Jazz Consumer Guide (9):

These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #9. 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 Feb. 6 to Apr. 30, 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.

Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn: Journey to the Centre of an Egg (2004 [2006], Enja/Justin Time): The third musician here is percussionist Jarrod Cagwin, whose name is on the front cover but not the spine. Kühn tends to be in a support mode here -- his piano is less angular, less explosive than often the case, plus he plays a bit of alto sax adding a lonesome aura to the oud. Cagwin plays frame drums as well as the usual kit. A very attractive record. [A-]

Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn: Journey to the Centre of an Egg (2004 [2006], Enja/Justin Time): Kühn is best known in these parts for his duets with Ornette Coleman, but here he goes further, playing alto sax as well as piano. Either way, he is an attentive partner, pricking and prodding but never overwhelming Abou-Khalil's surprisingly muscular oud. Jarrod Cagwin's frame drums move things along, providing spare but effective propulsion. A-

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+(*)]

Ahleuchatistas: What You Will (2005 [2006], Cuneiform): Punk rockers who listen to Charlie Parker too much -- check the name -- and evidently don't know anyone up for singing. I'm not much for vocals either, but when you lay out titles like "Remember Rumsfeld at Abu Ghraib," "Ho Chi Minh Is Gonna Win!" (reality check: he did), "Last Spark From God," "What Are You Gonna Do?" -- these could use some more development. B+(*)

Eric Alexander: It's All in the Game (2005 [2006], HighNote): Same hand he's played all along, this time in a quartet with no other horn to crowd his tenor sax. Harold Mabern and Joe Farnsworth have been steady accompanists for quite a while, both fitting comfortably into Alexander's mainstream band, along with new bassist Nat Reeves. It's all Straight Up, completely Solid, if not quite Dead Center. Know what I mean? B+(**)

Monty Alexander: Concrete Jungle: The Music of Bob Marley (2005 [2006], Telarc): This looked certain to be a disaster, and not just because his last Jamaican effort, Rocksteady, was so awful. Marley stikes me as tough to jazz up, much like Stevie Wonder. Tossing a lot of guests and vocalists into the mix isn't promising either -- in particular, it runs a strong risk of turning into second-hand easy listening. Some of this does, and the three vocal tracks are especially lame, but there are points where this connects. Usually, these are the simplest cuts, like the piano-bass-drums on "Forever Lovin' Jah." Even better is the piano-trombone juxtaposition on "Simmer Down," with Delfeayo Marsalis. B

The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Hey, Look Me Over (2004 [2006], Arbors): Cohn is Al's son. He plays guitar, setting the pace but not taking a lot of spotlight. Allen plays retro tenor sax, a throwback to the swing era with Coleman Hawkins his main man, but Al Cohn and Zoot Sims are major touchstones. Indeed, Cohn looms over this particular disc, penning three songs and influencing others. Allen plays wonderfully here -- mostly upbeat standards, with a slow original near the end followed by a vigorous "Pick Yourself Up." A pure delight. Grade here is minimal; could be Pick Hit. A-

Ben Allison: Cowboy Justice (2006, Palmetto): Don't have recording dates -- one of those little details squeezed off the cheapo promo Palmetto hands out. The group here is a quartet with Allison on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums, Steve Cardenas on guitar, and Ron Horton on trumpet. Two takes on "Tricky Dick" -- that would be Cheney -- frame the album, while "Midnight Cowboy" was plucked from the movie soundtrack and given new significance. As a politico, Allison isn't as far out as Charlie Haden, but as a bassist and composer he's very much in the game. Cardenas is especially fine here, and Horton is terrific, especially on the chatter-happy "Talking Heads." [A-]

Jimmy Amadie Trio: Let's Groove! A Tribute to Mel Tormé (2006, TP): With similar tributes to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Amadie's piano trio is working its way through the standards songbook much as the singers did -- but without the vocals that defined those singers. Or maybe there's another connection I'm missing, given that five of these eight songs are credited to Amadie. I don't have much to say about him as a pianist, and don't mean any disrespect by that. It's just that in this case the trio is supplemented by "special guest" Phil Woods, who sweeps the boards. Woods' days as a bebopper are long past. When he slowed down he discovered the clean, elegant swing of Benny Carter. When Woods and Carter played together their sounds were distinct, but now that Carter's gone Woods feels free to channel -- never more than here. B+(***)

Marcos Amorim: Sete Capelas (Seven Chapels) (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, in a quartet with bass, drums/percussion, and flutes (Nivaldo Ornelas). The latter aren't prominent except on the slow title piece, which leaves me slightly queasy. On the other hand, the guitar and percussion are vibrant. [B+(***)]

Marcos Amorim: Sete Capelas (Seven Chapels) (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): One thing that makes Brazilian guitarists sound so much alike is the soft chime of nylon strings; matched with bass, drums and flutes, this veers close to stereotypical samba, a mild seasoning that disguises its cleverness with innuendo. It does help when the pace picks up a bit. 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]

Jeff Arnal, Seth Misterka, Reuben Radding, Nate Wooley: Transit (2001 [2006], Clean Feed): Group name seems to be Transit. Percussionist Arnal seems to be the leader, but the artist names are listed alphabetically, and the compositions are credited to all four, so the group is even balanced. Still, it makes sense to focus on Arnal, who provides a dependable anchor for the mischief, and whose drum sound is the most distinctive thing here. At first approximation, this is loose and rather hoary free improv -- at times exciting, galvanizing even, at times a bit much, then interesting again. B+(*)

Albert Ayler Trio: Spiritual Unity (1964 [2005], ESP-Disk): One of the landmarks of the '60s avant-garde -- Ayler's defining moment, but also a high point in the careers of trio mates Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray, who never falter and never intrude on Ayler's rapid-fire inspiration; "Ghosts" rises with a memorable head, then rises again at the end in a second variation; short at 29:21, uncluttered by filler. A

Albert Ayler: Bells/Prophecy (1964-65 [2005], ESP-Disk): Prophecy was recorded a month before Spiritual Unity, with same trio and same songs, for all intents a dry run; Bells, recorded a year later with extra fire-power in Donald Ayler's trumpet and Charles Tyler's, was originally issued as a 19:54 one-sided LP, a relatively clean glimpse of the brothers' future groups. A-

Albert Ayler: Slugs' Saloon (1966 [2005], ESP-Disk, 2CD): A quintet, with the Ayler brothers in powerful form and Michel Samson's violin for contrast and complexity; the big pieces are rough hewn, playful, disorderly, subversive, and rather tough going, which is about par for this stage. 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+(*)]

The Bad Plus: Suspicious Activity? (2005, Columbia): When Francis Davis proposed writing about this for the Voice last year, he said something about taking the opportunity to sort out his misgivings over the group. He wound up hanging this on his year-end list. I really dug their previous three albums, but didn't connect to this one at all. Finally figured out why: this is where Iverson finally got to turn the tables and go classical on his grunge-head trio mates -- if not quite Rachmaninoff, at least Uri Caine with extra muscle on bass and drums. Davis likes classical music. I don't. B

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Stoa (2005 [2006], ECM): Citing James Brown as well as Kurosawa, Bärtsch's "Zen-funk" is minimalism that doesn't stick in any one groove long enough to risk inscrutability. Bärtsch plays piano, giving the dominant figures an acoustic ring. Clarinet, bass, drums and percussion develop as extra parts in the mechanisms, relating to rhythm like harmony to melody. The notes concede that whatever this is it isn't really jazz. But it hooks the listener with the immediacy of its performance. That's close enough to jazz for me. A-

Batagraf: Statements (2003-04 [2006], ECM): The leader here is pianist Jon Balke, whose name appears on the front cover (in white on a faint gray background) but not the spine. He's credited with "keyboards, percussion, vocals" which makes him hard to pick out from the mix. Four other musicians are also credited with percussion, and several more with vocals, voices, or text recitals -- distinctions that seem unnecessary. Frode Nymo's alto sax and Arve Henriksen's trumpet complete the lineup, adding scattered riffs, vamps and growls which flesh this out nicely, but for the most part the album is built around manifold percussion and plain-spoken voice -- often just a word or two, stock phrases tuned in from the ether. I find this sort of thing immensely appealing. [A-]

Stefano Battaglia: Raccolto (2003 [2006], ECM, 2CD): The first disc is a standard piano trio, taken at a snail's pace, but with surprising power. The second disc replaces the bass with Dominique Pifarély's violin, a louder and more commanding instrument. I find the latter unsettling, the discomfort tied to the astringent tone of the instrument. [B+(**)]

Bob Belden: Three Days of Rain (Original Soundtrack) (2001 [2006], Sunnyside): This ties into a film directed by Michael Meredith, loosely based on six Chekhov stories set under continuous rain in present-day Cleveland. The film came out in 2002, possibly just to festivals, then was picked up by Wim Wenders for limited US release in late 2005. Belden composed the pieces, but doesn't play. His saxophonist of choice, Cleveland-native Joe Lovano, appears on five cuts -- one a clarinet solo. Belden builds around two piano trios: one led by Kevin Hays aims for low barometer atmospherics, with Lovano and/or trumpeter Scott Wendholt joining in; the other led by Marc Copland gets a slightly edgier sound. One more piano piece is "End Title," a solo by Jason Moran which closes the film and record on an uncertain note. My uncertainty concerns the easily clichéd motifs of dark, dreary rain. I'm sure this is appropriate to the film, but why care about such a single-minded mood on record? For one thing, it's well done. [B+(***)]

Bob Belden: Three Days of Rain (Original Soundtrack) (2001 [2006], Sunnyside): Jazz's utility for movie soundtracks has been demonstrated again and again, although less frequently than should be the case. Dark, dreary, endless rain can easily turn into cliché, but it also provides some unity -- one common problem with soundtracks is that the need to exaggerate dramatic tension leads to a hodgepodge of sounds. Belden scored this, but doesn't play. He leaves that job to a range of players who add their distinctive sounds: piano trios led by Kevin Hays and Marc Copland, guitar by Al Street, trumpet by Scott Wendholt, above all Joe Lovano, who plays a little clarinet and a lot of tenor sax. Movie's set in Cleveland, so you couldn't think of picking anyone else. B+(***)

Bell Orchestre: Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light (2005, Rough Trade): Québecois group, nominally classified as Post-Rock/Experimental, related to the Arcade Fire, reportedly influenced by Arvo Pårt and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Nothing here suggests a jazz ontogeny, but with no vocals one can point to some form of convergence. After all, even certified jazz musos sometimes offer thoroughly composed pieces, and swing isn't de rigeur unless you're narrow-minded enough to make it so. Still, this strikes me as more of an attempt to fill the postclassical void than anything else. The use of horns and drums reminds me of classical music. The beat is more consistent, but not driving -- the intent is clearly to layer color and mood. Due to our habitual focus on specialization, I don't normally listen to much music in this vein -- AMG lists a half dozen "similar artists" but they're all unfamiliar to me, excepting the ill-chosen Kronos Quartet -- which leaves me short of framework. This one I went out and got because Christgau made it a Pick Hit. He may be right, but at this point I'm inclined to caution. B+(***)

Sathima Bea Benjamin: Musical Echoes (2002 [2006], Ekapa): A set of carefully measured standards sung by the South African vocalist, in a return to Capetown after a long exile. The pianist and co-producer is Stephen Scott, in fine form. The others are South Africans: bassist Basil Moses, whose clear pulse is one of the highlights, and drummer Lulu Gontsana. Well done, and welcome to anyone who remembers her early work with the former Dollar Brand and their surprise mentor, someone named Ellington. B+(*)

David Berger & the Sultans of Swing: Hindustan (2005 [2006], Such Sweet Thunder): "There is nothing more rewarding than writing for a big band," Berger exults. He wrote five pieces here and arranged the other eight. On the other hand, I've yet to catch his enthusiasm. I do rather like the pieces with vocalist Aria Hendricks, but the rest seems a little flat for someone who aspires so obviously to Ellington. [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+(*)]

Theo Bleckmann/Fumio Yasuda: Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): Third credit is Bernd Ruf and the Kammerorchester Basel. Spine just has the title, so any number of credits are possible. Kammerorchester is a huge classical outfit -- oboes and bassoons, banks of violins, timpani and harp, the whole kit and kaboodle. Yasuda plays piano and arranges, for the most part sparingly. Bleckmann sings. I've run into him before, usually in spots where I'd rather not hear a singer. But I've never heard him at length before, and my, what a sweet, charming voice. Aside from the title prologue and epilogue, the songs are show tunes -- light, plucky ones like "Chim Chim Cheree" and "My Favorite Things" are exceptionally beguiling, as is "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." What any of this has to do with Las Vegas isn't obvious to this Kansan, but I've talked enough with Europeans about Las Vegas to recognize that there's a peculiarly European (and most likely Japanese) view that Las Vegas exemplifies America -- certainly in its garish overindulgence, but also in a certain sweet innocence. Walter Benjamin wrote a book about Paris: The Capital of the 19th Century. I have little doubt that if he were alive today he'd be writing about Las Vegas. [B+(***)]

Karen Blixt: Spin This (2006, Hi-Fli): This album contrasts rather sharply with the Erin Boheme one. The similarities include a shuttling in and out of guests and a few originals (with co-writers) slipped in amongst the standards. Also a fairly generous booklet with a lot of photography. On the other hand, the hair, makeup and photography budgets are far removed. Boheme has the more intriguing voice, but it's clear that her corporate sponsors selected her as much for her looks, which became the focus of their marketing campaign. I wouldn't describe Blixt as ugly, but plain isn't far off the mark, and her voice isn't much above that. But she also appears much happier in her photos, and that carries through to the album. Her guests are more fun, too -- especially organist Joey DeFrancesco, who also takes a duet vocal on a cheery "When You're Smiling." It also helps that the covers are old friends -- it's not like we need another "Night and Day," but it's always welcome. B+(**)

Erin Boheme: What Love Is (2006, Concord): She could become a substantial star, but at this point you can still see the price tags on the fancy packaging. Credits include Hair & Makeup, Stylist, Art Direction, and Package Design. Nominally a jazz singer, this is roughly half standards, half originals, the latter co-credits. Musicians come and go, including four pianists, two guitarists, four bassists, four drummers, and three conductors for countless strings. Horns only appear for the lightest of blush, with young stablemate Christian Scott on trumpet for four cuts and old studio hack Tom Scott on sax for two. She has a distinctive voice, girlish and coquettish. B

