Jazz Consumer Guide (13):

These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #13. 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 March 5 to June 4, 2007, 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.

The number of records noted below is 218.

John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (2006 [2007], ECM): Guitar, violin (Mark Feldman), bass (Marc Johnson), drums (Joey Baron). Kind of hard to follow what the guitarist is doing here, especially with the violin so much in play. Feldman strikes me as the most conventionally classical-oriented of the better known jazz violinists, so I tend to tune him out. But parts of this album do engage my attention. Johnson and Baron are superb, as usual. [B+(*)]

John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (2006 [2007], ECM): I'm not sure whether the problem here is Mark Feldman -- a violinist so classical in nature the only time I've ever found him interesting was in Masada with John Zorn and Dave Douglas breathing fire up his ass -- or whether it's Abercrombie himself. The guitarist has never been as intentionally delicate or precious as Ralph Towner, but he still sort of typifies ECM's ascetic aesthetic applied to the instrument, and here he manages to dial it down a couple of notches. Feldman is equally studious and discrete. Marc Johnson and Joey Baron do what they can with what they've got to work with, and they have some good stretches. Normally I would let this pass, but having two guitarists as Pick Hits suggests that by contrast this should be flagged as a Dud. B

Antonio Adolfo/Carol Saboya: Ao Vivo/Live (2005 [2007], Points South): Father/daughter, from Brazil, the former plays piano, the latter sings. Adolfo has a formidable reputation in his own right as a composer and arranger. He opens the set with a delightful piece before Saboya enters on the second song. She's a very agreeable singer, but the initial brightness starts to dim a bit toward the end. The song credits include most of the usual suspects, starting with Jobim, and only including one by Adolfo. Not sure whether this counts as jazz in Brazil or just MPB. I suspect it fits the same niche as cabaret does here. B+(**)

Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005 [2007], Between the Lines): Trumpet player, based in NYC since 1991. Only three previous albums, including one called This Against That, but his is a name that pops up frequently on other folks' albums -- Carola Grey, Steve Coleman, Sam Rivers, Ravi Coltrane, Uri Caine, Michael Cain, Fred Hersch, Don Byron, Bobby Previte, Drew Gress, Jason Moran, Scott Colley -- and he always makes a strong impression. This one is a quartet with Andy Milne on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums, with Ravi Coltrane guesting on four cuts. Don't have much to say at this point -- I've been on a critical hiatus the last several days, during which few if any albums have pleased me this much. [A-]

Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005 [2007], Between the Lines): One of those group names that comes from the previous album title, although the only musician both times, aside from the leader, is bassist Drew Gress. The quartet this time is filled out with Andy Milne on piano and Mark Ferber on drums, plus Ravi Coltrane appears on four cuts. Coltrane isn't much help -- he provides shadings on slow pieces that at best are atmospheric, but are filler compared to the fast ones. Let loose, the rhythm section is terrific, and setting Alessi's tart trumpet free. B+(***)

Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk (2006, Young Warrior): I found info about two Don Aliquos on the web. This one teaches in Tennessee, has four records, and plays classic hard bop with a light touch and well-developed tone. The other is based in Pennsylvania, where this one originally hails from, and looks old enough to be this one's father. The group here is the usual quintet, with Clay Jenkins on trumpet and Rufus Reid on bass making the trip down from New York, plus two fellow academics on piano and drums. Got distracted midway through when my copy started to skip. Got it repaired, but will have to spin it again to decide how exceptional this very mainstream record really is. [B+(**)]

Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker: Get Ready (2007, Mack Avenue): Basic rhythm guys, keying off two Motown covers from Robinson and Gaye, as old-fashioned today as soul jazz was in the '60s. But they keep the quiet storm loose and limber, giving Cyrus Chestnut and Rodney Jones their best outing in years. Steve Wilson plays warm and fuzzy alto sax. B+(**)

Maria Anadon: A Jazzy Way (2006 [2007], Arbors): A singer from Portugal, working in unaccented English on a set of standards -- "I'm Old Fashioned," "Black Coffee," and "Old Devil Moon" -- and vocalese lyrics from Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, and Jon Hendricks. (Actually, Hendricks provided the lyrics to "One Note Samba," the only Brazilian piece here, and well within the odds for any American jazz singer.) The band is billed as Five Play's Women of the World -- a subset of Sherrie Maricle's Diva big band with Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, Tomoko Ohno on piano, Noriko Ueda on bass, and Maricle on drums. Ignoring the surface internationalism, I can't think of a more emphatically American jazz vocal album. More than anyone else, Anadon reminds me of Rosemary Clooney -- same brassiness in her voice, but a bit more precision. Better band, too. [A-]

Maria Anadon: A Jazzy Way (2006 [2007], Arbors): Anadon turns her back to her native Portugal and takes a bite of "Old Devil Moon" and a dozen more show tunes and vocalese skits. Her Women of the World band, with Japanese Tomoko Ohno on piano and Israeli Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, are no less at home. More proof that sometimes immigrants, discovering wonders we have come to take for granted, make the best Americans. A-

Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake: From the River to the Ocean (2007, Thrill Jockey): With all due respect, the principal artist here is Drake. His steady, even-tempered drums are the central thread everything else connects to. He sets up such a comforting groove that he finally coaxes Anderson into a new level of his game -- I think the word, strange as it may sound, is serene. The artist credit reminds us that Anderson and Drake have recorded duets before, but these aren't duets. Jeff Parker plays guitar, taking solo space and setting a sonic level that Anderson tries to match. Harrison Bankhead and/or Josh Abrams play bass, with Bankhead switching to cello and piano for one cut each, Abrams playing guimbri on two. Drake doesn't get a credit for the last cut, but he's there anyway. Drake doesn't claim vocal credit either, but he's audible. No session info on this. For the record, this makes five straight A- records for Anderson. When he turned 70, I didn't expect we'd see even one. A-

Nacho Arimany World-Flamenco Septet: Silence-Light (2006, Fresh Sound World Jazz): Most cuts have vocals, mostly from Antonio Campos, whose high-pressured melodrama fits the flamenco mold, without quite winning me over like Dieguito El Cigala did. Stretches without vocals are easier to handle and more interesting. Arimany sets the pace with his percussion, trying to bridge jazz and flamenco. Pianist Pablo Suárez and guitarist Lionel Loueke have some good moments, and saxophonist Javier Vercher tops them all. Harder to gauge Concha Jareńo's contribution -- credits read "flamenco dance footsteps, clapping." Hard to gauge the flamenco, but minus vocals this makes for interesting jazz. B+(*)

Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2003 [2004], Zoho): I asked for this as background to Aslan's intriguing new Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho). The new album features a standard jazz quintet lineup -- tenor/baritone sax, trumpet, piano, bass (the leader's instrument), drums -- on a set of standards that are new to me. This one, mostly originals plus four by "Piazzolla," is more conventional, in lineup at least: bass, violin, bandoneon, trumpet tenor sax, piano, plus three vocals, with violin/bandoneon in the lead. I can only guess what's avant about it, starting with a high level of energy. [B+(***)]

Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2003 [2004], Zoho): The first of two albums by an Argentinian bassist, now resident in New York. It more than lives up to the title. You may read about merging jazz with tango, or jazzing up tango, but the real goal here is to push tango to unimagined extremes. Still, in the end the bandoneon, violin, and above all three vocals by Roxana Fontan mark this as uncompromisingly rooted in the classics, even if the horns and piano beg to differ. B+(**)

Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2006 [2007], Zoho): Argentine bassist, lives in New York, but recorded this in Buenos Aires. Group is a quintet, unknown to me, presumably all Argentine: Gustavo Bergalli on trumpet, Jorge Retamoza on tenor and baritone sax, Abel Rogantini on piano, Daniel Piazzolla on drums (Astor's grandson). The songs are putative tango classics, but the jazz instrumentation, especially the absence of bandoneon, shifts them out of their natural element. The main effect is to exaggerate the choppiness of the music. Very interesting stuff. Aslan has a previous album called Avantango. This makes me even more curious about it. [B+(***)]

Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2006 [2007], Zoho): The bassist's second album approaches tango from another perspective. Where Avantango pushed it to extremes, this one eschews the signature bandoneon and violin in favor of a straight jazz quintet -- trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums. The standards are more orthodox, but subtler, less jagged, emphasizing the melodies over the twists and turns, opening them up. After all, that's what jazz does. A-

The Bad Plus: Prog (2006 [2007], Heads Up): Label is sometimes given as Do the Math Records; their logo's on the back above Heads Up, but only the latter is on the spine. The group, of course, is Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass, Dave King on drums. Each is notable on his own. Together sheer muscule of the bass and drums forces the piano to aim for sharp edges. All three are able to ramp their volume and speed up and down so fast that they become improvisational vectors in their own right. The result is an acoustic piano trio that projects hard rock power, a point they underscore by covering rock anthems instead of tin pan alley standards. They do three or four this time, depending on what you make of Bacharach & David's "This Guy's in Love With You." The others are "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Tears for Fears), "Life on Mars" (David Bowie), and "Tom Sawyer" (Rush). Only the Bowie is instantly recognizable to me, although I've no doubt heard many of the dozens of Bacharach-David covers, starting with Herb Alpert's 1968 hit. In between, all three craft originals -- Anderson's "Giant" impressed me the most this time around. [B+(***)]

Gilad Barkan: Live Sessions (2004-06 [2007], New Step, 2CD): Boston-based pianist, born in England, raised in Israel. Second album, preceded by Modulation, same trio as the first disc here. Second disc here changes bassists and adds Amir Milstein on flute. The trio strikes me as sharp, intricate postbop, something that deserves to be taken seriously but doesn't quite inspire me to do so. Far easier to dismiss the flute, even though it is pleasantly boppish. B

Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 [2007], Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist; also works in Bernardo Sassetti's trio, and has shown up on several other Clean Feed albums. His own trio includes Mario Delgado on guitar and Jose Salgueiro on drums and percussion. Three cuts add guest Louis Sclavis (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax), whose feel for European folk musics lines up nicely with Barretto's. Even without Sclavis, this ranges wide and moves smartly. [B+(***)]

Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 [2007], Clean Feed): Bassist-led trio with guitar and drums. Most pieces cook over a high flame, and guitarist Mario Delgado can dance to the music. Three cuts add Louis Sclavis, who makes such an impact that it seems like more. B+(**)

Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 [2007], AYVA): Drummer/percussionist, works with Herbie Hancock, who guests on three cuts here. Born 1983 in Rhode Island, grew up in Connecticut, but gravitated to Cuban music, and counts Andy Gonzalez as a mentor. Went on to NEC. Studied Indian percussion with Jerry Leake, which is reflected by a piece with sitar here. Later on we get a klezmer piece with voice and accordion. Feels a bit clinical to me, like he's trying to show off all he can do. On the other hand, it's all impressive -- not least, saxophonist Daniel Blake. Didn't recognize him. That won't happen again. [B+(***)]

Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 [2007], AVYA): A very versatile young (b. 1983) drummer, with interests in Cuba and India as well as mainstream jazz with options of swinging free. Title suggests he's still in his student phase. Indeed, this first album has the feel of a recital or clinic, a chance to show off all the things he can do. Impressive. Now what? B+(***)

Alvin Batiste: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): First non-drummer in the series; second New Orleans denizen. I never doubted the good intentions behind this series, but it seemed to me that the first batch (Michael Carvin, Jimmy Cobb) steered them too far into the mainstream to be of much interest. But that doesn't matter with the second batch: the party in New Orleans is meant to be accessible, and Branford Marsalis just works to heat it up even more. Batiste is a clarinetist, born 1937, with just a handful of albums, including one on India Navigation I heard and didn't think much of. This one takes a while to engage, but it seems like each of Edward Perkins' four vocals kicks in a higher gear, so by the end Batiste is soaring. An honor indeed. B+(**)

Beatle Jazz: All You Need (2006 [2007], Lightyear): Fifth album, with David Kikoski (piano, synthesizer) and Brian Melvin (drums, tabla) the mainstays. The Beatles' songs are so indelibly ingrained in my mind that I instinctively reject all variations -- I suppose if I really racked my brain I might be able to come up with a tolerable mix tape of exceptions, but I'm not optimistic. Bass duties are split between Larry Grenadier and Richard Bona; the latter sings one, a risky move that best comes off rather odd. Toots Thielemans (3 cuts) and Joe Lovano (2 cuts) also guest. The core group is smart enough I can't pan them severely. The two Lovano cuts ("The continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Look at Me") are choice. B

Joe Beck/Santi Debriano/Thierry Arpino: Trio 7 (2007, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist. Been around at least since the '70s, when he worked with Esther Phillips. AMG says he had a "big hit with David Sanborn in 1975" -- there's an album from then called Beck & Sanborn, but I missed it. Actually, I missed all of 20+ records Beck's recorded since 1969 -- even the Phillips records, but the name rings a bell. This is pleasant, soft-toned, with a little Brazilian seasoning but no nylon. I find myself focusing on the bassist, who's worth the attention. Note that Debriano's name is misspelled on the cover. B+(*)

Roni Ben-Hur: Keepin' It Open (2005 [2007], Motéma Music): Guitarist, born in Israel, moved to New York in 1985, has five records since 1995. He's done impressive work, but this one is pretty tame, especially when trumpeter Jeremy Pelt takes the lead. Ronnie Mathews does a nice job on piano, while Santi Debriano and Lewis Nash do whatever's needed. The last two cuts move nicely on Latin rhythms, which give Ben-Hur something to work with. B+(*)

