Jazz Consumer Guide (8):

These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #8. The idea here was to pick an unrated record from the incoming queue, play it, jot down a note, and a grade. Any grade in brackets is tentative, with the record going back for further play. In some of these cases there is a second note, written once I've settled on the grade. These were written from Dec. 18, 2005 to Feb. 5, 2006, with non-finalized entries duplicated from previous prospecting. The notes have been sorted by artist. The chronological order can be obtained from the notebook or blog.

Ahleuchatistas: What You Will (2005 [2006], Cuneiform): Guitar-bass-drums trio. Hype sheet says "file under: rock/post-punk"; publicist says "non-jazz CD with lots of jazz references." It's all instrumental, and that it mostly has a regular beat doesn't disqualify it in my book. Moreover, the group name, combining a famous Charlie Parker title with a suffix commonly used by latino revolutionaries, is jazzworthy unless you think that jazz is only what you find in museums and Ken Burns documentaries. Guns on the back cover, and the song titles recall Mingus -- e.g., "Remember Rumsfeld at Abu Ghraib." Don't have a firm opinion yet. Maybe the genre confusion persists in their heads. Maybe the guns aren't loaded. [B+(*)]

Arild Andersen Group: Electra (2002-03 [2005], ECM): This sneaks up on you, developing into a fascinating piece of music. In some sense this takes Andersen back to Masqualero, the early '90s group he led with future jazztronica trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, but it also seems quite unprecedented. Andersen's recent albums have stayed within conventional bounds for a major bassist -- piano trios, small groups, rare solos. He composes, but he's never led a ten piece group through an eighteen part suite before. The group is in no way conventional: four members are vocalists, with Savina Yannatou (who has a couple of good ECM records to her credit) and Chrysanthi Douzi taking the leads; three more members work with drums, or four if you count the bassist's drum programming, but the most important is the return of Molvaer. That leaves Eivind Aarset's guitars sculpting textures on top of Andersen's bass, and Arve Henriksen's typically invisible trumpet. I'm guarded, as this is not the sort of thing I often go for, but it definitely merits further attention, and could move up a notch. [B+(***)]

Arild Andersen Group: Electra (2002-03 [2005], ECM): Two nicks against this one. One is the extensive use of voices, even if they're mostly used for texture. The other is that the electronics often get used for cliché effects -- wind, thunder, like that, or at least that's what they suggest. That's not to say that they never work out, but they're where the weak spots reside. Aside from these effects, the music, built around programmed drums, percussion, guitar and bass, with Arve Henriksen's hollow-sounding trumpet for window dressing, is dense and powerful, inscrutably dramatized, often hypnotic. Andersen's Masqualero bandmate Nils Petter Molvaer helped out on the programming. B+(**)

Scott Anderson/Nia Quintet: End of Time (2004 [2005], BluJazz): Anderson's name is on the spine, but not the cover. He intends to work his music out within a standing group, but he still seems to be very much the leader. The quintet is your basic bop arrangement, with Anderson on trumpet, Daniel Nicholson on various saxophones and alto flute, piano, bass and drums. Sounds postbop to me, skillfully turned out, mostly upbeat, with a nice slow one to close. [B+(**)]

Scott Anderson/Nia Quintet: End of Time (2004 [2005], BluJazz): Skillfully executed postbop in the classic quintet format with Daniel Nicholson's saxophones and Tom Vaitsas' piano complementing the leader's trumpet. Mostly upbeat, sometimes soaring, with a nice ballad to close. Those with mainstream tastes will find much to enjoy here. Those looking for some edge will doubt it, but such albums are rarer than you'd think. B+(**)

Ernie Andrews: How About Me (2005 [2006], High Note): I don't know whether Andrews ever sang for Count Basie, but he fits the type -- an easy-going blues crooner, somewhere between Joe Williams on the slick side and Al Hibbler on the weird side. He's closing in on 80 now, with a career stretching back to the '50s, but his best regarded albums came out much later, on Muse, which means with his producer and guest here, Houston Person. [B+(*)]

Ernie Andrews: How About Me (2005 [2006], High Note): Veteran blues-based crooner, goes down easy, especially with producer Houston Person joining in on tenor sax. Slow ones drag a bit. B+(**)

Tatsu Aoki: Basser Live II (2004 [2005], Asian Improv): A Taiko drum is like a skin tightened over a small barrel, giving a sound similar to a bass drum but not so crisp. Aoki plays bass here, either alone or in combination with the Taiko drums. This results in a very minimalist palette, even though the bass can produce a wide range of string sounds. Interesting record, but likely to have a very marginal market. B+(*)

Jeff Arnal, Seth Misterka, Reuben Radding, Nate Wooley: Transit (2001 [2006], Clean Feed): Actually, as best I can figure, group name is Transit too. Misterka plays alto sax, Wooley trumpet, Radding bass, Arnal percussion. Free improv. Played it a couple of times. Sounds sporadically interesting, generally unexceptional. Could be wrong. I'll keep it in the queue, and maybe find some reason to revisit it later. [B]

Michaël Attias: Credo (1999 [2005], Clean Feed): Brief bio: born Israel 1968, Moroccan parents, grew up in France, played violin as a child before taking up alto sax, moved to New York in 1994, studied with Lee Konitz and Anthony Braxton. Attias has been a steady sideman downtown, composes, released his "first" album early in 2005, a fine trio called Renku with John Hebert and Satoshi Takeishi. Now comes an earlier set, a complex series of trio, quartet and sextet pieces -- where the later album is elegant in its simplicity, this one is as tangled as his roots. He explains these pieces referring to Israel, France and Morocco, but "Hot Mountain Song"'s fiddle reminds me more of the Ozarks, and the Torah-based "Berechit" sounds to me, and perhaps to bassist Chris Lightcap, like old-time Mingus. B+(**)

The Omer Avital Group: Asking No Permission (1996 [2006], Smalls): Subtitled "The Smalls Years: Volume One." Avital is an Israeli bassist who played regularly at Smalls -- Thursdays, according to the notes here, this is one of those Thursdays. His group here includes drummer Ali Jackson and four saxophonists -- Mark Turner, Greg Tardy, Myron Walden, Charles Owens -- working out their bebop moves. B+(*)

The Bad Plus: Suspicious Activity? (2005, Columbia): Still impressive in their individual skills, still loud together. Other than that, I'm having a hard time making much sense out of this. "Chariots of Fire" doesn't help, either. I still consider them to be an important group, and will give them more time. It's unlikely that this will ultimately flop, but their previous albums succeeded quickly, and this one doesn't. Do like a couple of the titles: "The Empire Strikes Backwards," "O.G. (Original Gentleman)." Where there's wit there's hope. [B+(*)]

Anita Baker: Christmas Fantasy (2005, Blue Note): This closes with the non-traditional "These Foolish Things" for a pleasant note of normalcy after a ride that started by ragging "Frosty the Snowman" and threatened to expire when "O Come, All Ye Faithful" got stung by the Yellow Jackets. This is trite fair for torching, but it doesn't succumb to our greatest fears -- just flirts with the trivial ones. B-

The Heckler by Juan Pablo Balcazar Quartet: Heckler City (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Another confusing attribution -- could be read several ways, but Balcazar is key: plays bass, wrote all the pieces. The quartet fleshes out with tenor sax, guitar and drums. The guitarist, Alejandro Mingot, fleshes out the melody and keeps the music on the sweet side, a bias that helps saxophonist Miguel Villar "Pintxo" sound more like Lester Young than he might otherwise. Overall, this feels composed, rather tightly controlled by a bass line that isn't conspicuous except for the ordering. The premium then is on atmosphere. An extra saxophone joins in on the final cut, cruising deep into the night. Impressive work, even if I don't know what it means. [B+(***)]

The Heckler by Juan Pablo Balcazar Quartet: Heckler City (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Very similar to the Arthur Kell disc -- a tenor sax-guitar-bass-drums group led by the bassist, but a little sweeter all around, especially in the guitar (Alejandro Mingot). The saxophonist is Miguel Villar "Pintxo" -- the quoted part presumably a nickname, like "Lockjaw" (maybe an influence; for all the Basque I know it could even be a translation). B+(***)

Carlos Barbosa-Lima: Carioca (2005 [2006], Zoho): Likable Brazilian guitar album, mostly solo with a few less than intrusive guests. Might be more likable without Danny Rivera's three vocals, but maybe they just take some adjustment. B+(*)

Kenny Barron Trio: The Perfect Set: Live at Bradley's II (1996 [2005], Sunnyside): The title overreaches, but this is a trio with a lot of snap (Ray Drummond, Ben Riley). A standard, two Barron originals, two Monk tunes. Nothing they couldn't have done any day of the week. Will have to play it again to see if it overcomes my skepticism, but it might. [B+(**)]

Kenny Barron Trio: The Perfect Set: Live at Bradley's II (1996 [2005], Sunnyside): With Ray Drummond and Ben Riley, as perfect a modern jazz trio as you can find. Haven't heard the previously released first set, but my inside source tells me this is the better of the two. As befits Riley, this closes with two Monk tunes, and one of Barron's originals is decidedly Monkish. Just what you'd expect, which is to say it merits the faint complaint of "no surprises." B+(**)

John Bishop: Nothing If Not Something (2004 [2006], Origin): This is a trio with Rick Mandyck on alto sax, Jeff Johnson on bass, and Bishop on drums. Aside from one group credit, Mandyck has four songs, Johnson two, and Bishop zero. But Bishop owns the label, which counts for something. Origin was founded in Seattle in 1997 to give Bishop's home town jazz scene an outlet, and now has something like 85 records, plus more on their co-op OA2 label. Until they started mailing to me, I doubt that I've heard of as many as five artists on their roster. Obviously, as jazz scenes go, New York is in a class by itself. The second tier definitely includes Chicago, maybe a couple more (Philadelphia? Detroit? San Francisco-Oakland? Boston?), and aside from New Orleans, where jazz had become a tourist business, that's about where national consciousness stops. Beyond that there are probably a dozen cities comparable to Seattle, virtually unknown to anyone who doesn't live there. Portland and Vancouver are two I know a bit about. Seattle is new to me, but this is a good start. Mandyck has a clear, cutting tone, and interesting postbop ideas. Johnson and Bishop are solid supporters, and their solos hold up. I doubt that any of them would blow folks away in New York, but they more than hold their own here. B+(**)

Michael Blake: Blake Tartare (2002 [2005], Stunt): This album by the ex-Lounge Lizards saxophonist starts and ends surprisingly soft. In between three cuts with guest guitarist Teddy Kumpel pick up a groove, and covers from Sun Ra and Charles Mingus show some daring and muscle -- especially the latter. Haven't found whatever thread ties it all together yet -- assuming there is one -- but it's an interesting and enjoyable jumble. [B+(**)]

Ran Blake: All That Is Tied (2006, Tompkins Square): Solo piano has never held much appeal for me, especially when we're talking pianists without any boogie-woogie up their sleeves. I have Blake's previous Painted Rhythm (1985) volumes on the shelf somewhere, one a B, the other still unrated. Both are 4-star in the Penguin Guide, which has a special soft spot for solo piano. This one is slow and deliberate, and I didn't follow it well, but enough of this caught my ear to keep it in play. [B+(*)]

Paul Bollenback: Brightness of Being (2005 [2006], Elefant Dreams): Too clever by half, or maybe more. Bollenback's guitar is a sweet and lyrical constant, but his wide range of pop songs and classical pieces, his use of three saxophonists with no common ground (Gary Thomas, Tim Garland, Fathead Newman), and the occasional breathy intrusions of vocalist Christ McNulty make this a major exercise in kitchen sinkism. Choice cut: "You Don't Know Me." B+(*)

Ruby Braff: Controlled Nonchalance: At the Regattabar, Volume 2 (1993 [2005], Arbors): Archival material, left over for the usual reason -- they had better stuff to release at the time. The band includes Scott Hamilton and Dave McKenna, but you wouldn't know without looking at the booklet. Guitarist Gray Sargent fairs better, and Braff sounds fine, even if more controlled than nonchalant. We miss him. B

Cole Broderick: In a Dream (2005, Cole Broderick): My usual complaint about solo piano is that it feels underdressed, but that's hardly the case here. This is elegant mainstream piano -- Broderick cites Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn as influences -- and its simplicity is its charm. B+(*)

Peter Brötzmann/Han Bennink: Schwarzwaldfahrt (1977 [2005], Atavistic, 2CD): This is one of those records that was doubtless more fun to make than to listen to. Brötzmann and Bennink just packed up a bunch of instruments -- the former's usual arsenal of reeds, plus viola and banjo but no drums -- and recording equipment, some wine and food, and went hiking through the Black Forest (hence the title), recording what they found and could make use of. The instrument list includes "wood, trees, sand, land, water, air" -- Bennink is legendary for his ability to make music by hitting damn near anything. Don't know how much they taped, but when they edited it down they came up with more than double what FMP finally released on LP. This reissue adds a second disc with the extra edits. It's de trop, but the first disc isn't much either -- interesting as concept and process, and for its occasional surprises. B

Bill Bruford/Tim Garland: Earthworks Underground Orchestra (2005 [2006], Summerfold): I decided to pan this, but wasn't quite ready, so I hit replay and now I'm confused. Garland plays saxes, bass clarinet and flute, all with considerable chops, but no clear style -- not that I'm familiar enough with him to say that with certainty. Bruford was England's premier prog rock drummer until he moved over into jazz. His groups have had various sounds over the years, depending on who he has up front. This group is significantly expanded from the last Earthworks group. Where Garland was the only horn, now he's joined by two trumpets, one or two trombones, baritone sax, and alto or soprano sax -- two of which also play flute. Also piano and electric or acoustic bass. All together they get an extravagantly lush sound with fluid dynamics. I can't pigeonhole it, other than to say that they're moving into rather advanced big band territory. I should be more impressed, but at this stage I'm more confused. [B+(*)]