Don Braden: Workin' (2005 [2006], HighNote): Braden strikes me as a rather fancy saxophonist to get stuck in a simple organ trio. That he does two pieces solo indicates he concurs, but his previous record was little different: the same group plus a trombone. Braden's a flashy mainstream player -- nice tone, lots of moves, a pleasure to listen to. He shows all that here, but he's shown it many times before, and there's nothing special this time. B+(*)

Anouar Brahem: Le Voyage de Sahar (2005 [2006], ECM): Oud, piano, accordion. The leader hails from Tunisia, but both of the other instruments, as well as their musicians, suggest an orientation north towards Provence rather than south across the Sahara. Manfred Eicher's productions tend to soften and blur, which may be why Brahem seems so muted compared to Rabih Abou-Khalil. Or maybe there's some other reason. Don't have a handle on it yet. [B]

Anouar Brahem: Le Voyage de Sahar (2005 [2006], ECM): The Tunisian's oud is less engaging and more atmospheric than the Lebanese Rabih Abou-Khalil. The easy explanation might be producer Manfred Eicher, who does tend to soften and blur, but I suspect that Abou-Khalil frames his work more thoroughly in the improvisatory tradition of Arabic music, which leads him to look for similar qualities in his European collaborators. Brahem, on the other hand, fits more snugly into European frameworks -- here working with piano and accordion from Provence, for a light, folkish, but smooth mix. It is, at least, quite attractive. B+(*)

Bonnie Bramlett and Mr. Groove Band: Roots, Blues & Jazz (2005 [2006], Zoho Roots): I feel bad panning this. It really is good hearing her voice again -- thicker and heavier, to be sure, but it still has that gospel lift. And to be sure, she brings more conviction to "Love the One You're With" than I thought possible these days. But that's a big part of the problem: the song selection is way too catholic for someone with such specific talents. And her new friends don't have the touch her old Friends had, either. B

Cecil Brooks III: Double Exposure (2000 [2005], Savant): A drums-organ duo seems like an odd thing to do, but the liner notes point to a 1978 precedent that paired up Joe Chambers and Larry Young. I haven't heard that one, but it seems fair to say that the organist this time, Gene Ludwig, is no Larry Young. Brooks may not compare all that well to Chambers either, but that's harder to say. Actually, putting aside those questions, this pairing has some charm and interest. But it's still a pretty limited framework. B

Marion Brown: Marion Brown (1965 [2005], ESP-Disk): Brown's first, previously known as Marion Brown Quartet or Marion Brown Quintet -- you can imagine the confusion -- with not always the same three of these four pieces. The second horn, either Alan Shorter or Bennie Maupin, matters little. Same for the choice of bassists, but drummer Rashied Ali does make a difference. This fixes various errors in previous editions, including all four songs with all six musicians -- even spelling their names right. Remastered, this still sounds fresh, the debut of an important but still relatively unknown avant-garde figure. A-

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+(*)]

Bill Bruford/Tim Garland: Earthworks Underground Orchestra (2005 [2006], Summerfold): A 20th anniversary shindig for Bruford's "particularly British sort of institution, this takes Earthworks pieces from the first through last albums and scales them up to a largish group of nine pieces, or ten when Robin Eubanks adds a second trombone. Bruford strikes me as a supremely adaptable drummer -- before moving into jazz he held down the drum seats in what seems like most of the UK's famous prog rock outfits, but his jazz groups have little or no fusion feel, and the groups with Iain Ballamy and Django Bates veered toward the avant-garde. But this one builds around Garland, such a slick, loquacious reedist-flautist that he's managed to get featured billing. This one is fast and lush -- not my favorite combination, but impressive when it all comes together. B+(*)

François Carrier: Travelling Lights (2003 [2004], Justin Time): The artist sent this along for background along with his new Happening. The quartet includes pianist Paul Bley, bassit Gary Peacock, and drummer Michel Lambert. Carrier, on alto and soprano sax, is a good deal younger than that group. In these improv pieces, named for continents and geographical concepts like "Sea" and "Island," he plays cautiously, often deferring to Bley and Peacock, who are in exceptional form. I liked Carrier's earlier album Play quite a bit, although it was little more than a thoroughly modern sax trio on the road. This shows more depth -- could rate higher with some more careful listening, but for these purposes it's just background. B+(***)

François Carrier: Happening (2005 [2006], Leo, 2CD): Spacious avant improvs, set for dancers or something to happen. The leader's alto or soprano sax is set against Mat Maneri's viola and Uwe Neumann's exotica -- sitar, sanza, Indian talking drums -- as well as bass and drums. The combination is striking and seductive. [A-]

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]

James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Ali Jackson/Reginald Veal: Gold Sounds (2004 [2005], Brown Brothers): Alan Suback writes: "This album sprang from one question: what album would we want to buy which doesn't exist?" In other words, the record was commissioned to support a promoter's concept that sounded good on paper. That concept is Pavement goes jazz, with James Carter ("simply John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler rolled into one") honking. Movies have been pitched with no more detailed fantasy, but not good ones. Same here. Pavement's music is skewed enough that it's going to take more than these mainstreamers to tease something out of it. Chestnut is a particularly uninspired choice, but even Carter misses more than he hits. Two cuts get something going -- "Stereo" and "Here" -- but most go nowhere, or worse: "Cut Your Hair" erupts into nonsense vocals, "Platform Blues" gives Carter a chance to wear out his contrabass sousaphone, and "Trigger Cut" leaves Chestnut home alone. B-

Michael Carvin: Marsalis Music Honors Michael Carvin (2005 [2006], Marsalis Music/Rounder): This is one of two new albums Branford Marsalis has produced featuring important but relatively unheralded drummers. (The other one is Jimmy Cobb.) Presumably this launches a series. Certainly there's no shortage of musicians who could use the commercial clout Marsalis brings to the party. But the decision to frame both albums as quartets (sax, piano, bass, drums) takes the focus away from the honored drummers, fudging the presumed point. Carvin has been working steadily since 1970, with six previous albums under his own name, plus many appearances. (How many isn't clear. His website claims "over 150," but I only count 34 on AMG's credits list.) I know him mostly for a 1974 duo album with Jackie McLean where he pulled out all the stops and played up a storm. But this one is mild mainstream, with "In Walked Bud" the most upbeat and a long, slow "You Go to My Head" getting no more than a light brush treatment. Marcus Strickland plays sax. B

Oscar Castro-Neves: All One (2006, Mack Avenue): A veteran Brazilian guitarist -- his credits go back to the '60s, including a song "Morrer de Amor" written in 1965 and reprised here with Luciana Souza singing. This album takes a grand tour through his life and work, but it is never more engaging than when his guitar is out front. Gary Meek adds the flighty flutes, clarinets and saxes you expect. Souza sings two pieces, but his own rough vocal on "The Very Thought of You" is more touching. B+(**)

Joe Chambers: The Outlaw (2005 [2006], Savant): I know him as a key drummer for Blue Note back in the '60s, but I'm not familiar with his own albums. This one features his vibes and marimba, combined with programmed beats and Bobby Sanabria's percussion for a slick and slippery rhythmic complex, with piano (often electric) and Logen Richardson's soft, exotic soprano sax for coloring. It comes off weird at first, then sort of sneaks up on you. Nicola Guiland sings one song, and gets a voice credit on another. [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+(*)]

Jimmy Cobb: Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb (2005 [2006], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Cobb has fewer albums under his own name -- this is his 5th -- than Carvin, but is less likely to need an introduction: Cobb worked for Miles Davis circa Kind of Blue, in a rhythm section with Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers that also worked with John Coltrane, Art Pepper, and Wes Montgomery. As with the Carvin disc, this is a quartet, this time with Ellis Marsalis on piano, Andrew Speight on alto sax, and Orlando Le Fleming on bass. There's nothing all that special here but much to like in this -- a strong swing impulse from both the bass and drums, movement on the piano, impressive work on sax. 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 Trio: Past-Present-Future (2003 [2005], Criss Cross): This piano trio has a lot of kick to it. Mostly standards, mostly upbeat, quite a bit of fun. Wish I had a better handle on explaining it. I'm still more certain that I know a good piano trio when I hear one than that I know how to explain why it is so, except by resorting to crude physical metaphors. But then this is very physical. That fits in with the factoid that when Colligan appeared on pianist Kerry Politzer's record he wound up playing drums. B+(***)

Concord Picante: 25th Anniversary Sampler (1980-2003 [2005], Concord): Not a product -- just a promo only sampler from a 4-CD box set. Concord's Latin label became a welcome port for many long established, perhaps even over-the-hill, Latin jazz stars -- names here include Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Poncho Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri. I'm not a big fan of mainstream salsa, label comps, or what I've previously heard on Picante, but this is consistently enjoyable fare. Maybe I'll get a chance to hear the real box some time. B+(*)

Chick Corea: The Ultimate Adventure (2006, Stretch): Another record, another helping of L. Ron Hubbard. This one is far less annoying than the last one. It stays away from the fusion cliché of To the Stars, riding instead on steady waves of percussion, courtesy of Airto Moreira, Hossam Ramzy, and/or Rubem Dantas. The other main component here is flute, either from Hubert Laws or Jorge Pardo. Not sure where this will wind up. Don't even know who does Corea's hair. [B]

George Cotsirilos: On the Rebop (2005 [2006], OA2): Guitar trio, with a slightly dull tone to the guitar, and a mildly boppish vibe overall -- most tellingly on "Anthropology." Nice but rather slight. 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+(**)]

The Eddie Daniels Quartet: Mean What You Say (2005 [2006], IPO): Plays clarinet and tenor sax. I'm not familiar with his work, which goes back to a 1966 album and includes a stretch with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. He appears to have had some pop items in his closet, but this one is solidly mainstream, benefitting from a rhythm section that guarantees its interest: Hank Jones on piano, Richard Davis on bass, Kenny Washington on drums. Starts with a Thad Jones piece, continuing with a range of bop-to-swing standards and one original. Solid playing throughout. B+(*)

Jamie Davis: It's a Good Thing (2005 [2006], Unity Music): The new singer for Basie's ghost band splits the difference between Little Jimmy Rushing and suave Joe Williams. The band carries on the late testament tradition -- an orchestra of overwhelming brass with no rough spots or standout soloists, but the harshness of the "atomic" era sound has been ironed out. They may be anonymous as individuals, but they've never been more comfortable as a unity. Package includes a "Making Of" DVD. Haven't watched it, but might be fun. B+(***)

Dr. John: Right Place, Right Time (1989 [2006], Skinji Brim/Hyena): Second installment in the Doc's series of private tapes, following the self-explanatory All By Hisself with a set at Tipitina's on a Mardi Gras night with a searing hot band adding much volume but little light. B

Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra: Negra Tigra (2005 [2006], ILK): The jungle this time is Vietnam, which appears most clearly in "Vietnam Xong" and "Streets of Ha Noi" -- the usual oriental motifs appear much like in Billy Bang's first Vietnam record, but with horns dominant. Five interludes are versions of a boisterous piece called "Negra Tigra," the last one erupting in a shout of "anybody seen that tigra?" in a clever loop back to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. This record marks the 25th anniversary of Dørge's big band -- what a long, strange trip it's been -- and this is the most avant I've heard them. Much credit for that no doubt goes to the guest this time, trumpeter Herb Robertson. [B+(***)]

Tommy Dorsey: The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing: Centennial Collection (1925-56 [2005], Bluebird/Legacy, 3CD): Born 1905, hence the centennial. Died 1956, a few months after the last cut here, an Ernie Wilkins arrangement of "Heartbreak Hotel" with Elvis Presley singing. Nowadays Dorsey is mainly remembered for another singer, his 1940-42 boy singer, Frank Sinatra. At the time he ran one of the most successful dance bands in America. Sinatra, Jo Stafford, and the Pied Pipers are prominent on the third disc here, built from air shots and sequenced like a radio program -- surely most Americans' perception of him, but it's the least interesting disc, more history than timeless entertainment. The other two discs try to make the case for Dorsey as a jazz musician. The first ransacks the vaults for sideman appearances -- several cuts with his more Dixieland-oriented brother, saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey; groups with Eddie Lang, Red Nichols, and Red Allen; and dates with singers like Ethel Waters, Connie Boswell, Bing Crosby, and Mildred Bailey. Dorsey played trombone, and the disc is a broad sampler of 1925-40 New York jazz. The second disc picks up Dorsey's Orchestra and his small group, the Clambake Seven. It gets notably stronger as the disc progresses, as musicians like Charlie Shavers and Buddy Rich join, and they work in a pair of cuts with Dorsey and Duke Ellington playing with each other's bands. Also welcome cut is "Trombonology," where Dorsey takes a rare, and quite respectable, trombone lead. A-

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+(**)]

Dave Douglas: Keystone (2005, Greenleaf Music): I held this back, figuring I should watch the DVD to see the 1916 Fatty Arbuckle film that Douglas wrote this music for. Didn't help me a whole lot, but it's an interesting piece of silent slapstick. The music suffers from the usual soundtrack taint, but DJ Olive pushes the beats, Marcus Strickland can wail, and the most upbeat material sweeps you away like Fatty and Mabel's cabin. B+(***)

Dave Douglas: Meaning and Mystery (2006, Greenleaf Music): This is the sort of record I don't much like, done by folks too good to dismiss out of hand. Reportedly the third album by "this quintet" -- Donny McCaslin replaces Chris Potter from The Infinite (2002), but I'm not sure what the other one is, unless he's counting the Bill Frisell-enriched Strange Liberation (2003 -- one of the few Douglas albums I've missed). Uri Caine plays Fender Rhodes, a bit like a Formula One driver whipping a monster truck around, a skill that few have let alone make something of. James Genus and Clarence Penn round out the line-up. As a composer, Douglas works in his most complex, convoluted mode, which puts it way beyond what I can follow, much less comprehend. As a trumpeter he is without peer, as usual. McCaslin is, if anything, even slicker than Potter. So it's a fucking tour de force. So what? B+(*)

The Dutch Jazz Orchestra: The Lady Who Swings the Band: Rediscovered Music of Mary Lou Williams (2005 [2006], Challenge): Williams started in Kansas City with Andy Kirk's big band, and quickly distinguished herself both as a pianist and an arranger. The Dutch Jazz Orchestra made a minor industry out of mining obscure history, including four albums dedicated to Billy Strayhorn's works. This album starts off with a piece Williams submitted to Duke Ellington shortly after Strayhorn's death, and it's spot on. Almost everything here follows in that spirit: snappy, hard swinging arrangements delivered with panache. Not sure yet how it all balances out: both immediate pleasures and historical interest are evident. [B+(***)]