Sean Bergin's SONG MOB: Fat Fish (2005-06 [2007], DATA): Plays sax, clarinet, etc. Based in Amsterdam; born 1948 in Durban, South Africa. He's named his band MOB before, an acronym for My Own Band. SONG MOB, as he capitalizes it, is his own band with extra vocalists: Mola Sylla, Phil Minton, and Maggie Nicols. The latter two are familiar names in English free improv. Sylla moved to Amsterdam from Senegal, bringing a griot flavor -- most evident in the first song, which he wrote. Bergin's band includes some well known names, hardly just his own band: Wolter Wierbos, Eric Boeren, Ernst Glerum, Han Bennink, Alex Maguire -- didn't recognize him last week, but do now. The music manages to be odd and comfortably playful at the same time -- seems to be a Dutch specialty. I have more trouble with the vocals, not that they lack for interest. B+(*)

Alan Bergman: Lyrically, Alan Bergman (2007, Verve): Songwriter, lyricist actually -- music credited to Michel Legrand, Lew Spence, Dave Grusin, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mandel, Marvin Hamlisch -- taking a crack at singing his own songs. No recording dates, but presumably it's recent, which puts him in his 80s (born 1925). Voice holds up fine. Songs are stage and film fare, famous enough to put him into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and get him a spot on the board of the Barbra Streisand Foundation. One problem is that Verve sent him to Berlin along with Mark Murphy, but he lucked out better with the Berlin Big Band and Radio Orchestra instead of Murphy's Orchester, plus he got Jeff Hamilton to help him along. (Well, except for "The Way We Were," which probably deserved it anyway.) B-

Will Bernard: Party Hats ([2007], Palmetto): San Francisco guitarist. Has a couple of albums under his belt, plus work with Peter Apfelbaum (who appears here), Robert Walter, Stanton Moore, not sure who else -- his website mentions a project with a Sonoma county reggae group called Groundation. The sheet says this was recorded over three years, but doesn't say which ones. Bernard's website just says this is previously recorded stuff, helpfully adding a list of who played what where if not when. Actually, even though the rosters jump around, the record itself is pretty seamless, held together by a groove that does bear comparison to Scofield, where the horns aren't necessary but welcome anyway. It occurs to me that I have enough stuff this time to write a sidebar piece and call it "So Much Guitar": this would make the cut. [B+(***)]

Will Bernard: Party Hats (2007, Palmetto): San Francisco guitarist, gets a smart, light, funky groove going around organ (Wil Blades and/or Michael Bluestein), decorated with various horns -- Peter Apfelbaum is present on most tracks, but Dave Ellis rips off the big tenor sax solo on "Rattle Trap." B+(*)

Stan Bock Ensemble: Your Check's in the Mail (2006 [2007], OA2): Trombonist, based in Oregon, but studied at Fort Hays State here in Kansas back in the early '70s -- I have some cousins who went there a bit before. Has a couple of albums with his semi-large (8 piece) Ensemble, as well as some group efforts at Latin jazz and Klezmer. This is bright, burly, fairly boppish, with a group tribute to James Brown. B+(*)

Phil Bodner: The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling (1960s-70s [2007], Arbors): The booklet here credits Bodner with two '60s albums on Camden. AMG doesn't list those, but starts with two 1980 albums on Stash. Not much more follows, but when you look up his credits, AMG's list goes on for five screens. He played eleven instruments, including alto sax with Benny Goodman, oboe with Coleman Hawkins, clarinet and flute with Gil Evans and Miles Davis, and English horn with Milt Jackson and Luiz Bonfá. In the '70s he starts showing up on pop albums -- the Bee Gees, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Phoebe Snow, Bette Midler, Bob James; actually, he may have started earlier, like the '50s, as he gets credits on compilations of LaVern Baker, Jackie Wilson, and the "Bear Family Single Disc" of "Cry" by Johnnie Ray. Scott Yanow suggests that you probably have "dozens if not hundreds" of records with Bodner playing something or other. This new one is cobbled together from six undated sessions sometime in the '60s or '70s, each featuring Bodner on clarinet. The first four cuts put him in front of a trio with Hank Jones on piano. The next five are duos with guitarist Gene Bertoncini. Later we get four cuts with Dick Hyman on organ. Milt Hinton plays bass on those, then sings one. That's followed by three cuts with Derek Smith on keyboards and Vinny Bell on guitar. Mostly swing era standards, clean and sharp and, well, swinging. [B+(***)]

Phil Bodner: The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling (1960s-70s [2007], Arbors): Born 1917 and evidently still alive, with scads of studio albums but precious little under his own name, this offers a bit of well-deserved recognition -- something Arbors is frequently inclined to do. The small groups swing, and the clarinet stays up front, unifying six sessions with quite a few different pianists, guitarist, bassists and drummers. Great songs, much fun, often quite lovely. B+(***)

Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005 [2007], ECM): Young pianist, from Milan, has classical training, pop studio work, a stretch working with Enrico Rava, a stack of albums starting with one from 1997 called Mambo Italiano. This is as advertised: solo, moderately paced, mostly quiet, but remarkably balanced and filling. Touches on Prokofiev, Scott Joplin, Lerner & Loewe, Brian Wilson. Doesn't seem like much, but I'm finding it seductive. [B+(***)]

Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005 [2007], ECM): The label gave this a big push, and it's easy enough to see why. If I'm less enthusiastic, it's for the usual personal reasons: I just have trouble hearing clearly, and therefore concentrating on, the solitary instrument. When I do force myself to tune in, I find this thoughtful, resourceful, shy -- it makes me come to it, unlike the few solo pianists on my A-list: James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Earl Hines, who else? No easy way to check -- Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert is one, Jim McNeely's At Maybeck is another, and there are probably a few more, but damn few. B+(**)

Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage (2006 [2007], Heads Up): Sometime in the late '90s when I was well into my obsessive research into the whole history of jazz I was flipping through a book -- don't recall which one, and don't see anything handy that jobs my memory -- where I was shocked to see Brecker described as the most influential saxophonist of his generation, or something to that effect. At the time I barely knew the name: I had listened to some Brecker Brothers and didn't much care for them; I knew about his legendary studio work, but wasn't much of a Carly Simon fan either; I may have heard one or two of the relatively few albums he released under his own name, but wasn't much impressed by them either. I've listened a bit further since them, but the five records in my lists are graded from B down to C+. That isn't an exhaustive sample, but he only has around 15 albums, so it's a fair sample. At best he struck me as a strong technician, a guy who could push a saxophone through its paces with something approximating mastery. He also struck me as real cold, as someone with nothing but technique -- which I found particularly unsettling given how anthropomorphic the tone of a saxophone could be. Moreover, his attempts to build larger musical structures never impressed me. But now he's dead, following a horrifying illness -- myelodysplastic syndrome killed my father as well -- which held up the release of what's now his last album. It's easily the best Brecker record I've heard. His technique -- what Branford Marsalis memorably described as "that Mikey shit" -- is front and center, his tone a bit frail perhaps, a rare and welcome humanization. The band qualifies as all-star -- Pat Metheny, John Patitucci, Jack DeJohnette, the piano divided between Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau -- but they're all there for him. Need to give it some more time. I don't expect this to confirm the hyperbole, but it may help make some sense out of it. [B+(**)]

Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage (2006 [2007], Heads Up): I never could fault him on technique, but fast runs have been bebop calisthentics since Charlie Parker, a standard and by now ordinary stock in trade. I never cared for his musical interests, and often found him cold and dispassionate to a worrisome extent. This record was cut during a brief respite in his struggle with MDS. It benefits from simplicity of conception and an outpouring of friends -- he has to juggle two pianists since he could hardly turn down either Herbie Hancock or Brad Mehldau. So I'm tempted to say: impending death focuses the mind, thaws the heart, brings out the best in friends. In fact, that's what I wrote for the column. I'd also say that it's his best album ever, but I've never given him better than a B before, and sarcasm doesn't seem appropriate here. It's certainly one to remember him by. Also note that Pat Metheny stands out among the friends. B+(**)

Brian Bromberg: Downright Upright (2006 [2007], Artistry): How do you score this one? Bromberg's a pop-funk electric bassist with aspirations of going straight -- a double meaning for the "upright" acoustic bass he plays here. (Four cuts also have him on "piccolo bass," which looks to be an electric bass guitar.) Helping him out are a bunch of old smoothies, who also get to play "upright" straight-ahead jazz for once in their careers: Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, Boney James, Gary Meek, Jeff Lorber, George Duke, Lee Ritenour, Gannin Arnold, Vinnie Colaiuta. Not a big surprise that guys like Lorber and Whallum have the chops, but Braun is a totally unexpected pleasure. Also helps that the bass is mixed up phat. But in the end it may be classier than usual, but it's still a pop-funk record. I'm tempted to indulge, but will hold back for now. [B+(**)]

The Brooklyn Repertory Ensemble: Pragmatic Optimism (2006, 360 Degree): The label, with its bullseye logo around the number 360 and "from rag time to no time" slogan, reminds me of Beaver Harris, who had a group called 360 Degree Music Experience. Don't know that there's any link here, although the director here, Wade Barnes, is another drummer. Nothing avant here. Just a big band that goes for heavy brass -- James Zollar is the only trumpet, but he's complemented by French horn, mellophone, euphonium, bass trombone, and tuba. The horns tend to undulate with no one breaking loose or doing anything especially distinctive. The rhythm -- Bill Ware III on vibes as well as drummer Barnes -- have more going on. Don't much care for vocalist Tulivu-Donna Cumberbatch, who seems to have missed Rafters Raising 101 in Sunday School. B-

Bobby Broom: Song and Dance (2005 [2007], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio, with Broom the guitarist. Got off on the wrong foot (with me, at least) by starting with a Beatles song. Actually, it's very tasteful, not bad at all: "Little Rascals Theme" isn't too cute, and "Wichita Lineman" isn't too cloying. B

Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 [2006], Atavistic): Don't know whether I'm just getting used to Brötzmann or whether this actually stands out. This is a 40-minute radio shot from a group with three saxophones, trumpet, two trombones, piano, bass and drums. The brass is there mostly to roar and blare on the siren-like alarm motif -- something about reactions to a nuclear emergency. It's simplistic, but at least it's something you can hang onto while the saxophones -- Frank Wright and Willem Breuker join Brötzmann -- get all exercised. After the two-part title piece, we get 3:38 of a Frank Wright piece, complete with vocal -- uncredited but presumably Wright, since a) it's in English and b) he did that sort of thing. But the real star in the early going is pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, who bounds over everything the horns throw at him. The South African rhythm section of Harry Miller and Louis Moholo also impress. Beware that the concert got caught short by a bomb threat. [B+(***)]

Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 [2006], Atavistic): A radio shot from an exceptional nine-piece band of troublemakers, cut short by a bomb threat. The two-part title piece is punctuated by siren blasts, clipped down so firmly they hardly rise above the saxophones (Brötzmann, Willem Breuker, Frank Wright) and brass (Toshinori Kondo, Hannes Bauer, Alan Tomlinson). While the noise level is about average -- i.e., a couple notches below Machine Gun -- the rhythm section stands out: South Africans Harry Miller and Louis Moholo keep it all moving, while Alexander Von Schlippenbach's piano crashes against the waves. Wright sings a bit at the end, giving the whole thing a revival flair. B+(***)

Rob Brown Trio: Sounds (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Actually, not sure of the date: notes say it was recorded on November 23, but don't bother with the year. The title piece debuted at the 2005 Vision Festival, so 2005 is also possible. Brown's an alto saxophonist I've mostly encountered on William Parker albums. He has everything you'd want in that role, but has had trouble establishing himself on his own. It's hard to find fault with this: he breaks the usual sax-bass-drums trio format with Daniel Levin's cello and Satoshi Takeishi's taiko drums and percussion; he varies the free jazz mix with a ballad and a Tibetan folk song. It's almost a tour de force, but not quite, lacking something you can't prescribe until it hits you. B+(**)

Jaki Byard: Sunshine of My Soul (1978 [2007], High Note): Solo piano, recorded live at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Nothing strikes me as new or particularly interesting here, but I'm not much of a fan of solo anything. That said, Byard has a strong presence, and he expertly works his way around a broad songbook -- including a Mingus medley, "Spinning Wheel," "Besame Mucho," a bit of boogie woogie. Don't know how this compares to his other solo albums, like the early Blues for Smoke (1960) or the later At Maybeck (1991), both well regarded. B+(*)

Chris Byars: Photos in Black, White and Gray (2006 [2007], Smalls): Saxophonist, born and lives in New York. Plays alto, tenor, and soprano here; has played flute and clarinet elsewhere. Has worked at Smalls since 1994, recording in his own Octet and in the group Across 7 Street, and behind various others, mostly label mates. This one is a quartet, with Sacha Perry on piano, Ari Roland on bass, Andy Watson on drums. Byars writes: "I believe this recording conveys part of the secret of how jazz itself never grows old. In the same way I like to pick up the repertoire of 1950's giants Gigi Gryce and Lucky Thompson, here we have some key material of the 1994-2003 Smalls decade . . . and several years the wiser." The Smalls circle strikes me as an attempt to innovate within a formalized tradition -- postbop is the inevitably sloppy framework, of which this is a small subset. I've never been able to say much about that approach; rather, I just roll with the punches, recognizing stuff that sounds both proper and fresh, sorting it out from stuff that sounds less so. But mapping this to Gryce's alto and Thompson's tenor makes sense to me. Had I heard Byars' pieces on those guys albums I would be pleased but not surprised. Byars' soprano would fit into that tradition too if only there was an equivalent model -- I can't think of one. Perry and Roland get some good solo space as well. A-

Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart (2006 [2007], Winter & Winter): I grew up hating Mozart, although I couldn't help but enjoy the raffishness shown in the movie Amadeus, some of which shows through here in the bubbly, plasticky themes. On the other hand, the eight-piece Ensemble is capable of muscling them up or beating them to a pulp, even if the two horns -- Chris Speed on clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet -- stick to the light side. Don't know where I'll land on this, but it isn't immediately appalling, which puts it ahead of his Schumann, nor is it confusing like his Mahler. (Missed the Bach, and lord knows what else.) [B+(*)]

Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart (2006 [2007], Winter & Winter): Or plays with Mozart, like cat with rat. Much of the fun here comes from the induced chaos of DJ Olive's turntables, Nguyęn Lę's electric guitar, the tension of Ralph Alessi's trumpet against Chris Speed's clarinet, the mischief of Jim Black's drums. Still, improbably, the bit that won me over was an oasis of solo piano in the middle, which much as I hate to admit it, could have been faithful to the original. B+(***)

Michel Camilo: Spirit of the Moment (2006 [2007], Telarc): Another piano trio, also leaning on the Miles Davis songbook -- two pieces by Davis, one each by Coltrane and Shorter. Repeats "Nefertiti" from Robert Irving's record, answering any doubts I had about possible underrating. I haven't cared for Camilo's recent records, but there's no doubting his skills, and this Dominican-Cuban-Puerto Rican trio makes or a stimulating mix -- Charles Flores on bass, and especially Dafnis Prieto on drums. [B+(**)]

Havana Carbo: Through a Window . . . Like a Dream (2006 [2007], MODL Music): Born in Havana, don't know when; raised in US, don't know when; refers to NY high school years but also a marriage to "a Cuban Economics major she met while a student at pre-Castro's Villanova University in Havana." Started singing in 1984, recording an album, Street Cries, on Soul Note in 1987. So I figure she's probably in her 60s. Her voice weathered, she goes with slow pieces that don't sound like much at first, but grow on you, like the subtle attraction of gravity. B+(*)

Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Finnish pianist, moved to Boston in 1984, played with Either/Orchestra and Bob Brookmeyer, released a couple of albums, and now seems to be based in Brooklyn. This album, like some or all of his previous ones, features vocals wrapped around poems or found words. One "nostalgic" piece is based on Clinton's grand jury exegesis of "The Word Is"; another mangles the Bill of Rights into "State of the Union": "and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reeamined in any/freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to/cruel and unusual punishment." George Garzone recites the latter, but the rest of the pieces are sung by Christine Correa, in a sort of offhand diva voice that I usually find annoying, but here is more awkward. But there's nothing rough or difficult about the the instrumental sections. Carlberg is a fluid pianist, and Chris Cheek swings hard. The real state of the union? "What do we do/who do we bomb?" [B+(**)]

Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): I reckon if you want to make a political statement you might as well come out and say it, but singing it, against a free jazz backdrop, can get sticky. The first three cuts form "The Presidential Suite," starting with "The Word Is" -- a "nostalgic piece" about Bill Clinton's parsing problems -- and ending with the gloomy title assessment. In between, the title is "We Much Prefer," but the lyric you hear repeated infinitum is the word "stupidity," which about sums up the transition from then to now. The singer is Christine Correa, whose deep diva voice reminds me of Aebi, except much more listenable. The remaining pieces move from politics to more abstract poesy -- one on a red piano is appealing, and one on disemboweled babies seems almost as disheartening as all that stupidity. Carlberg plays piano, leading a group including Chris Cheek on tenor sax, John Hebert on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums -- all superb, the somber pacing at least forcing them to think. B+(***)

Amy Cervini Quartet: Famous Blue (2007, Orange Grove Jazz): Singer, in front of a piano trio. No bio on her website, although drummer Ernesto Cervini grew up in Toronto and works in New York, with degrees from both. Album cover is very attractive: pastel blue-green sky over sea, washed out, the lettering fuzzy. The music is like that too, which isn't a plus. Ordinary songs, voice, arrangements. I go up and down on "Don't Fence Me In" -- that there's a down at all isn't a good sign. B-

Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (2007, Blue Note): The promo sheet reads as if the Village Vanguard is the real star here, citing a long list of famous musicians to have recorded there -- and by the way, omitting the only one I was ever present for: Dexter Gordon's famous 1976 homecoming. In the end, though, this is just a record, a sample of an exceptionally vital piano trio. The advance provides no info on who wrote what or when it was recorded, although there are songs I recognize -- "The Lady Is a Tramp" really jumps out. [B+(***)] [May 22]

Ray Charles/The Count Basie Orchestra: Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006, Concord/Hear Music): First, let's clear this gripe away: Concord has dropped or fumbled me off their mailing list. I don't know whether that's accidental or deliberate. Don't know whether citing Chick Corea and Taylor Eigsti as duds has a thing to do with it, or they just don't care that Scott Hamilton has two A- albums and an Honorable Mention to his credit. Maybe it's both malevolence and incompetence, as suggested by one of the company's exes who described Concord as "the Bush Administration of the record industry." So, despite asking for this several times, and having been promised it at least once, I'm listening to it courtesy of the Wichita Public Library. As for the record, the first thing to point out is that it is a case of fraud: Charles never recorded with Count Basie; Charles's vocals were lifted from an undated live tape, most likely from the late '70s; the arrangements were newly recorded by the Basie ghost band, now directed by Bill Hughes, 22 years after the Count passed away, and for that matter two years after the singer died. The second thing is that it sounds pretty near-great, passably realizing its "what if" concept. Two reasons for this: first, Charles himself sounds great, even if pieces like "The Long and Winding Road" and "Look What They've Done to My Song" aren't up snuff; second, the Basie-trademarked arrangements were fit to the vocals with a smartness that never would have occurred to them live. It also helps that originating as a live concert Charles recycles some dependable warhorses. Docked a couple of stars for fraud. I could have gone deeper, but don't want you to think I prefer Genius Loves Company. B+(*)

Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (2006 [2007], Delmark): The groups vary between duos, trios, and quartets, so I just file their records under Chicago Underground. The constants are Rob Mazurek on cornet and Chad Taylor on drums. They're joined here by bassist Jason Ajemian, who I know primarily from Triage, a group with Vandermark 5 members Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy. The bass takes the lead early on, setting up recurring patterns that resemble minimalism but with more fractal chaos. Mazurek continues his computer work, but that seems more incidental here than on recent records -- you don't much notice him until he pulls out the cornet, when he drives the record home. [B+(**)]

Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (2006 [2007], Delmark): Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor have been doing business as Chicago Underground whatever since 1998, sometimes with third or even fourth members -- bassist Jason Ajemian is the new ingredient this time. They've also been thickening up their cornet-percussion duo with electronics, which have reached a new plateau of density and ugliness this time. Often fascinating, sometimes wearing; I always love the cornet, and am increasingly impressed by Taylor's vibes. Not sure what Ajemian is responsible for, but his credits include electronics, so he may be the secret to the density. Also available on a DVD, which I have but haven't watched. B+(**)

Circus (2006, ICP): All pieces are improvs attributed to all five members, who could just as well be listed as the artists of record, had the packaging steered that way. The four instrumentalists are ICP veterans: Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Tristan Honsinger (cello), Misha Mengelberg (piano), Han Bennink (drums). The fifth is vocalist Alessandra Patrucco. I suppose the attraction of voice in this sort of framework is flexibility and dramatic detail, but I've never found it all that attractive -- Patrucco, dramatizing in a manner I associate unfondly with opera, less than most. Honsinger and Mengelberg also add to the vocal content. The instruments are more interesting. [B]

Anat Cohen & the Anzic Orchestra: Noir (2006 [2007], Anzic): She must be very charming. She neither wrote nor arranged any of this -- the arranger/conductor is Oded Lev-Ari, like Cohen a veteran of Israeli military bands -- but she put a fascinating big band together, and she's clearly its star. Ted Nash and Scott Robinson are obvious picks; brothers Avishai and Yuval Cohen expected ones; Deborah Weisz, Ali Jackson, a cello trio anchored by Erik Friedlander, and a phalanx of Brazilian percussionists including Duduka Da Fonseca and Zé Mauricio are among the surprises. Big bands are favored toys of the new generation of overeducated jazz composer/arrangers, and Cohen works that circuit assiduously. But few others have so much fun with their toys. [A-]

Anat Cohen & the Anzic Orchestra: Noir (2006 [2007], Anzic): The strings don't take as much of a toll here as on Poetica, mostly because they're outgunned in numbers and in volume. Cohen plays tenor, alto and soprano sax, as well as clarinet, and she gets help on the saxes from Ted Nash, Billy Drewes, and Scott Robinson. Plus there's a phalanx of brass, led by brother Avishai -- not to be confused with the bassist (a tip I much appreciated, and figured I should pass along). Then there are the Brazilians, with Guilherme Monteiro on guitar and more in the rhythm section. Cohen works that connection several times, including a medley of "Samba de Orfeu" and "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." The latter is so strong, so crisp, so bright I wish they had taken a shot at a whole post-Katrina album. But Cohen and arranger Oded Lev-Ari had other game in mind. B+(***)

Anat Cohen: Poetica (2006 [2007], Anzic): A clarinet recital, mostly in a quartet with Jason Lindner on piano, Omer Avital on bass, and Daniel Freedman on drums. Four tracks add a string quartet, which I don't regard as much of a plus, although mostly they pretty things up without making too much of a mess. A mix of Israeli songs, Brazilian, Jacques Brel, John Coltrane. She's very appealing. [B+(**)]

Anat Cohen: Poetica (2006 [2007], Anzic): This is a showcase for Cohen's clarinet work, taking a mix of Israeli and Brazilian songs and pieces by Jacques Brel and John Coltrane. Half are just quartet, with Jason Lindner on piano, Omer Avital on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums. The other half add a string quartet, which is a bit like sprinkling sugar on something that's already too sweet. It's not without appeal, and at best it gives you a rush. B+(*)

Avishai Cohen: As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note (2006 [2007], Razdaz/Half Note): Israeli bassist, based in New York, continues a steady run of first-rate work. Plays electric as well as the big fiddle, and puts the former to good use on the opening "Smash," matching up against Sam Barsh's electric keyboards. Quintet, Diego Urcola on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on various saxophones. Closes with a long, inventive take on "Caravan." No oud, nothing exotic. Not sure how much stock to put in it. Comes with a DVD I haven't seen yet, and may never. [B+(***)]

Ornette Coleman: To Whom Who Keeps a Record (1959-60 [2007], Water): Odds and sods, released Japan-only in 1975 but not in the US until boxed for Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings. Starts with an outtake from Change of the Century with Don Cherry on pocke trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, Billy Higgins on drums; filled out with leftovers from This Is Our Music with Ed Blackwell replacing Higgins. At this point this sounds so typical of the classic Coleman quartet that it's hard to wax ecstatic and impossible to fault. Art of the Improvisers and Twins picked over the same sessions first; it's hard to figure why these cuts were passed over, unless it's the relative prominence of Cherry. A-

Scott Colley: Architect of the Silent Moment (2005 [2007], Cam Jazz): A bassist working in New York. I hadn't noticed him until he won a Downbeat TDWR, then quickly discovered him damn near everywhere: AMG credits him with 139 albums since 1986, although the hype sheet just claims 80. This is his 7th as a leader. I've played it several times, but still don't much get what's going on -- a common problem I have with the cutting edge of the not-so-avant-garde. I could quote David Ake's liner notes on the importance of the recorded jazz tradition, but there's a shortage of info on the music. Don't know which guests play on which tracks, although Gregoire Maret's harmonica is obvious, and the others shouldn't be too hard to pick out -- the only instrument intersect is piano with Craig Taborn and Jason Moran, and how hard can that be? What I do like, quite a bit, is Ralph Alessi's trumpet. The rest is more work, possibly rewarding. [B+(**)]

Scott Colley: Architect of the Silent Moment (2005 [2007], CAM Jazz): Colley's bass lines bounce around in and out of time, giving this a rather inconsistent and unsettling foundation, making it hard to follow even if it sometimes seems worth the effort. The core band is a quartet with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Craig Taborn on keyboards, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Alessi makes a big impression, as he often does. Four guests also pitch in: Dave Binney, Jason Moran, Gregoire Maret, and Adam Rogers. The only one I particularly noticed was Binney, on soprano. B+(*)

Graham Collier's Hoarded Dreams (1983 [2007], Cuneiform): A bassist and well-regarded composer who started out in the late '60s, a protean period when Britain's modern jazz musicians could still span avant-garde and fusion, where there was little distance between music abstractly composed and explosively improvised. This particular piece was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for performance at the Bracknell Jazz Festival. Collier conducts a large group: 5 reeds, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 guitars, piano, bass, drums, including many recognizable names, both local (John Surman, Kenny Wheeler) and from far afield (Ted Curson, Tomasz Stanko, Juhanni Aaltonen). Framed for solos, some quite rivetting, but mostly loud and a bit ugly for my taste. B+(*)

Harry Connick Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Connick's deal with Columbia is that he can make non-vocal albums on the side. Until now these have concentrated on his serviceable-plus piano. Here he takes a hand at arranging for big band a mix of old New Orleans songs and three originals. The album doesn't forego vocals alltogether: Rodney Jones sings "Bourbon Street Parade" and Lucien Barbarin sings a Connick original called "Luscious." There's some indication that this was a rough experiment, cut in 2003 in a studio scheduled for Harry for the Holidays and Only You, and only pulled off the shelf as a complement to Connick's new, post-Katrina New Orleans tribute, Oh, My NOLA. Haven't heard the latter yet, so I'll hold back here -- in any case, won't mind hearing this again. [B+(*)]

Harry Connick, Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Connick did the arrangements, but handed the two vocals off to Rodney Jones and Lucien Barbarin. The songs are mostly trad New Orleans fare, with a couple of Connick originals added to Armstrong, Bechet, Barbarin, Pollack, and a close from Henry Roeland Byrd, Dr. Professor Longhair to you. But the arrangements are postmodern: you don't feel the polyphony, nor the swing that arrived later and took over. Instead, they're projected into some other realm, where they find new life. B+(**)