Kenny Burrell: Prestige Profiles (1956-63 [2005], Prestige): I still haven't come to grips with Legacy's big guitar box, so perhaps should withhold my generalizations until then. Burrell is one of several second tier guitarists to come out of the bop ferment -- the top tier is Wes Montgomery, and everyone else is arguable (Jim Hall, Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel, Mundell Lowe, Grant Green, Joe Pass). The problem here isn't Burrell, whose solos are fluid and imaginative. The problem is Prestige, whose quickie product process did little to help their artists develop. That hardly hurt for artists like Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Lockjaw Davis, Gene Ammons, or others who were already on top of their game. But for Burrell it meant throwing him into the studio with random sets of musicians, including dominant voices like Hawkins and Coltrane. This tries to sort out the mess, latching on to cuts with fine guitar solos, but even selecting for Burrell they're mostly cuts where everyone takes a solo, even the bassists. B+(*)

Michel Camilo: Rhapsody in Blue (2005 [2006], Telarc): George Gershwin is enough of a staple in the world of jazz that one tends to forget about his contributions to classical music. But this record, with Camilo playing with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, is pure Gershwin classicism. I never liked classical music, and this repeatedly reminds me why. I do have a high opinion of Camilo's pianoship, but this doesn't remind me why. C-

James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Ali Jackson/Reginald Veal: Gold Sounds (2004 [2005], Brown Brothers): The idea of doing a jazz album based on Pavement songs is interesting enough. And, of course, anything that lets Carter blow is cause for celebration. Still, there's something off about this record. Not sure whether it's the fragility of the songs or the slapdash approach to them -- probably both. Handicapped by rock's most uncharismatic singer, that Pavement's best songs held together at all seemed miraculous. Here they lose both their framework and their surprise, in other words their integrity -- instead, they are reduced to fodder for the postbop changes machine. Chestnut flops between piano, organ and synth, but he's so old school he never seems comfortable on the electronic keyboards. Meanwhile, Carter swaps tenor and soprano sax -- the former deep and dirty, the latter nondescript. Most interesting player here is drummer Ali Jackson, probably because he sticks closest to the texts, doing things you don't expect in a jazz drummer. Of course, Carter's blowing is impressive enough to occasionally make me suspend my reservations, but they keep coming back. I'll keep this open: could rise up, but also could sink into the Duds list. [B]

Craig Chaquico: Holiday (2005, Higher Octave): The guitar effects sometimes obscure the songs, which are otherwise pretty obvious. Relatively painless compared to what's playing in the malls these days -- but beware that the last song has vocals. C+

Cyrus Chestnut: Genuine Chestnut (2005 [2006], Telarc): Piano trio, plus Russell Malone (guitar) on three cuts, Steven Kroon (extra percussion) on more. Chestnut describes his influences as "jazz, gospel, classical, R&B, etc." and his intentions that they work as "a collective," "not work separately." That sounds to me like a recipe for mud, but they actually do separate out somewhat, and Kroon tosses in a little Latin tinge for good measure. While this strikes me as more likable than the last couple of albums I've heard from Chestnut, little else strikes me any way at all: the fast ones line up, Malone helps a bit, the slow ones disconnect, the gospel at the end barely gets its amen out. B

Chicago Underground Duo: In Praise of Shadows (2005 [2006], Thrill Jockey): This is Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor, the bare bones core of a group that sometimes expands to Trio or even Quartet form. Normally, Mazurek plays cornet and Taylor drums, but here they vary the sound by recombining on a wider range of instruments. Mazurek plays various keyboards and electronics gadgets. Taylor plays vibes, mbira, gongs, and other percussion-like things. This leads to various interesting rhythm tracks, but undermines any sort of continuity, and leaves us real short of the only voice instrument on hand, Mazurek's cornet. I like the group enough I'm not inclined to throw in the towel yet, but this seems slight and marginal. [B+(*)]

Nick Colionne: Keepin' It Cool (2005 [2006], Narada Jazz): Smooth guitarist, "his Wes Montgomery-inspired style style accented with blues, rock, and R&B." But then who isn't inspired by Montgomery? Colionne is actually better than Montgomery, at least in the latter's pop-pimp phase (which is the germane one), and the funk filler never crowds out the guitar. One vocal piece, a rather nice "Rainy Night in Georgia," in case the radio folks gotta have a vocal. Smooth jazzers never miss a trick. B

George Colligan: Past-Present-Future (2003 [2005], Criss Cross): This is a sharply played, very lively piano trio. Colligan has recorded quite a bit since the mid-'90s, and he's been consistently praised by the Penguin Guide. This is my first encounter with him, so I'm reluctant to go overboard, especially in a format I have trouble explaining. Will work on it. [B+(***)]

George Colligan's Mad Science: Realization (2004 [2005], Sirocco Jazz): A different kind of trio, with Colligan on Hammond B3 and computer synthesizers, Tom Guarna on guitar, and Rodney Holmes on drums -- although not all that different from Uri Caine's Bedrock group. Organ players tend to be blockier than piano players, perhaps because the organ frequently replaces a bass. Colligan and Caine are both superbly quick-witted pianists, and they lose little velocity on organ. I suspect that Caine has the edge here, but need to delve further. B+(***)

Cooper-Moore: Outtakes 1978 (1978 [2005], Hopscotch): The artist was born 1946 in Virginia, had a strong music education including a spell at Berklee, moved to New York 1973. He's primarily a pianist, but builds exotic instruments, and frequently plays a one-string contraption called a diddley-bow. He didn't record much until recently. I was much impressed by him in William Parker's In Order to Survive quartet -- his piano has the sort of live-wire intensity that reminds me of Horace Tapscott -- and recall reading somewhere that the only musician he would work with was Parker. Recently he's broke out of Parker's circle a bit, recording a couple of piano trios with Tom Abbs and Chad Taylor, as well as albums with Assif Tsahar, Susie Ibarra, and Bill Cole. By my count, his short, erratic discography includes seven A-list albums -- damn impressive for a guy who doesn't get out much. This is an odd mix of tracks, without much discographical detail beyond that they were recorded in 1978. Cooper-Moore's exotic instruments are present, including ashimba on the opener and a piece on a clay fife, but most of the interest will be the early tracks with David S. Ware, recognizable a full decade before he formed his quartet. B+(**)

The Crimson Jazz Trio: King Crimson Songbook, Volume One (2005, Voiceprint): Back in the '70s I picked up a double-LP called A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson, but I never made much headway with it, and barely remember it now. Picked up a couple other albums too, and again hardly remember them. A couple of weeks ago I got the two 4-CD boxes of The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson, still unplayed on the shelf, but at least they've been elevated to the status of a project. I've long been curious about English prog rock -- back in the '70s it was something I paid a lot of attention to even though it often came up with things I didn't much care for. I didn't realize this at the time, but part of the fascination was how it was associated with jazz fusion. The central enigma of King Crimson may have been how the wretched English pastoralism of lyricist-singers Greg Lake and Pete Sinfield coexisted with instrumental improvisers like Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford. The boxes may shed some light on that, or just tote up the differences. This group -- Joey Nardone on piano, Tim Landers on fretless bass guitar, and Ian Wallace on drums -- is a different way to probe the sources. I don't have my bearings, but I'll note that as piano trios go this one is exceptionally dense and moving. Also, I like the bass sound Landers gets. Looks like a project. [B+(**)]

Duduka Da Fonseca: Samba Jazz in Black and White (2005 [2006], Zoho): A Brazilian drummer, Da Fonseca has worked steadily since the late '80s, with two albums under his own name and a couple more as Trio da Paz. This is basic samba, the beat light, with a soft melodic edge from a good quintet including reedist Anat Cohen. A very pleasant record. B+(**)

Steve Dalachinsky/Matthew Shipp: Phenomena of Interference (2005, Hopscotch): Another item with limited appeal. Shipp plays piano accompanying Dalachinsky as he reads his poems. The poetry is wordy -- "i look at it like/matter/or what's the matter/or it doesn't matter/for that matter" -- and can be oblique: "an unrehearsed gig with time/yet it ends like/the/rehearsed one." "Trust Fund Babies" is more topical, and "Why NAIMA?" is more cogent. Some pieces are more dramatic, with the performance extending beyond the words. Shipp does a good job of picking up the rhythmic nuances of the words and elaborating them in his lines, but the lines seem reflexively improvised -- only rarely does he get a chance to step forward. B+(*)

Eric Darius: Just Getting Started (2006, Narada Jazz): Irrepressibly upbeat, pure sax disco. Cute hype: "Eric's awesome talent and unjaded enthusiasm have made him the undusiputed darling of the genre." Wasn't paying enough attention to sort out some fine points, but then this isn't the sort of jazz you have to pay attention to. [B+(*)]

Eric Darius: Just Getting Started (2006, Narada Jazz): Alright, there are no fine points here. Just a steady beat and a golden toned, ebullient alto sax running through those sure shot rising riffs that have lifte r&b records since the '40s. Which means that there are hundreds, nay thousands, of comparable examples. Many with real drummers. B

Dave's True Story: Simple Twist of Fate: DTS Does Dylan (2005, BePop): One thing that made Michael Moore's Jewels & Binoculars work so well was that Dylan has long been unappreciated as a melodist, so their wordless extrapolations uncovered exceptionally fertile ground. Kelly Flint, however, is just another singer covering well-trod turf. Her voice is appealing, but she backs off from what you already know, rather than pushing further. Second weakness here is Dave Cantor's band: centered on guitar and bass, like most string bands it only takes off when it gets to swing. Which doesn't happen here -- indeed, with these songs, it's hard to see how it could. B

Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (1970 [2005], Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): Virtually every jazz critic who compiled a top ten list for 2005 picked one or more records by guys long dead: Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane, At Carnegie Hall; Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker, Town Hall; John Coltrane, Live at the Half Note. These items continue a well established pattern, which is that we view jazz as a music of the past, played by legends who with few exceptions are no longer with us. (Sonny Rollins also got votes for an unearthed 2001 concert.) But Miles Davis is the reigning champion of past legends, probably the best-selling widely respected jazz man of the past 10, 20, 30 years. Sony/Legacy has been mining Davis tapes assiduously for quite a while now, releasing two 6-CD boxes just this year. The reason Davis didn't make the year-end lists is that these are large boxes expanded from a core of previously released music, whereas the above-listed are one- or two-disc sets with no previously released music (the Coltrane has been bootlegged). But he fits the pattern. However, I have a different theory how this works. For one thing, all of these musicians come from the 1945-60 period, the bebop era if you like, where there is much consensus about who's great. (Anyone who hated bebop fled the club when Bird got on stage, leaving those who stayed free to define what jazz means.) Those greats are the revered founders, and their devotees have an apparently insatiable desire to study them. On the other hand, no such consensus exists for anything that came after 1960 -- new thing, fusion, even Marsalis-style conservatism. Even Davis catches flack once you get past his late-'60s quintet, although his early fusion period (1969-74) has been explored at considerable length, with five 2-CD live sets, box-length expansions of In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson, and now this box, which provides for raw context for the first of the live sets to be released, the heavily edited Live-Evil. A little more than half of Live-Evil was selected from the fourth of four nights Davis played at DC's Cellar Door shortly before Christmas 1970. The fourth night was notable as the one night with John McLaughlin in the band. A-

A Dream Come True: The Best of Trudy Desmond (1988-98 [2005], Just a Memory): She was a standards singer (a cabaret singer) who cut four albums before cancer took her life in 1999. Don't know much more than that: when or where she was born, etc. Haven't heard the four albums, but this is probably an apt summary. The four albums are evenly divided into seventeen cuts, then shuffled seamlessly. She has a light touch, and gets solid support, including Bill Charlap on one album. A very sparse take on "I Got Rhythm" is one of the highlights. As usual, the songs make the singer, and Cole Porter does especially well for her. B+(***)

Dr. John and the Lower 911: Sippiana Hericane (2005, Blue Note): Mac Rebennack owes his career to the Big Easy, and here rushes out a quickie to pay a bit back. (Proceeds go to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and The Voice of the Wetlands.) The emphasis is on quickie, with the first cut (reprised at the end) little more than an extemporaneous moan, and the bulk of the album filled up by a "Hurricane Suite" that could have been transcribed from CNN. Not much thought went into the title either. Graded leniently. B

Dave Douglas: Keystone (2005, Greenleaf Music): This is a set of music Douglas wrote to score a 1916 film by Roscoe Arbuckle called Fatty & Mabel Adrift. The package includes a DVD with the film and music, plus a CD with the music worked out into finished pieces. The music is mostly upbeat, scaled large with DJ Olive pushing the beats, and Marcus Strickland's saxophones filling in behind Douglas. After dismaying me at first, this sounds better with each play. Guess I need to look at that DVD. [B+(**)]

Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2002 [2006], Ayler): Two thirds of Lost Brother, which is still the leading candidate for the second Pick Hit slot. The missing third is diddley-bow wizard Cooper-Moore, who makes a difference. I also think Drake has more going on in the trio album, probably because he has more tools there. But I like Tsahar best in avant-honk mode, and that's where he's at here. Certainly a high HM. [B+(***)]

Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2002 [2006], Ayler): This is volume 2 to an earlier (2001) date released as Soul Bodies. I don't have a particularly good take on Tsahar: he sounds a little bit like everyone, at least going back to Ayler, and maybe to Rollins -- he does 1:25 of "St. Thomas" to close the set, lest the point be missed. But here he's in full bore avant-honk mode, which seems to be his most agreeable speed. Sounds like Drake only has his kit to play with, which limits his options, although he still impresses. B+(***)

Mark Dresser: Unveil (2003-04 [2005], Clean Feed): Solo bass, always a difficult proposal, since it often boils down to stupid bass tricks. Just beginning to get my bearings here, but some passages have strong rhythmic appeal. [B+(*)]

Mark Dresser: Unveil (2003-04 [2005], Clean Feed): Solo bass -- the very idea will leave all but a few of you cold. I've heard maybe a dozen such albums, all on the avant edge, where the idea of totally unfettered whatever holds its strongest appeal. This is more attractive than most, primarily because some passages have strong rhythmic appeal, but also because it rarely goes arco and never stoops to stupid bass tricks. B+(**)

Kenny Drew Trio (1956 [2005], Riverside): Bright, sharply etched bebop piano trio with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, buoyed with standards that always stand out, notably "Caravan," "Taking a Chance on Love," "It's Only a Paper Moon." B+(***)

Dominic Duval/Mark Whitecage: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1 (2002 [2003], Drimala): Aside from BushWacked, this is the only other Whitecage album I know, but I suspect it may be a good place to start with him. Accompanied by Duval's bass, Whitecage works through a set of exercises on clarinet, alto and soprano sax that give a good sense of his range and dynamics. He's an interesting player on the postbop left -- reminds me a bit of Jimmy Lyons in how he evolves and extends compositional fragments for improvisation. This is also a good place to hear Duval -- not a virtuoso, but he's been a workhorse, especially for Bob Rusch's CIMP label, and gets the last word here with a bass solo. This has been on my shelf for a while -- I wrote about it in my 2003 round-up, so it was already a bit old when I started my Jazz CG in 2004, but I think it would be useful to include it as an Honorable Mention along with BushWacked. A Vol. 2 came out later, with Joe McPhee in place of Whitecage -- also good, but I prefer this one. A-

Zé Eduardo/Jack Walrath Quartet: "Bad Guys" (2004 [2005], Clean Feed): Walrath has had twenty-some records under his own name over the last quartet century, but he's largely faded from sight. A major web retailer only lists four of his records -- none of the ones he cut for Blue Note and Muse, only one since 1996's Hip Gnosis. So my first reaction was a welcome back, but even here, he's on a Portuguese label and the local bassist gets top billing. The quartet fills out with Jesus Santandreu on tenor sax, who complements but doesn't compete with the trumpet, and Marc Miralta on drums -- often the most interesting player here. This quartet lineup has produced some of the year's best albums, but they depend on bounds-stretching performances on all four corners, whereas here the players keep one another in check. Not bad, by any means, but certainly not as bad as they promised. B+(*)

Marty Ehrlich: News on the Rail (2005, Palmetto): I don't have a good feel for this one yet, in part because the multiple sound approaches don't quite cohere. Six piece group, three horns plus piano-bass-drums. The horns shift -- Ehrlich between alto sax and clarinet; James Zollar between trumpet and flugelhorn; Howard Johnson between tuba, baritone sax and bass clarinet. The clarinet line-up on "Light in the Morning" is loose and spacious, quite appealing, but the brass-heavy "Enough Enough" is too much already. Some good stuff here, but I doubt that it's going to win out. [B+(*)]

Marty Ehrlich: News on the Rail (2005, Palmetto): Francis Davis praised this in a Voice sidebar, which gives me an excuse to duck the issue. The sextet, with James Zollar's brass complementing Ehrlich's reeds and Howard Johnson swinging both ways in the lower registers, plus a piano-bass-drums rhythm section, provides many options for harmonic complexity. I don't doubt that Ehrlich takes advantage of this ambitiously. I just find it hard to focus my interest here with any consistency. It does have its moments, like on "Hear You Say" where the three horns split into separate threads and it sounds like the pianist has switched to melodica, temporarily producing a fourth thread. If I stuck with this it might inch up the HM list, bit I don't have any new insights to add, doubt that I might find any, and have other fish to fry. B+(**)

Bill Evans Trio: At Shelly's Manne Hole (1963 [2005], Riverside): The end of Evans' run at Riverside, with Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker balancing out the trio. Understated but clever how they inch around standards as well worn as "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "'Round Midnight" without getting predictable. B+(***)

Exploding Customer: Live at Tampere Jazz Happening (2004 [2005], Ayler): Another two-horn quartet, with Martin Küchen on alto/tenor sax and Tomas Hallonsten on trumpet. Something of a circus feel, with a lot of swirling, oom-pah rhythm topped off by the relatively free horns. [B+(*)]

Agustí Fernández/Peter Kowald: Sea of Lead (2000 [2005], Hopscotch): This feels more like a show and tell than a collaboration. Fernández plays dense, abstract, vigorous piano in the Cecil Taylor mode, including some stretches of prepared piano. And Kowald, well, the late great has long been the world's grand master of stupid bass tricks. He contributes some vigorous metallic noise, a broad palette of scratching and scraping. The juxtaposition has its rewards, but the appeal will be very limited. B+(*)

Joe Fielder Trio: Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff (2003 [2005], Clean Feed): The Penguin Guide describes Mangelsdorff as "the virtual inventor of modern German jazz." Following him, German jazz took a vigorously avant attack in the late '60s -- major figures in German jazz following him include Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Brötzmann, and Peter Kowald, their scope extending far beyond Germany. (Schlippenbach's big band was called the Globe Unity Orchestra, and the English avant-garde, in particular, was joined to the Germans.) Still, he's virtually unknown in America, and his discography is in terrible disrepair -- his work in John Lindberg's groups is the easiest to find, and relatively accessible. So this record is most welcome, all the more so because the trombone-bass-drums lineup strips his music down to bare essentials. [B+(***)]

Joe Fielder Trio: Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff (2005, Clean Feed): Most tributes are poor substitutes for the originals, but this one is a much needed clarification. Mangelsdorff was both a pathbreaker -- one of the essential inventors of European avant-garde jazz -- and a virtuosic trombonist, and the two aspects of his playing tended to confound our ability to get a grasp on him. This elemental trio -- just trombone, bass and drums -- concentrates on his melodies, perhaps the least appreciated aspect of his craft. Much appreciated. B+(***)

Jean-Marc Foltz/Bruno Chevillon: Cette Opacité (2003 [2005], Clean Feed): Ten duets. Foltz plays clarinet or bass clarinet, Chevillon bass. Don't know these people, but the action pins your ears from the start. Dark, abstract, difficult listening, but deeply moving. Interesting record; could move up a notch. [B+(**)]

Jean-Marc Foltz/Bruno Chevillon: Cette Opacité (2003 [2005], Clean Feed): When I was researching the jazz labels piece, Clean Feed's Pedro Costa told me that he has no set style concept of what he releases -- he just releases whatever he likes. This deep, abstract, cautious but moving clarinet-bass duet had been circulating as a CD-R before Costa picked it up. Neither of the players are in any sense bankable, and the music itself has a distinctly limited appeal, but it evidently struck Costa's fancy, so he ran with it. B+(*)

Dominic Frasca: Deviations (2003 [2005], Cantaloupe/Serious Music): Frasca plays guitar. Not sure if there's anything else on here -- percussion or treatments, but it at least sounds overdubbed. The music is close to minimalism -- tightly spaced rhythms, modulated here and there, but because it's guitar it has more angular momentum. I was into this kind of music -- its progenitors, that is, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, et al. -- back in the late-'70s, but haven't followed it in a long time. This is very appealing. Will take some further play to sort out, and it could get bumped a notch. [B+(***)]

Dominic Frasca: Deviations (2003 [2005], Cantaloupe/Series Music): Minimalism done on 6- and 10-string guitar, the improv constructed not from notes but from whole looping segments. It's been done before on computers, but is especially attractive with the guitar harmonics. B+(***)

Free Fall: Amsterdam Funk (2004 [2005], Smalltown Superjazz): This is Ken Vandermark's clone of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio (named for Giuffre's most famous album), so the lineup is clarinet, piano (Hĺvard Wiik for Paul Bley) and bass (Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten for Steve Swallow). I've played this several times but haven't made much sense out of it -- possibly because the mappings are off, and possibly because I've never gotten much out of Guiffre's trio. This has spots of interest -- mostly when they pick up the pace and Wiik pounds out some rhythm. It also has quiet spots which develop into austere atmospherics. B+(*)

Erik Friedlander: Prowl (2006, Cryptogramophone): Ditto the label comments on Ben Goldberg. This one's a quartet, with Friedlander on cello, Andy Laster on alto sax or clarinet, and Stomu and Satoshi Takeishi on electric bass and drums. The latter are hard to overpraise -- I've noticed both separately, but never together before. Laster is also an apposite choice, deepening and developing Friedlander's music in many intriguing ways. Cello is turning into a fascinating jazz instrument. It's not just a higher-pitched bass; cellists have started to model their instrument on roles guitarists have developed over the last two decades. Choice cut is "A Closer Walk With Thee," which starts fractured and slowly assembles itself, building volume until it becomes powerfully moving. A-

Satoko Fujii Four: Live in Japan 2004 (2004 [2005], P.J.L): Fujii is probably the most important active jazz musician in the world who still doesn't have a section in the 7th edition of The Penguin Guide. That's likely to change when the 8th edition rolls off the presses, but the catch-up job will be huge -- more so than when Ken Vandermark made his debut in the 4th edition with eight records. AMG lists 22 records under Fujii's own name, going back to 1995, and they don't have this one listed yet. I've only heard five of those albums (plus another five by her partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura -- two solo, three in groups with Fujii), and the one thing I'm most struck by is how varied they are: the solo Sketches, the intensely composed Illusion Suite, the big band Blueprint, and (my favorite) the avant-fusion Zephyros. This one is mostly a live recap of Illusion Suite -- the title piece fills up 36:28 in the middle here, and the group is the same, with Tamura, Mark Dresser on bass, and Jim Black on drums. There's some impressive stuff here -- Fujii's piano when she cuts loose, Tamura's trumpet swell on "Looking Out of the Window," the whole long sprawling mess of "Illusion Suite." One of these days I'll have to sort out the broader dimensions of her career. Meanwhile, I'm still working on this one. [B+(***)]

Satoko Fujii Four: Live in Japan 2004 (2004 [2005], P.J.L): Not to be confused with the Satoko Fujii Quartet, which has two Japanese musicians on bass-drums and takes more of a fusion slant. This group has Mark Dresser on bass and Jim Black on drums for a more avant pairing. The four pieces include the 36:28 "Illusion Suite," recently on an album of that name, by the same group minus trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. Lots of good parts. I'm especially impressed by Black this time around. B+(**)

Satoko Fujii Quartet: Angelona (2004 [2006], Libra): Fujii and her trumpeter-husband Natsuki Tamura are very prolific, working in a wide range of groups including several quartets. This one reprises Zephyros, easily my favorite of the ten or so albums I've heard thus far, in large part because electric bassist Takeharu Hayakawa kept the propulsion in high gear. Hayakawa is far less central here -- in fact, the rhythm section doesn't particularly distinguish itself in any way this time. Fortunately, this is where Tamura, who had previously struck me as by far the more conservative stylist, steps up big time. Fujii also impresses, especially on the Tayloresque splashes that rough up the opener. The result is an album that flirts with greatness but doesn't quite deliver it. That's about par as far as I've managed to figure out. B+(**)

Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Resolving Doors (2004, Charles Lester Music): Rough, aggressive avant-garde music, with Futterman exploding on piano and Levin racing through the curves on tenor sax or, frequently, bass clarinet. Fielder drums. Don't have a clear take on this yet, but it has potential to move up. [B+(**)]

Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Resolving Doors (2004, Charles Lester Music): Futterman plays piano, similar to Cecil Taylor as far as one can go with that. Which doesn't mean that he doesn't have his own distinct style, but this is the only of his two dozen albums I've heard thus far, and it isn't easy to focus on him with Ike Levin in the room. Levin plays tenor sax and bass clarinet -- tough, fearless, rough around the edges, but he gets a sweet tone on the one ballad stretch here. He has connections to Fred Anderson and Kidd Jordan, but reminds me as much of Charles Brackeen. Fielder, the drummer, is an AACM founder, with a long resume starting from Sun Ra. All have Chicago ties, although Futterman moved to Virginia in 1973 -- no doubt part of the reason he's remained so obscure. If you imagine this as a piano-sax brawl, which it sometimes sounds like, it's the drummer who keeps both sides swinging. Of course, there's more to it than that. B+(***)

The Red Garland Quintets Featuring John Coltrane: Prestige Profiles (1957-61 [2005], Prestige): And Donald Byrd, for the quintessential bebop quintet lineup. Except for one piece with a different quintet, with Richard Williams and Oliver Nelson. Starts with "Billie's Bounce," which never sounded more retro. Best thing here is Garland's own "Soul Junction," with a long intro that lets you enjoy the piano, before Coltrane enters like he's easing into a warm bath. B+(**)