The Dutch Jazz Orchestra: The Lady Who Swings the Band: Rediscovered Music of Mary Lou Williams (2005 [2006], Challenge): Historically notable as an effort to put unrecorded charts to music. If it sounds exceptionally Ellington-esque, one reason may be that the Dutch Jazz Orchestra has made a cottage industry out of Billy Strayhorn. Another is that Williams wrote several of these arrangements for Ellington right after Strayhorn died. Not sure this transcends its historical significance, but it sometimes comes close. Francis Davis wrote about this and the Zodiac Suite album in the Voice. B+(**)

Taylor Eigsti: Lucky to Be Me (2005 [2006], Concord). I'd like to think that the capital influx Norman Lear et al. dumped into Concord is going to be good for jazz -- that somehow they're going to figure out how to start growing an audience that has been shrinking pretty steadily, at least in the USA, over the last 50-60 years -- but the odds are that what's good for Concord will be bad for everyone else. Eigsti is a hot young property -- a 21-year-old piano whiz on his third album -- and now he's got some money behind him. The album credits include Grooming and Stylist, so he looks as good as he sounds. His everyday trio has been replaced by Christian McBride and Lewis Nash, or by James Genus and Billy Kilson, with horns and guitar added sparingly. He writes a bit, but mostly works a repertoire designed more to show his range than what he can do with it: Coltrane, Porter, Björk, Bernstein, Van Heusen, Eddie Harris, Mussorgsky, the theme song to The Sopranos -- the latter done up-tempo with a horn section then slowed down, at odds with the rest of the album, but I bet Concord has some marketing data to justify it. By itself, this isn't a bad album, and I'm sure he's a nice enough kid -- smart, hard working, should have a long, fruitful life ahead of him. Still, I'm reminded of two things here. One is that Frank Hewitt, a pianist with subtle skills but great erudition, never got the major label contract he coveted because the labels were always looking for young guys who they hoped might expand the market by attracting young fans instead of serving the market that jazz actually has. The other is that Eigsti's choice of a Cole Porter tune, "Love for Sale," begs comparison with another pianist who tackled the same tune near the start of his career. That was Cecil Taylor, 47 years ago. B

PS: Made this Dud of the Month (column, actually). In playing the album again, I'm struck first of all by how good the piano sounds -- a really faultless job of engineering there. This underscores how much the record sounds like a recital. The other dimension of this is that the range of covers and supporting musicians is again designed to show how well he can do a given range of material. Both of these focus the attention on skills, as opposed to his creativity, or -- please excuse the word -- his art. He's very good as far as he goes, but this is all very student-like -- and he's one of those "good students" who sucks up and conforms, not the "bad student" who rebels and subverts. Wound up docking this a notch on the grounds that it is something slightly worse than competent. Of course, if he was a student, he'd do better. But this is a jazz review, and it's mostly focused on people who have graduated and have moved on to their own craft. He's not there yet. B-

Peter Eldridge: Decorum (2005, www.peterledridge.com): Singer-songwriter -- AMG calls him a "melodic poet" -- but eventually you have to concede him ground as a jazz singer, if for nothing else than the way he forces his words around melodies that don't fit. In fact, he's only a load of scat short of affecting all of the things that annoy me most in male jazz singers. C

Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (1961 [2005], Riverside, 3CD): Evans isn't a particularly easy jazz pianist to "get," and I've never been sure that I do get him. I've read about how emotional his playing is, but I've never managed to unpack the music to find its emotional center, if indeed there is one. He's a very introverted stylist, shy with his left hand, but with an undeniable melodic knack. Still, even without any real sense of comprehension, his two live albums recorded on June 25, 1961 struck me as near perfect: Waltz for Debby, and especially Sunday at the Village Vanguard. I don't mean to discount Evans, but equally important here are bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. LaFaro was killed in a car accident ten days later, so this is his testament, and much of his legend. Motian is still working on a long career which includes support for many of the finest pianists of our age -- he's worth focusing on here. This box straightens out the context: five sets, everything in order. Most of what was passed over in the original releases have appeared as bonus tracks, so there's very little new here: a false start, some patter, a third take of "All of You." A-

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+(*)]

Exploding Customer: Live at Tampere Jazz Happening (2004 [2005], Ayler): Swedish freebop quartet, led by alto/tenor saxman Martin Küchen, with Tomas Hallonsten on trumpet for a two horn, no piano lineup. They have all the usual virtues: a rockish undertow, no qualms about getting noisy, a flexible bassist in Martin Quigley, and a terrific drummer in Kjell Nordeson. The two horns flare apart as usual, but they're exceptional when they band together, often on fast loops like a flashy circus act. B+(***)

Fattigfolket: Le Chien et la Fille (2005 [2006], ILK): Swedish/Norwegian quartet, with trumpet (Gunnar Halle) and alto sax (Hallvad M. Godal) up front, bass (Putte Frick-Meijer) and drums out back (Ole Morten Sommer). Godal and Frick-Meijer do most of the writing. First half of the album is calm, measured, rather haunting, after which they kick up the heat a bit. Don't know much more, but worth listening to further. [B+(**)]

Béla Fleck & the Flecktones: The Hidden Land (2006, Columbia): The only other Fleck album I've heard didn't sound like much of anything, but this does -- it's just hard to place. Fleck's various antique banjos don't have much speed or drive, just a steel sound that adds a mechanical texture to the world fusion on the bass-drums. That much is neither here nor there -- what provides the interest here is Jeff Coffin, whose reeds provide low-key exotica. I'm still skeptical that this will pan out, but there does seem to be something here. [B]

Béla Fleck & the Flecktones: The Hidden Land (2005 [2006], Columbia): Jeff Coffin tips this over into jazz and maybe even jazz-world fusion territory with a cornucopia of reeds and flutes signifying as marginal exotica. Fleck's antique banjos aren't really flexible enough to make his mark in bebop, so he falls back into the rhythm section, which is where banjo belongs. The rhythm is interesting too, but the achievement still leaves me with doubts, about where they've come from, where they're going, and why it matters. A pretty good album from a group I've never really trusted. B+(*)

Dave Frishberg: Retromania: At the Jazz Bakery (2005 [2006], Arbors): Plays piano and sings, and that's all there is to it, more or less familiar songs he wrote as far back as 1970. Both piano and voice aren't much more than demo-worthy, but the clever songs are worth hearing just that way. A series of seven, plus patter, in the middle are based on baseball, and they date back quite a ways, to Christy Matthewson, Hal Chase and the Black Sox scandal, and his namefest starring Van Lingle Mungo. I know enough about that history that I recognize every Mungo-era star he lists; enough even to get choked up over "Matty," and not just because I recall a point Frishberg doesn't include, about how a whiff of poison gas in what we now call World War I pointed the great pitcher to an early grave. B+(***)

Fred Frith/Carla Kihlstedt/Stevie Wishart: The Compass, Log, and Lead (2003 [2006], Intakt): Wishart plays hurdy-gurdy, a contraption that makes sounds by cranking a wheel against a string, with keys to peck out a melody and extra strings droning rhythmically. It's presumably the source of the drone that underlies Frith's guitar and Kihlstedt's violin, although Wishart's credits also include electronics, which could be anything. The pieces are pure improv, melanges of string sounds with curious curves and haphazard shapes, more interesting for their sonic overlap than structure, although I can't say there is none. B+(**)

The Jeff Gauthier Goatette: One and the Same (2005 [2006], Cryptogramophone): Gauthier plays violin, often electric with effects. Guitar (Nels Cline) and bass (Joel Hamilton) add to the string resonances, while keyboards (David Witham) and drums (Alex Cline) don't overwhelm them. The tempos tend to race, but there's little density, and the violin never tightens up the way someone like Billy Bang plays. So this doesn't sound like a lot is happening, but it's appealing nonetheless. 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+(**)]

Moncef Genoud: Aqua (2004 [2006], Savoy Jazz): Blind pianist, born in Tunisia, raised in Switzerland -- don't know a lot more. His trio includes Scott Colley and Bill Stewart. Guest Michael Brecker plays on three cuts. The last track, "Lush Life," was cut with a different trio and Dee Dee Bridgewater singing. It's all very impressive. Brecker's features -- one fast, one slow, one just right -- are spaced out and just rise up from the mix, which itself is as bright and imaginative as you'd dare hope for. The finale is from another world -- tough song for anyone to handle, and Bridgewater is faultless. Don't quite believe it all myself. [A-]

Moncef Genoud: Aqua (2004 [2006], Savoy Jazz): This is, by any reasonable standards, a very good record. I'm reluctant to push it onto the A-list, but the closest thing to an explanation I can think of is that it does too many things too well. Genoud is a pianist, born in Tunisia in 1961, raised in Switzerland. This is his tenth studio album, but the first with any real US distribution, and given the supporting cast -- more on them later -- is his gala coming out party. I haven't heard any of the others, but The Meeting With Bob Berg has to be worthwhile, and Together with Youssou N'Dour is bound to be interesting. Not sure how well known he is in Europe, but he hasn't appeared in the Penguin Guide yet. He's blind, which is neither here nor there, but tempts me to liken him to Tete Montoliu, although I can't swear by that. He is both a mainstream player and rather idiosyncratic, a guy who plays within given frameworks in his own way. Six cuts here are straight piano trio, with Scott Colley and Bill Stewart as solid as you'd expect. Three evenly spaced cuts add Michael Brecker saxophone, rising majestically from the mix -- one fast, one slow, one just right. Brecker has a huge rep, but I've never warmed to, or even been much impressed by, what Branford calls "that Mikey shit." Still, Brecker's faultless here. The tenth cut reverts to Genoud's European trio, with Dee Dee Bridgewater singing "Lush Life" about as authoritatively as it can be sung. So, every facet of this album impresses. Can I knock him for trying too hard? Guess not. A-

Stan Getz: More Getz for Lovers (1952-91 [2006], Verve): More like it as far as this series goes, but a semi-random selection over four decades provides a style and group scattershot that doesn't sustain a mood even if it keeps finding it again; the two bossa nova cuts are the obvious culprits, but it's otherwise hard to complain about "Desafinado." B+(**)

Aaron Goldberg: Worlds (2003 [2006], Sunnyside): Piano trio, plus guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel on one cut, vocalist Luciana Souza on another. The latter I would find distracting even if I didn't find it annoying. As for the rest, the world he seems to like best is Brazil, and he makes us comfortable and more than a little amused in that world. 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-]

Ben Goldberg Quintet: The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact (2004 [2006], Cryptogramophone): As Goldberg describes his tutoring by Steve Lacy, one imagines a Zen master. Goldberg's learning is similarly oblique, as is his tribute -- recorded three days after Lacy died, but conceived when the event was foretold. Goldberg plays "Blinks," but otherwise the connections aren't all that easy to decipher. Perhaps Carla Kihlstedt's little vocal is meant to remind us of Aëbi, but it's far less starchy. Throughout what's most fascinating here is the rhythm -- loose and open for the most part, buoyant on "Song and Dance," hypnotic on "I Before E Before I." But the most un-Lacy-like thing here is Goldberg's avoidance of the spotlight. Makes the record more obscure than it ought to be. And more curious than it would be otherwise. 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+(***)]

Vinny Golia Quartet: Sfumato (2003 [2006], Clean Feed): Pianoless quartet, with Bobby Bradford on trumpet and Golia playing clarinets, high saxes and low flutes for a wide range of sounds. Interesting music, a wide range of sounds and textures, solid backing from Ken Filiano and Alex Cline. B+(**)

Grismore/Scea Group: Well Behaved Fish (2004 [2006], Accurate): This starts dramatically with a shot of Ornette Coleman's symphony riff, "Dancing in Your Head." We tend to associate fusion with the Miles Davis Keyboard Alumni Association -- Hancock, Corea, Zawinul, Jarrett (who got over it quickly enough) -- in part because the equally important guitarists never quite panned out: McLaughlin discovered God and/or Santana before he could consolidate; Sharrock never got the credit or the opportunity; Mike Stern just wasn't that great. But when Coleman went electric, he did so without keyboards, leaving less legacy for his future alumni. The opening cut announces that Guitarist Steve Grismore and saxophonist Paul Scea work out of Coleman's fusion stream, even if they keep a trumpet -- Brent Sandy here, Tim Hagans on previous albums -- for those little Miles riffs. But they don't really do Coleman, even on their cover. They seem to be searching for greater density rather than the improbability that Coleman could somehow pull out of the most awkward situations. That may mean nothing more than they realize they're not geniuses -- don't know yet. But fusion's no cheap obsolete joke. It's how stars create new elements. [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+(**)]

Gutbucket: Sludge Test (2005 [2006], Cantaloupe): I like the concept -- an electric guitar-bass-drums-sax quartet that's racks up dense riffs and isn't afraid to get noisy -- but I wonder whether they're too fancy, especially in the shifty time dynamics that seem to be their main vector of idiosyncrasy. Reminds me of ye olde prog rock when the least we can expect these days, especially given the noise, is post-punk. B

Barry Guy New Orchestra: Oort-Entropy (2004 [2005], Intakt): This is the slightly slimmed-down successor to Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra -- a major arena for Europe's avant-garde for nearly thirty years. The group here has the leader's bass, piano, three reeds, three brass, and two percussionists. They can make a good deal of noise, and frequently do, sometimes disconcertingly so. I've never known what to make of such groups -- Schlippenbach and Brötzmann, Vandermark and William Parker have led similar ones -- in that mode, nor have I ever figured out how composition and improv interact in Guy's work: it's quite daunting on the one hand, and not terribly rewarding on the other. What does impress me here are the quieter moments where the dark matter of the cosmos appears more intricately structured than expected. B+(*)

Iro Haarla: Northbound (2004 [2006], ECM): On paper this looks like a piano-led bop quintet, and the line-up looks most promising (Trygve Seim on sax, Mathias Eick on trumpet, Uffe Krokfors on bass, Jon Christensen on drums) but in practice it is just a cut or two above the usual arctic pastoralism: slow, methodical, nicely ornamented, lovely without getting into lush. A giveaway, I suppose, is that Haarla also plays harp here. B+(*)

Ham Hocks and Cornbread: The Pounding, Pulsating Roots of Rock 'n' Roll (1945-53 [2005], JSP, 4CD): Nothing more famous here than Cecil Payne's "Ham Hocks," Hal Singer's "Cornbread," Joe Houston's "Cornbread and Cabbage Greens," and Calvin Boze's "Safronia B." Fewer than half are by names I recognize, many of them because their careers slopped over into more conventional blues or jazz territory. No classics either, even when a Jimmy Rushing or Joe Turner or Little Richard shows up: this is the average matrix the gem collections were extracted from, with the sameness of sax lick after sax lick, blues shout after blues shout, boogie piano break after boogie piano break. But sameness at this level of excitement amounts to consistency. B+(**)