Harry Connick, Jr.: Oh, My Nola (2006 [2007], Columbia): Careful study of the booklet leads me to use initial caps on "Nola" rather than treat it as an acronym, even though New Orleans LA is the admitted reference. Of course, it could be argued differently, given that the booklet doesn't capitalize anything. I must admit that I'm getting tired of New Orleans tributes, but if this isn't the best record I've heard from Connick, the other one just edges it out. The theme gives him great material to work with, and he doesn't just sit on it. The Allen Toussaint songs come close enough to risk comparison, but pieces by Chris Kenner and Dave Bartholomew are uncovered gems, his "Jambalaya" breaks into joyous swing, and his nods to Armstrong and Prima leave plenty of elbow room. Three originals hang in there, as do three songs by trad. B+(***)

Contemporary America: Another Center (2007, Adventure Music): A meeting of musicians from seven South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela. I don't quite know what to think about it: sounds more European than what I think of as Latin, a music for us more centered in the Caribbean, and therefore more Afro. Most pieces have vocals, and they can gum up the works, but not always. In any case, it pays to focus on the details, where the individual musicians register their diversity, and their virtuosity. B+(*)

The Neil Cowley Trio: Displaced (2005 [2007], Hide Inside): I just have a CDR with a low-res copy of the cover artwork. Artist has a website implemented in Flash with a minimum of actual information. My notes have release date as Mar. 20, but AMG puts it at May 29, 2006. Evidently it's been out in the UK for a while, as the website has laudatory quotes from the British press, including a "debut of the year" from Mojo. Cowley plays piano, with Richard Sadler on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Haven't heard of any of them. Presumably they're British -- seems to be where they live and work. Cowley likes simple rhythmic vamps, some chord-heavy, a few almost dainty; some get more complex, but he keeps his lines short and punctuates them strongly. Somewhere between EST and the Bad Plus. [A-]

Coyote Poets of the Universe: Unmistakable Evidence! (2004-05 [2006], Square Shaped): Denver group, although I only see one poet, with all words attributed to Andy O'Leary (or Andy O'Blivion, as he appears on their website). Gary Hoover (aka Gary 7) helps out with the music, with both playing guitar and a few other instruments. Others help out too. The music is fractured guitar jazz, interesting in its own right, but usually gives way to the spoken words. The latter have their moments as well, but nothing here impresses me nearly as much as Jerry Granelli's Sandhills Reunion did a couple of years ago. B+(*)

Cyminology: Bemun (2007, Challenge): German group, led by vocalist Cymin Samawatie, who describes herself as "the daughter of Iranian emigrants." Group also includes Benedikt Jahnel on piano, Ralf Schwarz on double bass, Ketan Bhatti on drums, with guest guitar from Frank Möbus on two cuts. Songs are based on Persian poetry, and the drums tend to fit that. I disliked the high, arch vocals at first: reminded me of European vocal traditions, but it may be that the same attitude is cultivated by all classical traditions. The instrumental sections are more ingratiating: the piano and bass are well situated in the jazz world, and the drums -- not specified, but it sounds like hands are intimately involved -- add a world beat aspect. B

Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski: Dialogues (2005 [2007], Arbors): Davern died in Dec. 2006, almost a year and a half after these sessions. He recorded a number of Soprano Summit albums with Bob Wilber, originally dedicated to Sidney Bechet, but he generally preferred clarinet over soprano sax. Ken Peplowski joins Davern on clarinet on most of these pieces, occasionally switching off to tenor sax. The double-your-pleasure theme also involves pairing Howard Alden and James Chirillo on guitar and banjo. Spotty but marvelous when it all works. Ends with a nice reworking of the Kid Ory classic as "Muskrat Samba." B+(***)

Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): Dawkins plays alto and tenor sax. The group includes trumpet and trombone, bass and drums. Don't see a credit for vocals, but there are quite a few -- blues shouts, hip-hop, and various hollers, not to mention the patter. Dawkins himself seems to be more out than in, but the ensemble is out for party more than art. A good time, for sure, but I don't have it calibrated yet. [B+(**)]

  • Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): This is Chicago's answer to a traditional New Orleans tailgate party, with Maurice Brown's trumpet to shine up Dawk's sax, and Steve Berry's trombone to get it dirty again. No one is credited with vocals, but that doesn't stop the shouts, hollers, whelps and raps, let alone the patter. B+(***)

    Darby Dizard: Down for You (2004 [2007], One Soul): Annoying website, cruel and unusual punishment even by the norms of Flash websites. Not much in the way of facts, but aperçus like this: "I remember scat singing to myself around age 15. I have no idea why." Well, neither do I. Seven screens later, she concludes: "Every sound that you hear is there because it has been carefully considered by not one or two, but four engineers sitting in a room going over every song with a fine tooth comb. The website designers and CD designers in France have outdone themselves. I can never thank the team at One Soul enough for all that they have done to make this CD the success that I hope it will be." Which reminds me that the album is pretty annoying too -- as much for the little tchochtkes the quartet of engineers dropped in as for the obviousness of the '50s songbook and the singer's penchant for overdramatization. On the other hand, her voice has some traction, and she handles "In Walked Bud" well enough. B- [July 1]

    Paquito D'Rivera: Funk Tango (2006 [2007], Paquito): To some extent I try to string these records together, at least when I see something that follows reasonably close, but when I picked this out I wasn't expecting to deal with another "Giant Steps." This is actually an odd mix of things. "Funk Tango" is a song title, but so is "Final Waltz" and "Contradanza" and "Como un Bolero," any of which would work just as well -- for that matter, so would "What About That!" Diego Urcola, playing trumpet and valve trombone, is very much as prominent as D'Rivera on alto sax and clarinet. Various pianists, including Ed Simon, with Hector del Curto on bandoneon for those tango moments. I don't put much stock in their grasp of funk, but their pan-Latin mishmash sounds fine. Can't say much for "Giant Steps" -- in this context, a dull closer. B+(*) [May 22]

    Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): Like most avant improv duos, this is slow, thin, and demanding. Ab Baars plays tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi, noh-kan -- the last two are Japanese bamboo flutes. Ig Henneman plays viola. It's tough for me to concentrate closely enough, but there are enough spots of interest to keep it in play. [B]

    Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): All the usual caveats about avant-garde duos apply here: this takes a lot of patience, including a willingness to let not much happen for way too long. But I've come to enjoy Ig Henneman's viola scratches and Ab Baars splotches of clarinet, tenor sax, and Japanese flutes as discreet sounds and quaint dances. B+(*)

    Elin: Lazy Afternoon (2004-05 [2006], Blue Toucan): Full name: Kathleen Clelia Elin Melgarejo. Raised in Sweden, parents were Peruvian and Irish. After high school in Nörkopping, moved to Miami to study music. Somehow wound up cast as a Brazilian singer, with an appropriate rhythm section launching "Fascinating Rhythm." However, a check of the credits reveals an impressive list of jazz players: Harry Allen, Anat Cohen, Claudio Roditi, Alan Ferber, Tom Varner, Hendrik Meurkens, Erik Friedlander. Still, not much comes from all this promise on paper. They can play Brazilian, but don't stick with it, so the record winds up sounding eclectic, and most of the guest stars are wasted -- Anat Cohen is the one who makes the most of her time. Both band and singer do a notable job with "Lush Life." B

    Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra: Transmigration (2005 [2007], Delmark): Infinity Orchestra is a 39-piece big band based in Bordeaux: the 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, and 7 saxes don't seem all that extravagant, and indeed they don't sound as brassy as units half their size. Much of the bulk comes from a 12-person percussion section -- 7 on djembe and balafon. There are also two DJs, two singers, and two rappers. El'Zabar's involvement began with an appearance at the Bordeaux Jazz Festival in 1980. Since then he has kept coming back, teaching two-month workshops each year, touring. In 2000 he was inaugurated as Master of the annual Carnival. The featured musicians here are El'Zabar, Ernest Dawkins on alto sax, and Joseph Bowie on trombone -- a group otherwise known as Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and in many ways this is the album of their dreams. Dawkins (presumably) has some terrific sax runs, and El'Zabar gets all the percussion he wants. The big band fleshes the group out with innumerable details. For example, it took me a while to realize that the wobbly rhythm at the start came from turntables. And that the harmony that fills in behind the sax was a lot more than Bowie's trombone. A-

    Enders Room: Hotel Alba (2006 [2007], Tuition): Of the three releases on this label, this one at least bears some resemblance to jazz, mostly because Johannes Enders' first choice in instruments is saxophone, followed by flute and clarinet. However, he also plays various keyboards and does a little programming, in what is basically an update of Krautrock, Eno, and jazztronica -- not unlike some of the records Tucker Martine has produced. Two pieces with vocals are droll but don't register strongly. I read a quote asserting that Enders is "Germany's answer to Joshua Redman" but I don't hear anything to back that up. At least here, the sax seems secondary to the synths, which at best remind me of Eno's pre-ambient structuralism. B+(**)

    Wayne Escoffery: Veneration (2006 [2007], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, with one obligatory cut on soprano. Last time I heard him I flagged his Intuition (Nagel Heyer) as a dud. I got some mail questioning that call, not based on the record but based on a high estimation of his chops. No doubt he has the chops, but he strikes me as a guy who, like Charlie Parker, is a bit too impressed by speed. This one is a definite improvement. I'm still not sure how much he has to offer beyond fierceness and speed, but he doesn't fall flat when he does slow down, and the band -- Joe Locke on vibes, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Lewis Nash on drums -- is a good one, with Locke a fleet match. [B+(**)]

    Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (2006 [2007], Delmark): The first EHE album dates from 1981 and was called Three Gentlemen From Chicago, the three being saxophonists Henry Huff and Edward Wilkerson and earth drummer/percussionist Kahil El'Zabar. The "earth drums" are homemade congas, hand drums with less snap and a rather hollow sound. El'Zabar has been the constant for 10 more EHE albums: with Wilkerson and trombonist Joseph Bowie up to 1997, when Ernest Dawkins replaced Wilkerson; percussionist Atu Harold Murray came and went; guitarist Fareed Haque appeared in 1999's Freedom Jazz Dance, left, and returned. On this album, trumpeter Corey Wilkes replaces Bowie, joining El'Zabar, Dawkins, and Haque. The present lineup is as satisfying as any: the drums provide a subtly shifty foundation, the guitar lays out sheets of sound mostly as a backdrop, the two horns free to move and lead. El'Zabar sings a bit toward the end -- never a plus, but not much of a minus this time. [B+(***)]

    Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (2006 [2007], Delmark): Live at the Ascension Loft. Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's group is now a quartet, with Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Ernest Dawkins on sax, and Fareed Haque on guitar, each having stellar moments, especially when it does indeed get hot and heavy. Tails off a bit toward the end, where the threat of a vocal looms, but is ultimately unrealized. B+(***)

    John Ettinger: August Rain (2003, Ettinger Music): San Francisco-based violinist, arrived in 1992 from Arizona. This is his first album, after kicking around in various obscure bands and projects, ranging from Clockbrains ("psychedelic punk band") to LBJ (with Lukas Ligeti) and work with Scott Amendola, who returns the favor here. The tone and tempo are set by Art Hirahara's Fender Rhodes, which with Amendola's programmed beats and Ettinger's loops sustains a bubbly groove most of the way through, providing plenty of structure for the violin to swing and saw against. The effect is reminiscent of soul jazz, but lighter in tone -- more fancy, less grease. B+(**)

    John Ettinger: Kissinger in Space (2006, Ettinger Music): A much more ambitious run of music than on his debut -- more varied, which among other things means some slower pieces. I still don't have a sense of him as a violin stylist, although he hits every mark he sets. But I'm much impressed with his networking: he tapped Arizona schoolmate Tony Malaby for a second voice, and his SF connections brought in Nels Cline Singers Devin Hoff on bass and Scott Amendola on drums. B+(***)

    Robin Eubanks + EB3: Live Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], RKM): Trombonist, probably best known for his work in the Dave Holland Quintet, but he has 8 albums on his own. This is a trio with keyboardist Orrin Evans and drummer Kenwood Dennard. All three are also credited with keyboard bass, and Eubanks downloads some loops, so the undertow is definitely electric. Can't add much more: played this three times while almost constantly distracted, and need to move on. So rating is an impression, and I'll try to figure out why later. One minor annoyance is that I don't see any date/location information, which seems all the more neglectful in a live album. [B+(**)]

    Robin Eubanks + EB3: Live Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], RKM): The basic architecture is trombone-keyboards-drums, but all three players are credited with keyboard bass, and Eubanks provides extra loops and beats. The electronics set the whole thing in motion -- a more technologically advanced take on the old organ trio formula. In that context, a trombone lead just adds to the novelty, and fun. Comes with a DVD, thus far unseen. B+(**)

    Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else (2006 [2007], Thrill Jockey): This is cornetist Rob Mazurek, better known as the cornerstone of Chicago Underground Duo, Trio, and Quartet. This, his big Sun Ra move, could have been attributed to the Chicago Underground Big Band. Two multi-part pieces called "Sting Ray and the Beginning of Time" and "Cosmic Tones for Sleep Walking Lovers" and a one-part interlude called "Black Sun." Starts out in fine orbit before it cracks up a bit, then wanders off into a cloud of microscopic space dust. Eventually the cosmic tones start to emerge -- something else I guess we can blame on flutes. Not unlike the man from Saturn, the best parts sound fabulous; not so sure about the rest. [B+(**)]

    Family Pet (2007, Foreign Frequency): This is a slab of 12-inch vinyl, with no info other than label name and something about 45rpm. Also have a 7-inch 45rpm which credits A.M. Haines with keyboard and vocal, Will Berdan II with percussion. Website describes group as "Maine's free form rock duo." Put the side with one cut on, and it sounds like free form noise, which doesn't do much for me one way or another. Then the turntable, an old B&O, lifted the stylus and stopped spinning. The 33/45 switch works, but otherwise the arm is stuck and the platter doesn't spin. So that's as far as I got. No telling when/if I'll ever get back to it, so I will mark it with two grades: one for what it sounded like when it was playing, and another for what it sounds like now. Got email from Berdan suggesting it might be a dud, so presumably he'll be satisfied either way. B/E