Vinny Golia Quartet: Sfumato (2003 [2006], Clean Feed): He's a multi-reed player I respect but don't know very well, with most of a huge catalog on his own Nine Winds label. I put this on as soon as I got it, but had to leave the room and mostly heard random noise, so it took a while for me to get back to it. Whatever I heard then isn't much in evidence now. This is a reeds-trumpet-bass-drums quartet, the basic two-headed powerhouse that has worked so well in avant-leaning circles over the last few years. Golia mostly plays clarinets, high saxes (soprano, sopranino) and low flutes (G, contrabass). Bobby Bradford provides the trumpet, with Ken Filiano and Alex Cline out back. Interesting music, covering a wide range of sounds and textures. Looking forward to getting back to it soon. [B+(***)]

Charles Gayle: Time Zones (2006, Tompkins Square): This, too, is solo piano, all originals. Gayle is legendary for his tenor sax, raw and ferocious, an unreconstructed follower of Ayler. But as his '90s albums started to grow repetitive and tedious, he started working on other instruments, including piano and violin, sometimes with startling results. This winds up having more dynamic range than the Ran Blake solo, and more finnesse than you'd figure. Usual caveats and confusions. One thing I like about Gayle on piano is that he can't overblow, so his music doesn't get swallowed up in his distortion. But it's surprising how serene this can get. [B+(**)]

Chris Gestrin/Ben Monder/Dylan van der Schyff: The Distance (2004 [2006], Songlines): A cute trick here is that the front cover, back cover, and spine list the artists in different orders. I've gone with the front cover -- piano-guitar-drums is the more conventional order, and Gestrin has a slight composition edge over van der Schyff. There's a sort of abstract modernism to the work, short melodic runs with odd blips, but the recording level is so low I'm having a lot of trouble following it. Will give it another shot later. [B-]

Chris Gestrin/Ben Monder/Dylan van der Schyff: The Distance (2004 [2006], Songlines): Piano-guitar-drums trio, so lightly recorded it's very hard to follow, or is it so abstract? Maybe there's something here, but at some point incomprehension gives way to indifference, and that dictates its own rating. I'm still unsure how low it should go, but these guys usually have more to offer. B-

Joe Giardullo: No Work Today: Nine for Steve Lacy (2004 [2005], Drimala): Seven originals plus two Lacy pieces, all played on solo soprano sax. It's limited conceptually -- solo anything is bound to be marginal, and musically it slipstreams in Lacy's wake. But that may be a too narrow way of looking at what is in its own right a remarkable performance. And now that Lacy has died it may be all the more valuable to recognize that he lives on. [B+(***)]

Joe Giardullo: No Work Today: Nine for Steve Lacy (2004 [2005], Drimala): From John Szwed's liner notes: "God forbid, you run out of breath, and the audience may hear it has running out of ideas." That happens a couple of times here. There's no margin for error, no cover for a slip up or the least bit of sloppiness. Solo saxophone (soprano, no less) requires total concentration by the musician, and little less by the listener. Lacy recorded solo a number of times, but even though I have about 25 of his albums, I don't have a solo one (there are at least five) available for comparison. It's tough to do, and its appeal is limited, so it's all the more remarkable how gracefully Giardullo pulls this off. B+(***)

Ben Goldberg Quintet: The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact (2006, Cryptogramophone). Don't know when this was recorded -- I'm working off one of those cheap, stupid "for promotional use only" advances, although given how annoying this label's regular packaging has become, that may not be a total step backwards. So I need to get some more info, but for now I understand that this is meant as a tribute to Steve Lacy, and that Goldberg and violinist Carla Kihlstedt are also members of Tin Hat (evidently no longer a trio, something else to check up on). The quintet also includes Rob Sudduth (tenor sax), Devin Hoff (bass), and Ches Smith (drums). Don't know the latter, but the first striking thing here is the rhythm, which plods along sure-footedly, opening up space for the front-line instruments, which complement each other nicely. Need more research, but this is a very solid album. [A-]

Larry Goldings: Quartet (2006, Palmetto): He's one of the better regarded organists to emerge in the '90s, so the first surprise here is to hear him take the first two songs on piano. He also plays various other keyboard instruments, plus "glock" to add to the toy instrument sound. Ben Allison and Matt Wilson are solid as usual. The fourth corner of the quartet is trumpeter John Sneider, providing a thin, shrill complement to the organ, but since mostly this isn't an organ record, it often sounds thin and shrill. The music wanders all over the map, adding to the inconsistency. It's mostly slow, dulling the invention. Madeleine Peyroux joins for a rendition of "Hesitation Blues" that is so hesitant it's almost a parody, with Sneider sounding especially anemic. The against-type abstraction might be considered a brave experiment, but discoveries are scarce. B-

Edsel Gomez: Cubist Music (2005 [2006], Zoho): Perhaps I'm confused by the title, which suggests to me something with sharper angles -- post-Monk at least, maybe even post-Taylor. On the other hand, perhaps Gomez, a not-so-young (b. 1962) pianist from Puerto Rico headlining his first album, is confused himelf by the opportunity to juggle too many fine musicians -- the horns are Don Byron, David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Steve Wilson and Gregory Tardy. Don't know. I suspect this will wind up in the "distinctions not cost-effective" file, but I'll put it back on the shelf. [B]

Edsel Gomez: Cubist Music (2005 [2006], Zoho): He's a well travelled, well connected Puerto Rican pianist, on his first album, where he writes all of the pieces except for a short one by his producer, Don Byron, at the end. The music and piano are fine, but most of the interest here will center on the group, with its Drew Gress-Bruce Cox rhythm section, and an all-star tag team of reed players: David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Steve Wilson, Greg Tardy, and Byron. B+(**)

Gutbucket: Sludge Test (2005 [2006], Cantaloupe): Saxophonist Ken Thompson seems to be the main guy in this quartet, filled out by guitarist Ty Citerman, bassist Eric Rockwin, and drummer Paul Chuffo. The music's built from hard, straight electric bass lines, which guitar and (especially) sax vamp over rockishly. I liked the basic idea from the start, but it's taken me a while to get into their implementation, and I haven't hit bottom yet. [B+(**)]

Jim Hall/Geoffrey Keezer: Free Association (2005, ArtistShare): Guitar-piano duets. A venerable item in Hall's catalog is Undercurrent, his duo with Bill Evans. I've never warmed much to that album, always suspecting that Hall is too subtle and intricate to hold his own against a piano, even when manned by as subtle and intricate as Evans. Keezer I don't know very well, but try as he can he strikes me as a mismatch. So we get an understated piano squeezing out an understated guitar. Doesn't leave much. B

Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005, Screwgun): This came out before the Paraphrase album, but I didn't get it until afterwards. Both are trios, the difference swapping Drew Gress on bass for Craig Taborn on piano. This trio recorded previously on The Shell Game, and on a couple more albums with guitarist Marc Ducret, so this is a group that knows its ins and outs. Still, this strikes me as a typical Berne record rather than an extraordinary one -- it fractures pieces into abstraction rather than pulling them together. Could be I just need to give it a bit more time. [B+(***)]

Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005, Screwgun): Two-thirds of the Paraphrase lineup, with pianist Craig Taborn replacing bassist Drew Gress. My preference for the latest Paraphrase album most likely has little to do with the change -- the other album just caught one of those moments when everything clicked. Nonetheless, this isn't far off the mark. Taborn is very engaged, and he is worth focusing on. B+(***)

Joel Harrison: Harrison on Harrison (2005, High Note): The other Harrison is Beatle George, like Joel a guitarist first, a composer second, and a vocalist last. One problem with covering rock songs is that they come with lyrics, so they tempt one to sing, and that tends to keep them locked down as rock songs. Four of eleven songs here have vocals, one by guest Jen Chapin. The other pieces open up more, and on a couple of occasions pianist Uri Caine and/or saxophonists David Liebman and David Binney threaten to run away with them. This leaves us with a rather uncomfortable and inconsistent sense of the guitarist. Some interesting stuff here, but I don't see how it adds up. B

Kevin Hays: Open Range (2004 [2006], ACT): This is number III in the label's Piano Works series -- the first two were by Joachim Kühn and George Gruntz. Solo piano, with a vocal or two, including the one non-original, "You Are My Sunshine." The titles reflect the open spaces around Hays' Santa Fe home. Music is slow and spacious. Want to play it again. [B+(*)]

Fred Hersch: In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis (2003 [2006], Palmetto): One of the best mainstream pianists working, but this one is solo, live, not all that interesting. I should go back to his Maybeck session for comparison -- it's been on the unrated shelf for a long time, still unheard -- but distinctions are likely to be marginal. And I should develop a finer sense of what does and does not work with solo piano. But three plays of this pretty decent one has only convinced me that this isn't the place to start. B

Andrew Hill: Time Lines (2006, Blue Note): This is Hill's second return to Blue Note, following his one-shot 1989 album Eternal Spirit. During his first stretch with Blue Note, Hill established himself as one of the most important pianists to emerge in the '60s, but then he slipped into obscurity with the eclipse of jazz in the '70s, staging a comeback over the last decade. This is a quintet with Charles Tolliver on trumpet and Greg Tardy on reeds, a typical line-up for Hill in the '60s, as it lets him broaden his compositional palette while still keeping the piano central. Still working on this. No rush, since release date is 02-21. [B+(***)]

Hiromi: Spiral (2005 [2006], Telarc): This strikes me much like her previous record Brain did. Both are piano trios on the left edge of mainstream, carefully thought out, sharply recorded. On both she dabbles with electronics and makes it work. Other than respectful admiration, I don't have much more to say at this point. Brain made my Honorable Mention list back when I wasn't so backlogged. This one probably won't given the increased competition, but it's every bit as solid. [B+(*)]

Hiromi: Spiral (2005 [2006], Telarc): I like her straight acoustic piano trio work, and I like her electronics, although the Kung-Fu remix goes a bit over the top. But I don't have any real insights into why I like it, or why I don't rate it even higher. Made the last one an Honorable Mention, and this is pretty close to it, but the curve is probably steeper these days. And the time to figure it out is getting scarcer. B+(**)

Jason Kao Hwang: Graphic Evidence (2000 [2005], Asian Improv): On two cuts, guest Wu Man plays pipa, a pear-shaped Chinese lute that adds a delicate, quivering string sound mid-way between Hwang's violin and Tatsu Aoki's bass. The other member of the trio is Francis Wong, playing soprano sax, sticking close to the violin. One result is that the instruments narrow in on a texture and sound, rather than spreading out. This makes for a very discreet record, where the pleasures may be too subtle, but but they gradually kick in. [B+(**)]

Incognito: Eleven (2006, Narada Jazz): Not a jazz group by any stretch of the imagination -- even by the delirious standards of Smooth Jazz. Rather, they are an old-fashioned disco group, working a deliberately anonymous groove -- think of Chic, then tune the bass and funk down to where it's barely perceptible. As one who considers anonymity a plus in disco I rather like them, but not as much as I'd like them if they moved me. B

Brent Jensen: Trios (2006, Origin): No record date. Two sets, one with guitar-bass, the other with bass-drums. Songs are standard jazz fare, so much so that one can imagine this as the orals for a jazz degree program: "Beautiful Love," "Bemsha Swing," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Giant Steps," "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," "East of the Sun," "Well You Needn't." I've been reading Stuart Nicholson's Is Jazz Dead?, where he complains much about jazz that points backwards, showing off its competency while hiding its disinterest in innovation. Still, Jensen, an alto saxist, aces everything he touches, and while this breaks no new ground, it succeeds at a more fundamental level: it entertains and delights. B+(***)

Ingrid Jensen: At Sea (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): One of these I need to figure out what people mean when they say something is post-bop. Even without a precise definition this seems to be what they have in mind. Actually, I'm not sure it's related to bop at all, but Jensen is by reputation a follower of Woody Shaw and Art Farmer, who fit squarely into the hard bop tradition. But this is intricate, composerly music, stretched out to long forms that don't necessarily feel improvised. She plays the only horn, but there are lots of little things going on: keyboards, bass, guitar (on two cuts), percussion (some Latin, some African). The trumpet is strong and distinctive. Interesting record, not that I know what to make of it. [B+(***)]

Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade (2004 [2005], ECM): Johnson is a bassist with a couple of quite good albums under his own name, and well over 100 sideman appearances. He recalls some favors here, especially from Joe Lovano and John Scofield, who are used lightly but to good effect. More important is Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias: Johnson plays bass in one of her two working trios, and here she co-wrote the songs in addition to holding down the piano. This starts off with Lovano turning in the most gorgeous work of his recent career, then hums along nicely, with Scofield taking a couple of fine turns, Elias consistently wonderful, the leader directing from the back. Joey Baron is on drums, Alain Mallet on organ. Can't quite place the latter, and still have doubts on my rating, although I've played this many times. [A-]

Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (2004 [2005], ECM): Don't really know anything about him, other than that he plays drums, wrote all of the songs here, and leveraged his label to put together a marvelous group here. Actually, he didn't have to pull too many strings, since one got him three-fourths of Tomasz Stanko's quartet (didn't need the drummer), and another got him Jan Garbarek. Will have to do some research before I finalize this, and will have to convince myself that an album this simply artful and, for lack of a better word, beautiful makes the grade on that alone. Could be. [A-]

Arthur Kell Quartet: Traveller (2004 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): Kell is a New York bassist, composer of all the pieces here. The group is an interesting mix, with Steve Cardenas on guitar, Gorka Benitez on tenor sax and flute, and Joe Smith on drums. Benitez is an appealing postmodern saxist, and his flute has some redeeming merit. Cardenas is probably the key, his guitar most active in shaping the tunes. Typical of Fresh Sound's new talent -- with Kell's first album here all four have albums on the label; perhaps slightly better than typical. I'll let this one simmer. [B+(**)]

