "Celebration" suite). The instrumentation is the usual fusion ensemble: then-teenage phenom Al DiMeola is on guitar, drummer Lenny White replaces the Brazilian percussion, and Corea's ARP basically plays the horn role - why anyone thought a tinny synth was an improvement over a saxophone is beyond me. Anyway, this is an interesting sign of the times (it even won a Grammy) though not a great record. Clarke and White provide strong, sensitive backing on the rare occasions that there's something coherent to back; Di Meola isn't impressive, relying on Eddie Hazel's trademark trebly distorted wah-wah tone, and indulging in senseless flash (his "Flight Of The Newborn") - trivial and tentative compared to concurrent work by Jeff Beck, say. Corea wrote most of the music (title track), but each of the other members also contributed to the songwriting (Clarke's "Dayride," White's "Sofistifunk"). (DBW)

Sam Rivers, Dimensions & Extensions (rec. 1967, rel. 1976)
Like Andrew Hill, saxophonist Sam Rivers made a string of experimental Blue Note recordings in the 1960s which were little-noticed at the time but have been reevaluated since. In fact, this album was shelved for almost ten years, at which point it was shoehorned onto the double-LP release Involution. Rivers is sometimes categorized as free jazz, but judging by this release he's doing the same sort of collective improvisation as Charlie Mingus, only with odder, more unpredictable tunes ("Paean"). Jazz is always a highwire act, but this approach is more so: there are both thrilling successes ("Effusive Melange" - truth in titling; the tense trio "Afflatus") and impenetrable bleat cavalcades ("Involution") - "Helix" is the one conventional bop tune. I think it was George Costanza who said of pioneers "those guys don't always make it back." Rivers shares sax and flute duties with James Spaulding (I wish I could tell which was which), and the other musicians include notables like Donald Byrd (trumpet) and Julian Priester (trombone), plus Cecil McBee (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). Far-reaching and compelling despite the unevenness: if the stuff the label squashed is this good, it's definitely worth looking for the LPs which were actually released the same decade they were recorded. (DBW)

Sonny Rollins, Here's To The People (1991)
A tenor sax luminary since the 50s, by the 90s Rollins had nothing left to prove. So he didn't stretch himself on this laid-back mix of standards (including two Gershwin tunes) and originals; whether the tempo's fast or slow, the band never strays from its comfort zone. As a result, the album is a carefree, playful antidote to the seriousness of much modern jazz: Hammerstein-Kern's "Why Was I Born?" is an enthusiastic romp, not a history lesson. Whatever the tempo, Rollins's tone is never too harsh or too liquid - he brings admirable bite to ballads ("Someone To Watch Over Me") and sure control over frenetic note cascades. Similarly, his solos are neither too far-out but never routine, appropriately mixing surprise with welcome familiarity (Rollins is well known for sneaking in brief passages from popular songs, here quoting "Oh Susannah" on "Lucky Day"). The core band is Mark Soskin (piano), Bob Crankshaw (bass) and the mostly inaudible Jerome Harris (guitar), with Steve Jordan, Jack DeJohnette and Al Foster rotating on drums. Roy Hargrove is the notable guest, adding tender trumpet to the ballad "I Wish I Knew" and upper-register brilliance to "Young Roy"; Clifton Anderson plays trombone on a few cuts ("Doc Phil") but doesn't get a chance to shine. (DBW)

Kurt Rosenwinkel, Deep Song (2005)
There's a fine line between guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's thoughtful, sedate jazz and lazy elevator music - but there is a line there. His themes aren't arresting ("Use Of Light"), and the electric small-combo arrangements are nothing extraordinary ("Brooklyn"). But it's all played with a quiet fervor and a profusion of melodic detours, backed by star players Joshua Redman (tenor) and Brad Mehldau (piano), plus Larry Grenadier (bass) and either Ali Jackson or Jeff Ballard (drums). The shifts are subtle but significant; "The Cloister" slides from a jazz ballad opening through a guitar-led instrumental pop section and a stride piano solo before winding up where it began. All that said, my tastes run toward artists who splash a bit more color on the canvas, so I won't be spinning (or double-clicking) this very often, but I'll be hoping for it the next time I get into an elevator. (DBW)

Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Mi Gran Pasión (1987)
Cuban piano virtuoso Rubalcaba explores the danzón, a classical Cuban form which flourished in the late 19th century, with an introduction, a flute-led melody section, a violin trio, and sometimes a mambo. Fortunately, the disc never sounds like an academic exercise: Rubalcaba uses the multipart structure to integrate his three loves - Cuban and European classical music and jazz - as on "Recordando A Tschaikowsky," which opens with a classical quote and then contrasts a lovely abstract trio section with a swinging mambo highlighted by a turbulent piano solo. Throughout horns replace the violins, which helps to jazz things up, though flautist Rafael Carrasco is the outstanding soloist aside from the leader. The dramatic "Concierto En Varsovia" (based on melodies by Richard Addinsell) is the only tune Rubalcaba didn't compose. But sometimes the opening sections seem a bit hurried, and the mambos feel like the dessert after a scanty meal ("Principe Niño"). Two solo piano numbers may be in three-part danzón form but it's hard to tell: though each contains lovely passages (particularly "Preludio Proyecto Latino"), the playing is so free-form it's difficult to hear an underlying structure. Other personnel includes Robert Vizcaino (percussion), Horacio Hernández (drums), Lazaro Cruz and Rafael Melian (trumpet) and Felipe Cabrera (bass). (DBW)

Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Suite 4 Y 20 (1992)
A conventional small-combo jazz disc, with Cabrera and Charlie Haden on bass, Julio Barreto on drums, and Melian on trumpet. Rubalcaba doesn't completely leave Latin music aside: "Perfidia" breaks into a salsa vamp, "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás" is a brief bolero; a few other boleros are jazzed beyond recognition, both in uptempo ("Tres Palabras") and downtempo ("Nadie Me Ama") variants. For the oceans of ink Rubalcaba gets, I find his approach underwhelming - pristine, but not always in a good way - and without the stylistic excitement of Mi Gran Pasión the record just isn't very distinctive. "Preludio Proyecto Latino" reappears in a full band arrangement, and it's the most high-energy piece here; "Transparence" is an ethereal meditation that recalls great Herbie Hancock ballads like "Jessica." Too often, though, this is quiet, stately jazz that's very easy to ignore ("Nadie Me Ama"; an overmellow take on Beatles' "Here, There And Everywhere"). It doesn't help that so many of the tunes run way over five minutes (the standard "Love Letters," the original "Comienzo"), though I suppose that suits his aesthetic: he wanted to make a slow, sedate record, and boy did he ever succeed. (DBW)

Patrice Rushen / Stanley Clarke / Ndugu Chancler, Jazz Straight Up (2001)
When you hear of a record that was recorded more for the participants than for the audience, you probably imagine something self-indulgent and/or experimental. This acoustic trio set (Patrice Rushen, Stanley Clarke, Ndugu Chancler - you probably already know who plays what) is the opposite: It defies commercial concerns by being not too far out, but too far in. No unusual instrument combinations or arrangements, no grand unifying concept, no soloist pyrotechnics, while the material is the most familiar of jazz standards: "Lover Man," "Take Five," "Mack The Friggin' Knife." At the same time, it's not mellow or soothing enough for Cool Jazz radio, with constantly shifting dynamics. It's no more and no less than three industry vets having fun playing songs everyone knows, and inviting us in. Rushen takes most of the solos, and she never plays it safe, leaping from one idea to the next with abandon ("Salt Peanuts" is practically a survey course of jazz piano styles). Clarke ("Now's The Time") and Chancler take advantage of their opportunities, but mostly focus on providing deft, responsive support ("I Mean You"). If you're trying to learn to play this stuff (which I am), it's great to hear the songs in such an uncluttered, ego-less context; for everyone else, there is no compelling reason to pick this up, but if you do you won't be sorry. Re-released in 2007 as Standards, and currently easier to find under that title. (DBW)