    Pierre Favre Ensemble: Fleuve (2005 [2007], ECM): Swiss drummer, around since the late '50s, started in Dixieland -- has gigs with Lil Hardin Armstrong and Albert Nicholas on his resume -- then moved to free jazz and dabbles in world beats. Seven piece group, with guitar, soprano sax/bass clarinet, harp, tuba, bass guitar, double bass, and percussion/drums. I could do without the harp, but Philipp Schaufelberger's guitar impressed me, and focusing on the drummer helps. B+(*) [Apr. 24]

    John Fedchock New York Big Band: Up & Running (2006 [2007], Reservoir): Trombonist, well schooled in big band practice and theory by Woody Herman and Gerry Mulligan, debuting his own New York Big Band to much acclaim in 1992. This is the first I've heard of five albums -- four big band, a smaller group for Hit the Bricks (2000). One thing about the concentration of jazz musicians in New York is that an ambitious arranger can recruit a name band there -- e.g., anchoring the sax section, Rich Perry, Rick Margitza, Gary Smulyan. This has moments when the band sounds great, but it has many more when I don't care, and some of them are the same. May just be a funk I'm going through, but I always figured the proof of a great big band is that it snaps you out of any such thing. This doesn't, although I do dig the trombone solos. B

    Ibrahim Ferrer: Mi Sueńo (1998-2005 [2007], World Circuit/Nonesuch): The Buena Vista Social Club crooner was evidently working on this when he died in 2005, leaving demos with his strong and eloquent voice, only needing some filling out. The pieces are boleros with elegant, uncomplicated arrangements -- they fit his voice and don't wear anyone out. One track was recorded in by Ry Cooder in 1998. The others are undated. B+(**)

    Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Drummer, first album under his own name, but he's been around a long time. Born in 1935 in Mississippi, passed through New Orleans on his way to Chicago, where he was a founder of the AACM in 1963. Played with Roscoe Mitchell on Sound in 1966, and has slogged his way through the back waters of the avant-garde ever since, most frequently in the company of Joel Futterman, Kidd Jordan, and/or Dennis González. This could easily be seen as the latter's album: González plays the lead instrument (trumpet), wrote a good chunk of it, recorded it on his home turf in Texas, brought in two sons for extra bass and vibes, and passed it on to his business associates in Lisbon. The other trio member is pianist Chris Parker, a bright contrast to the trumpet. Fielder himself doesn't make much of a splash. [B+(**)]

    Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Fielder's a 70-year-old drummer, originally from Mississippi with stops in New Olreans and Chicago on his way to nowhere in particular. His discography is pretty much limited to work with Joel Futterman, Kidd Jordan, and/or Dennis González, veteran avant-gardists who have worked in obscurity far afield from the usual power centers. Here he referees for González and pianist Mike Parker, the former affecting a smoky, dingy tone, the latter sharp and percussive. Three cuts are joined by González sons, with Stefan's vibes an abstract treat. B+(***)

    Scott Fields Ensemble: Beckett (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Chicago guitarist, born 1957 (AMG says 1952) way out on the avant-garde, has recorded a lot since 1995, of which I've heard little. Eschews labels, but when pressed has described his work as post-free jazz, neo-revisionist improvisation, transparent music, exploratory music. Website includes a photo of him bowing guitar. This record includes a cellist, so not all the bowed sounds are guitar, but most likely some are. Aside from the dreamy arco sections, most of this is built from jerky little splotches, with cello and tenor sax following suit, while John Hollenbeck accents. B+(**)

    Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion: The Magician (2007, Savant): Bronx-born percussionist. Main instrument appears to be congas. The album doesn't specify; his website mentions ZenDrum (a MIDI sampler) and "unusual steel pans." His side discography is pretty thick from the mid-'70s starting with the Brecker Bros., but this is only his second album with his name up front. All pieces are by sextets, but the sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums players vary, the most consistent being Alex Norris on trumpet. This mostly sounds fine, but rather generic. B

    Mitchell Forman: Perspectives (2005-06 [2006], Marsis Jazz): Pianist, including electronic keyboards. Not familiar with his own albums. Most of his side credits seem to be fusion (starting with John McLaughlin) and pop jazz (Chuck Loeb, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Najee, list goes on), but two early credits were with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz. This is half acoustic, half synthesized, often with sequenced percussion. Two originals, two Beatles songs, various covers which most likely represent a personal view of the tradition -- Hancock, Corea, McLaughlin, Shorter, Ron Carter, Russell Ferrante, and most importantly two from Keith Jarrett. Coming after Jarrett in my queue, this popped my ears right up. Will have to play it some more. [B+(***)]

    Mitchell Forman: Perspectives (2005-06 [2006], Marsis Jazz): Pianist, does a lot of work with electronic keybs and synth drums, had early credits with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz, but most of his meal ticket has come from fusion and pop jazz. Song selection includes two originals and a likely range of personal favorites. I like the cheesy electric take on Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" that kicks this off, but two Beatles songs remind me of how they've been abused as instrumentals. B+(*)

    Anat Fort: A Long Story (2004 [2007], ECM): Israeli pianist, classical training, middle eastern exposures, lives in New York since 1996, one previous album, has composed various pieces for string orchestras. I suppose nearly every pianist who's come of age in the last forty years has dreamed of playing with Paul Motian -- many of the best have, and you can add Fort to that list. Her duos and trios with bassist Ed Schuller are elegant, attractive affairs. But most of the album adds a fourth player. Any horn is likely to dominate a piano trio, but Perry Robinson's clarinet does it not by force of volume but by sly innuendo. Long underrated, this is a fine showcase for him. [A-] [Mar 6]

    Anat Fort: A Long Story (2004 [2007], ECM): This is not all slow, but inches along with deliberate thoughtfulness, Fort's piano framed by Ed Schuller's bass and Paul Motian's drum haiku. At trio level, this would be add one more worthy name to the long list of pianists, starting with Bill Evans, that Motian has coaxed along. But the real treat here is Perry Robinson, who plays clarinet and ocarina on most of the album. He plays softer than usual, but adds a jagged edge to the soft piano cushion. B+(***)

    The Four Bags: Live at Barbčs (2006, NCM East): Quartet. Second album. Very unusual instrumentation: trombone (Brian Drye), accordion (Jacob Garchik), electric guitar (Sean Moran), soprano sax/clarinet/bass clarinet (Michael McGinnis). I recalled Garchik as playing trombone, as on his pretty good debut album Abstracts (2005, Yestereve), and that's how his website identifies him. Originals by all four. Covers include one from Arnold Schoenberg, who also gets rather belated thanks. Given the instruments and influences, it's not surprising that this comes off choppy, rhythmically unhinged. Very interesting sound. Could wear on you after a while. We'll see. [B+(**)]

    The Four Bags: Live at Barbčs (2006, NCM East): Quartet, natch. Interesting instrumentation, with trombone, accordion, electric guitar, and reeds (soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), and a Schoenberg cover to add to the oddness. Still, nothing to really push the album along, so it drags and eventually wears you down. B

    Billy Fox: The Uncle Wiggly Suite (2004 [2007], Clean Feed): Don't know much about percussionist-composer Fox other than that he was a student of Jane Ira Bloom and has a couple of credits as "drum technician" on Bobby Sanabria albums. These compositions come out of an assignment for Bloom, building on bits of "atonal music, Sixties modal jazz, New Orleans brass bands, Cuban rhythms, Pakistani ghazals, and much more" -- as the label catalogs it. It's also a big band record, utilizing 13 musicians, although there's little of the section bashing that expresses power in such groups. Rather, the pieces seem to grow organically into diversified details. [B+(**)]

    Billy Fox: The Uncle Wiggly Suite (2004 [2007], Clean Feed): Percussionist-composer, draws on world music from Cuba to Pakistan plus a lot more, deploying 13 musicians without ever coalescing into a big band. Lots of interesting details. Don't know what the big picture is. B+(*)

    Joel Frahm: We Used to Dance (2006 [2007], Anzic): Mainstream saxophonist, plays both alto and tenor, but not specified which here -- pictures show tenor. Born 1969 in Wisconsin, studied at Manhattan School of Music. Three previous albums on Palmetto, 4-8 sideman credits per year since 1997, many with singers -- he's exceptionally skillful in that role. He's playing with a group here previously associated with Stan Getz: pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Victor Lewis. Doesn't sound like this has much to do with Getz, but it's a good group for Frahm, and he plays a strong game. [B+(**)] [May 1]

    Joel Frahm: We Used to Dance (2006 [2007], Anzic): A tenor sax lover's album, plain and simple, with three-fourths of the late Stan Getz's quartet (Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Victor Lewis) -- not that Frahm sounds much like Getz, or plays his songbook. This is the sort of record I tend to be sweet on, but could just as well be underrated here. B+(***)

    Bob French: Marsalis Music Honors Bob French (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Veteran New Orleans drummer, in 1977 took over his father's group, the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, which in turn dates back to Oscar "Papa" Celestin in 1910. AMG lists only this album under French's name plus a dozen-plus sideman credits, starting with a Snooks Eaglin date in 1977 -- the latter underreported, no doubt. Musicians here include Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., who hog "Take a Closer Walk With Thee." Everything else is trad New Orleans if not necessarily trad jazz. French sings "Bourbon Street Parade," "You Are My Sunshine," and "Do You Know What It Means (to Miss New Orleans)" -- the latter joined by Ellen Smith, who also sings "Basin Street Blues." Seems like standard fare, but this is as much fun as any New Orleans tribute in the post-Katrina era. [B+(***)]

    Bob French: Marsalis Music Honors Bob French (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Of all the post-Katrina New Orleans albums, this one does the best job of pretending nothing has changed, but that's the veteran drummer's stock in trade. Ever since he inherited Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, he's kept the faith, plying the family trade. B+(***)

    Funky Organ: B3 Jazz Grooves (1997-2006 [2007], High Note): The packaging and the concept reminds me of those compilations Joel Dorn threw out to expedite the recycling of the Muse catalog on his later, now defunct 32 Jazz label. They represented recycling at its crassest -- arbitrary compilations sold purely as mood music, but they sold well enough (and were profitable enough) that Savoy Jazz has kept many (most?) of the titles in print. The connection is all the more obvious given that Dorn bought Muse from Joe Fields, who went on to start the catalogues plundered here. At least there's no attempt to pump up the historical significance: these records aren't meant for people who hope to learn something, even on a subject as trivial as late-'90s soul jazz. The Hammond was funkier in the late '50s and '60s when soul jazz developed out of r&b, and it's been increasingly rote ever since -- a staple crop of minor interest. Even within its limits High Note doesn't exactly have a command of the market: past-prime Charles Earland and Reuben Wilson, minor newcomers Bill Heid and Mike LeDonne, two generations of DeFrancescos. B

    Towner Galaher: Panorama (2005 [2007], Towner Galaher Music): Drummer, looks like he's been around, or at least in New York, for a while but this is his first album. Leads a quintet, reminiscent of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with two extras on percussion. His pieces run the usual gamut, with the upbeat "Midtown Shuffle" leading off and slower stuff to close, and three non-originals in the middle. The most obvious one is "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," given a respectful reading that sounds fabulous. The horns are Mark Shim on tenor sax and Maurice Brown on trumpet, both superb. Onaje Allen Gumbs' piano and Charles Fambrough's bass fill in expertly. Drummer isn't as hard as Blakey, and this isn't really a throwback, just fine old-fashioned postmodernism. Official release date is a ways off, but it seems to be available at CDBaby. B+(**) [June 1]

    Hal Galper/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop: Furious Rubato (2006 [2007], Origin): Galper is a veteran pianist who has impressed me in the past; Johnson and Bishop are Seattle's go-to rhythm section. Two Miles Davis pieces, one by Coltrane, one by Johnson, the rest Galper originals. Strikes me as dense and busy. I'm keeping it open because I've been distracted during two plays -- don't expect much at this point, but not quite sure. [B]

    Hal Galper/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop: Furious Rubato (2006 [2007], Origin): Another good mainstream piano trio, a bit more aggressive than McNeely, a bit less lyrical. B+(**)

    George Gee and the Jump, Jivin' Wailers Swing Orchestra: If Dreams Come True (2007, GJazz): One cut recorded in 1999; the rest Jan. 3-4, 2007. Gee bills himself as "the only Chinese-American Swing big band leader." Pictures on his website show him doing just that: standing out front, an emcee cheering the band. Walt Szymanski is listed as musical director, credited with most of the arrangements; also plays trumpet and sings, but John Dokes and Carla Cook also appear as vocalists. Gee's a big Basie fan, but also pulls material from Goodman, Henderson, and others. Good band, including Michael Hashim, a longtime favorite. Good music. Gee has half-a-dozen albums in his catalog. They all look to be much the same, even the one titled Buddha Boogie. B+(*)

    Bebel Gilberto: Momento (2007, Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees): Bossa nova royalty, daughter of Joăo but not Astrud -- mother is another singer, Miúcha, sister of Chico Buarque. Where her first album looked forward with electrobeats, this one feels old fashioned, especially on the delicately fractured "Night and Day." B+(*)

    Lafayette Gilchrist: Three (2007, Hyena): Third album, but could just as well refer to the number of musicians, or maybe even David Murray's "3d family" -- Gilchrist works with Murray. This time the piano trio appears to be purely acoustic. Most pieces have a regular pulse. Booklet refers to Sun Ra, James Brown, Andrew Hill, and CLR James. [B+(**)]