Arthur Kell Quartet: Traveller (2004 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): Tight bassist-led quartet with three more musicians already established on the Fresh Sound label: Gorka Benitez (tenor sax, flute), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Joe Smith (drums). Kell's bass firmly anchors his tunes, and he's the critical focal point, but both Cardenas and Benitez excel. A-

Diana Krall: Christmas Songs (2005, Verve): I've read that Christmas records outsell jazz records, a rather appalling factoid. Hopefully, this record will at least confuse the issue. She's a terrific singer. The songs are mostly crap. The Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra fades away toward the end, but they have a lot of fun with "Jingle Bells" -- enough so that for a while I found myself wondering whether this was the best Xmas album since Ella. But I gave up that notion, and don't consider it a subject for further research. B

Nils Landgren & Joe Sample: Creole Love Call (2005 [2006], ACT): Most tourists come (or came) to New Orleans to hear music, but you can understand the impulse of this Swedish trombonist-vocalist and all around funk fan to make some. I don't think this works, but parts are charming enough I'm going to keep the tab open. Sample plays keyboards, and while he's not exactly James Booker (or even Dr. John), he holds his own. Landgren is a slight-voiced crooner -- the softness in his voice has a sort of amateurish appeal, but he's so outclassed by duet partners Ray Parker Jr. and Charmaine Neville it isn't funny. And you'd have to come from as far afield as Sweden to confuse the songbook with New Orleans -- especially "Dock of the Bay," "Nightlife," "Love the One You're With." But it does pick up a bit toward the end, with much needed extra brass on Sample's "Same Old Story," and Ellington's title tune done as an instrumental -- would much rather hear his trombone than his Adelaide Hall impression. [B]

Peggy Lee Band: Worlds Apart (2004, Spool/Line): The jazz cellist from Vancouver -- I suppose it's one measure that she's established herself that AMG answers a search for her with the choice "Peggy Lee [Cello]" in the same bold type as "Peggy Lee [Vocals]." AMG now credits her with 5 albums and 48 appearances, although a half-dozen or more of those look like mistaken links to the singer's work. This record doesn't parse readily, I suspect because the cello is relatively inconspicuous in a sextet led by trumpet (Brad Turner) and trombone (Jeremy Berkman), whose dithering enhances the abstract expressionism. [B+(**)]

Steve Lehman: Demian as Posthuman (2005, Pi): Twelve pieces run 36:30, not much more than an LP from the era when singles were king. Three are group pieces with Vijay Iyer on piano and Meshell Ndegeocello on bass. Most are duos with Tyshawn Sorey on drums, and a couple are solos. Lehman plays alto sax, or sopranino sax on one cut. Electronics happen, so the solo cuts are usually Lehman playing against his own programming. Short, sharp, eloquent. Don't quite have a handle on this yet, but he's certainly turning into an interesting figure. [A-]

Steve Lehman: Demian as Posthuman (2005, Pi): Twelve short pieces, structured like a bridge with community on both ends and mostly duo pieces in between, where Lehman plays alto sax against his own programming and Tyshawn Sorey's drums. Dense and cerebral, with no wasted motion. I've written about an interview where Lehman talks about how his work opposes what he sees as the coming dark ages. Hesse's Demian was a guide out of the darkness -- actually, a superficial world of light, or so I gather -- so that seems to be the overarching concept. If so, the point of these pieces may be to create oppositions to force you to think. The duos feel uncommonly compressed, weighted down, although I'm not sure with what. The community pieces are more affirming, with Vijay Iyer's piano the most impressive thing, as usual. A-

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Don't Be Afraid . . . The Music of Charles Mingus (2003 [2005], Palmetto): Gee, and to think I thought Sue was draining the life out of the Mingus corpus. The only thing that keeps this off the Duds list is the unorthodox song selection, plus my admiration for the great man's wondrous music. But then if I put it back and play it again I may overcome my reservations. It's worth noting that there are only two viable models for big band jazz these days: one is when some institution lays some money out; the other is when a ragtag bunch of musicians get together to indulge one of their own's fantasies as an arranger. Both approaches have their successes and failures, but Lincoln Center's investments have yielded very little. One big problem with institutional jazz is that it's relatively vulnerable to political scams. [B]

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Don't Be Afraid . . . The Music of Charles Mingus (2003 [2005], Palmetto): This became inevitable once flacks tried to draw an orchestral line from Ellington to Mingus to Marsalis -- otherwise, wouldn't Mingus be a bit too outré for the upscale crowd? Mingus has yet to develop into a repertory staple, at least outside of the official tribute bands, filled with old Mingus hands, that Sue Mingus rides herd on, and even there recent albums like I Am Three (Sunnyside) suggest they're running on fumes. (The rule of thumb is that the older albums are the better ones, but I haven't rechecked to see whether they're just less redundant, or the memory is fresher, or what.) What's missing from all the remakes is Mingus himself -- the virtuoso bassist, of course, but more importantly the leader who drove small bands to play huge. Here fifteen musicians play small. At the end of the tricky title piece about the clown, they even laugh small. B-

Carl Maguire: Floriculture (2002 [2005], Between the Lines): Leader plays piano and composed the pieces, played by a quartet with Chris Mannigan's alto sax making the most noise. Opens up roughly avant, where the piano chimes brightly, but the quieter spots interest me more, like the brief duet between bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Dan Weiss in a piece dedicated to Mark Dresser, or spots where Mannigan plays softly behind the bass. Impressive first album. [B+(***)]

Pat Martino: Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (2006, Blue Note): Montgomery is the major figure in the history of jazz guitar. Probably half of the jazz guitarists working today look straight back to him, and any of them would be happy to dedicate a tribute on a major label. I've never been much of a jazz guitar fan, and while there are items in Montgomery's folder that I enjoy, I very rarely find any of his followers to be of interest. Martino is a well regarded guitarist, but I've never paid him any attention. (This is the first album under his name that I've heard.) He started in soul jazz groups, was knocked out of action by illness, and made a much publicized, rather heroic comeback, establishing himself as one of the better known guitarists in jazz. But as far as I know, he's never been associated with Montgomery before. He doesn't much sound like Montgomery, but he plays the standard pieces with skill, so let's say he's a second order follower -- an admirer, but not a devotee. That's probably for the best here, since we can always listen to the real thing. Montgomery didn't play with many pianists, but some of his most notable work was with Wynton Kelly, whose long, loopy bop lines were often interchangeable with Montgomery's. David Kikoski fills the Kelly role here, and is more convincing than Martino. This is a pleasant little album, essentially a marketing idea as most tributes are. Scheduled for release April 4, so I guess I can wait. [B+(*)]

The Earl May Quartet: Swinging the Blues (2005, Arbors): A nice little swing quartet led by the veteran bassist, with pianist Larry Ham and alto saxist David Glasser contributing a few originals to go with the standards. The title comes from a Count Basie piece. The balance is neither all that bluesy or all that swinging -- the group's moderation is much of its charm -- but Glasser gets to air out his horn on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and Lester Young's "Lester Leaps In." Barry Harris spells Lam on two tracks. B+(*)

John McNeil: East Coast Cool (2004 [2006], Omnitone): This is a piano-less quartet modelled on Mulligan-Baker, with Allan Chase on baritone sax and McNeil on trumpet. The idea is not just to update but add a twist by transposing the coasts. Given how many west coast cool jazzers actually came from the east, I suppose it's fair that McNeil grew up in California. Not really sure what's going on here: starts out with a spirited edge, but loses interest as it goes on. Probably needs another spin. [B+(*)]

John McNeil: East Coast Cool (2004 [2006], Omnitone): Updates the Mulligan-Baker pianoless quartet frame with east coast panache, but still feels like a small idea, even if nicely executed. B+(*)

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Elvis Costello (2003 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Costello sings here, playing a tiny bit of piano at the end. Talks about his father, also a singer. Talks about how he wrote "Almost Blue" with Chet Baker in mind, singing it and a couple of Baker's standards. Displays some gratuitous range and operatic flair. McPartland plays well as an accompanist, but she tends to bring out the worst in Costello, and the music never steps beyond slow, gloomy ballads. B

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Bruce Hornsby (2003 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Here I'm at a disadvantage, in that I've never heard Hornsby's records -- got warned off him early, and never ventured there. As a pianist he gets compared to Elton John a lot, but the conversation here revolves more around Powell and Evans. He's very forthright, enthusiastic. His most interesting stories were about playing with the Grateful Dead. On the other hand, I still don't have any real feel for his music, and none of his originals here made much of an impression. Did like his boogie woogie version of "Blue Monk." Grade is pretty arbitrary. B-

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Steely Dan (2002 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Usual format, but she's a bit out of her league here. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were the most jazz literate of pop stars, so they come off as knowing more about her world than she does of theirs. She compensates for that with shameless flattery. On the other hand, the generation gap is apparent when McPartland reminiscences about Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, mere idols to her guests. Closes with "Chain Lightning" and "Black Friday" -- the Steely Dan pieces include bass and drums, for a full sound. B

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Teddy Wilson (1978 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Of course, it's ridiculous trying to rate records like this. This is one of McPartland's "Piano Jazz" radio programs, where she talks shop with a guest, plays a little piano, has the guest play, does a duet or two -- almost everything is improvised on the spot. She's been doing this since 1978 -- no telling how many of these programs she's done, but AMG lists 32 titles up to 2002. That's when Concord slashed their back catalog. Since then Concord redesigned the artwork and has started reissuing select old titles, like this one, plus a few new ones, like Elvis Costello and Bruce Hornsby. Those numbers suggest that they try to be selective about what they release -- there must be hundreds of interviews to choose from. However, given the format, this is the sort of thing that can be fascinating to hear once, but inevitably becomes distracting to replay. To a large extent, grading records is an attempt to estimate how much future replay pleasure they may hold. How valuable these are depends not just on who the guest is, but on how curious you are about the guest; given how technical the conversation can turn, it may depend on whether your curiosity is also technical. That's the sort of thing I can't evaluate at all, so I tend to grade these things within a relatively narrow band. Turning to this particular show, from McPartland's first season, the obvious point is that Wilson is one of the most important jazz pianists ever, but also that he is a very deliberate and studious performer. He talks a good deal about Benny Carter, who first hired him, and Art Tatum, who he was close to before they both moved to New York. He also talks about John Hammond, Fats Waller, some guy named Horowitz who plays classical music. He doesn't talk about Billie Holiday, whose name currently resides on many records that originally came out under his name, and he doesn't bite on any of the bait McPartland throws out about his skills as an accompanist. All that is interesting, as is the piano. I'm glad I heard it. I'm also glad I didn't have to pay for it, even though at $11.98 list the label meets you part way. And I doubt that I'll play it again, unless I have some specific research to do. B+(*)

Joe McPhee/John Snyder: Pieces of Light (1974 [2005], Atavistic): McPhee's earliest records were released by Craig Johnson's CJR Records, in tiny runs, long out of print. John Corbett's Unheard Music Series has rescued several -- Underground Railroad, Nation Time, Trinity -- and this one completes the quartet. This one is probably the most obscure of the series. It is built around Snyder's experimentation with the ARP Synthesizer, the source of various blips and loops and odd sound waves. McPhee, in turn, throws everything he has against it: trumpet, fluegelhorn, e-flat alto horn, pcoket trumpet, tenor sax, flute, various chimes, and a modified nagoya harp, with rather mixed results. Don't know anything more about Snyder, except that he seems not to be the same Snyder who produced jazz albums for CTI and A&M and who now heads Artists House. B+(*)

Jason Miles: What's Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye (2006, Narada Jazz): I'm of two minds on this. One is that it's a rather slinky groove album. The other is that any time I want to hear Marvin Gaye songs I can always play Marvin Gaye. Working of an advance, so I don't know who does what. I'm going to hold this back until I can look up what Herb Alpert, Chiara Civello, Bobby Caldwell, and Marcus Miller are responsible for. Then maybe I'll have a clear idea just how upset I am. But don't wait up. [B-]

Jason Miles: What's Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye (2006, Narada Jazz): His trivialization of Gaye is less offensive than his trivialization of Miles Davis. But if I had time to listen to Marvin Gaye's songs, I'd rather listen to Marvin Gaye. B-

Joe Morris: Beautiful Existence (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): This is a quartet, with bass, drums, and alto saxist Jim Hobbs mixing it up with the leader's guitar. Morris rarely records with horns -- a quick check shows an album I don't care for much with Ken Vandermark and two I don't know with Rob Brown -- but this match with Hobbs brings out a more aggressive and more varied strain in his playing. I haven't noticed Hobbs before: like Morris, he comes from Boston; did a couple of records for Silkheart in 1993 but nothing since under his own name; has a dozen or so sideman credits since 1993. He's plays well in the avant vein, with fast choppy runs that poke at the edge of noise while retaining their musicality. Found an article where Morris is quoted saying that Hobbs is "as good as anyone who's ever played that instrument." I wouldn't go that far, but he sure is a good match for Morris -- the hot pepper that spices up Morris' lyricism. Will have to play this again to be sure, but thus far I like this quite a bit. [A-]