Tom Scott & The L.A. Express, Tom Cat (1975)
Best known as Joni Mitchell's mid-70s backing band, the L.A. Express was a first-rate example of the period's jazz-fusion formula, and this is a fine place to hear it in action. Softer and more commercial than early fusion a la the Mahavishnu Orchestra, it's still more tasteful and musically challenging than contemporary records by Weather Report. The Bennett-Guerin rhythm section is sharp, sophisticated, and snappy, if a bit polite; volume control-twiddling guitarist Robben Ford and speedy keyboard player Larry Nash have first-rate chops; and Scott himself solos fluidly (mostly on sax and lyricon) but also keeps the band focused on delivering catchy hooks and mellow melodies. And their crafted, economical tunes really make the disc worth tracking down: consistently ear-grabbing, they're mostly funky and upbeat ("Rock Island Rocket"; "Day Way"; "Refried") but also range from jazzed-up War-style salsa ("Keep On Doin' It") to stately, finger-snapping, R & B-flavored grooves (title track). There's only one long jam, and it's a good one ("Mondo"). As for Mitchell, she shows up singing some wordless, mock-synth harmonies on one track (Scott's hauntingly beautiful "Love Poem") and that's it. Bennett's the chief songwriter here, but all five players wrote at least one tune each. Produced by the band. (JA)

Avery Sharpe, Extended Family III: Family Values (2001)
Probably best known as McCoy Tyner's longtime bassist, Sharpe has a remarkable technique on electric and acoustic, able to play both so high and fast you'd swear it was a guitar. But he's also a composer, and on this disc he really wants you to know it, melding a bunch of disparate musical ingredients to serve his vision. Like Geri Allen's The Gathering, the album focuses on family, with some sung sermons ("I Am My Sister's Keeper"), and like Allen's disc other family members appear (the "Extended Family Choir" is led by Kevin Sharpe). The singing is gorgeous (Jeri Brown adds an operatic lead to "Reunion") though the choral compositions aren't terribly interesting (title track) aside from the boisterous, swinging "They Are Watching." Sharpe has a genuine and rare appreciation for the varied tonalities and colors of strings: "Stone Soul Jester," which features just Sharpe and a string quartet including renowned violinist John Blake, is a remarkable, constantly shifting composition, The straight jazz is top notch, whether rousing ("Parental Love," with a strong piano vamp) or meditative ("Blood Is Thicker Than Mud," with Kevin Eubanks on acoustic guitar and Smitty Smith on drums). Much more ambitious than your average jazz project, and even when it's not successful it's highly individual (Sharpe scat-sings accompaniment to his own bowed bass on "Always Expect The Best From Yourself"). (DBW)

Herb Silverstein & Friends, Beach Walker (2005)
A moonlighting ear surgeon, Silverstein has been releasing his own homebrewed CDs for years, spotlighting his jazz compositions and piano playing. Backing him up on his ninth release are Richard Drexler (bass), Jack Wilkins (flute and sax), LaRue Nickelson (guitar, including a fine extended solo on "High-Heeled Lady"), and either Joel Spencer or Steve Moretti (drums). Though he's based in Florida, his tunes have a mellow West Coast vibe, and they're unfailingly pleasant (title track; the elegant "While You Were Away"); just a couple of tunes increase the energy level ("Go Fourth," with a noisy solo from Wilkins). The mood is so gentle, actually, that it verges on mood music at times ("A French Wedding"), but is lifted into a whole other realm on four tracks featuring the Lobster String Quartet, playing spooky arrangements (by Drexler) that often seem at cross purposes to the main track ("Awesome Autumn"; the unearthly scraped violin beginning "9.11" recalls Sun Ra). If any of this sounds interesting, check out Silverstein's site... CD proceeds benefit his charitable Ear Research Foundation. (DBW)

The Incredible Jimmy Smith, Organ Grinder Swing (1965)
Incredible he is, the acknowledged master of jazz/R&B organ. But he coasts here, playing very familiar tunes ("Greensleeves," and "Satin Doll," which I never get tired of) and standard-issue blues ("Blues For J"). The only breath of fresh air is the loopy, brief title track. The rest of the trio (Kenny Burrell on guitar, Grady Tate on drums) stays way back, letting Smith do his thing. (DBW)

The Incredible Jimmy Smith, Got My Mojo Workin' (1966)
Side one is more bluesy tunes, including "High Heeled Sneakers" (recorded by Stevie Wonder among others) and the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," with Burrell and Tate joined by Ron Carter on bass. Smith also does some vocalizing. Side two adds a horn section, and they stomp through Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Workin'," two Ellington tunes and a Smith original. (DBW)