    Robert Glasper: In My Element (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Obviously the jump from his debut on Fresh Sound New Talent to a second album on Blue Note was considered a big deal: it put the young pianist squarely in the footsteps of Jason Moran and Bill Charlap, who are big deals. Glasper got a lot of plaudits come year-end, but I didn't think much of the album, and not just because his hip-hop connection (Bilal, Mos Def) didn't register. In fact, I toyed with the idea of listing it as a dud, but let it slip quietly by instead. I doubt this one will pan out either. Very mild-mannered acoustic stuff at first, including a soft gospel medley, then he feels a strange need to break out of his rut. So he starts with a Radiohead/Herbie Hancock mashup, then channels some J Dilla samples, both of which are better on paper than in sound. Then he tosses off a pretty good free piece called "Silly Rabbit," but chops it up at the end with a sample and some junk. Then he reverts to form with a tribute to Mulgrew Miller. Finally, a piece called "Tribute" with excerpts from a eulogy. [B] [Mar 20]

    Robert Glasper: In My Element (2006 [2007], Blue Note): I haven't become a fan yet, but there are things here that I like, especially the free stretch in "Silly Rabbit," but also when he keeps the flow basic. If I gave this enough time, I might even go higher, but I doubt that it would be cost-effective. Some day he might take one of his ideas to the point where it becomes worthwhile to sort him out. Meanwhile, it would be churlish to pick on him just because he has a major label contract when so many others are consigned to obscure labels. For one thing the guys with the major label contracts are more likely cut out. B+(*)

    Jerry Granelli/V16: The Sonic Temple: Monday and Tuesday (2006 [2007], Songlines, 2CD): The band is a quartet, so I guess the band name allocates four cylinders per member, not that that makes much sense. Switching metaphors, the liner notes describes the band as "like a chemical reaction." As anyone who's fiddled with chemistry sets can tell you, that doesn't do them justice. Two guitarists: David Tronzo is credited with electric slide guitar, Christian Kögel with plain old electric guitar. Brother J. Anthony plays electric bass, while the leader drums and attacks steel sculpture. Two discs, one each for two nights, each live with no edits, each with the same eight songs in same order but the versions differ significantly. First night is more experimental, with the drummer figuring more. Second night tends to slide back into blues mode. B+(***)

    Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: Unlearn (2006, Spool/Line): Oh dear, another good guitar album! Grdina is based on Vancouver. Plays oud and an interest in Arabic classical music, but here it's just guitar, in a quartet with François Houle on clarinets. Houle is terrific. Grdina mostly pushes things along, momentum the secret of the success. [B+(***)]

    Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: Unlearn (2006, Spool/Line): Vancouver guitarist, mostly sets up the rhythm that propels François Houle's clarinets through a worldbeat maze. The latter is largely informed by Grdina's interest in Arabic classical music -- he also plays oud, but not on this album -- but the framework seems broader. Houle has done interesting work with Africans before, but sometimes sounds like bebop. "Soul Suite" is an exception here, starting slow and building strong. B+(***)

    Juliette Greco: Le Temps D'Une Chanson (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): French actress, doesn't sing so much as talk her way through songs with genuine dramatic flair. Born 1927, associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Vian, Miles Davis. Backed here by orchestra and guests -- Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano the best known, accordionist Gil Goldstein the most effective. Non-French songs I know, like "Volare," seem hokey, but fare like "Les mains d'or" make an impression. Like Salvador, a legend first heard at the tail end of a long career, so hard to judge. B

    Maria Guida: Soul Eyes (2007, Larknote): Singer. Studied with Jay Clayton, who is credited with arrangements here, and Sheila Jordan, who praises Guida on the cover. Don't know how old she is, but she drops hints like "I've known bassist Dean Johnson for 20 years" and "the turning point of her professional life occurred when she saw pianist Bill Evans play live." First album, pop and jazz standards, with some vocalese bridging them. Scott Yanow describes her as "a very appealing singer with a warm voice and the ability to express the hidden beauty found in superior lyrics." Actually, she's much better than that: able to hold your attention on a dull ballad, deftly navigate the treacherous "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," and surefooted when she speeds up "Let's Get Lost" and "Four" -- two choice cuts here. B+(**)

    Jimmy Hall & the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Collective: Build Your Own Fire (2007, Zoho): Hall sung and played harmonica for Wet Willie, a second- or third-tier Southern rock group back in the '70s, well back of a pack that included the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like most of his brethren, Hall's a blues fan deep down, a point made explicit on Wet Willie's first album cover. Hall had a couple of 1980-82 albums, not much since. This one is a tribute to Muscle Shoals guitarist-composer Eddie Hinton, whose own checkered blues career died in 1995. Not much to it, but when such second- or third-tier characters get together to honor one of their own, their minor virtues somehow gain in stature. B+(*)

    Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstructive Surgery (2004 [2006], Thirsty Ear): AMG files him under rap, but most of the credits on Scott Harding's resume are for producer, engineer, and/or mixing. His credit here is for drum machines, samplers, optigan, and percussion. Keyboardits John Medeski and Matthew Shipp get second billing, followed by William Parker, Nasheet Waits, DJ Olive, and Mauricio Takara. Basically, this is what you get when you shuffle Shipp's jazztronica with Medeski's organ grind. [B+(**)]

    Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstructive Surgery (2004 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Hard is credited with drum machines and samplers, but he's working on top of Mauricio Takara's drums and DJ Olive's turntables, so it's hard to say how much is his. The two sets of keyboards are easier to unravel, and far more central to the record, even though both John Medeski and Matthew Shipp are credited variously with organ, wurlitzer, and piano -- Medeski also on mellotron and clavinet. Typical Blue Series jam. I'd be more impressed had it come earlier in the series. B+(**)

    Taylor Haskins: Metaview (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Trumpeter, on his second album, with another 16 credits since 1996, mostly with Andrew Rathbun, Guillermo Klein, and Peter Herborn. Much of this is in large groups, including the Dave Holland Big Band. Claims to have composed themes for 50+ TV commercials, which is neither here nor there. This record is a quintet with Rathbun on tenor and soprano sax and Adam Rogers on guitar instead of the usual piano. That moves it into a harmonically rich vein of postbop, which I've never much cared for, but then I've rarely heard it done this well. Probably because it's not just harmonics -- he has a definite knack for weaving melodic lines together. Either that, or he's damn lucky. [B+(***)]

    Taylor Haskins: Metaview (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Postbop quintet, with Adam Rogers on guitar instead of the usual piano player. Haskins plays trumpet; Andrew Rathbun is the saxophonist. Haskins composed it all. His resume includes a lot of commercial work, which ties into his knack for melodies, and a lot of big band work, which shows up in his arrangements. Starts off with a bit of keyboard for the self-evident "Biorhythm." Closes real strong with an upbeat choice cut called "Itty Bitty Ditty." B+(**)

    Bobby Hebb: That's All I Wanna Know (2005 [2007], Tuition): Born into a vaudeville family, making his stage debut at age 3 in 1941. Passed through Nashville, working for Owen Bradley and Roy Acuff, becoming one of the few blacks to work the Grand Ole Opry. Wrote "Sunny," one of the big hits of 1966, and had a couple of other minor hits, but only two albums in 1966-70 before this reprisal, which doesn't so much try to put him back on the map as stake out where he's been. His life might make for a TV movie, but he's a lightweight singer and these are old stories: the one that works best is his duet on "Sunny" -- still his calling card. B

    Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues (2006 [2007], Domino): Looks like The Exchange Session wasn't a one- (or two-) shot. Same concept here: Hebden improvises from laptop samples and guitar, giving him an unexpected range of sounds, while Reid drums. Shorter pieces offer more variety, and the sonic range is certainly interesting, but I can't quite zero in on what they're up to, unless it's just experimenting, which is cool. [B+(**)] [Mar 19]

    Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues (2006 [2007], Domino): Further exchanges, although drummer Reid's contribution seems diminished. Hebden's ability to synthesize remarkable music on his laptop or whatever is as impressive as ever, especially on the first two tracks. Whether this should qualify as improv or not is impossible to say, but the only thing keeping from passing the Turing Test is the lack of real improvised competition. B+(***)

    Matthew Herbert: Score (1997-2006 [2007], !K7): AMG files him, dba Herbert, under Electronica, with eight styles listed, few in evidence in this collection of soundtrack pieces. His website promises: "Crucially, in most cases, you can also dance to it. Matthew Herbert's records are true weapons of mass seduction." Website also mentions political content: "witty culinary metaphors to attack not just giant food companies but also the death penalty, body fascism and war in Iraq." Based on this, I can't vouch for any of that. What is clear is that he brings a wide range of tools to the soundtrack business, ranging from string-driven chamber music to a big band "Singing in the Rain" as well as the usual ambient filler. Which leaves us with the usual problems: pieces that don't fit together, stripped of the visual clues that they were built for. B

    The Fred Hersch Trio: Night and the Music (2006 [2007], Palmetto): Bread and butter: one Porter, two Berlins, two Monks, some originals to fill the gaps, including one from bassist Drew Gress. He's done this sort of thing so long and so consistently that I've lost my ability to tell the difference from one record to another. Or perhaps it's just my will? B

    Hiromi's Sonicboom: Time Control (2006 [2007], Telarc): Seven of nine songs have "time" in the title. One more mentions "clock" and "jet lag"; the other is "Deep Into the Night." Brings Brubeck to mind, but those thoughts are quickly dispelled. In the past, Hiromi Uehara has stradled the line between pop jazz and real jazz -- she likes electric keyboards and grooves but still does some interesting things with them. That hasn't set well with most of the reviewers I've read, but I've enjoyed the last two albums, listing one as a Honorable Mention, just letting the other slip past. But this record is an irredeemable mess. She's added guitarist Dave Fiuczynski to her trio, and he travels too much ground too fast, alternately getting too fancy or too slick, or on the change-of-pace slow pieces plain lost. Only toward the end does the pianist come out a bit. Too little, too late. B-

    Holly Hofmann/Mike Wofford: Live at Athenaeum Jazz, Volume 2 (2006 [2007], Capri): Flute/piano duos. Wofford is a fine pianist and an adept accompanist, but Hofmann rarely overcomes the limits of her instrument. Compared to this their previous album, Minor Miracle, was aptly named. B-

    Lauren Hooker: Right Where I Belong (2006 [2007], Musical Legends): Jazz singer. Dates her career from 1984, but this is her first album. It's also pretty impressive. Her voice spices '50s cool with a dash of Sheila Jordan and a knack for scat. She arranges three standards, writes four originals, and adds words to six more, including five jazz instrumentals, from Mingus, Monk, Waller, Waldron, and Shorter. B+(***)

    Hugh Hopper: Hopper Tunity Box (1976 [2007], Cuneiform): Long before I had any particular interest, much less expertise, in jazz, I developed a peculiar fondness for Anglo prog-rock -- the sort of thing British art school grads did, as opposed to the much more common dropouts. At one point I had all seven Soft Machine albums, enjoying the first two for Kevin Ayers' loopy songs, and Third for Robert Wyatt's loopier "Moon in June," but not getting much out of the later work. But the recently released live album Grides makes a pretty good case for them as a jazz group, as does Elton Dean's subsequent career. Hugh Hopper was the bassist. This was his first solo after the group folded, using several shuffles of musicians. Mostly soft-edged fusion things, although the two saxophonists have some edge when they get the chance: Elton Dean on 3 cuts, and especially Gary Windo on 4. B+(*)

    Owen Howard: Time Cycles (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, don't know much of anything about him. Group includes two saxes, mostly threaded close together, sometimes both on soprano, with Gary Versace's piano and John Hebert's bass. I normally hate this kind of tight harmonizing, but these guys -- John O'Gallagher and Andrew Rathbun -- make it interesting. Or maybe Howard is the one who makes it work by shaking up the rhythm. [B+(***)]

    Owen Howard: Time Cycles (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer-led postbop quintet, with two saxophonists up front, Gary Versace on piano, John Hebert on bass. The saxophonists are John O'Gallagher on alto, Andrew Rathbun on tenor, both playing a bit of soprano. They tend to play tight together, which usually isn't a good sign, but the drummer shakes things up enough to keep the other from clumping. B+(**)

    Bobby Hutcherson: For Sentimental Reasons (2006 [2007], Kind of Blue): I think this is Hutcherson's first album since Skyline in 1999, although he's been prominent on the SF Jazz albums. This one is very straightforward: a vibes-piano quartet, all standards, some jazz but mostly pop. Vibes and piano work well together: the tones are similar, the dynamics varied enough to provide some interesting contrast. The pianist is Renee Rosnes, and she makes the stronger impression. But the sentiment is riding on Hutcherson for a comeback. B+(**)

    Chie Imaizumi: Unfailing Kindness (2006, Capri): Young (age 27) Japanese composer/arranger, plays piano but not on her first album here. Came to US in 2001 to attend Berklee. Hooked up with trumpeter Greg Gisbert from Maria Schneider's orchestra, who in turn put a big band together and recorded this in Colorado. The band has a rich brassiness that lets up only when Mike Abbott's guitar takes over. The arrangements are robust, straightforward, none too fancy, and the final piece with a Jeremy Ragsdale vocal shows a firm sense of songcraft. [B+(**)]

    Chie Imaizumi: Unfailing Kindness (2006, Capri): Japanese composer/arranger, following in Maria Schneider's footsteps, with help from trumpeter Greg Gisbert, who serves both. Straightforward arrangements, packed with power, a basic primer in what big bands are good for. Last track features a vocal with gospel punch -- not my thing, but not bad either. B+(**)

    Robert Irving III: New Momentum (2004-06 [2007], Sonic Portals): AMG lists Irving's styles as: R&B, Crossover Jazz, Fusion, Funk. That might be true of Irving's first album from 1990, but these are conventional piano trios, with a Bill Evans song, a pair from the Miles Davis songbook, and a bunch of originals that go no further afield. Irving spent most of the '80s with Davis -- not a prime period, but it must have been an interesting gig -- and some time in the '90s with David Murray. More recently he's worked with Kahil El'Zabar, who contributes liner notes here, and Wallace Roney. So chalk this up as serious. I just don't find a pianist trying to split the distance between Hancock and Tyner all that interesting. But I do like the artwork. B