Paul Motian Band: Garden of Eden (2004 [2006], ECM): This would be the further evolution of Motian's Electric Bebop Band, with electric bass, three guitars, and two saxophones. Starts with two Mingus tunes -- if "Pithecanthropus Erectus" doesn't get you, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" sure will -- and ends with Monk and Bird, with mostly originals in between. Still, all this firepower -- the saxophonists are Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby -- wind up put to work on texture, with Motian slippery as ever, at least until he takes a surprising drum solo toward the end. I've played this several times, and still I'm not sure what I think of it. But then that's pretty much true of everything I've heard by Motian to date -- ten albums plus a compilation, all more or less where I'm guessing this one will end up. [B+(**)]

David Murray 4tet & Strings: Waltz Again (2002 [2005], Justin Time): The rate of Murray releases has slowed down since the late '80s when he could knock out three or four brilliant ones in a couple of days, but part of that is because the scope of his ambitions has grown. He's worked with large groups based in Guadeloupe and Senegal. He's fronted a huge Latin Big Band. Here he engages a large string section with his 26-minute "Pushkin Suite #1," followed by four more pieces in the 10-minute range. My first reaction was that Murray is as brilliant as ever, the quartet is fine, and the strings come from the nether reaches of hell. The latter are largely contained in the smaller pieces, but dominate the suite. They are less succinctly modernist than the strings in Stan Getz' Focus -- that is, there modernism is more evocative of late classical music (Stravinsky, perhaps) than the more abstract modernism that followed. (The booklet describes Pushkin as "the iconic Russian writer of African descent." More details from Wikipedia: "his mother's grandfather was Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal, an African (possibly from Ethiopia or Chad) who was abducted when he was a child and ended up in Russia and became a great military leader, engineer and nobleman after his adoption by Peter the Great." Further details under Gannibal's entry, a fascinating story.) The strings tend to merge more into the background on the other pieces, and they can, at times, be appealing. My reactions started to warm a bit on the third play, and it's possible this will move into B+ territory, much as his own commanding presence finally overcame my reservations and pushed Octet Plays Trane and Now Is Another Time into A- land. Still, for me the best album he's done in the last 6-8 years was the simplest, the quartet Like a Kiss That Never Ends. Would love to hear this quartet -- Lafayette Gilchrist, Jaribu Shahid, and Hamid Drake -- without all the muck. Francis Davis has promised a piece in the Voice on this one. Won't do anything rash until I hear (and read) further. [B-]

David Murray 4tet & Strings: Waltz Again (2002 [2005], Justin Time): Back in 1998 I decided that Murray's Creole was the record of the year. When I praised the record to Christgau, he tersely wrote back that he hates flutes and the record is covered with them. I'm not a flute fan myself, but I was so caught up in the Guadeloupean drums and the master's sax I had hardly noticed. Murray is so monumental he can overpower your prejudices, and he's done so many times -- despite initial reservations I eventually applauded his latin big band and items like Octet Plays Trane. But the strings here are just too much for me. They are as modern and intrusive as those on Stan Getz' Focus, but denser and indecisive -- little swirling maelstroms, they take over the work to such an extent that even Murray has trouble saying his piece. When he does get a word in edgewise, he's magnificent, of course. But there are plenty of other places to hear him to clearer effect. Guess this has to go on the Duds list. B-

Quinsin Nachoff: Magic Numbers (2004 [2005], Songlines): This is a saxophone trio, with Nachoff playing tenor and soprano along with Mark Helias and Jim Black, plus a string quartet. But this isn't one of those sax-with-string albums: the strings carry the load of the complex, quirky music, with the sax melting into the background. I don't find the heavy strings very appealing, but I suspect there's more here than I can work through. B

David "Fathead" Newman: Cityscape (2005 [2006], High Note): I never got a chance to say so before, but Newman's I Remember Brother Ray was the best of a spate of Ray Charles tributes that came out following the movie, the hit duets album, and all that. Not a great record, of course, so that's sort of a backhanded complement, but to the best of my knowledge, Newman's never made a great record, at least under his ownname, in the first half-century of his recording plenty of good ones -- this is touted as "the beginning of David Newman's second half-century," if you're wondering about the wording. With three more horns for coloring (two brass and Howard Johnson's bari sax), a little flute from the leader, and songs ranging from "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" to "Goldfinger," this one is something of a mess -- but occasionally a beautiful mess. Highlights include a big solo on "Here Comes Sonny Man" and a lovely, heartfelt "It Was a Very Good Year." No doubt. B+(**)

New York for Lovers (1953-95 [2005], Verve): Still stuck in ballad mode, but with instrumentals, including four tenor sax giants, sandwiched between the vocals. New York titles (Manhattan, Bronx, Harlem) and lyrics ("Lonely Town") hold a slight majority, but while there's a "Chelsea" and a "Bridge," Ben Webster's "Chelsea Bridge" is a ringer. B

Paal Nilssen-Love: Townorchestrahouse (2002 [2005], Clean Feed): The Norwegian is fast becoming one of the most notable drummers around. Still, it's unclear why he gets top billing here: the three pieces -- two approaching the half-hour mark -- are group improvs attributed to all four players, and the guy with the lead instrument, Evan Parker, is far better known than Nilssen-Love, if not pianist Sten Standell or bassist Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten. The pieces strike me as typical for Parker, with the first (long) and third (short) on tenor sax, the second (long) on soprano. Everyone else makes solid contributions, with Standell's piano making the most of his space. [B+(**)]

Hilary Noble & Rebecca Cline: Enclave (2004 [2005], Zoho): Noble is a Boston-based saxist-percussionist with one previous album (good title, Noble Savage). Cline's a pianist I know nothing about, except that on this evidence she sounds like the young Joanne Brackeen. They play latin jazz with a lot of edge -- sharp corners even. Don't have a good sense of Noble yet, as a saxophonist anyway -- his percussion array is pretty impressive. Not sure how well this will hold up, but for now it goes back into the queue for further study. [B+(***)]

Hilary Noble & Rebecca Cline: Enclave (2004 [2005], Zoho): Good students. Noble studied sax with George Garzone and Yusef Lateef, and did extra credit in Afro-Cuban percussion. Cline picked up her piano from Joanne Brackeen and Chucho Valdés, and she delivers the whole package. But they have moved beyond the humble respect most students pay to their masters. They cross borders and upset conventions, whether they're skewering Cole Porter or serenading Paulo Freire. Sounded like a bunch of neat tricks at first, but there's just too many of them to dismiss. Noble's most likely the conceptualist here, but Cline blows me away: I can't remember the last time I've been so impressed by someone I've never heard of before. A-

Kevin Norton's Bauhaus Quartet: Time-Space Modulator (2003-04 [2004], Barking Hoop): The title's a play on Lazlo Moholy-Nagy's light-space modulator, a gadget built of clear plastic and light bulbs that splashes a room with complexly patterned light. How this translates through sound into time isn't obvious, but the key is probably to focus on drummer Norton and bassist John Lindberg, while letting Dave Ballou's trumpet/cornet and Tony Malaby's tenor/soprano sax fall where they may. At least that's a theory. Not quite there yet. [B+(**)]

Kevin Norton's Bauhaus Quartet: Time-Space Modulator (2003-04 [2004], Barking Hoop): Trumpet (Dave Ballou), tenor/soprano sax (Tony Malaby), bass (John Lindberg), drums/marimba (Norton), mostly working through small changes in a rather abstract vein. It's hard to get a handle on this, but I've kicked it back to the pending queue too many times by now. B+(**)

Luis Mario Ochoa & Friends: Cimarrón (2005, Cuban Music Productions): Small print on front cover describes this as "Cuban Jazz Fusion." One problem I have with latin jazz is figuring out whether "jazz" in that context means anything useful to me. Ochoa plays guitar, arranges, and sings on half of the tracks. The band includes a strong horn section, piano, electric bass, and several helpings of percussion, with some shuffling of personnel and guests -- Paquito D'Rivera gets a mention on the cover, but only appears on one song. The guitar is worth listening for. The vocals less so, although Ochoa's "spanglish" on "Old Devil Moon" caught my ear. But the obvious jazz spots are rare. B+(*)

Odyssey the Band: Back in Time (2005 [2006], Pi): James "Blood" Ulmer's records on Hyena have hewed ever closer to straight blues -- so much so that as much as I like Birthright I couldn't bring myself to give it JCG space. Despite two vocals, this is still definitely a jazz group: a trio with violinist Charles Burnham and drummer Warren Benbow, which refers back to Ulmer's 1983 violin-drenched Odyssey and Odyssey the Band's 1998 Reunion. Not sure how this will sort out, but its immediate appeal is obvious and certain. [B+(***)]

Paris for Lovers (1950-92 [2005], Verve): Organizing principle is that either the song title mentions Paris or at least is in French. Extra points if the song is dead-ass slow. And eight of eleven have vocals, six or seven in French (depending on how you count Louis Armstrong murdering "La vie en rose"). Obvious is no problem -- how many times has Verve put Nina Simone's "Ne me quitte pas" on a compilation? It's not even a love song, and they still picked it. For that matter, what's so romantic about "Les feuilles mortes"? And how long did it take them to scrounge through the catalog to find Stéphane Grappelli doing "Nuages"? Or Ella and Louis doing "April in Paris"? Or French titles by Blossom Dearie, Helen Merrill, and Abbey Lincoln? Why do they think that slow songs are romantic? Even when the lead is on flute? B-

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Toward the Margins (1996 [1997], ECM): Playing catch-up here. This is the first of three albums by the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, with Parker, Barry Guy, and (mostly) Paul Lytton on the acoustic side, Walter Prati, Marco Vecchi, and (mostly) Philipp Wachsmann on the electro side. This has the static feel of much purely experimental electronic music, a lot of farting around for little evident gain. So, yes, I still don't get it; so, yes, I'm still working on it. New record next. [B]

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Toward the Margins (1996 [1997], ECM): Just background for the more recent album (see below, I hope). Simple enough in concept: the Parker Trio (Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, you know) meet violinist-electronics buff Philipp Wachsmann and two more knobmen for discrete pleasures. I kept expecting more from the trio, although it's likely that Guy's bass merges into the strings base and Parker's soprano sax burrows into the electronics. Slow, textural. Just let it be and it starts to sweep you away, not unlike a glacier. B+(*)

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour (2004 [2005], ECM): In principle I approve. In practice, I still don't get it, but this seems a bit closer to the target. Some of this makes sense as avant-jazz, some fits the postclassical experimentalist mode more, with its premium of sound over structure -- conceptually more complex, for practical purposes weirder. I used to be interested in that mode, but lost track of the threads over the years. Interesting, but unclear. [B+(*)]

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour (2004 [2005], ECM): The electro brigade is larger than ever, although the acoustic side has grown a bit as well, with Agustí Fernandez on more/less prepared piano to go along with the strings (Philip Wachsmann on violin, Adam Linson on double-bass) and Parker's soprano sax. The one piece in five parts has many effects but little shape, and the flow is once again glacial. It wouldn't be hard to conclude that there's nothing much here, and it can be argued that thinking otherwise is just wishful thinking. But I think otherwise, even if I'm not real sure of myself. The effects are the show. B+(**)

William Parker: Long Hidden: The Olmec Series (1993-2005 [2006], AUM Fidelity): The mesoamerican-inspired Olmec Group joins four young merengue players with older avant-gardists, with Todd Nicholson playing bass and Parker doson ngoni -- a Malian lute he picked up from Don Cherry and has used on several other records. They only appear on four of ten cuts, creating a low-keyed, rather indecisive rhythmic vamp with no particular melodic development, although one piece has a vocal incantation. Parker fills the album out with three solo pieces each on bass and doson ngoni, including the intense bass solo of "Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy" and patiently marked doson ngoni theme of the almost closing "Long Hidden Part One." I say almost because the album contains a bonus cut, a 14:09 bass solo from an obscure album self-released in 1993. It makes for a fitting coda, although it reminds you that for all his fiddling with exotica, Parker's true claim to fame is on the bass. No doubt that this is intriguing in pieces, but I'm not sure how well it fits together. [B+(**)]

Art Pepper: Winter Moon (1980 [2005], Galaxy): Saxophone-with-strings has been a holy grail, sought by many but rarely with any success. The problem has usually been the strings. Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins played majestically against mediocre semiclassical string arrangements. One major exception is Stan Getz's Focus, where Eddie Sauter's arch-modernist strings actually steal the show. But no album combines the lush texturing of strings with saxophone more organically than this one. A+

Gianluca Petrella: Indigo 4 (2006, Blue Note): This is an advance, release due Feb. 21. I know nothing about the leader, except that he plays trombone. Know nothing about who else is on the album, except that there is a saxophonist I want to find out more about. Good solid postbop, harmonically complex but not overbaked. Looking forward to learning more. [B+(***)]

Positive Knowledge: First Ones (2005, Charles Lester Music): This one is a throwback to the intersection of the avant-garde with the black power renaissance of the late '60s -- or rather, an attempt to move forward again. The tipoff is Ijeoma Thomas' "poetic vocals" -- in the tradition of Linda Sharrock, but more substantial. The evident leader is Oluyemi Thomas, who mostly plays bass clarinet, with C-melody sax, soprano sax, musette, flute, and percussion as the spirit moves him. Or Spirit -- that's the drummer's name. Also present is tenor saxophonist Ike Levin, so mostly this breaks down to two reeds plus drums -- shades of Sonny Simmons and Prince Lasha. Plus poetry and percussion. This is still at the interesting level for me. Check back later. [B+(**)]