Herbie Hancock: The Essential Herbie Hancock (1962-98 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Most of the cuts here are Columbias but it's hard to argue that they're not representative given the task of covering his full career. They're also the most useful -- if you don't know Hancock's legendary '60s work, the six cuts here only shame you into seeking out more. The fusion-heavy Columbias, on the other hand, need condensation, and this does a valiant and useful job of sifting. Hancock's problem with fusion was that he was always too urbane to rock -- only the machine-funk albums of the '80s begin to bring the noise -- but he found new ways to play jazz on electric keyboards. B+(**)

The Roy Hargrove Quintet: Nothing Serious (2006, Verve): Then why bother us with it? Loose-limbed hard bop, with Justin Robinson racing the scales on alto sax, and Ronnie Matthews tinkling ivories. Bassist Dwayne Burno's "Devil Eyes" caught my ear, as did the closer, where Slide Hampton bum rushes the stage for a 'bone solo, and everyone else gets their licks in. I'm torn here between being moderately amused by the harmlessness of it all and somewhat annoyed by the waste. Probably not worth knocking as a dud, but when I see a guy's mug on the cover of Downbeat, I suspect a candidate is heading my way. [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+(*)]

Kevin Hays: Piano Works III: Open Range (2004 [2006], ACT): First new album in a while for a New York pianist transplanted to New Mexico, taking the open spaces as a theme for a solo album with some samples and singing of sorts. The vocals at best add a homespun quaintness, but the slow-paced, meditative piano is quite charming. B+(*)

Jeff Healey & the Jazz Wizards: It's Tight Like That (2005 [2006], Stony Plain): Unless I've gotten two people confused, Healey is a Canadian who went blind at age one, learned guitar, recorded four blues-rock albums for Arista that I never the least bit of attention to, then shifted gears into classic jazz, picked up the trumpet, and eventually found himself in a club in Toronto enjoying the company of Chris Barber. The British trombonist has been playing this kind of music for more than fifty years -- he's reason enough to explain Britain's peculiar fascination with trad jazz. Barber's a slicker crooner (three cuts) than Healey (six), whose rough voice stays in the game by enthusiasm. The other vocal is Terra Hazelton on "Keep It to Yourself," and she's even rougher than Healey. I'm a sucker for this kind of music, but I don't get enough of it -- hear me, Stomp Off? Lake? Jazzology? Hep? who else? -- to have a good feel for how this sorts out. Certainly way ahead of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Not quite up to Barber's Panama! (1991, Timeless). But somewhere in there. [B+(***)]

The Skip Heller Trio: Liberal Dose (2006, Skyeways): Recorded live at the Flying Monkey, Huntsville, AL, but when? Don't know. My copy is a black cardboard sleeve with a light blue label wrapped around the spine. Reminds me of old Folkways LP covers, which may be the point -- first song here is a tribute to Pete Seeger. Other tributes include Dave Alvin, Emily Remler, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Also a dedication to Tom DeLay -- Mahler's "Funeral March" played on the morning DeLay got indicted. So I like the note sheet, but have some trouble mapping it to the music. I suspect the Chris Spies' organ, which neither leads nor follows nor gets out of the way. But when Heller's guitar overpowers the organ on the Watson piece, I wonder why he didn't do that sooner. Don't suppose I'll stick with this long enough to figure that out. B

Nachito Herrera: Bembé En Mi Casa (2005, FS Music): All bembé, no siesta here -- this is Afro-Cuban jazz at its most aggressive. The first piece in particular, called "Song in F" and described as Latin jazz, goes way beyond my ability to parse or track or make any sense of. It's built from multiple rhythm motifs, overlayed in ways that make no sense to me. Other pieces are built around traditional styles -- danzón, bolero, guaguanco, guaracha, cha-cha -- making them simpler, easier to follow. Herrera plays piano. The group is a sextet with electric bass, sax, trumpet, and percussion -- congas, timbales, drums. A lot of action for a relatively small group. Too much? B+(**)

Vincent Herring: Ends and Means (2005 [2006], HighNote): He's out to please here, sticking within comfortable mainstream boundaries, playing bright and cheery, both on his mainstay alto sax and on soprano. Half the album is done as a quartet. The other half adds trumpeter Jeremy Pelt for a second horn. Pelt has much the same virtues as Herring, making for a comfortable pairing. 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+(***)]

Andrew Hill: Time Lines (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Francis Davis wrote about this record in the Voice recently, which gives me an excuse for ducking it in JCG. I'm rather perplexed by it, at least in the sense that while I admire it quite a bit, I'm not all that happy with it. Hill cut his classic work for Blue Note back in the '60s, then wandered for a couple decades with scant output on small European labels, returned to Blue Note for two albums, wandered some more, recorded a couple of albums for Palmetto, and now is back home on Blue Note. As Davis notes, in all this time there's been very little change in Hill's work -- I'd add that in many ways this new record is perfectly typical of everything he's done over the last forty years. Like Monk, he writes mostly for horns, slipping in things you don't expect, but somehow they work anyway. Of course, he's subtler than Monk, but more importantly, he juggles more elements. His quintet here rolls along slightly out of whack yet remarkably together, and the feat is plenty impressive. But it also feels like it was just cut to order, and that's something I'm not so sure what to make of. B+(***)

Reuben Hoch and Time: Of Recent Time (2006, Naim): Recorded in a church in Florida by Ken Christianson, who seems to have a reputation in audiophile circles. I know very little about Hoch, the drummer and leader here, except that he has another group called the Chassidic Jazz Project. This group is a piano trio with Don Friedman and Ed Schuller. Hoch and Friedman wrote one tune each, the others coming from post-'60s jazz stalwarts, on average a bit left of center. Friedman has a strong reputation going back to the early '60s when he was on Riverside's roster with Bill Evans. This one sounds good, moves smartly. B+(**)

Sarah Hommel: A Sarah Hommel Drum All (2003 [2006], Sahara Ford): Six percussionists, counting Bill Ware's vibes, marimba and xylophone, doing pieces written or arranged by Hommel. Like all drum orgy records, this must have been more fun to perform than to listen to. The live sound strikes me as a bit subdued, especially at a couple of points when someone -- presumably Hommel -- sings along. But the vocals give it a little lift at the end, justifying the applause. 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+(**)]

Jason Kao Hwang: Graphic Evidence (2000 [2005], Asian Improv): A specialist in Chinese classical music, it's hard to hear his violin without framing it in his ancestors' homeland. Fellow Asian-Americans Tatsu Aoki and Francis Wong reinforce the location. Aoki's bass complements the violin, as does Wu Man's pipa (a Chinese lute) on two cuts. Wong plays soprano sax -- an instrument Coltrane discovered a new role for by pointing east. Wong too points east, on our globe completing the circle. B+(***)

Industrial Jazz Group: Industrial Jazz a Go Go! (2004 [2006], Evander Music): The previous record by Andrew Durkin's group confused me with its intricate scoring and fancy counterpoint -- what's industrial about that? This one feels like they've had a Sex Mob transplant, but it's still on the fancy side. The most prominent sources, cited in "Apologies/Thanks To" along with Dion and Elmore James, are Perez Prado and Oliver Nelson -- that should give you a good idea what this sounds like, and not just for the three pieces with Spanish titles. Durkin plays piano, but the seven horns are so domineering you rarely hear him. 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+(***)]

Ingrid Jensen: At Sea (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): Elegant, intricate postbop, smartly constructed, beautifully played, with Geoffrey Keezer's worldy keyboards, a touch of exotic beats on cajon and djembe, some notable guest guitar from Lage Lund, and the leader's sterling trumpet. 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-]

Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade (2004 [2005], ECM): Tough to rate records like this -- supremely accomplished, but lacking the sort of tension that impresses you with how hard they worked. The "they" is appropriate here: at the very least it acknowledges Eliane Elias, who not only plays her usual lush life piano but wrote most of the songs and even gets co-producer credit along with the inevitable Manfred Eicher. According to my best info, Johnson and Elias are married -- her marriage to Randy Brecker is better documented, but evidently over. Johnson is a notable bassist, presumably responsible for the lovely arco on the doleful Armenian song that closes the album -- although it sounds more like cello. The "they" also includes drummer Joey Baron; organist Alain Mallet, not very conspicuous here; and two others who hardly need introduction, especially when they play so close to form: Joe Lovano and John Scofield. B+(***)

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-]

Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (2004 [2006], ECM): Like many session drummers, he calls in old chits for his own rare albums, then builds his album around his guests. In his ECM 'hood, the chosen neighbors are Jan Garbarek and three-fourths of Tomasz Stanko's quartet. Like many sessions drummers, Katché is adaptive, and here he's managed to write a near-perfect facsimile of the ECM aesthetic -- slow, free, with the horns and, especially, pianist Marcin Wasilewski standing out. A-

Gidon Kremer: Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo (2001-02 [2005], ECM New Series, 2CD): I grew up with an intense hatred for euroclassical music, so severe that stuff by that Beethoven dude could turn my stomach. The indelible trademark of all that I hated there was the violin section. I eventually came to concede that some early and late items have merit, but still have no more interest in exploring the fat middle period of romance and imperialism than undergoing psychoanalysis. Two discs of Bach done as violin solo seems like a tough prospect, but this is consistently listenable. I've heard Kremer before, playing Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires (1998, Teldec), most impressively. I have no framework for figuring out how good this is, but Laura likes it a lot. B+(***)

Jeannette Lambert: Sand Underfoot (2004 [2006], Jazz From Rant): Lambert describes herself as a "jazz vocalist/poet" -- I figure the poet came first, but she's worked hard on the jazz end, and it pays off on one piece where she scats a bit. Her husband, Michel Lambert, is a drummer, on the free end of the spectrum, and consistently interesting here. Far better known are bassist Barre Phillips and pianist Paul Bley, each doing characteristic -- which of course means excellent -- work here. So there is much of interest here, but it is partitioned out rather discretely: most cuts are duos or trios -- only one cut features all four -- with the vocalist herself appearing on only seven of thirteen pieces. 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]

Nils Landgren & Joe Sample: Creole Love Call (2005 [2006], ACT): Landgren's a Swedish trombonist turned singer, and this is his fun in New Orleans album -- sure, the title's an Ellington song, and an instrumental to boot, but from Stockholm the association is close enough, as is (evidently) "Dock of the Bay," "Night Life," and "Love the One You're With." Sample, the band, and guests who can outsing Landgren even wearing a sky mask humor him. Hard not to. 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+(**)]

Bernd Lhotzky: Piano Portrait (2005 [2006], Arbors): Solo piano from a young guy who seems to be Germany's answer to Dick Hyman. He plays stride and swing with some authority and a particular fondness for Willie "The Lion" Smith. This is volume 15 in the Arbors Piano Series. I haven't managed to come up with a complete list of those volumes, but all appear to be solo piano, with John Bunch and Johnny Varro launching the series. Not as adventurous as Concord's Maybeck Hall series -- which started with Joanne Brackeen, but has at least two intersections in Eddie Higgins and Dave McKenna -- but it does serve to underscore that Arbors picked up the ball Concord's VC's fumbled. B+(*)

Art Lillard's Heavenly Band: Reasons to Be Thankful (2000 [2006], Summit): Don't know anything about the drummer who leads this big band. One source notes that Lillard has led his group for 18 years, but this six year old session is the only item in his discography. It starts off marvelously with a distinct Latin vibe, but that seems to be just one of many things they can do. The instrumentals mix vibrant detail with a light touch. Six vocal pieces, with three lead singers, are harder to get a grip on. [B+(**)]

Liquid Soul: One-Two Punch (2006, Telarc): Back in the mid-'90s Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark had one foot each in the avant-garde -- when Hal Russell died, Williams became leader of the NRG Ensemble and recruited Vandermark to fill the void, while Williams also joined the Vandermark Five -- and what came to be called acid jazz. Vandermark ran his Crown Royals as a sideline, abandoning them after Funky-Do came out in 1999 for a much more rigorous immersion in the avant-garde. Williams went the other way, leaving the Vandermark Five -- which has certainly prospered with replacement Dave Rempis -- to found Liquid Soul. I've only heard two of four previous albums, but until now they haven't amounted to much. But this one, on a new label four years after the last, starts to deliver -- largely because there's more DJ input, more hip-hop, but also because Williams blows harder, and starts to slip in references to Gillespie and Ayler he would have dumbed out before. One cut even risks the question, "is this the best you can do?" Probably not, but it's getting there. [B+(***)]

Rolf Lislevand: Nuove Musiche (2004 [2006], ECM): Sounds old to me, but that's a risk one takes in ever labelling a music New or Modern or Contemporary or whatever. The sources are historical, dating from 1604-1650, early baroque. Lislevand plays archlute, baroque guitar and theorboe, and others play comparable antiques. They may or may not improvise on this. Not jazz in any sense I recognize -- part of ECM's "New Series" -- but it works nicely as instrumental music. B+(*)

Charles Lloyd: Sangam (2004 [2006], ECM): I rather cavalierly dismissed last year's Lloyd album, Jumping the Creek, as just another Charles Lloyd album, but I can't say as I've ever taken the trouble to figure out just what that means. I don't know his early records, and don't understand much of what I've read about them. But he impressed me strongly with Voice in the Night, cut shortly after he turned 60, and the home-recorded duets with Billy Higgins (Which Way Is East) was too pleasurable to kvell over. This one seems too easy: a live recording with two percussionists -- drummer Eric Harland and tabla master Zakir Hussain. And I could do without Lloyd's flute or Hussain's singing, although I don't really mind either, and the percussion with sax is delightful. [A-]

Charles Lloyd: Sangam (2004 [2006], ECM): Which Way Is East was two discs of home recordings of Lloyd and Billy Higgins farting around with world music beats, reeds and flutes. After Higgins died, Lloyd rounded up some pros for a trio with the same aim: tabla master Zakir Hussain and trap drummer Eric Harland. With nothing but rhythm to work against, Lloyd breaks free, and the Coltrane-isms he's earned the right to call his own come home to roost. A-

Joe Locke & Charles Rafalides: Van Gogh by Numbers (2005 [2006], Wire Walker): Seems like a very limited concept at first: duets between vibes and marimba. But while the sonic palette is narrow, especially with the marimba setting the pace, and this takes a while to get in gera, it does develop into a pleasing complexity. B+(*)