2.5 stars Jay Soto, Long Time Coming (2005)
It's tough to review someone who does competent work in a style you personally dislike. Jay Soto is trying to establish himself as a Smooth Jazz guitarist, and his chops are extraordinary, whether he's playing nimble flamenco-flavored runs on "Black Orpheus," or snappy light R&B on "Live It Up." Apart from technical facility, his touch is deft ("Reflections")... it's easy to hear why he was a finalist in 2004's Guitarmageddon Competition. But that musicianship is put in the service of such toothless, ephemeral material (title track) I can't recommend the disc very highly. Not that his compositions are bad - tunes like "Caught In A Moment" are catchy enough - just generic ("Closer To You"). So in a way I want him to achieve his dream of being signed to a Smooth Jazz label; on the other hand, I'd rather see him abandon his dream, and start recording standards, or hard bop, or klezmer, or anything that isn't so Smooth. Naturally, though, if you like the genre, make sure you check this guy out. In addition to guitar, Soto was responsible for all the keyboards and drum machines; Michael Lington (sax) and Jesse McGuire (trumpet) play on two tracks each, and Fred Sanchez adds bass to "Black Orpheus." Read more at www.jsotomusic.com. (DBW)

3d, World Beat Dance (2000)
Startling technical proficiency + a total lack of personality + manic genre jumping = an album that sounds like a Adult Contemporary Jazz compilation. The band is Michael Tate on drums and percussion, and Chris Amelar on guitar; two thirds of the tracks have Lenny Underwood on keys, while the rest feature Ted Brancato. They couldn't sound more professional, but by the same token they rarely grab your attention. The material is similar: decent melodies that you forget as soon as the record's over, and while several genres are tackled successfully - salsa ("Guanta Rico"), Lite Jazz ("Bumsie Man"), blues ("Delta"), steel drum-powered calypso ("Walkin' Home") - they stick rigidly to genre conventions. My favorite tracks are probably the blues numbers ("Rocking Chair," "Delta"), where Amelar really cuts loose; the dullest are the AC Jazz exercises ("Searching For You") - no surprise, because that genre was designed to be dull in the first place. All tunes were written by the band, except for a medley of "Margarita" and "Bamboleo." Definitely a cut above what you'll hear in your dentist's office, but nothing you'll want to listen closely to. Contact the band at www.hear3dmusic.com. (DBW)

35 Days In May, Bobo Bazinsky In The Bronx (2007)
The sound here is electronic keyboards and drum loops underlying jazz solos, but it winds up more like experimental dance music than acid jazz, because the keyboards (all by leader Jeff Kaye) are not merely functional, they're fascinating both melodically and tonally ("Out Of Blue"; title track). Though it's largely a one-man show, Paul Carr contributes swinging sax to four numbers, Sal deRaffele adds bass to three, and Jim Kiser lays second trumpet on "Country Wizard," an unsettling romp that's probably the disc's high point. There are three covers, all redone so that they sound completely fresh: "The In Crowd" (a 60s hit for Ramsey Lewis, redone as a heavy groove), the Gershwins' "It Ain't Necessarily So" (with vocals from Alexe Colbus) and "There Is No Greater Love," which starts out as straight jazz and subtly mutates. I haven't heard the group's earlier Tales And Destinations, but I'm inclined to check it out. (DBW)

Tiemann-Belzer, Crypto (2004)
The best sax-drums duet record I've ever heard. Okay, I've only heard two, but the other one was by John Coltrane, so it's no faint praise to say this one's better. Saxophonist Matt Belzer has a remarkable ear for surprising syncopation (title track) - it's no surprise that he's a fan of Thelonious Monk ("Evidence" and "Criss Cross" are covered capably here). Belzer's compositions are often built on large melodic leaps, sometimes abstract and sometimes liquid, and the tone is intellectual but breezy. His solos are remarkably sure-handed: he sounds like he's playing something he knows by heart even when he's improvising. Meanwhile, Tiemann's support is uncanny: he takes advantage of the minimalist format to play way up front, and alternates between providing the basic pulse and echoing Belzer's trippy rhythms ("We're All Gonna Die Now"). The disc is short but sweet - six tracks and 27 minutes - in keeping with the "less is more" aesthetic of the whole enterprise. In 2010, Tiemann-Belzer took the principle to the extreme with two albums (Exceptions and Tributes) each consisting of ten fifteen-second tracks: I'm not going to review them, but I do recommend you download them. (DBW)