Positive Knowledge: First Ones (2005, Charles Lester Music): The squeak, skronk, and flat-out noise finally spoiled this pan-African avantism for me -- a surprise, since I initially suspected Ijeoma Thomas' "poetic vocals." She's a taste you may not care to acquire, but she's not full of shit, and she somehow keeps the clash of the two horns -- husband Oluyemi Thomas, who plays everything but favors the bass clarinet, and tenor saxist Ike Levin -- within safe limits, at least when she's present. Interesting conceptually, and promising, but too tough to sled. B

Chris Potter: Underground (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): An interesting quartet line-up here, with Wayne Krantz on guitar and Craig Taborn playing Fender Rhodes between Potter's tenor sax and Nate Smith's drums. (Adam Rogers adds a second guitar on two pieces.) I haven't listened to this close enough to figure out how it works. Presumably, Taborn's Fender Rhodes fills the usual bass role as well as providing pianistic support, while Krantz functions mostly as a second soloist, as in the big title piece, with a long guitar solo following some of Potter's most impressive blowing. Merits further study. [B+(***)]

Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar (1906-2001 [2005], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Guitar has always had a problematic place in jazz. It's been present since the beginning, but hasn't had a consistent role or focus like other instruments. In part this is because technology has transformed the sound of guitar more than any other instrument -- electric amplification, effects devices. But it's also because most guitar developments took place outside of jazz, so jazz guitarists often import musical ideas along with the technology. The idea behind this box is to cover it all, but that's a tough job, especially as one gets into the home stretch. In the early days guitar was almost exclusively a rhythm instrument -- so much so that Eddie Condon and Freddie Green were famous for was never taking solos. The improvisers were more likely to come from elsewhere -- the first disc here widens the net to pick up bluesmen Lonnie Johnson and Casey Bill Weldon, western swingers Leon McAulliffe and Eldon Shamblin, and notables from the far ends of the earth: Sol Hoppii (Hawaii), Oscar Alemán (Argentina), and Django Reinhardt (France). Charlie Christian might have changed everything, but he died in 1942, and his legacy -- bebop-inflected lines cleanly picked on electric guitar -- developed gradually through the '50s, culminating in Wes Montgomery. The second disc here covers this period rather loosely, including Les Paul and Chet Atkins as well as the usual suspects. While the first two discs make for interesting archaeology, the subject gets messier for the other two, and the chronology breaks down. The third disc introduces fusion, again starting with a notable outsider, Jimi Hendrix, followed by John McLaughlin. The fourth disc recasts fusion into smoother groove music, with examples including Eric Gale and Larry Carlton. But neither disc focuses at all tightly. The third includes tastes as varied as George Benson, Sonny Sharrock, Derek Bailey, John Abercrombie, and Ralph Towner, while the fourth has James Ulmer, Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Marc Ribot. So this covers a lot of ground. It's tempting to add that it also misses much, but that's mostly because the raw numbers and stylistic variety of jazz guitarists have exploded in the last twenty years, and it's too soon to figure out what that means. A box of any other instrument would have similar problems, but guitar much more so. All this jumping around limits the box's listenability, especially on Disc 4. But then the box is best viewed as a reference set, and the 144-page booklet is by far the best thing here. B+(***)

Joshua Redman Elastic Band: Momentum (2005, Nonesuch): I wrote this up as an A- shortly after I got it, but it missed the cut the first time out, then I held it back a second time. Christgau told me he thought it was a dud -- made the point that it was the first time he really disagreed with my jazz picks -- but he hasn't flagged it as such in his Consumer Guide. Also I never managed to pick up a copy of Redman's previous Elastic Band album, which meant I was missing a key context. (Of course, if that was critical, I'd never be able to review anything.) I gave it a spin last JCG time and it still seemed to hold up. Gave it another spin this time and I'm starting to have my own doubts. The guitarists don't just not stand out -- they're kinda mushy. And the leader doesn't just play along -- he's still perfecting the saxophone equivalent of anorexia. And the record is getting old, which wouldn't matter so much for a relative unknown, but he's on a major label and has (or had) a major rep. Still, I do like Sam Yahel's funk organ, and Nicholas Payton aces his guest spot. And I've never doubted that funk is its own reward. So I haven't turned to the point I think this is a dud. But I am going to let it slip quietly into oblivion. Just too much other stuff to squeeze into the space. B+(**)

Randy Reinhart: At the Mill Hill Playhouse: As Long As I Live (2004 [2005], Arbors): I'll have to play this again to be sure, but on first play this sounds like the perfect storm of the Arbors set. John Sheridan, Dan Barrett, and especially Kenny Davern play even more impressively than on their own recent Arbors albums, with frequent collaborator James Chirillo making comparable moves on guitar. Reinhart plays cornet on this, his first album, and has a blast. Given the instrumentation, this is more trad than swing. [A-]

Randy Reinhart: As Long as I Live (2004 [2005], Arbors): A trad jazz sideman at least since 1994, playing cornet and trombone alongside the likes of Keith Ingham and Marty Grosz, this is Reinhart's first album as a leader. But really it's a group effort, and this is quite a group. Kenny Davern, Dan Barrett, and John Sheridan each make more of an impression than on their own recent Arbors albums, and guitarist James Chirillo has as many high points -- maybe Arbors should have given him an album too. B+(***)

Matt Renzi: The Cave (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): Basic saxophone trio, the leader playing tenor and clarinet. I know very little about him: born San Francisco, father played flute in the SF Symphony, studied at Berklee with the George Garzone (like, who didn't?); has four records I've never hard. Never heard of bassist and drumer either. Booklet has short note from Renzi: "The music on this recording represents a four-year span of experiences living in Japan, Italy, New York, and India." The most striking thing about this record is how centered it is: Renzi plays difficult music but makes it look easy because he doesn't go in for the stress and force of most avant saxophonists. Not sure where this will land eventually, but for a first play I enjoyed it a lot. [B+(***)]

Matt Renzi: The Cave (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): Simple trio, the leader playing tenor sax and clarinet near equally. A student of George Garzone, Renzi tries to work four years living in scattered spots on three continents into his mix, and the result is thoughtful, almost contemplative, very centered. B+(***)

Sam Rivers/Ben Street/Kresten Osgood: Violet Violets (2004 [2005], Stunt): Billed as the second part of a 2-CD set, so I'm annoyed that I didn't get the first part too. Also no details on who plays what where. Bassist Street and drummer Osgood are givens, but Rivers sounds like he's playing a clarinet on the first cut, then returns to tenor sax for most of the rest. He has a very distinctive sound, both rhythm and phrasing, and it works especially well in this small group. Very nice. [B+(***)]

Sam Rivers/Ben Street/Kresten Osgood: Violet Violets (2004 [2005], Stunt): This is one of those old masters goes to Europe and gets roped into a studio things. (Street is presumably American, but he mostly records on European labels. Osgood is Danish.) The pieces include a couple by Osgood, a couple by Rivers, some group improv, and other odds and ends (Ornette Coleman, Lucky Thompson). Still, this is remarkable for how good Rivers sounds, and how neatly this links back to his early work. B+(***)

Bob Rockwell Quartet: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster (2004 [2005], Stunt): A simple idea, with Rockwell's original "Prelude for Ben" followed by the usual standards done in the usual style. Rockwell doesn't aim for Webster's trademark vibrato, but otherwise he's dead on. Not hard, perhaps, given that everything is down tempo, but for such a simple idea I'm not aware of anyone else trying it. And a rich, mellifluous album of ballads is always welcome in these parts. Grade not final because I don't want to get suckered, but also because I want to play it again. [A-]

Bob Rockwell Quartet Featuring Ben Sidran: Bob's Ben: A Tribute to Ben Webster (2004 [2005], Stunt): This one's too easy, but it's an undeniable pleasure. Rockwell's a mainstream tenor saxman who moved to Copenhagen in 1983, two decades after Webster, and settled into a respected if unspectacular career. He has the broad tone but none of Webster's vibrato, so he keeps a respectful distance while luxuriating in a dozen Webster ballads. I thought I never wanted to hear "Danny Boy" again, but I was wrong. A-

The Essential Sonny Rollins: The RCA Years (1962-64 [2005], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Rollins established his reputation in the late '50s, then stopped recording in 1959. He finally returned to the studio three years later with an album called The Bridge, and followed that up with six more LPs in rapid succession. Rollins left RCA for Impulse, where he recorded three more albums up to 1966, then he took another leave, not recording until 1972 when he signed with Milestone. Rollins' RCA recordings have never been accorded much fame, although they've been kept more or less consistently in print, and wrapped up in a 6-CD box with the usual outtakes. The meetings with Don Cherry and Coleman Hawkins reinforced Rollins' status as a loner, but his quartets with Jim Hall showcased some fascinating guitar. Lurking in the background is the haunting question of what Rollins should do viz. the avant-garde -- this was, after all, the period when John Coltrane emerged as his great rival. But there is no answer to that question -- despite the later interest of folks like Ken Vandermark in Rollins' '60s recordings, the great man's own belated answer was to return to form. This is a useful sampler of his RCA work, but what makes it so compelling isn't how well it represents the period -- it's that it consistently finds Rollins' great voice in a rather mixed bag, and as such redeems a body of work we've always been uncertain about. A

Terje Rypdal: Vossabrygg (2003 [2006], ECM): With two drummers, four people on various synths and samples, bass, and the leader's guitar, this is a sprawling mess, rooted in fusion but tempered by the self-effacing requirements of the Nordic sound. At least that's one way of scoring. Another is to point out that one of the synth dabblers actually spends more time on trumpet, and to recall that Palle Mikkelborg is a dedicated and skilled musician whose main claim to fame has been his work with Miles Davis and George Russell -- not so much the roots of this work as its godfathers. So it's not such a surprise that there's much of interest in this mess. Nor that it will take some time to sort out. [B+(**)]

Bernardo Sassetti Trio˛: Ascent (2005, Clean Feed): My first reaction to this was the relatively useless one, that it is very pretty. On second spin, I recognize that there's more to it, including some rough edges of the Monkish persuasion. The superscript 2 appears to mean two extra players added to the piano trio: cello and vibes. I still don't have any fix on the vibes -- the music is well to the slow side, which doesn't sit well with the instrument. The cello, on the other hand, gets a fair amount of space. Don't know much about any of these people, other than that I've heard that Sassetti is the label's best-seller, and that a previous trio album with the same bass-drums shows up in the Penguin Guide with four stars. I'm impressed, surprised, want to know more. [B+(***)]

Dieter Scherf Trio: Inside-Outside Reflections (1974 [2005], Atavistic): I wonder how impressive this sounded when it first came out. Scherf plays alto and bari sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, and piano, but I've never heard of him, or for that matter bassist Jacek Bednarek -- the only "name" here is drummer Paul Lovens. But Scherf's saxophones are more or less the model for innumerable free blowing sessions to follow. B+(**)

Maria Schneider Orchestra: Days of Wine and Roses: Live at the Jazz Standard (2000 [2005], ArtistShare): Like Schneider's all-but-universally admired Concert in the Garden, this leaves me numb and dumbfounded. When I'm ready to dismiss it, I find a tasty solo or some clever combination of voicings. The seventeen musicians include many familiar, much respected names, and there's little doubt as to the skill or commitment of the orchestra or the conductor. But in the end this doesn't add up to much. And I'm not sure why. Is it that she leads from on top with a wand? (By contrast, Ellington and Basie lead from seats in the rhythm section, so they were always deep in the music.) Is it that she's mostly into filigree when what I look for in a big band is muscle? (Hint: she calls it an orchestra.) Is it my paranoia over euroclassicism creeping into the jazz world? If she gave me some reason to care I might try to figure it out. B

Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra: Sacred Music of Duke Ellington (2001-05 [2006], Origin, 2CD): Co-directed by Clarence Acox and Michael Brockman, featuring vocalists Dee Daniels, James Caddell, and Nichol Eskridge, with a snappy big band and an armada of choir singers, and even a credit for tap dancer Tim Hickey. I've never liked Ellington's sacred music, always thinking that the words were overly literal and the melodies forced to the words. He did most of this late in life, and while I don't wish to doubt his sincerity, its awkwardness always smelled of a death-bed conversion. Given all that, I certainly didn't expect much of a small town repertory group, but they make more of it than I imagined possible. The band has some snap to it, and the singers get that gospel feel. And the music is split into two blessedly short discs, instead of one insufferably long one. B+(*)

Matthew Shipp: One (2005 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Yet another solo piano album. Strikes me as less exploratory than his early ones, when he frequently worked either solo or in duos. That leads me to think he's more into touching base than charting new territory, but that makes sense given how far he's moved since he started directing Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. But like the other solo piano albums here, I'm torn between disinterest and lack of understanding. Solo piano albums are often justified as freeing the pianist from constraints imposed by other group members, but isn't freedom supposed to be freer than this? [B+(*)]

Robert Stillman's Horses (2004 [2006], Mill Pond): Described as "seven instrumental pieces," this is jazz mostly by being instrumental and led by a saxophonist, but with its gentle, relatively uniform beat and atmospheric milieu it isn't all that far removed from sountrack territory, or even new age. Clarinet, piano or organ, bass, some guitar, various drums. Rather slight, but nice. B+(*)

String Trio of New York With Oliver Lake: Frozen Ropes (2004 [2005], Barking Hoop): This approaches the 25th anniversary of the John Lindberg-James Emery group, with Rob Thomas the current holder of the violin chair. The trio is in typically resplendent form, but the extra attraction here is Lake, who's been popping up in surprising places over the last year or two and always making a splash. Still on the cusp here; could go higher. [B+(***)]