Carmen Lundy: Jazz and the New Songbook: Live at the Madrid (2005, Afrasia Productions, 2CD): Don't know her work, but she seems like a strong, straight jazz interpreter in the Carmen McRae tradition. The songs don't register all that strongly here, but the band and the singer are impeccable. B+(*)

Pamela Luss: There's Something About You I Don't Know (2006, Savant): Don't have recording dates, or a breakdown of who plays what on each track. The collective personnel lists 23 musicians, most well known names, and that doesn't count the background singers (with their own producer) and whoever plays David O'Rourke's string arrangements. Don't know much about her -- her website bio is just a reprint of Ray Osnato's revelation-free liner notes. Her voice is distinctive -- not conventionally pretty or fashionably heavy, but serviceable with a pastel tint. The songs are the usual standards. Vincent Herring produced like a kid in a candy store, the range of effects so broad and detailed that one's ears glaze over. I was prepared to shrug my shoulders and give it a middling rating, but near the end the Brazilian sway on "Waters of March" caught my ear, then the over-the-top orchestration on "My Funny Valentine" struck me as a unique take on a song that is usually whispered. So there's something here. I'm skeptical, but will keep it open. [B+(*)]

Peter Madsen: Prevue of Tomorrow (2005 [2006], Playscape): Solo piano. Madsen plays ten pieces which provide an interesting survey of modernists from the '50s and '60s -- the earliest sources are Lenny Tristano, Herbie Nichols, and Dick Twardzik; the furthest out is an early Cecil Taylor piece; the others are Mal Waldron, Andrew Hill, Hassan Ibn Ali, Muhal Richard Abrams, Sun Ra, and Randy Weston. Interesting exercise. 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+(***)]

The Chad Makela Quartet: Flicker (2004 [2005], Cellar Live): First thing that stood out here was trumpeter Brad Turner -- already noticed him as perhaps the strongest link in the Ugetsu group. Makela plays baritone sax, a less flashy instrument, but even within that context he isn't a particularly aggressive player -- not to say he doesn't deliver in the end. The back end, bassist Paul Rushka and drummer Jesse Cahill, also contribute, providing steady propulsion that keeps the horns afloat. B+(*)

Pete Malinverni: Theme & Variations (2005 [2006], Reservoir): He's a pianist I have a high regard for. This is a solo album, which for me at least is always a problem. It's also a virtual clinic in the art, and it never loses interest or the ability to please. B+(*)

Mat Maneri: Pentagon (2004 [2005], Thirsty Ear): The avant violinist has a large and rather nasty sounding group here, heavy on industrial grade keyboards with Ben Gerstein's trombone the only horn. The latter is an interesting touch, and worth focusing on. The thickly layered backdrop has some interest as well. B+(*)

Ellis Marsalis: Ruminations in New York (2003 [2004], ESP-Disk): The problem is that when the artist alone decides what goes on the disc, you need artists with something to say. The first new production of the famously ferocious '60s label -- home to Albert Ayler and the Holy Modal Rounders -- is a relentlessly nice piece of solo piano from the patriarch of the Marsalis mob. Nice. Awful nice, in fact. B

Billy Martin & Grant Calvin Weston: Live at Houston Hall (2002 [2006], Amulet): Martin is best known for playing drums with Messrs. Medeski et Wood, but he runs a label on the side where he's dumped out more than a dozen albums worth of solo or duo drums or percussion samples or remixes coming and going. They're all what you might call specialty items. I've heard half a dozen or so, and this is the first one that's seriously kicked my pulse up. Two drummers, sometimes a bit of extra noise -- Weston also plays a bit of trumpet. First impression is that it kicks ass. [B+(***)]

Billy Martin: Solo Live Tonic 2002 (2002 [2005], Amulet): Solo drums, percussion, some whistles and birdcalls. The drum pieces are tightly packed, and the range of percussion sounds provides some variety -- the metallic ones are the most ear-catching. A couple of spoken interludes are hard to hear: one about Black Elk, another about Burundi, both intros. 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+(*)]

Pat Martino: Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (2005 [2006], Blue Note): I go back and forth on Montgomery, without caring much which way I lean at any given moment. Like Charlie Parker, he was an innovator and an individualist who loomed so large over his instrument that he became a standard for emulation -- so much so he sometimes seems like a plague. If anything Montgomery is even more ubiquitous today than Parker -- and while secondhand Parker amuses me, secondhand Montgomery just seems like a shortage of ideas. This one is especially devoid of ideas -- semi-famous veteran guitarist plays a bunch of tunes associated with legendary dead guitarist and if anyone wonders why it's just like the model, well, that's what a tribute is, isn't it? This is hardly news, but the originals were better. The saving grace here is that Dave Kikoski gets to pretend he's Wynton Kelly. Kelly was better too, but Kikoski gets to enjoy himself more. B

The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra (2003 [2006], Cryptogramophone): The booklet claims that the last song was recorded on Dec. 11, 2006. Last time I checked, that's still eight months into the future. That's the second such typo I've found this week. Folks in the future are going to get plenty confused by things like this, but the more alarming problem is that this sort of sloppiness seems to be steadily growing. It's worth noting that the Voice doesn't do any fact checking on my Jazz CG or on Christgau's CG, and doesn't do much fact checking anymore on anything else either. I've made a few mistakes I know about, and I've caught a few of Christgau's on their way to his website. It's a neverending struggle to get such basic info right, and it pays to be as much of a stickler as possible, but it's a drag cleaning up other people's messes, too. As for the record, this strikes me as similar to Charles Lloyd's ECM efforts -- it's like at a certain age one decides to do whatever you feel like and not worry how it fits into your style or sound or career path or whatever. This has a very open feel, in large part designed so bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz comes through clearly. The beats come from Michael Stephans' drums and Daryl Munyungo Jackson's percussion for a loose, worldly mix. Maupin plays reeds and a bit of piano, with bass clarinet most prominent, and his tenor sax actually sounding like Lloyd. An attractive, low key album. [B+(**)]

Maximum Joy: Unlimited (1979-83 [2005], Crippled Dick Hot Wax): Not normally considered a jazz group, but there's a definitive jazz vibe here to go with the Jamaican rhythms and the jerky post-punk bass/guitar lines, and not just because Tony Wrafter plays sax and trumpet while singer Janine Rainforth adds bits on violin and clarinet. This Bristol UK group was formed from fragments of the Glaxo Babies and the Pop Group; other splinters of the latter went off to form Pigbag, which gravitated toward Latin jazz and James Brown funk, and Rip Rig + Panic, named for a Rahsaan Roland Kirk song. This group is so obscure they didn't even get a mention in the Trouser Press Guides. It's rare that such archaeology pays off, but it does here. A-

Virginia Mayhew: Sandan Shuffle (2005 [2006], Renma): The early going here, where the Latin-oriented rhythm section gets its head, reminds me of those Latin-inflected hard bop records that guys like Kenny Dorham cut in the '60s. Mayhew plays tenor sax with that same sort of well squared off solidity. But then the album, as these things so often do, wanders into other territory, including a bouncy "In Walked Bud" and a slow, sly "I Get Along Without You Very Well" with Mayhew switching to soprano. Kenny Wessel plays soft-edged guitar. Nice middle-of-the-road album. Info on karate in the liner notes. B+(**)

Donny McCaslin: Soar (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): A tenor saxophonist, he's made a strong impression as a sideman in recent years, and he's consistently impressive here, even when he switches to flute. The small set pieces are clear and logical, dominated by his warm tone and the rhythm's latin accent. I'm not so sure about the vocal frosting -- in the lead piece it rises from a marvelous sax-drums duo like a mushroom cloud, although that's not really the right metaphor. Two pieces toward the end add extra brass for harmonic backfill. He's trying out various things. We'll see how they all sort out. [B+(***)]

Donny McCaslin: Soar (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): He's very fast, and very slick, on tenor sax. His pieces here lean Latin, with the very able Antonio Sanchez and Pernell Saturnino pushing the beats. And he's got a lot of able help, including Ben Monder, Orrin Evans and Scott Colley. But this strikes me as de trop, especially when layers voices as harmonic icing on top of the most complex confections. One thing I can't complain about is the flute: the short closer, "Merjorana Tonosieña," is the nicest thing here, perhaps because it's so basic. B+(**)

Carmen McRae: For Lovers (1955-59 [2006], Verve): Standard songbook fare, done with her usual reverent precision, half with soft-stringed orchestras and half with piano trios, neither in any way distinctive even when Ray Bryant tinkles the ivories. Her finest readings -- e.g., the bookends "When I Fall in Love" and "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" -- are authoritative, and this isn't a bad way to approach her Decca period if you're inclined towards straight-up divas. After all, no one stood straighter. B

Jay McShann: Hootie Blues (2001 [2006], Stony Plain): A live set from the Montréal Bistro, in Toronto, and a plain delight. McShann was never a great singer, but at 85 his throwaway lines have developed a beguling slyness. But his piano still has more than a hint of boogie woogie, which loosens up this set of blues-tinged standards. With sax, bass and drums. I haven't listened to much of his post-Parker output, which I imagine is much in this vein. Ends with a 24-minute interview; worth hearing. Among other things, he remembers when Wichita had its big jazz scene. B+(**)

Mike Melvoin Presents Dan Jaffe: Playing the Word (2005 [2006], City Light): Jaffe reads poems from his book of the same name, subtitled "Jazz Poems," while Melvoin plays piano. The latter includes originals as well as pieces by Ellington, Parker, and a Frank Smith I can't identify for sure. The poems focus on Kansas City, where this was recorded, with a bit of Basie and a whole mess of Parker -- by far the longest piece is the 12:24 of "Bird Talk." The music is background, but the words have some bite. B+(*)

Metta Quintet: Subway Songs (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): Second album by this group. The musician I'm most familiar with is Marcus Strickland, but he's a newcomer this time, along with pianist Helen Sung. The carry-overs are alto saxist Mark Gross, bassist Joshua Ginsberg, and drummer H. Benjamin Schuman, who founded the JazzReach Performing Arts & Education Association, which releases the group's records. Don't have a good handle on this. It strikes me as a sort of fancy postbop transmodernism -- lots of intricate pieces moving together, impressively done but to what purpose? The subway theme is similar to Randy Sandke's, but more backgrounded. Later. [B+(*)]

Rhett Miller: The Believer (2006, Verve Forecast): I don't know what the mission statement of this subdivision of UMG's putative jazz division, but it doesn't seem to be jazz. I think this is the first album they've released in the last two years that they didn't send me, and the first that I actually wanted. It's not jazz -- not even as close as Blue Note's post-Norah prestige signings of Al Green and Van Morrison. But it's a pretty good pop album, with a couple of songs -- including "Singular Girl" and "I'm With Her" -- better than that, and others not quite. B+(***)

Dom Minasi: The Vampire's Revenge (2005 [2006], CDM, 2CD): Minasi is a 62-year-old guitarist who recorded two fusion albums with Blue Note back in their dog days and only recently revived his career with a series of self-released albums. My only prior experience with him suggested he's one of those mild-mannered bop-influenced pickers -- a family I trace back mostly to Tal Farlow -- although his interest in 12-string marks him as a bit fancier than most. On the basis of this album, we can chuck that theory. Turns out he has a darker side. Also that he's able to call on an interesting circle of friends. In addition to his trio, he taps 18 guests here, many for a single cut, the rest for sets of related pieces. The list itself would fill up a review, but here's a taste, the subset with one feature cut each: Perry Robinson, Joe Giardullo, Matthew Shipp, Mark Whitecage, Borah Bergman, Sabir Mateen, Blaise Siwula. These are not the sort of folks who show up to add a little texture and color. For that he's got section players, but even so, the strings are Jason Kao Hwang and Tomas Ulrich, the brass Herb Robertson and Steve Swell. The vampire theme is one I could do without, and it's unavoidable here. Nothing here is ambivalent enough for soundtrack, so stash that fear. But one piece is built around a recitation so heavily that the only word for it is opera. Two more pieces feature vocalist Carol Mennie, and while they're more scat than words they too fit into the opera framework. Doesn't sound like a good concept to me, but everything else here is remarkable. [A-]

Marc Mommaas with Nikolaj Hess: Balance (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): Two solo pieces on tenor sax, the rest with Hess added on piano. Very interesting from start to finish -- the sax cogent, with a well measured tone, while the piano juxtaposes abstractly. [B+(***)]

Monk's Music Trio: Monk's Bones (2004 [2006], CMB): The trio -- veterans Si Perkoff on piano and Chuck Bernstein on drums, and young Sam Bevan on bass -- is perhaps too respectful to uncover anything truly new, but they handle the repertoire skillfully enough, and Monk continues to be an inexhaustible fount of inspiration. But the attraction here comes from the 'bones: Si's son Max, who gets to play alongside superguest Roswell Rudd, who has earned enough esteem that he can roughen up Monk any time he feels like. 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-]

Joe Morris Quartet: Beautiful Existence (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Jim Hobbs is bound to turn some ears with his alto sax here, both with his punchy free runs and his deft support of the guitarist's tricky single-note lines. Bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Luther Gray also pitch in -- never before have I heard Morris so confident or his music fleshed out so completely. 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+(**)]

Paul Motian Band: Garden of Eden (2004 [2006], ECM): The further evolution of the Electric Bebop Band, but still anchored with covers of Mingus and Parker. Still, this is mostly texture, with saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby reined in, and Motian as slippery as ever. B+(**)

Roy Nathanson: Sotto Voce (2006, AUM Fidelity): This got me to wondering whether there's ever been two great jazz versions of a pop song as annoying as "Sunny" before. The other one is on Billy Jenkins, True Love Collection, which is full of '60s pop tripe turned into avant psychedelia. Here it's just one of nine stops that I'm having trouble making sense out of -- some jive, some poetizing, something Brechtian, a story about a guy shooting his finger off to escape from a war. The monotone wordplay is always up front, the fractured blips of sax, violin and trombone flying off to the side. I like the music quite a bit, especially on the rare occasions it gets intense. The voce I'm more ambivalent about. [B+(**)]

Jovino Santos Neto: Roda Carioca (Rio Circle) (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): A pianist from Brazil, although he's spent a good deal of time in the US up around Seattle. The core here is a piano-bass-drums trio, although Neto also plays melodica, flutes and accordion, and various guests drop in for extra percussion, mandolin, guitar, harmonica -- most famous is Hermeto Pascoal for one of his pieces, but also a pretty good vocalist identified only as Joyce. Mostly upbeat. Don't have a good feel for it yet. [B+(*)]