Sam Trapchak's Put Together Funny, Lollipopocalypse (2010)
You always suspect there are quality musicians living all around you, but it's nice to have it confirmed: bassist Trapchak lives right down the block from me. Holdsworth-y electric guitarist Tom Chang (who produced with Trapchak) and alto sax Greg Ward play a major role in defining the sound of this quartet, carrying much of the solo freight as well as stating the themes, and they range easily from uptempo fusion ("On The Cusp Of Cancer," one of two songs contributed by Chang) to lyricism bordering on sentimentality to more abstract statements ("Tongue And Groove"). But Trapchak and drummer Arthur Vint are hardly silent partners: they make the most of their solo space (the leader is particularly elegant on the ballad "Losing You"), and while they push each track along, it's rarely in a straight line, which keeps the listener gratifyingly on edge ("Precious Few"), Trapchak's compositions, too, contain unexpected about-faces and detours (the second half of the title track, as raucous as the first half is mellow) and just the right amount of open space ("Long Live/Less Say"). None of this is particularly groundbreaking, but it sure is satisfying; next time I bump into him on the street I'll be sure to thank him in person. For more info (including Trapchak's prodigious gig schedule), hit his site. (DBW)

U.O. Project, It's Time For U (2009)
Critics are sometimes accused - often rightly - of overvaluing novelty, of pushing something new and different whether or not it's actually rewarding or valuable, while quick to dismiss as "derivative" art that sticks to conventions, no matter how well executed. Well, I always have an ear out for something I haven't heard before, but it's also a pleasure to hear tried and true formats like the good old fashioned, swinging small-group jazz put together here by drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. The opening "N'Awlins Greens" is a heartening trip through Bourbon Street tropes. Sam Rivers's "Cyclic Episode" lays the basis for piano (Sullivan Fortner), bass (Ben Williams) and drum solos that may not blow your mind, but will plant a smile on your face. And there's a well-balanced mix of styles: it's just Tim Green (saxophone) and Owens on "T.I.," an updated version of "The Inchworm"; both 80s lyricon and 50s organ sounds on "Sing." I'm not as enthused by the mellower tracks (John Mayer's "Stop This Train," with Alicia Olatuja on vocals), but everyone is on point throughout, not overreaching but never going through the motions either. The same goes for the compositions, loaded with small pleasures rather than dramatic sweeps: the build to the "Hallelujah" coda on "Sing" is so gradual it came as an unusually subtle surprise. (DBW)

V.S.O.P., The Quintet (1977)
This live set (two LPs on one CD) documents a reunion tour by Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, all of whom had played together extensively in the 60s in various combinations. This was the height of the fusion movement, but the group decided to go all acoustic, with marvelous results. Each member contributes at least one composition, from the familiar (Shorter's "Dolores") to the brand new (Carter's "Third Plane"). Whether playing in fusion bands gave them a broader perspective or creative freedom, it's undeniable that everyone was bursting with fresh ideas here. At any given time at least three people are playing something new and exciting - don't pass this one over. Also, don't confuse this with the Hancock album V.S.O.P., which was released concurrently. (DBW)

Walk East (2011)
A jazz collective - though all the tunes are by bassist Marc Piane - making frequent use of simultaneous soloing, usually just Paul Hartsaw and Shawn Maxwell on winds ("Divers"), but when guitarist Bill MacKay gets in on the action, the sound can grow so chaotic you'd mistake it for collective improvisation ("Ergonomic"). But everything's controlled and directed by Piane, who explores a wide range of textures from ghostly flutes ("Maharishi Effect #2") to jagged leapfrogging lines ("Caffeinated Om," a high point) to slick R&B ("Diminuation"). He never stays with any one form for too long, though, so the longer numbers morph in unexpected ways ("Analgesia"), keeping the listener off-balance. It's an enjoyable and unpredictable ride, but I can't shake the impression that the structural idiosyncracies are covering up an underlying paucity of substance, both in the compositions and in the solos ("Holland Tunnel Automotive Fiasco," and drummer Jeff Lien throughout, are the happy exceptions). (DBW)