Thomas Strřnen: Pohlitz (2006, Rune Grammofon): He is a drummer I've noticed on three or four recent Scandinavian albums -- some rockish, some avant, and he's often been the most impressive player. This is something else: solo percussion and electronics, in some ways closer to minimalism than to jazz. I'm still impressed. [B+(***)]

The Thing: Live at Blĺ (2003 [2005], Smalltown Superjazz): Two long pieces, each a medley of three parts, with credits ranging from Joe McPhee to the White Stripes. The Thing is a free jazz trio that makes a lot of noise, with Atomic's bassist and drummer, Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love and reed man Mats Gustafsson, mostly on baritone sax. All three should be well known by now for their various collaborations with Ken Vandermark. I have a lot more trouble with Gustafsson than Vandermark, possibly for the reasons the latter spelled out in his liner notes to the former's Blues -- that Americans play out of the blues, whereas Europeans play with the blues -- although I'm more inclined to think of it as being that Gustafsson swings a heavier axe and makes much more of a mess. Still, at his best his mess can move you mightily. B+(**)

Julius Tolentino: Just the Beginning (2005, Sharp Nine): First album by a young alto saxist who probably likes Jackie McLean's swing records (though not his Ornette records) as much as he digs Bird. He's got a good tone and steady execution. Jeb Patton plays some flashy piano. Five of eight cuts include Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Steve Davis on trombone, and they swing "Domingo" even harder than Benny Golson intended. The closer is an an original, "Letter to Illinois," written after Jacquet's death, played with just piano accompaniment, very nice. He's working in an old style, but this doesn't feel retro, pinched or pinned down. Just feels like his comfort zone. [B+(***)]

Julius Tolentino: Just the Beginning (2005, Sharp Nine): First album by a young alto saxophonist working a mainstream vein. Inlfuences name check Charlie Parker, Phil Woods, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Gary Bartz, Kenny Garrett, with McLean a personal connection. Title cut is an original, fast and boppish. On five cuts he picks up extra brass from Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) and Steve Davis (trombone). Jeb Patton plays flashy, hard bop piano, and he's an asset throughout. Final cut is another original, a duo with Patton lamenting the late Illinois Jacquet. A class move. B+(***)

Assif Tsahar's Project: Solitude (2005, Hopscotch): Something new in terms of sax with strings -- largely because this stark, abrasive string quartet does most of the work, setting the tone and the sandpaper texture. Tsahar's reeds and Tatsuya Nakatani's percussion play free patterns counter to the strings. Or sometimes the strings go pizzicato and join in. Difficult music. B+(*)

Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Hamid Drake: Lost Brother (2005, Hopscotch): No piano from Cooper-Moore this time. He's credited with ashimba, twanger and diddley-bow. Not sure how the first two fit in, but he's turned the latter one-string contraption into a drunken bass; the sound he gets is amazing in its own right, but more remarkably he makes it swing, upifting the whole group. Drake's frame drums are as playful as ever, and with so much good cheer flowing Tsahar opens up in avant-honk mode. I've played this 6-8 times since I got it, working on other things so I've been able to concentrate on it. Could be a pick hit. A-

Mike Tucker: Collage (2005 [2006], www.tuckerjazz.com): Young (26, presumably that means b. 1979; how hard would it be to just say that?) Boston saxophonist (doesn't specify, but all I see and hear is tenor) on first album, leading a quartet with Leo Genovese more on Fender Rhodes than piano, plus bass and drums I've never heard of. The notes cite Michael Brecker as an influence, but being from Boston he's also played with George Garzone. Strikes me as somewhere between the two, definitely on the Sonny side of the great Rollins-Coltrane divide. First half of the album is upbeat, ebullient even, with Fender Rhodes, nothing special but quite a bit of fun. Then he throws us a curve with a slow one called, of all things, "Bird Lives" -- Genovese switches to piano there. Then things get more complicated with "Double Mambo" and "Space Suite" -- latter shows off his education, as opposed to his talent. He's got chops; may go somewhere with them, but it's probably too early to tell. [B+(**)]

Mike Tucker: Collage (2005 [2006], www.tuckerjazz.com): Young tenor saxophonist with chops working mainstream postbop. Cites Michael Brecker as an influence, but he also studied with Garzone. Leo Genovese is in the quartet, playing more Fender Rhodes than piano. Fast ones, a slow one, a mambo, something called a suite. Fine record. I can't make up my mind whether people like him are the scourge of the industry or its salvation, probably because the answer is neither. B+(**)

Upper Left Trio: Sell Your Soul Side (2005 [2006], Origin): Piano trio, probably from Seattle, with Clay Giberson in the hot seat, Jeff Leonard on bass and Charlie Doggett on drums. Don't know any of them, but the album is sharply reasoned and deftly executed. Picture on the back cover reminds me of E.S.T. -- young white guys against a bleak background. Music is similar too, but no electronics. B+(**)

Manuel Valera Group: Melancolía (2004, Mavo): Young Cuban pianist, presumably -- judging from a band that includes Seamus Blake and Ben Street -- not Cuba based. He has a rich, flowing style, and favors complex arrangements, combining a quintet (Antonio Sanchez on drums, Lusito Quintero on percussion) with a string quartet here. His two non-originals here are, no kidding, by Rachmaninoff and Silvio Rodriguez. Shows you he's well schooled, dilligent, hard working, and possibly talented. Not my thing, the aspirations even more so than the accomplishment. And it's long. But it's likely that some people will go gaga over this, and he may turn out to have an impressive career. I'm tempted to hold this back for another play, but I'm also tempted to move on. If it's any consolation, I already like him more than I do Arturo O'Farrill. B

Vision Volume 3 (2003 [2005], Arts for Art, CD+DVD): Just played the CD with nine excerpts from the 2003 Vision Festival, an annual showcase for avant-garde music (and dance, I guess) run by Patricia Nicholson (dancer) and her husband William Parker (bassist extraordinaire). Haven't worked through the DVD yet, but unlike most cases this time I intend to. Also got an 80-page book called Vision Festival Peace, a collection of poetry, pictures and manifestos that I also haven't come close to digesting. The nine pieces provide more variety and less continuity than is usually the case with these musicians, which has its good and bad points. Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, and Rob Brown all make impressive splashes. Fred Anderson sounds a bit thin with just bass behind him, and Kidd Jordan is ugly as ever, but only for a manageable 7:25. The big surprise is that three pieces focus on vocals: Thomas Buckner's is the sketchiest; Patricia Nicholson's is the most striking, as she declaims agitprop over Joseph Jarman reeds and Cooper-Moore's bass-like diddley-bo; Parker's Jeanne Lee Project combines four singers and a big band in a piece that threatens to overwhelm everything. Still need to sort this out better, play the DVD, factor in the various tradeoffs, etc. But for those of us who can't get to the Festival this is a most welcome taste. [B+(***)]

Cuong Vu: It's Mostly Residual (2005, ArtistShare): This showed up on some year-end lists before I tracked it down. Vu is a trumpeter who shows up in some interesting contexts -- Dave Douglas, Chris Speed, Assif Tsahar, Satoko Fujii, Andy Laster, Myra Melford, Pat Metheny, Laurie Anderson. I'm having trouble getting a handle on this rather densely layered music, but in prospecting indecision itself is (somewhat) noteworthy. It's interesting, in play, could develop. We'll see. [B+(**)]

Ulf Wakenius: Notes From the Heart (2005 [2006], ACT): Songs by Keith Jarrett, played soft and acoustic by the Swedish guitarist plus bass and drums. Low key, but quite likable. [B+(**)]

Mark Whitecage & the Bi-Coastal Orchestra: BushWacked: A Spoken Opera (2005, Acoustics): When I requested this, Rozanne Levine wrote back, "judging by your blog I think you will dig this CD." Sure, I'm a soft touch when it comes to Bush bashing. But what impresses me isn't the quality of analysis -- the spoken parts come from "The Nation, Harper's, The Progressive Populist, and a few others not afraid to speak Truth to Power"; in other words, sources that are easy to find and reveal little you don't know already -- but the music. The east coast part of the Bi-Coastal Orchestra is Whitecage and Levine (alto sax and clarinets), from Boonton NJ, for many years the northern terminus of I-287. The west coast part are three musicians from Portland OR: Scott Steele (guitar), Bill Larimer (piano), and Robert Mahaffay (drums). The spoken parts aren't credited except for Larimer on "Who's the War For?": words by the late Jeanne Lee, who added them to a 1990 Whitecage piece, then titled "BushWacked" -- yes, we've been down this cul de sac before. The music is wide-ranging, discordant, tough. In "0 for 5000" -- the reference is to the conviction rate of Ashcroft's "terrorist" detainees -- Larimer starts with harsh block chords, then slips into a little boogie woogie, then deconstructs that. In "Follow the Money," Steele's guitar provides a coarse steel backdrop for Whitecage's alto sax. Whitecage and Levine build up a powerful polyphony on "Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me." Mingus used to figure the least he could do was to put his message across in his titles, like "Remember Rockefeller at Attica" and "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A." But the words do too add something to this fresh, compelling music, and one thought I'm taking home here is from "Jesus": "the fairness doctrine would spell the end of Christian radio as we know it." [A-]

Mark Whitecage & the Bi-Coastal Orchestra: BushWacked: A Spoken Opera (2005, Acoustics): One lyric dates from 1776, addressed to a previous George who also had problems with insurgents; title dates from 1990, a previous Bush who meddled cavalierly in Iraq then left the mess to posterity; the rest are clippings from recent news, including reports on Ashcroft and Jesus; none of which matters as much on record as the anarchic jazz that swirls around the words. A-

Larry Willis Trio: The Big Push (2004 [2005], High Note): The accompanying hype claims that Willis has played on over 300 records, which for a pianist, and one who's not all that old (b. 1940), strikes me as an awful lot. (I can think of a handful of bassists and drummers in that range, but aside from Oscar Peterson I wouldn't bet on any other pianists, and I'm not sure about him.) But then Willis has always been a guy who just blends in and does the job. But he's been far less prolific as a leader: AMG lists 18 albums for him. This is a bright, cheery piano trio, a little more mainstream than usual. I don't have the measure of this one yet, but I know that one thing I like in a piano trio is a rhythm section that carries their weight, and he's got one here in Buster Williams and Al Foster. Wouldn't be surprised if they've appeared on 300 records too. [B+(**)]

Jens Winther European Quintet: Concord (2005, Stunt): Same gestalt as Scott Anderson's Nia Quintet: trumpet-led, sax, piano, bass, drums; not quite as shiny, or conventional as the case may be. One plus here is that bassist Palle Danielsson has more drive, and that's what skids everyone else around the curves. Another strong point here is pianist Antonio Farao, who carries the slower pieces. [B+(*)]

Deanna Witkowski: Length of Days (2005, ArtistShare): She plays piano and sings, not the other way around. Her piano has a rough hewn adventurousness which seems orthogonal both to the Monk and Ellington pieces here. Her quartet includes saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose first-listed soprano is as artful as his second-listed tenor is robust. On the other hand, her vocals are perplexing, if not downright annoying. The scats are meant more for harmony than for diversion. The songs are more ordinary. B

Francis Wong: Legends & Legacies (1997 [2004], Asian Improv): With Lawson Fusao Inada, who recites his poems on a couple of tracks. The largish group is mostly Asian-American, with shamisen and koto as well as the usual jazz instruments (but no piano), with Wong and Hafez Modirzadeh on reeds. The pieces recall the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII, in the spirit of Anthony Brown's Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire, but without that album's clear narrative. Interesting soundwise. [B+(**)]

Anthony Wonsey: The Thang (2005, Sharp Nine): He's a sharp mainstream pianist, but the album is neither fish nor fowl. On four cuts tenor saxist Eric Alexander sits in and takes over, making a big impression while Wonsey fades into the background. The other four cuts are piano trio. Either way could be worth pursuing, but split like this limits the spoils. B+(**)

The Wood Brothers: Ways Not to Lose (2006, Blue Note): One of the Woods is Chris, the bassist in Medeski Martin & Wood. The other is guitarist Oliver. Both are credited with vocals here, but presumably this is Oliver's thang. Despite my expectations from the label and producer John Medeski, this isn't at all close to jazz. AMG classifies them under country, but that isn't much closer. Oliver sounds more like Dr. John than anyone else, at least vocally -- no piano, no gris-gris, no gumbo, but it must have roots somewhere. Not close enough to my calling to worry about, but not bad either. B+(*)

Zu: The Way of the Animal Powers (2005, Xeng): This Italian group is a bass-drums-sax (mostly baritone) trio, sometimes (as here) using the common last name of Zu, bound to an ideology called Zuism, no unrelated to anarchism. They make alliances with similar-minded groups like the Ex, and have done match-up albums with Ken Vandermark (Spaceways Inc.) and Mats Gustafsson. Here they're joined by cellist Fred Londberg-Holm. I like the deep rumble and edgy rhythms here, and the spoken piece at the end acts as a fine coda. Short: 25:47. B+(***)

Zu/Mats Gustafsson: How to Raise an Ox (2004 [2005], Atavistic): Great fun when our favorite cell of Italian free jazz anarchists met up with Steve Albini and Ken Vandermark on Igneo, then again with Vandermark's Spaceways Inc. on Radiale. Mats Gustafsson fits into the same broad picture, but he's more limited, and he doubles up on baritone sax with Luca Mai. The outcome is on the heavy side, with the groove on the title song most appealing, several fierce squalls less so. I have a couple more Zu albums on the shelf, so I'm still working on this. [B+(**)]