Jovino Santos Neto: Roda Carioca (Rio Circle) (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): Perhaps it's the northeast roots or the 12 years he's lived in Seattle, but this is one Brazilian record that doesn't pull its punches. Neto plays piano, melodica, flutes, and accordion -- the latter on the exuberantly Tango-ish "Coco Na Roda" is what kicks the album into overdrive. B+(***)

Next Order: Live-Powered Nexus (2005, Lolo): This is a Japanese group with a rock lineup: two electric guitars (Yuji Moto and Takumi Seino), electric bass (Atsutomo Ishigaki) and drums (Hiroshi "Gori" Matsuda). Any temptation to classify this as instrumental rock or fusion even is belied by the structure of the pieces and their improvisational content. As jazz goes, this still has a hard surface, and the drumming is less flexible than the guitars, but it moves with admirable economy. 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 Håker 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+(**)]

Paal Nilssen-Love: Townorchestrahouse (2005, Clean Feed): Three long group improvs, run together in the title. There's no real reason the Norwegian drummer should get top billing here, other than that he's quite a drummer, fast building a reputation that might lead one to seek out an album under his name. Otherwise, this would have been released under Evan Parker's name: he has the lead instrument, sets the pace, and is the guy you focus on. B+(***)

Anita O'Day: Indestructible! (2004-05 [2006], Kayo Stereophonic): Well into her 80s, she doesn't swing as hard as she used to, and her voice is more gone than not, but she inspires a couple of near-faultness bands. Roswell Rudd rumbles on three tracks, including "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer." Joe Wilder stands out on the other tracks. O'Day's post-prime recordings have always been a matter of taste and sentiment: you have to like her a lot to see past the decline. But I, for one, can't see not liking her. 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+(***)]

Odyssey the Band: Back in Time (2005 [2006], Pi): I would have been happier without the two vocals here, which break the flow of the music -- a vibrant tension between James Blood Ulmer's guitar, Charles Burnham's violin, and Warren Benbow's drums which somehow flows with the improbability of harmolodics. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with the vocals per sé -- how they would have fit into Ulmer's Hyena albums is hard to say, but that's because the music is so much looser here. Francis Davis has already plugged this in the Voice as the first A-plus record of the year. I'm inclined to be a bit more cautious, and for now doubt that I have two more cents worth the Jazz CG space. Unless I find myself shy a Pick Hit when the next deadline comes around. This could fill that bill. A-

Keith Oxman: Dues in Progress (2005 [2006], Capri): Another solid mainstream album. Oxman plays tenor sax. In the past -- this is his sixth album on Colorado-based Capri -- he's played in a quartet that is the core here, but this time he has extra brass, including featured name trombonist Curtis Fuller, and at least one cut has a stray oboe. Pianist Chip Stephens also gets his name in larger type on the front cover, recognition of his steady hand. Bassist Ken Walker is another strong contributor. Everything here strikes me as well done, but no more -- e.g., a Joe Henderson song sounds a lot like Joe Henderson, even though Oxman otherwise doesn't particularly recall Henderson. B+(*)

Francisco Pais Quintet: Not Afraid of Color (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): It took a while to get the feel of this complex postmodern cool or whatever. Pais plays guitar, layered intricately with Leo Genovese's keyboards and Chris Cheek's reeds. One cut I noticed each time through was "Transfiguration," partly because the pace picks up a bit, but mostly due to Ferenc Nemeth's drums. 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+(**)]

William Parker: Long Hidden: The Olmec Series (1993-2005 [2006], AUM Fidelity): The reissue component is "In Case of Accident," solo bass from an out-of-print self-release tacked on as an afterthought because there was a bit of space left. Avant-jazz bass solos aren't everyone's cup of tea, but this one is deep, intense, and powerfully moving -- and at 14:09 long doesn't commit you like a full album does. The new stuff includes three milder bass solos, three solos on 8-string doson ngoni, and four complex rhythmic vamps by the Olmec Group, an experiment in Mesoamericana. It all feels like a sketchbook, any piece of which could be developed into something substantial. B+(**)

Jaco Pastorius Big Band: The Word Is Out (2006, Heads Up): I'm way behind the learning curve here -- haven't heard the first JP Big Band record, don't even have a fix on JP himself: two records in the database (one B+, one B), don't know his stuff with Pat Metheny, don't recall him with Weather Report (never was a fan of them; three B, one B+ records in the database), haven't heard his Rhino comp. So the first thing I don't get here is the point. What I do hear are splashy big band arrangements, mostly of Pastorius originals, with one Metheny, one Joe Zawinul, one Herbie Hancock, and a "Blackbird" that especially sticks in my craw. As big band bombast, this ain't half bad; as fusion, it just ain't; as Pastorius, beats me. Still, I figure it's time to cut my losses. B

Mario Pavone Sextet: Deez to Blues (2005 [2006], Playscape): Pavone describes this music as upside down, with the piano and bass carrying the melodic line while the horns provide counter motion. That's certainly part of it -- especially why Pavone's bass so often winds up on top, but there's much more going on with convoluted density of Peter Madsen's piano. Also, left out of the equation is Charles Burnham's violin, which can take the high road with Pavone, or more likely the low one with, or in place of, the horns. The hornmen, by the way, are Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet) and Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax, bass clarinet). They add a lot in small ways but never threaten to run away with a piece. The opening cuts here are as stimulating as anything I've heard this year. The later ones may take more concentration, but the rewards are evident. And no need to ask what "Second-Term Blues" is about -- what the blues has always been about: survival. Grade is a baseline. I'll be auditioning this for a Pick Hit. A-

Houston Person: All Soul (2005, HighNote): First time through this felt like he was phoning it in, but near the end "Please Send Me Someone to Love" turned magesterial, and the upbeat closer "Put It Right There" finally provided some payoff from the band. So I spun it again and noticed a slow but gorgeous "Let It Be Me" -- but the rest of the album, overpopulated by a sextet, only improved marginally. B+(**)

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+(***)]

Gianluca Petrella: Indigo 4 (2004 [2006], Blue Note): Italian trombonist, not yet 30 when this was recorded, with a couple of unheard albums under his belt. Blue Note picked him up because they're part of EMI's multinational megacorp and jazz is bigger in Europe than in its homeland, and he's exactly the sort of prospect that makes majors think jazz has a viable future: well studied but eager to take that extra step and distinguish himself. The covers are Ellington, Monk, Tony Williams, Sun Ra, and "Lazy Moon." The originals weave in and out in complementary ways. As a trombonist he draws on Roswell Rudd, which among other things means he doesn't hesitate to get down and dirty. He also dabbles in electronics -- almost de rigeur these days, especially in Europe. He's complemented here by Francesco Bearzatti on tenor sax and clarinet. The band's one of those piano-less quartets, the two horns free to wheel and deal, with Bearzatti taking advantage of his more nimble horns. But despite his friskiness, Petrella stays within the boundaries of modern postbop: he's an integrator, a constructive traditionalist. B+(***)

Planet Jazz: In Orbit (2005 [2006], Sharp Nine): One expects this to be labelled "A Spike Wilner Joint," but I doubt that Wilner would ever do anything that obvious, let alone crass. Still, this is clearly his group: seven pieces, as mainstream as they get. Five of eight songs were written by a drummer Johnny Ellis, who died in 1999 at 44. Ellis played with Mike LeDonne and Michael Hashim in the Widespread Depression Orchestra -- presumably circa 1980, but I haven't confirmed the credits. Ellis had a later band, circa 1991, called Planet Jazz, which most of the musicians here -- pianist Wilner, saxophonist Grant Stewart, trumpeter Joe Mangarelli, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Neal Miner -- worked in, so this is a reunion. The other three songs are covers, arranged by Wilner: from Charlie Shavers, Hampton Hawes, and Duke Ellington-Johnny Hodges. The covers are more immediately appealing, especially for Bernstein's guitar. The Ellis originals call for another listen. [B+(*)]

Odean Pope Saxophone Choir: Locked & Loaded: Live at the Blue Note (2004 [2006], Half Note): Pope's Saxophone Choir includes a piano-bass-drums rhythm section, so in many ways it's more like a big band than any of the sax-only ensembles. No brass cuts down on the color, but with nine saxes here -- five tenor, three alto, one baritone -- not counting guests he has a lot of options. The guests are Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, and James Carter -- the latter featured on the high-powered closer, a choice cut called "Muntu Chant." [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+(***)]

Chris Potter: Underground (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): Title piece isn't all that deep underground, but it's a good example of how powerfully he can blow, and it gives guitarist Wayne Krantz some space to boot. Then the record closes with "Yesterday" -- slow almost to the point of unrecognizability, but it marks the return of that thin pot-metal tone I've never cared for. The earlier tracks are similarly mixed. B+(**)

Bobby Previte: The Coalition of the Willing (2005 [2006], Ropeadope): Easy to tell this is a drummer's album -- the drums are mixed up front and plenty loud. Easy to classify it as fusion too, with Jamie Saft's keyboards and Charlie Hunter's guitars the usual instruments, and both doubling on electric bass. Previte gets extra help on drums from Stanton Moore. Also on hand is Stew Cutler on harmonica and slide guitar, Steven Bernstein on trumpets, and Skerik on saxes. In effect, Previte has swallowed Garage à Trois [Hunter, Skerik, Moore] whole -- their own Outre Mer album is as tuneful a piece of fusion as I've heard in several years, but much lighter than this armada. Still undecided whether all the extra firepower is worth it, but this has some promise. Unlike another "coalition of the willing" you might recall. [B+(**)]

Dafnis Prieto: Absolute Quintet (2005 [2006], Zoho): Cuban percussionist, made it to New York in 1999 and he's been the hot kid on the block ever since. I've been impressed by him as a sideman, but I wound up disliking his previous album, About the Monks, quite strongly. I've held it in my active file as a possible dud, but never felt sure enough of myself to post it. Not sure of this one either, but it's not a dud. It may be too broadly conceived, and Prieto's interest in the impact of European concert music on Cuba may wander into territory I don't find all that interesting, but it's hard to knock a guy for ambitions when he's successful this often. So this will take some acclimation, possibly including a revisit to the prior album. Meanwhile, "The Stutterer" is as exciting as any latin jazz piece I've heard since SLF, with Yosvany Terry powering his way through an exceedingly tricky rhythmic chicane. Henry Threadgill guests on the more moderate, lovely even, "Afrotango." "One Day Suite" gets attacked by violins, which I'm less sure about, but "Innocent Bird" seems to synthesize the concert music angle with the Afro percussion in a way that sums up Cuba. Stay tuned. [B+(**)]

Shaynee Rainbolt: At Home (2005 [2006], 33 Jazz): Standards singer. Don't know much about her, other than that this is her second album. Lee Musiker, who works with Tony Bennett, plays piano and arranged the torchier pieces, so that may provide a hint as to orientation and ambition. I was much more struck by the more uptempo items, including some delectable guitar -- Gene Bertoncini, of course. B+(*)

Chuck Redd: Remembers Barney Kessel: Happy All the Time (2005 [2006], Arbors): Tribute albums tend to three flavors. One is the conventional look back into the tradition thing, like Randy Sandke plays Bix Beiderbecke, or Scott Hamilton plays Zoot Sims. Usually these follow an instrument. Another is the tangential sideman memoir: a personal connection, like Mal Waldron on Billie Holiday. These most likely shift the instrument. The third is what we might call the contrived connection, neither organic like the first nor personal like the second. These are usually marketing concepts, although on occasion they pan out, as with Bud Shank (or Joe Lovano or Ruby Braff) on Sinatra. This is a good example of the second, replete with reminiscences and photos of days when vibraphonist Redd played with guitarist Kessel; also photos and a warm note from Kessel's widow. Five Kessel originals, plus standards that lend themselves to his easy swing. Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini contribute some guitar, but it's not central. Redd does a lovely job of swinging the vibes, and that does the trick. B+(**)

The RH Factor: Distractions (2006, Verve): This is Roy Hargrove's funk diversion -- the second such album, if memory serves. The off-handed title refers to four pieces, each numbered, that serve as instrumental interludes. The rest have vocals, credited to Hargrove and Renee Neufville, except for one shot that D'Angelo dropped in for. Much of this sounds warmed over, but one called "A Place" bears a pretty slick P-Funk brand. [B+(*)]

Duke Robillard: Guitar Groove-A-Rama (2006, Stony Plain). For some reason jazz magazines from Downbeat to Cadence have a side-interest in blues, establishing an affinity that hasn't really existed over the last 30-40 years -- not since blues shouters like Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Witherspoon and Jimmy Rushing fronted jazz bands. Since then the blues genre has narrowed down into a main stream of guitar slingers who make up a narrow, conservative genre under rock, plus a couple of creeks off to the side for folkie-musicologists like Taj Mahal and soul holdovers like Etta James and Solomon Burke. I've wondered whether about slipping a straight blues record into my jazz guide, and actually did once, with Billy Jenkins' When the Crowds Have Gone. But that was pretty far out in left field. James Blood Ulmer's Birthright tempted me -- like Jenkins, Ulmer's catalog is for the most part solidly positioned as jazz. I don't get much blues, but I figure when I do get something there's no harm in at least prospecting it, even if it's unlikely it will qualify for the jazz guide. Robillard is a comfortable mainstream guitar slinger. He paid his dues with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Roomful of Blues before going solo. He's got nothing much to say, but he's happy to be here, happy to be the end of the title cut's jukebox history of the blues, which started with his best Muddy Waters impersonation and worked its way down the ages. B+(*)

Carol Robbins: Jazz Play (2005, Jazzcats): Robbins plays harp. She came up through the usual classical steps, but studied under Dorothy Ashby, who until recently was pretty much the beginning and end of the list of jazz harpists. Harp isn't a very imposing instrument. Here she mostly fills up the spaces at the end of lines, adding a shimmering texture to the other five musicians, who carry most of the music. Guitarist Larry Koonse and bassist Darek Oles provide the strings that complement the harp's sound. Bob Sheppard plays tenor and soprano sax, matched with Steve Huffstetet on trumpet or flugelhorn. Perhaps to keep from blowing the leader away, they all play what we might call neo-cool: light, measured, rather delicate post-bop. It makes for an intriguing little album. 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-

Ari Roland: Sketches From a Bassist's Album (2005 [2006], Smalls): Quartet with Chris Byars on tenor sax, Sacha Perry on piano, Phil Stewart on drums. Roland plays bass, nicely featured here; also wrote seven of ten pieces. Roland has been a stalwart sideman on this label, particularly in Frank Hewitt's groups. This one works the well-worn bop idiom with a bit more swing than usual, a most comfortable and enjoyable outing. B+(**)