Gerald Wilson Orchestra, New York, New Sound (2003)
Though perhaps best known as an arranger, L.A.-based Gerald Wilson started as a trumpeter in the 30s and has been releasing albums since the early 60s. He's not playing trumpet any more, but he wrote - aside from nods to Miles Davis ("Milestones") and John Coltrane ("Equinox") - and arranged this big band affair, and it bears all the hallmarks of West Coast Jazz: medium tempo, silky smooth intonation, groovy electric guitar courtesy of Anthony Wilson ("Teri"), dense voicings, and a laid-back feel. The fifteen-minute multi-part "Theme For Monterey" showcases all these elements, but it falters due to a melody that's painfully close to the Bacharach-David classic "(They Long To Be) Close To You." Well played but too cool for my taste... even the tunes with Latin stylings are quite laid-back ("Viva Tirado," "M Capetillo"), but without the piercing intensity of, say, Sketches Of Spain. Aside from the covers, the only really exciting track is the concluding, breakneck "Nancy Jo." The players include such notables as Jimmy Heath (tenor sax), Jon Faddis (trumpet) and Kenny Barron (piano). Produced by Stix Hooper. (DBW)

Woody Witt, A Conversation (2008)
Did you ever go on a date, and afterwards you didn't really want another date with the person, but you didn't know how to say it because they didn't really do anything wrong, they just didn't do anything for you somehow? I don't have any specific criticism of Houston-based Witt (who plays tenor and soprano sax) or his crackerjack band (Ed Soph on drums, Fred Hamilton switching between guitar and bass). The compositions - all by Witt - are unpredictable, and range from the confidently strutting "Oddly Even" to the pensive "Clear Skies," while "Ne As Jah" can't be pigeonholed so easily. While the band has hipness to spare, they put across the ballad "Forever And Always" with straight-faced sincerity. And although they cut the disc in one single-day session, nothing sounds tossed off or rushed. So really I have no excuse for not liking the record, except that it just plain leaves me cold. Track after track is capable but uninvolving, at least from my standpoint. You might want to give it a try anyway and tell me what I'm missing. (DBW)

Renée Yoxon/Mark Ferguson, Here We Go Again (2012)
To my way of thinking, Toronto-based Yoxon isn't so much a jazz singer as a singer-songwriter working with a small acoustic combo. Or to put it another way, if the phrase "jazz singer" makes you think of either an self-adoring former cheerleader scatting wildly inaccurate notes over "Just One Of Those Things" or a boozy chanteuse dragging the tempo of "Stormy Weather," you'll find Yoxon's no-nonsense, unaffected delivery mighty refreshing. Everything else aside, Yoxon is a fearsomely talented lyricist, starting with the usual romantic themes ("Have We Been In Love Before?") but picking at the surfaces until the embarrassingly human need is mercilessly exposed ("Don't Go"). The best songs here are so cleverly constructed, yet so gut-wrenchingly honest they beggar my powers of description ("Drinking Coffee" and "Canary," my two favorites). Mark Ferguson and the rest of the combo need no such lengthy explanation: they're a piano-led jazz quartet with occasional horn solos, with a sensitive, delicate touch... a mite too delicate at times. The wordless "Sâo Paulo" exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses: Not a note out of place, the mix is perfect - not too lush, not too spartan - but so risk-free it never makes an impression, either. So nobody here will offend you, but the one who'll reach out and grab your lapels (in the calmest possible way) is Yoxon. (DBW)

Zen Zadravec Quartet, Coming Of Age (2008)
Pianist Zen Zadravec's quartet is in a Wayne Shorter post-bop mold: the tunes walk a plank between angular and warm, between gentle piano ballads ("In Memoriam") and boisterous multi-part uptempo numbers ("Quest For Truth"). The problem with walking a plank is that you're likely to fall off, but the quartet somehow sidesteps schmaltz and bombast while fully committing to tenderness and vigor. On four tracks, the band is augmented by extra horns including Conrad Herwig (title track); otherwise, the leader alto/soprano saxophonist Todd Bashore takes most of the solo space, while bassist Alex Hernandez and drummer Chris Brown stick to supporting roles. (Hernandez does take a nice long solo turn on "We Miss You Mr. Kirkland.") Apart from two standards (Burke/Van Heusen's "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" and Rodgers/Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones," which turns into a startling display of pianistic versatility), everything is by Zadravec. (DBW)

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