Wallace Roney: Mystikal (2005, HighNote): The previous one, with the same general concept of family postbop plus turntables, was called Prototype. Perhaps the new title signifies that the development process has gotten sidetracked. (Certainly can't be a nod to the rapper.) At least, the project hasn't jelled yet: the electronics and acoustics separate out pretty cleanly. I like Val Jeanty's turntable work here -- both the scratches and the samples -- but they're still scarce enough that they're background rather than base. The Roney brothers do a fine job of splitting the difference between solid and slick -- Antoine, in particular, is gaining ground, but the best musician in the house remains Geri Allen, so doesn't steal the album so much as keep it propped up. But we're still waiting to see what comes of these parts. B+(**)

Ray Russell: Goodbye Svengali (2006, Cuneiform): Svengali is something more than a nickname for arranger Gil Evans: it's an anagram of Evans' name, attributed to Gerry Mulligan. Evans, who died in 1988, gets a credit here for piano on "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" -- the piece started as an old outtake to which Russell added his guitar. The album built around that piece ranges widely, the common denominator being Russell's silky guitar with occasional synth treatments. He's been around since the '60s, mostly working in fusion groups, with studio work mostly on rock albums, but also a tie into the London Symphony Orchestra. I've never noticed him, but fits in nicely with some of Evans' interests. [B+(**)]

Ray Russell: Goodbye Svengali (2005 [2006], Cuneiform): Don't have recording dates, so I'm going with the liner notes. In any case I wouldn't count the old tape of Gil Evans piano that Russell overdubs. In this guitarist's tribute to Evans, I'm reminded that Evans himself made a project of arranging Jimi Hendrix for big band, but Russell wasn't Hendrix or similarly inspired -- Larry Coryell is much more to the point, and (of course) McLaughlin. But I don't know Russell's work -- mostly fusion dates going back to the late '60s, but he had more with Evans than the dining relationship mentioned in the notes here. So I suspect he had some insight into an Evans interest in guitar that informs this exceptionally fruitful tribute. B+(***)

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+(**)]

Terje Rypdal: Vossabrygg (2003 [2006], ECM): The guitarist was a student of George Russell, and his approach to electronics and fusion bears Russell's stamp. His main collaborator here is trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, also a Russell follower, with several connections to Miles Davis. The electronics, complemented by bass and two drummers, is interesting in spots, and Mikkelborg's trumpet shines. The guitar is harder to sort from the mix. B+(**)

Harvie S: Funky Cha (2005 [2006], Zoho): The name change of the bassist formerly known as Harvie Swartz -- I recall him best from his duets with Sheila Jordan -- seems to have followed a quasi-religious conversion to latin music. Not sure just how this unfolded -- he played with Paquito D'Rivera in 1991, but a trip to Cuba in 1996 appears to have been pivotal, with the name change appearing on a 2001 record called New Beginning. This one strikes me as well studied and evenly balanced, with Daniel Kelly's piano and Jay Collins' reeds carrying the vibe, and the percussion up to snuff. B+(**)

Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah's First (1964 [2005], ESP-Disk): Two long pieces, the first a bit rougher, both close in tone and dynamics to Coltrane and very much up to the moment. The quintet isn't especially distinguished, although Jane "no relation" Getz holds her own on piano. B+(***)

Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band: The Subway Ballet (1988-2005 [2006], Evening Star): Sandke's metatonal harmonic theory is over my head -- something about overlaying harmonics slightly off from the usual ones, which makes his music a bit odd and a bit dangerous. No surprise that someone interested in harmonics should gravitate toward big bands. That there is no piano may just mean that he isn't interested in getting his harmonics cheap. Whatever. The unchoreographed ballet is conceived of as a subway trip from Brooklyn Heights to Harlem, which is good for encounters with a range of possible dancers: downtown punks, Wall Street brokers, Hassidic diamond merchants, a blind beggar, a Korean peddler, midtown career women. You can sort of guess the music that goes with each, but remember that it will be a bit odder and more dangerous. The high point arrives with the Hassids, who here at least include David Krakauer. The end, which moves out onto the street, is less obvious. It also doesn't fill the whole disc, so Sandke tacked on four cuts from an unreleased 1988 album with supposed metatonal emanations, but the smaller bands -- two cuts are just Sandke with drum machine, and two find him playing guitar instead of brass -- make the harmonics less obvious. Last cut sounds like an outtake from Pink Floyd. [B+(***)]

Bernardo Sassetti Trio²: 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+(***)]

Bernardo Sassetti Trio²: Ascent (2005, Clean Feed): Piano trio from Portugal plus two extra musicians: Ajda Zupancic on cello and Jean-François Lezé on vibes. The vibes aren't conspicuous, but the cello makes a difference, building the soft, luscious texture Sassetti's piano offsets. Not avant-garde or boppish or anything else you can pigeonhole. Just remarkably logical, coherent -- makes perfect sense the way it unfolds. Still don't know how to write about it, but for now, suffice it to say this is the best piano album I've heard since I started doing the Jazz CG. Could be graded higher. Could even be a Pick Hit. A-

PS: This did become a Pick Hit. Kicks in slowly, but got upgraded in the process. A

Alexander von Schlippenbach/Axel Dörner/Rudi Mahall/Jan Roder/Uli Jennessen: Monk's Casino: The Complete Works of Thelonious Monk (2003-04 [2005], Intakt, 3CD): Surprising at first that everything Monk wrote can be squeezed onto three discs, but Monk's well started to dry up not far into his career and his later discs are mostly reworkings of his earlier songs. Some of these do run short -- "Crepuscle With Nellie" 2:17, "Pannonica" 1:36, "Stuffy Turkey" 0:44 -- but "Misterioso" stretches to 10:05. Some are straight renditions of the compositions, but work around the themes, much as Monk himself did. Trumpet and bass clarinet recapitulate Monk's own preference for working with horns, but they vary enough from the usual tenor saxmen to illuminate new edges and quirks in Monk's work, much like Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd did. Schlippenbach himself is less like himself, content to lay back and direct like Monk often did. Still, in total this is a remarkable, and quite marvelous, de/reconstruction. A-

PS: Upgraded this one too. A

Irène Schweizer: Portrait (1984-2004 [2005], Intakt): One disc in a slipcase with a thick booklet, packed with excerpts from fourteen albums, by a Swiss pianist I've never heard before, although I've certainly heard of. Nothing in this year's bumper crop of solo piano strikes me as anywhere near as robust as the three solo pieces here. Even better are the duos, mostly with drummers, but two saxophonists I've also never heard of, Omri Ziegele and Co Streiff, also stand out, and the 10:13 "First Meeting" with trombonist George Lewis is riveting from stem to stern. Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake are tight enough that their trio combines the virtues of the duos. That leaves two pieces with Joëlle Léandre and Maggie Nicols, where the latter's artsong vocals would normally turn me off, but somehow here they slip past as high camp. This does what few samplers manage to do: make me want to hear all of the albums they come from. A

Christian Scott: Rewind That (2005 [2006], Concord): An auspicious debut for a young New Orleans trumpeter, nephew of guest alto saxist Donald Harrison. This compares to '60s hard bop much like '90s r&b compared to Stax soul -- softer, creamier, more texture and less emotion. It's almost like we're witnessing the reinvention of cool. B+(*)

Paul Shapiro: It's in the Twilight (2005 [2006], Tzadik): Part of Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series. Shapiro's website says: "You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Paul Shapiro's music. But it helps to have a heart." So Jewish is a big part of Shapiro's identity, all the more clear from the booklet, but had you blindfolded me I would have missed it. Radical too, but I might have picked the name of a band he founded in the '90s, but I've never heard: Brooklyn Funk Essentials. And the big heart theme is clear. Shapiro plays tenor sax, but he sound here is thickened with a second tenor sax (Peter Apfelbaum) and trumpet (Steve Bernstein), giving the record a fat, vibrant sound. Two songs have vocal bits, which pop up informally for a social feel. If I was doing Choice Cuts, one I particularly like is Shapiro's Ribs & Brisket tune, "Oy Veys Mir" -- starts out like "Flat Foot Floogie" and takes a boogie woogie piano break. 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+(*)]

Shot x Shot (2005 [2006], High Two): Young quartet from Philadelphia, with two saxes, bass and drums. AMG doesn't list any credits for any of them, but I recognize alto saxophonist Dan Scofield and bassist Matt Engle from Sonic Liberation Front. The other sax is tenor man Bryan Rogers, and drummer Dan Capecchi completes the group. The liner notes -- a big thumbs up from fellow Philadelphian Francis Davis -- start with an exercise in name dropping, trying to find some historical framework to fit these unknowns: Lee Konitz vs. Warne Marsh, John Coltrane vs. Pharoah Sanders, "let's split the difference." Seems much more postmodern to me -- maybe Chris Cheek vs. Tony Malaby, a match up that should sell more records than it does. The five pieces are mid-tempo, the saxes tightly intertwined -- as opposed to the flaring more typical of pianoless quartets -- and the drummer definitely plays with the band. [B+(***)]

Janis Siegel: A Thousand Beautiful Things (2006, Telarc): The band is solidly Latin -- Edsel Gomez (piano), John Benitez (bass), Steve Hass (drums), Lusito Quintero (percussion), with Colombian Edmar Castañeda playing "Columbian harp" and Brian Lynch's brass on two cuts. The songs with one or two exceptions start elsewhere -- Björk, Stevie Wonder, Anne Lennox, Raul Midón, Suzanne Vega, Paul Simon -- so the gimmick is to Latinize them, although you can only be sure when Quintero is on the case, at which point it becomes obvious. The harp is interesting. The singer is proficient, but the songs don't amount to much. B

David Sills: Down the Line (2005 [2006], Origin): Sumptuous mainstream album, with Sills' tenor sax fleshed out by Gary Foster's alto, while guitarist Larry Koonse and pianist Alan Broadbent add to the plushness. [B+(***)]

David Sills: Down the Line (2005 [2006], Origin): Nice mainstream album, with Sills playing tenor sax, Gary Foster alto sax, Larry Koonse guitar, Alan Broadbent piano, Putter Smith bass, Tim Pleasant drums. Pleasant indeed. Foster and Broadbent recorded one of the better Concord Duos albums, so you expect them to be a well matched team. Sills' website lists eight albums since 1997, including two by the Acoustic Jazz Quartet. B+(**)

Sonny Simmons: The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings (1966 [2005], ESP-Disk, 2CD): Simmons was past 30 when he cut his first two albums. Both feature his wife Barbara Donald on trumpet, the first in a quintet with a young John Hicks on piano, the second a sextet with Michael Cohen on piano and Bert Wilson on tenor sax. Before arriving in New York, Simmons had played alto sax mostly in r&b bands, but he had an exceptional sense of the connections between Parker, Coleman and Dolphy, and he sums them up with fierce logic and cunning, even advancing the state of the art a bit. A few years later he returned to the West Coast, fell on hard times, lost his family, became a homeless junkie, scratching for change playing on the streets. He finally got a gig from someone who remembered these albums, cleaned up and came back with a vengeance, turning in his finest work at an age when most people hope to be retired. Both discs are padded with interviews, but the man's got history. A-

The Essential Frank Sinatra With the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (1940-42 [2005], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): After breaking in with Harry James' band this is the first significant piece in Sinatra's discography. He was already a remarkably smooth, confident singer, although he would develop himself much further later on. He does, however, bring out the absolute worst in Dorsey, especially on the second disc, where the strings swamp the band. This material has been rehashed ad nauseum: everything from a 5-CD box to the three volumes of The Popular Frank Sinatra to various single discs to this double. The only one that much impressed me is The Popular Frank Sinatra, Vol. 1. This is de trop. B

Daniel Smith: Bebop Bassoon (2004 [2006], Zah Zah): As advertised, no more, no less. Smith is well known in the classical catalogue, but this is his first attempt to tackle a jazz program. Starts with the jaunty "Killer Joe," then gets a bit tricker with "Anthropology" and "Blue Monk." All ten songs are well known. The bassoon gives them an odd sound, split by the double reeds. Seems like a chore just to play, much less improvise in. B

Bob Sneider & Paul Hofmann: Escapade (2004 [2006], Sons of Sound): It's not much clearer what's going on in this duo, but my working theory is not a whole lot. Pianist Hofmann has the upper hand in everything but billing order. More listening might help to sort out Sneider's guitar, but I doubt that it will make much of a difference. B

The Bob Sneider & Joe Locke Film Noir Project: Fallen Angel (2005 [2006], Sons of Sound): I'm not at all clear on the concept here -- what these pieces have to do with film noir, or what film noir has to do with jazz. The purple prose of liner notes by Allen Coulter and Frank Aloi don't quite parse, let alone inform. The music, however, has a cool, smoky air, with a range of instruments -- the leaders' guitar and vibes, John Sneider's trumpet, Grant Stewart's tenor sax, Paul Hofmann's piano, Phil Flanigan's bass and Mike Melito's drums -- used sparely. I like it enough I'll work on it some more. [B+(**)]

Colin Stranahan: Transformation (2005 [2006], Capri): Sounds very postbop, not least in its preoccupation with intricately elaborated harmony -- something I generally consider to be a turnoff. Led by the drummer, but the writing credits are pretty evenly distributed throughout the group, including two pairs of brothers. Will hold it back for another spin, partly because I was distracted while listening to this, partly because when I did manage to focus it seemed rather well done. [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+(***)]

String Trio of New York With Oliver Lake: Frozen Ropes (2004 [2005], Barking Hoop): John Linderg and James Emery are constants for 25 years now, while the violin slot has pretty much annointed the who's who of the instrument -- Billy Bang, Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Diane Monroe, now Rob Thomas. Lindberg is, or should be, well known from his own albums. But the one I keep noticing here is Emery. His guitar tends to add color, but in this mix that makes a difference. And his lead piece, called "Texas Koto Blues," is both the simplest and the most striking thing here -- you just know Albert King would get a kick out of it. It's also the one piece where Lake fits in most seemlessly. Elsewhere he challenges the group, mostly for the better. B+(***)

Thomas Strønen: 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+(***)]

Sun Ra: Heliocentric Worlds: Volumes 1 and 2 (1965 [2005], ESP-Disk): Two LPs recorded seven months apart, still they fit together. Both are large groups working complex sonic terrain -- the first bursting with tympani, both awash in percussion and an exotic range of instruments including celeste, marimba, tuned bongos, piccolo, flute, and quite a bit of bass clarinet. Still, this doesn't show much swing, or momentum even. B+(***)

Sun Ra: Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 3: The Lost Tapes (1965 [2005], ESP-Disk): An extra, previously unreleased 35:47 from the Nov. 16 session that produced Vol. 2. While the pieces are new, not much else is: they start with horn a blaring, and everyone doubles on percussion, but there is some redeeming piano for hard core devotees. B

Sun Ra: Nothing Is . . . (1966 [2005], ESP-Disk): More space schtick, including some chant-like vocals that are neither here nor there. One piece that stands out is "Exotic Forest," with a lot of percussion in the bush and high-pitched horns popping out of the canopy. The bonus cuts include one that swings, and another that travels the spaceways. B+(**)

Lew Tabackin Trio: Tanuki's Night Out (2001 [2006], Dr-Fujii.com): I've always thought of Tabackin as a tenor saxophonist, but he lists flute first on his resume, and leads off with it here. He plays flute on three of seven pieces. If you discount the covers of "Body and Soul" and "Rhythm-a-Ning" that make up the encores that would be a majority. Not that you'd discount them -- distinctive and robust, they are standards only in name. Still, perhaps Tabackin is right to advance his flute. For an instrument that tends to be light and airy, he makes something substantial out of it. [B+(**)]

Aki Takase/Lauren Newton: Spring in Bangkok (2004 [2006], Intakt): Just as I'm inclined to broaden the jazz search to include the broad range of non-jazz instrumental music, I've become increasingly skeptical about the jazz worthiness of so-called vocal jazz. Clearly, most such records work out minor variants of (often archaic) pop music. But there's nothing pop here. Newton's voice is pure instrument -- at times horn-like, sometimes string-like, or even beat-box, but rarely word-bound. (The exception is the semi-spoken "Das Scheint Mir," in amusingly orchestrated German.) Takase's piano is more than adequate accompaniment. Stark, abstract, beautiful in its own strange way. [B+(***)]

Thomas Storrs and Sarpolas: Time Share (2005 [2006], Louie): Storrs is actually Dave, a drummer based in or near Oregon. Thomas is Rob, a violinist who lately has been playing with the String Trio of New York. The Sarpolas are Dick and George, who play bass and percussion respectively. The latter started out in Oregon but moved east to New York, where they all hooked up and spent a few hours improvising in the studio, yielding this album. It's quite a bit of fun -- dominated by the violin, of course, but with a lot of bright interplay. [B+(***)]

Ralph Towner: Time Line (2005 [2006], ECM): Yet another solo guitar album. That makes five going back to 1973's Diary, or more going back to 1972's Trios/Solos. On first approximation, sounds much like all the rest. He does, after all, do this for a reason. B+(*)

The Derek Trucks Band: Songlines (2006, Columbia): I was surprised to see this presumed blues album as the lead review in the March 2006 Downbeat. Never heard Trucks before, but I gather he has a week sense of genre, which makes him unconventional as a bluesman. AMG cites Buddy Guy, Elmore James and Duane Allman as influences, but also John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Sun Ra. After this record they can tack Rahsaan Roland Kirk onto that list -- first number here is a short "Volunteered Slavery." But I hear more traces of the world's musics here, and not just covers of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Toots Hibbert. Don't have a fix on it yet. One problem is that the bandleader just plays guitar and dobro, while everyone else sings, especially someone named Mike Mattison. [B+(***)]

The Derek Trucks Band: Songlines (2006, Columbia): Enough interesting idea here to make me think an interesting album is possible, even if not necessarily in the works. Pieces by Roland Kirk, Toots Hibbert, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as well as some trad blues. The vocals wander some -- the leader doesn't sing, but several band members do, making for a curious eclecticism. B+(***)

Saadet Türköz: Urumchi (2005 [2006], Intakt): Not a jazz record, but on a jazz label. Türköz comes from East Turkestan to Switzerland via Turkey. This album reverses the journey, recorded in Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. The instruments are local, the songs traditional or originals in that mold -- mid-tempo or slow, with sparse strings and haunting voice. [B+(**)]

Ugetsu: Live at the Cellar (2005 [2006], Cellar Live): The Cellar is a jazz club in Vancouver -- as they put it, "often compared to the Village Vanguard for its ambience and acoustics." The group name appears to derive from a 1963 Art Blakey album title, although a famous 1953 Japanese movie lurks somewhere in the background. This particular group is led by drummer Bernie Arai and alto saxist Jon Bentley and is part of a strong Vancouver jazz scene. But it is completely distinct from another Blakey-inspired Ugetsu, based in Europe and led by bassist Martin Zenker and trumpeter Valery Ponomarev. The latter group has four albums, including globetrotting stops in Shanghai and Cape Town, so the potential for confusion is manifest. Group is a sextet, with trumpet, trombone, piano and bass joining the leaders. It's a nice group, making pleasant, enjoyable MOR jazz. B

Diego Urcola: Viva (2005 [2006], CamJazz): This is one of those records where after two plays I still have no real idea what I've just listened to. That's certainly not a good sign, but it's hard to say why. Urcola comes from Argentina, plays trumpet and flugelhorn. His credits go back to 1991, including work with Guillermo Klein, Paquito D'Rivera, Dave Samuels, Jimmy Heath, Conrad Herwig, Edward Simon, and Avishai Cohen (bass) -- all but Klein return the favor here. Most of his credits count as Latin Jazz, but despite the presence here of percussionists Antonio Sanchez and Pernett Saturnino this one didn't strike me much one way or another. Guess I need to give it another spin. [B]

Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (2002 [2005], Calle 54, 2CD): At age 84, this caps the return of a prominent '50s Cuban bandleader who faded from view after he settled into Stockholm in 1963. In the meantime, his son Chucho -- an astonishing pianist and bandleader in his own right -- elevated the name. But in the '90s Bebo resumed work, including a reunion with Cachao and a marvelous record with flamenco singer Dieguito El Cigala. The first disc here is the large canvas "Suite Cubana"; the second is a smaller group retrospective "El Solar de Bebo." Both feel like they return to a rather idealized version of '50s Cuba -- free of strife, resplendent in their luxury. A-

Johnnie Valentino: Stingy Brim (2004 [2006], Omnitone): Hmm, Bob Sheppard again -- surprised to see him on two straight records picked at random off the shelf. Noticed him on a slow one here called "Where When & How" where his tenor sax adds an essential soulful wail. Valentino is a guitarist, originally from Philadelphia. Not sure where this will wind up, but several pieces impressed me first time through -- the herky jerk of "4M2," the patient lead and loopy climax of "Coyote Bowboy." Mark Rossi plays organ, Sheppard also plays clarinet, Mark Ferber drums, and Randy Jones anchors the bottom on tuba. The tuba seems to be the point of the album, the antipode to the old-fashioned hat. Not done. [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+(***)]

Roseanne Vitro: Live at the Kennedy Center (2005 [2006], Challenge): I like her Ray Charles record quite a bit, but this one doesn't make something out of a well worn chestnut until "Black Coffee" comes around, and then it's over. Playing at the Kennedy Center must have brought out her good intentions -- the main song sequences includes things like "Please Do Something," "Commitment," "Tryin' Times." 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+(**)]

Ulf Wakenius: Notes From the Heart (2005 [2006], ACT): This rather quiet, unassuming album has developed inito one of my favorites. I reached for it first in a very stressful moment and found it blessedly calming. Since then it's been a staple for similar moments, and increasingly I've been noticing its melodic charms. The music originated with Keith Jarrett -- more attractive figures to base improvisations on than fully worked arrangements. I'm not sure that Wakenius does much with them, but the simple charms of his acoustic guitar suffice. Lars Danielsson and Morten Lund complete the trio, with Danielsson playing a bit of piano as well as bass and cello. A-

Chris Walden Big Band: Winter Games (2006, Origin, EP): Actually just a 3:52 single ("full version"), followed by a 3:10 "radio edit." The theme is attractive enough, but the orchestration is neither as clean nor as dirty as I'd like, and it's all section work -- no individual development. If I had to deal with a full album like this I'd probably bury it with a middling grade -- unless it got to be really annoying. But given my system singles are annoying by definition. C

Patty Waters: The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings (1965-66 [2005], ESP-Disk): Two albums, Sings and College Tour, squeezed onto one disc. I just have a CDR with no extra info, so can't comment on packaging, documentation, etc. First album has one side of minimal piano with voice and a 13:56 rant of "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" on the other side. The live second splits the difference. She takes chances pushing her vocals to the outer limits of emotion, but I don't hear much more than effect -- a cult item with hints of interest. B

Western Swing and Country Jazz: An Expertly Selected Package (1935-40 [2005], JSP, 4CD): A mop-up operation, but the most jazz-oriented of early western swingers -- Ocie Stockard, Bob Dunn, Roy Newman, Jimmie Revard, Smoky Wood, Cliff Bruner, Swift Jewel Cowboys, Modern Mountaineers (of "Everybody's Truckin'" notoriety) -- have remained exceptionally obscure. One reason is that western swing has been preserved as country music, but it started with one foot and a trick elbow in jazz -- try sequencing Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills for an object lesson. Deeper and more problematic these days is the race crossing. I'm especially struck by two versions of "Black and Blue" here -- all the more painful for those of us who grew up on James Brown -- presumably done by whites who have more black inside than they admit. Harry Palmer, in particular, obviously worships Louis Armstrong -- as do we all. B+(***)

The Mary Lou Williams Collective: Zodiac Suite: Revisited (2000-03 [2006], Mary): The Collective is Geri Allen, Buster Williams and either Andrew Cyrille (two cuts) or Billy Hart (the rest), so this is a piano trio. Most of the album is taken up by Mary Lou Williams' 12-part "Zodiac Suite," with three more pieces -- the two with Cyrille were written by Herbie Nichols and Allen, respectively. I've played this through and, well, thus far I have no idea what to make of it. [B]

The Mary Lou Williams Collective: Zodiac Suite: Revisited (2000-03 [2006], Mary): Williams bridges the swing and post-bop eras, not conceptually but as someone who's been there, done that. The Zodiac Suite itself dates from 1945, and was part of a movement from danceband jazz toward "America's classical music," very much in parallel with Ellington's initial interest in suites. Arranged for piano trio, this suite makes for engaging chamber music -- people like Fred Hersch do this sort of thing nowadays, but Williams was decades ahead of anyone else. Without recourse to the original, I'd guess that the main thing Geri Allen and Buster Williams add here is state of the art sonic presence. The whole project is too humble to expect much more. B+(*)

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+(**)]

Larry Willis Trio: The Big Push (2005 [2006], HighNote): Bright, substantial mainstream piano trio with Buster Williams and Al Foster, old pros all. 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+(*)]

Jens Winther European Quintet: Concord (2005, Stunt): Basic hard bop line-up, with Tomas Franck's tenor sax complementing Winther's trumpet, Antonio Farao on piano, and most importantly Palle Danielsson driving the bass line. Nothing unusual or special, but a fine example of the archetype one thinks of first when asked to imagine a first rate contemporary jazz ensemble. 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+(**)]

Francis Wong: Legends & Legacies (1997 [2004], Asian Improv): Two of Lawson Inada's poems detail the beginning and the end of America's WWII internment of Japanese-Americans, while a third testifies that the human spirit still offers "something grand." Glenn Horiuchi's shamisen and Miya Masaoka's koto are the sounds of the past, while tuba and Wong's reeds flesh out a jazz band of the future, straddling the globe they came from. The odd piece out is about police harassment of Latinos. For those who still know history, that's nothing odd at all. A-

World Drummers Ensemble: A Coat of Many Colors (1996-2005 [2006], Summerfold): Four drummers make for a rather small subset of the world. Bill Bruford and Chad Wackerman have rock roots and jazz moves with slightly jiggered but conventional kits. Luis Conte adds a taste of Cuba with congas, timbales, and cajon. Doudou N'Diaye Rose represents Africa, or more precisely Senegal -- percussion, like the human gene, is more varied in Africa than in the rest of the world combined, so representation isn't exactly possible. But Cuba and Senegal have a distinctive bilateral cross-development, so the hand drums blend together into a flexible core for the others. This works as well as any similar project I've heard -- Art Blakey and Max Roach tried to put together cross-cultural drum suites circa 1960, so it's not all that new an idea. On DualDisc, with two pieces only on the DVD side, so I haven't heard them. [B+(**)]

World Drummers Ensemble: A Coat of Many Colors (1996-2005 [2006], Summerfold): Four drummers -- Bill Bruford and Chad Wackerman from the rock-jazz fusion world, Doudou N'Diaye Rose from Senegal, Luis Conte from Cuba -- make a small subset of the world, and one rather biased towards the north at that. Nonetheless, N'Diaye seems to have the edge here, although Conte also contributes to the hand drums. The trap drummers, on the other hand, start out with a few ideas but eventually devolve into martial beats. B

Miguel Zenón: Jíbaro (2004 [2005], Marsalis Music/Rounder): The first I heard of him was when he won Downbeat's poll for alto sax, TDWR division, a couple of years ago. I got hold of Ceremonial, his then current album, where he impressed me more than the record -- bit fancy for my taste -- but the record could easily have been a HM. Since then he's been showing up everywhere, never disappointing even when the records do. I read a blindfold test with him recently, and he absolutely nailed everything they threw at him. Smart guy, knows his craft inside and out. I should have gotten this record when it came out last summer -- thought I did, but searched all over the place and couldn't find any trace of it. This is his Puerto Rican roots record -- jíbaro is a rural folk-pop style, Edwin Colon Zayas calls it his "country music" -- but Zenón aim for roots. Rather, he writes new pieces mapping the style onto a standard acoustic sax-piano-bass-drums jazz quartet -- no cuatro, guiro, bongo, vocals. The result is jazz centered on jíbaro roots, rather than jazzed up jíbaro or some kind of fusion. It's exceptionally clean and clear, beguiling music. A-

Zentralquartett: 11 Songs - Aus Teutschen Landen (2005 [2006], Intakt): Two songs are original compositions by pianist Ulrich Gumpert, but they fit stylistically with the nine Volkslieder -- German folk songs, all attributed to Trad. The songs provide the safe, bouncy melodic lines that the group frequently returns to, but the group also kicks them out of shape, tears them apart, twists them into strange shapes. Two horns, Conrad Bauer's trombone and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky's reeds (alto sax, flutes, clarinet), lead the mayhem, while Gumpert and drummer Günter Sommer get in their licks. A-

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+(**)]