    Vijay Iyer + Mike Ladd: Still Life With Commentator (2006 [2007], Savoy Jazz): I liked their previous album, In What Language? (2003, Pi) quite a lot, but thus far I'm more perplexed here than anything. Iyer put the music together and Ladd the words for a theatrical production "conceived & directed" by Ibrahim Quraishi, something about the fragmentation of mediated reality in the postmodern world. Iyer's keyboards and programming are fleshed out with Liberty Ellman guitar and Okkyung Lee cello. Several folks take a whack at the words, with Pamela Z's arch soprano a personal turnoff. Will give it another shot, but maybe not soon. [B]

    Vijay Iyer + Mike Ladd: Still Life With Commentator (2006 [2007], Savoy Jazz): Maybe Pamela Z's "bel canto" vocals were the turnoff. I missed this first round, but easily skipped past the joke this time, and straight into Iyer's programming and sequencing. Still don't get much out of Ladd's words, even when I read the trot from the Japanese, but then I wonder whether the point isn't just to sound profound, even if meaningless -- that is the way of our cosmopolitanism, where commentators help render us as still lifes, tuned in to a world we thankfully don't have to engage. A-

    Bob James: Angels of Shanghai (2004-05 [2007], Koch): I've heard very little of James' smooth jazz, and missed his famously avant ESP-Disk debut completely. The Angels here are a group playing traditional Chinese instruments. They set the mood, but don't dominate, especially when James plugs his synth in. His piano work is more interesting. One vocal piece, of no particular relevance, but radio marketing demands one. Almost works. B

    Jazz After Midnight (1998-2006 [2007], High Note): Well, no, this is recycling at its crassest. I suppose it's inevitable that "after midnight" translates to ballads, but that doesn't explain the choice of flute (James Spaulding) and organ (Mike LeDonne, Joey DeFrancesco). Indeed, the organ pieces will never be taken for funky. Aside from those low points, there are worthwhile cuts -- especially the opener by Houston Person and the closer by Fathead Newman. Note that both came from better albums, even though neither made my A-list. B-

    The Jazz O'Maniacs: Sunset Cafe Stomp (2005 [2007], Delmark): The group is a German trad jazz band, founded in 1966 by then-18-year-old cornet player Roland Pilz. He had Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke on his mind, but the group name derives from a 1924-27 group led by trumpeter Charles Creath. Eight-piece band, with sax, banjo, tuba, and washboard, as well as the more standard cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano. Pilz sings a bit, in a style blatantly patterned on Armstrong, his accent more pointed in the introductions. Much fun. I don't get anything from the several labels that specialize in trad jazz these days, so it's hard to compare beyond that. B+(**)

    Norah Jones: Not Too Late (2007, Blue Note): I've had friends play me their tapes, and more often than not I've panned them, pointing out that regardless of craft most lack the sort of distinguishing that would make them stand out in a field where craft and skill are mere minimums required. I'd probably say the same about Jones, and evidently in her case be wrong, but I still can't say why. Perhaps it's because she's turned ordinariness into a public virtue, and maybe we crave some sense of a comforting center given the sensory overkill that everyone else exercises to get our attention. That she can do it -- that she's the one we chose for this role -- depends on our understanding that she's not really ordinary: her voice, her piano, the elegant melodies, the unobvious words, the sensible arrangements, all serve to establish her worthiness through their subtlety. That's my theory, anyway. I still prefer my comforts less enigmatic, so I can't quite attest to whatever it is that others hear in her. B+(*)

    Nińo Josele: Paz (2006, Calle 54): Flamenco guitarist, turned on to jazz when Bronx trumpeter Jerry González recruited Josele for a flamenco-themed album. This one meditates on Bill Evans, whose music, starting with "Peace Piece," comes off even more delicately on solo guitar, occasionally complemented by matching bits of trumpet (González, Tom Harrell), sax (Joe Lovano), or voice (Freddy Cole, Estrella Morente). B+(**)

    KCP 5: Many Ways (2005 [2007], Challenge): KCP stands for Karnataka College of Percussion. Based in Bangalore, they are a trio: two percussionists on mridangam, kanjira, morsing, ghatam, udu; and vocalist R.A. Ramamani. The latter is the dominant presence, her voice stretching and swaying in the classical Indian manner, but more often than not hurried along by the rhythm. 5 stands for two western musicians: pianist Mike Herting, who comps with or without the rhythm, and 82-year-old Charlie Mariano, whose unmistakable alto sax is positively angelic. B+(**)

    Jon-Erik Kellso: Blue Roof Blues: A Love Letter to New Orleans (2006 [2007], Arbors): AMG lists Kellso as born 1936, but his website says 1964. From Detroit. Plays trumpet. Joined James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band in 1988, appearing on a couple of my favorite trad jazz albums of the '90s (Original Jelly Roll Blues and Hot Club Stomp: Small Group Swing, 1993-94). Went on to work with Ralph Sutton, Ruby Braff, Marty Grosz, Randy Sandke. This is the third album under his own name, or fourth if you count a featured slot with Johnny Varro. Although New Orleans is on Kellso's mind, this is closer to the small group swing of Dapogny's albums than it is to New Orleans-style trad jazz. He does Jelly Roll Morton, but also Duke Ellington, and he does a rousing retread on Monk's "Bye-Ya" as well as a vibrant "Panama." The band helps out a lot, especially Evan Christopher on clarinet and Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo -- in many ways Munisteri is the album's real star, but his one vocal isn't one of them. B+(***)

    The Ray Kennedy Trio: Plays the Music of Arthur Schwartz (2006 [2007], Arbors): Quartet, actually, with guitarist Joe Cohn also listed as "special guest" on the front cover, although not on the spine. Kennedy is a pianist. Don't know much about him: his website proclaims "coming soon." This looks to be his second album -- the first is called The Sound of St. Louis -- but he has a bunch of credits going back to 1990, most frequently with John Pizzarelli. Schwartz (1900-84) composed for Broadway and film, mostly in the '30s and '40s, mostly with lyricists Howard Dietz, Dorothy Fields, and Frank Loesser -- at least those are the credits whose words don't actually appear here. The music is none too familiar, but never quite out of mind. Kennedy brings a light touch and easy swing to the pieces, and Cohn builds on that. B+(***)

    Steve Khan: Borrowed Time (2005-07 [2007], Tone Center): Guitarist, has recorded steadily since 1977. Evidently his early work qualifies as fusion, but the only two records I've heard -- Let's Call This (1991, Polydor) and Got My Mental (1996, Evidence) -- are eloquent pieces of postbop guitar craft. This starts promising, with Monk and Coleman done simply, albeit with extra Latin percussion. But as the record winds on, the Latin percussion, in one case augmented by tabla and tambura, takes over and the guitar melts into the smooth groove. B [June 5]

    Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block (2006 [2007], Dune): Part one (of two) of a concept album about a normal day in the life of three blokes in a Birmingham (UK) housing project (B19) -- Adrian, Marcus, and S -- with the usual hopes and dreams and dreads and ennui. Probably means more if you've been there or at least can grok the accents -- I recall an English (err, Welsh) businessman I used to work with as describing Birmingham as "three million people with a common speech defect." I find it takes an awful lot of effort to follow what on paper appears as 15 skits in a matrix of 15 pieces -- even on paper the organization isn't that neat, with "Opening Theme" and "Everybody Raps" among the pieces. As hip-hop, I'm more impressed by its ambition than by the accomplishment. As jazz it isn't much clearer. Kinch has a plastic take on alto sax -- his tone playful, almost toyish, his lines bent in odd ways -- but he tends to fall back into soundtrack mode here, so only occasional patches suggest that he may be up to something interesting. I don't hate the idea of hip-hop-era jazz, but this one's a long way from sorting out the kinks. [B]

    Ben Bowen King: Sidewalk Saints: Roots Gospel Guitar (2007, Talking Taco Music): An antidote to the dumbing down of gospel: instrumentals, featuring venerable songs in old style, plucked out on what King calls a resonator/slide guitar -- built for volume in the streets, sounds like it's mostly built from steel. King cites Blind Willie Johnson and Dock Boggs as influences, credits "Amazing Grace" to Fred McDowell and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" to Pops Staples. Covita Moroney helps out on percussion and the occasional moan. B+(***)

    Omer Klein/Haggai Cohen Milo: Duet (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Klein is a young (b. 1982) Israeli pianist, moved to US in 2005, divides time between Boston (New England Conservatory) and New York. Can't find much on bassist Cohen Milo, except that he's Israeli and also tied to NEC. I doubt that he's any older. A thoughtful album, ending on a quiet note. [B+(**)]

    Omer Klein/Haggai Cohen Milo: Duet (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Bass often sounds transparent on records -- part of the background, a source of extra resonance, but unequal to any of the lead instruments. Milo's bass here sometimes seems to be a mere extension of the piano, like an extra pedal that gives the deep strings more freedom of movement. But the sonic depth of the bass makes the piano sound richer and fuller, and the presence of another keeps the pianist moving. I can't say that Klein is a more adroit pianist than Bollani, say, but he holds my ears closer, and doesn't disappoint. B+(**)

    Dmitri Kolesnik: Five Corners (2006 [2007], Challenge): Bassist, based in New York but probably from Russia, as is his collaborator pianist Andrei Kondakov. Kolesnik wrote 8 of 10 songs; Kondakov the other two. The other musicians are well known: Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, Alex Sipiagin (on two cuts), and Lenny White. Strikes me as a smart, well crafted but very mainstream outing; well done, but not much that catches my interest. Could gain ground if I had the time to give it. B

    Kreepa: Inside-a-Sekt (2006 [2007], Monium): Bad time: playing this but I can't read the cover notes, let alone figure this out. Mostly electronics, or "electro-noise" as the website puts it, with a little trombone. English, I think, but distributed out of the Netherlands. Interesting. Will get back to it. [B+(**)]

    Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love: 4 Corners (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Recorded over three days in Portugal, with four pieces by Lane and three by Vandermark. Nilssen-Love has played frequently with Vandermark, including some notable duets and in School Days, a two-horn quartet similar to this lineup. Broo plays trumpet in Atomic, which merged with School Days for a 2004 album, Nuclear Assembly Hall, so those three are connected. I think the connection with Lane is new. It's hard to tell offhand what difference Lane makes, but he's been putting together a very impressive body of work. On the other hand, Vandermark is impossible to miss. He mostly plays baritone sax here, with lesser amounts of clarinet and bass clarinet, and he's become a very powerful baritone player. Need to give this more time, especially given that it's not the sort of thing you want to listen to during a tornado warning. [B+(***)]

    Matt Lavelle Trio: Spiritual Power (2006 [2007], Silkheart): Plays trumpet, flugelhorn, bass clarinet -- 1, 3, and 3 cuts respectively here. Born 1970, turned on by Louis Armstrong, studied with a Sir Hildred Humphries, who had direct links to Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie. Evolved through what he calls "the 'Smalls' thing" before joining William Parker's Little Huey Orchestra. Has a previous album on CIMP and a group called Eye Contact with one record. This one's a trio with bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, both contributing big time. Avant like it's meant to be: sharp, shocking, bursting with creative ideas. The liner notes cite Roy Campbell as a model, but Lavelle adds a level of difficulty and sonic surprise with his emphasis on flugelhorn and bass clarinet. Took me a while to even recognize the latter. A-

    The Leaders: Spirits Alike (2006 [2007], Challenge): The group name appeared on four albums from 1986-89, counting one as The Leaders Trio. The latter was just the rhythm section: pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Don Moye. The whole group added Lester Bowie on trumpet, Arthur Blythe on alto sax, and Chico Freeman on tenor or soprano or clarinet or flute, whatever. Bowie and Moye came out of the Art Ensemble of Chicago; Freeman and Blythe were building up substantial catalogues, including a few records together; Lightsey and McBee were guys you'd recognize if you ever read album credits. So they were a credible group, and Mudfoot (1986, Blackhawk) was a fine album, with a particularly delightful spin on Sam Cooke's "Cupid." Twenty years later, only two Leaders remain -- McBee and Freeman -- and the Replacements are more firmly perched in the mainstream: Bobby Watson (for Blythe), Eddie Henderson (for Bowie), Billy Hart (for Moye), and Fred Harris (for Lightsey). Harris lacks credentials as a leader, but acquits himself well enough. But that's about all anyone does here. Sure, this is elegant, intricate postbop, crafted by genuine talents. I suppose if I hadn't expected more I'd be less disappointed. B

    Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (2004 [2007], TCB): Alto saxophonist, born Denver, attended University of North Texas, worked for Harry Connick Jr, moved into a featured spot in the ghostly Count Basie Orchestra, currently Director of Jazz Studies at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Three or four previous albums, small groups (I think). But this one is a cracking big band, with Derrick Gardner conducting from the trumpet section, and some names like Jon Faddis on board. Not as much Spanish tinge as the title suggests, but a lot of Basie crisp, a slick "Pink Panther," a tolerable flute feature, runs a bit thin near the end. Needs one more play. [B+(**)]

    Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (2004 [2007], TCB): An alto saxophonist, Leali came up through Count Basie's ghost orchestra, and does them one better in this crisp, vibrant, and above all loud outing. Not as Latin as the title cut suggests, nor as consistently clever as a marvelous "Pink Panther" promises, but able to push the old blues formula into ever higher energy orbits. Atomic, indeed. B+(***)

    Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2007, Verve): Few singers I've listened more to and gotten less out of -- such is her reputation, or maybe it's just Gary Giddins' fault. So I wasn't expecting much here, but this starts off with a gallopping pedal steel-enhanced "Blue Monk" before getting down to business recycling the singer's originals. There's a bit of re-recording your hits here, but that's less unbecoming in a jazz singer that it is for, say, Merle Haggard. But it does give you a chance to bump up the average quality level, and while I recognize many, they're not things I've grown accustomed to. [B+(*)] [May 22]

    Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound World Jazz): New York pianist, first appeared in 1998 on the Jazz Underground: Live at Smalls anthology. I don't have much of a handle on his piano here, which when he drops down to a solo on a Bud Powell piece doesn't do much. On the other hand, the trio turns his relative orthodoxy into a calm, clear center. Omer Avital plays oud as well as bass. Even more interesting is Venezuelan percussionist Luis Quintero. [B+(***)]

    Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound World Jazz): A piano trio with many twists and turns -- the pianist also plays melodica and mbira, bassist Omer Avital switches to oud, and drummer Luisito Quintero employs all manner of exotic percussion. Still, the piano itself seems fixed in the postbop jazz tradition, a fixed point the constellations whirl around. Closes with a gospel called "New Church" -- a stately, sober finish. B+(***)

    Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Terminal Valentine (2006 [2007], Atavistic): Chicago-based cellist, recently joined Vandermark 5 replacing trombonist Jeb Bishop. The initial problem here is that there isn't a lot of sonic variety to a cello-bass-drums trio, so it's hard to tell what's going on without paying close attention. As background this flows agreeably, with some edge that may pan out, but I'll have to return to it later. Another open question is why do so many FLH albums involve valentines? [B+(*)]

    Russ Lossing/Mat Maneri/Mark Dresser: Metal Rat (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Pianist Lossing is the presumed leader here, but Maneri's viola dominates the sound and pushes this so far into abstract chamber music territory that the others can only tag along. Lossing in particular makes an interesting go of it. Dresser is harder to gauge because his bass contrasts less with the viola and tends to get drowned out, but I suspect closer focus will reveal more. Not what you'd call accessible. Nor something I'm inclined to readily dismiss. [B+(*)]

    Joe Lovano & Hank Jones: Kids: Duets Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Two recent quartet albums with Lovano and Jones were, respectively, more and less disappointing. But really, these two don't need bass and drums to swing or bop or diddle around. The duets are simply delightful from beginning to end. A- [May 8]

    Allen Lowe: Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation (2004-06 [2007], Spaceout, 2CD): Actually, the title goes on: Or: All the Blues You Could Play By Now If Stanley Crouch Was Your Uncle; and on: Or: Dance of the Creative Economy: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Space Gallery and Love the Music Business. Lowe wrote in suggesting that if I made this a Dud he could market around that. I doubt that he'll get that particular wish, although the record is a huge mess, a lot of things that fit oddly if at all. Next step is RTFM: Lowe may not be much of a musician -- his alto sax is fine, but he mostly plays guitar here along with banjo, bass, and synth -- and he certainly isn't much of a singer -- but he's a good writer and an exceptional musicologist, and the manual (err, booklet) looks to be as important a part of the package as the discs. All I can really say thus far is that this shatters expectations. [B]

    The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: Simpático (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): This is latin jazz of a high order, but I have no real grip on just how high or even what order. Palmieri is a project I've made little progress on, although I've found two albums that I like quite a bit -- Palmas (1994, Nonesuch) and Ritmo Caliente (2004, Concord) -- and don't doubt that they are more. Seems like the piano is reduced here, the conga is grooving steadily, and the trumpet gets more play, but then this is really Lynch's album. He's a terrific player anywhere he wants to play. Phil Woods guests on four cuts, with at least one notable solo. Yosvany Terry showed up, but his spots got cut, leaving him with just an asterisk. Lila Downs sings two cuts, and they're not bad either. [B+(***)]

    The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: Simpático (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): Palmieri grew up in the Bronx melting pot, of Puerto Rican descent. I don't know him well enough to place him, or indeed whether that's possible: salsa draws so promiscuously from Afro-Cuban that it may make no difference. Lynch is a terrific trumpeter who plays a lot of everything; his Latin interests started as a teenager in salsa bands in Milwaukee, then took a leap forward when he hooked up on a Palmieri tour in 1987 -- juggling travel to also keep his commitments to Toshiko Akiyoshi. This pulls it all together, with a steady stream of bubbling percussion, tasty alto sax from Donald Harrison and Phil Woods, and plenty of trumpet. Won a Grammy; for once I can't complain. A-

    Vusi Mahlasela: Guiding Star (2007, ATO): He's a guitarist, singer, songwriter -- fellow South African Dave Matthews calls him "a voice during the revolution, a voice of hope, like a Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan of South Africa." Matthews owns the label introducing Mahlasela to the US, and guests, as does Derek Trucks, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others. All told, they pull enough tricks out of the bag you wind up with a whirlwind tour of South African music from mbaqanga to mbube but no real sense of where Mahlasela fits into it. Perhaps everywhere. B+(**)

    Michael Marcus/Ted Daniel: Duology (2006 [2007], Boxholder): One thing I look for in avant jazz is accessibility: the chance that a record might cross over and find some kind of receptive audience beyond those firmly committed to the genre. Actually, that's true of my approach to all genres; it's just that so many people have a strong gag reflex with avant jazz. This fails the test, perhaps inevitably. Free jazz duos on evenly weighted instruments -- Marcus on clarinet, Daniel on "brass" (trumpet, flugelhorn, Moroccan bugle, cornet) -- rarely flows and often clashes. That said, this comes off better than most such records. Marcus has paired off against other horns often, and few (if any) get more mileage out of it -- cf. his work with Sonny Simmons, albeit with the aid of a drummer. Daniel has a slim discography going back to 1973 -- credits with Dewey Redman, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp, Billy Bang. One piece is dedicated to Frank Lowe. A lot of history and art goes into something like this. Too bad it's so tough to grasp. B

    Thomas Marriott: Both Sides of the Fence (2006 [2007], Origin): Seattle-based trumpeter. Has a brother, David, who plays trombone in a joint group, the Marriott Brothers Quintet or Marriott Jazz Quintet, but is absent here. Background includes work with Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Rosemary Clooney. Mainstream chops, exceptionally fine tone. The sort of album I have no special interest in, but so well done I hate to slough it off. Two cuts with Joe Locke on vibes are a plus. B

    Wynton Marsalis: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (2007, Blue Note): At this late date, a jazz musician not interested in the future is bound to be trapped by the past. Marsalis built his career by working backwards from Woody Shaw to Miles Davis to Louis Armstrong, eventually rediscovering his home town and making his happiest records. But the intense early praise he garnered went to his head, seducing him with the idea that he's not just a masterful trumpet player -- of course, he should be a great composer too. But again, his only view was backwards. Blood on the Fields was his most ambitious effort at following Ellington. Here he moves on to Mingus, crafting a set of songs built from trad moves with newly surreal colorings and political lyrics. He's good enough musically that some of this works, but the words, especially the orthodox but unconventional politics -- conservative by class, liberal by creed, radical by race -- are hard to avoid. So are the vocalists: young Jennifer Sanon is a weak spot, as is the rapper at the end. [B] [Mar 6]

    Wynton Marsalis: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (2006 [2007], Blue Note): My wife expressed interest in this album, telling me that she had read a rave review in Counterpunch. I chased down Ron Jacobs' review anyway, but couldn't get past the third line: "It's just enough bop and bebop so it doesn't put one to sleep like a Kenny G solo, but it's not a Coltrane avalanche of sound like those from Coltrane's thundering Ascension, either." Now, there's no information there: Marsalis has recorded 40-50 albums since 1981, and he has never once risked comparison to Kenny G or Ascension. He started off reminding Art Blakey what narrowly construed hard bop sounds like. If he's picked up any tricks since then, they've been old ones, like extending his trumpet mastery from Woody Shaw back to Freddie Keppard, and fumbling to imitate composers like Ellington. I had figured this album for his move into Mingus agitprop, but that doesn't pan out on several levels. He's more song-oriented, but has less in the way of message, and his hired singer handles his hokey lines with cool detachment. On the other hand, the music shows he's working in soundtrack mode: each piece is accompanied by a formal description -- modern habanera; alternating 2-beat country groove, soca, cumbia, swing; walking ballad; etc. -- and he's more inspired as a musicologist than as a polemicist. Indeed, if you could skip past the words this might be one of his more enjoyable albums. But if he meant for you to just enjoy the music, he would have left the words out, right? For one, I find the plantation-to-penitentiary arc narrow, condescending, and disturbing. It's not that there's no truth to it, but it's such a cliché I don't see what you can do with it. I suppose his use of stereotypes is meant to convey some irony, but in an album that's more scold than rant it's hard to be sure. "I ain't your bitch and I ain't your ho" comes off as awkward from him as if Don Imus said it. And speaking of awkward, the closing rap makes Buckshot Lefonque sound real. (But I doubt that when he goes to dis "Camus readers" he's really thinking of George W.) I thought about pitching this for a standalone piece in the Voice, but Francis Davis beat me to it. I don't feel mean enough to single this out as a dud. If he had a smarter, hipper lyricist able to work on a human rather than mythic scale, he might be onto something. But he persists in surrounding himself with ideological flatterers like Stanley Crouch, so this is what he gets. B

    Hector Martignon: Refugee (2007, Zoho): Pianist based in New York. Don't know where he's a refugee from. Website notes that he attended Freiburger Musikhochschule in Germany and lived in Brazil for a year. Website claims he's played on hundreds of albums, but AMG only lists 20, including an early '90s stint with Ray Barretto. No recording dates here, but website describes an album scheduled for Fall 2003 that sounds much like this one. This is his third. Mostly originals (6 of 8), with various groups that all reduce to piano, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion. Epicycles of dense rhythm, sometimes stretching to the point of chaos, but with powerful forward momentum. In other words, sounds Afro-Cuban to me. B+(*)

    Nicolas Masson: Yellow (A Little Orange) (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Swiss, plays tenor sax and bass clarinet, recorded this in Geneva, but has lived in NYC, studying with Chris Potter and Rich Perry. Two horn quartets on the avant side tend to let the horns fly free; on the mainstream postbop side they tend to be shackled together, which is mostly the case here. The other horn here is Russ Johnson on trumpet. Looks promising on paper, but thus far it's only impressive in spots. [B]

    Nicolas Masson: Yellow (A Little Orange) (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Two-horn quartet, Masson playing tenor sax and bass clarinet, Russ Johnson trumpet, with Eivind Opsvik on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. More postbop than avant; both horns have good broken field runs and the jousts generate some heat, but the harmonizing bogs down a bit. B+(*)

    MB3: Jazz Hits Volume 1 (2006, Mel Bay): MB presumably stands for Mel Bay, as in Records, a Missouri label with nothing but guitarists (classical as well as jazz). The "3" are guitarists Jimmy Bruno, Vic Juris, and Corey Christiansen -- three generations that hardly skip a beat. The "jazz hits" lean most heavily on Miles Davis, with Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, and Herbie Hancock also contributing. Jay Anderson plays bass; Danny Gottlieb drums. Easy going, relatively surefire material. Mel Bay's website has a news item about this topping some jazz airplay chart. You might not notice, but wouldn't mind. B+(*)

    Donny McCaslin: In Pursuit (2007, Sunnyside): Technically one of the most impressive tenor saxophonists of his generation, a dependably exciting sideman, an ambitious composer, generous to his friends, baffling to me. After reading that Samo Salamon is touring with him, I was surprised to see Ben Monder here, but Monder excels at the sort of backing he plugs in here. Dave Binney produced, and adds stealth alto sax to fatten up the harmony, at least when McCaslin isn't burning down the house. I just wonder why he doesn't do more of it. And why he plays flute. Then I read the "thanks" and encounter more common sources of confusion: Dave Douglas, Michael Brecker, God. Mysterious ways, indeed. [B+(**)]

    Jim McNeely/Kelly Sill/Joel Spencer: Boneyard (2007, Origin): Mainstream piano trio. Played it twice so far. Don't have much to say, but it strikes me as superbly crafted. Trio met in early '70s. Claim to have played together regularly for 35 years. I can't find any prior recordings with all three, but Spencer and Sill have work together. McNeely is a highly regarded pianist I'm barely familiar with: I've only heard his 1992 Maybeck solo, but it's worth noting that of the 8 Maybeck solos I've heard, his is the only one I've rated as high as A-. SFFR, clearly. [B+(***)]

    Jim McNeely/Kelly Sill/Joel Spencer: Boneyard (2007, Origin): Mainstream piano trio. McNeely is an impressive, engaging pianist, ably supported by Sill and Spencer. Still can't find much to say about it. B+(**)

    Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 [2006], AYVA): Cuban drummer, moved to Boston around when he turned 30, wound up teaching at Berklee. This is his first album, recorded in New York, released in Barcelona, and the main problem I find with it is an embarrassment of riches. For instance, he has to pick and choose between three willing saxophonists: Anat Cohen, George Garzone, and Joe Lovano. Ditto with two lesser known but excellent guitarists: Lionel Loueke and Nir Felder. And he has to find space for keyb man Leo Genovese. He composed all but the Ornette Coleman piece. All this makes it hard to focus on the drums, which don't strike me as particularly Cuban. The Voice Jazz Critics poll picked this as the debut record of the year. Thus far I have mixed reactions, but it is the sort of thing that can make a big impression, especially when Garzone or Lovano get cranked up. [B+(**)]

    Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 [2006], AVYA): First album by a Boston-based Cuban drummer is almost an embarrassment of riches. He taps Joe Lovano, George Garzone, and Anat Cohen for various tenor sax duties, with Cohen also playing clarinet; Lionel Loueke and Nir Felder for guitar; Leo Genovese for piano and electric keyboards; Peter Slavov for bass. The drumming is fascinating in its own right, but takes different tangents depending on where the stars go. The reed players excel, especially Garzone. It's easy to see why this got many votes for best debut of last year. My own choices were more narrowly focused. B+(***)

    The Microscopic Septet: Seven Men in Neckties: History of the Micros Volume One (1982-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Breakdown here is four saxes, piano, bass (or tuba), drums. Soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston, most recently heard from in the Captain Beefheart tribute band Fast 'N' Bulbous (also on Cuneiform), is the evident leader, although pianist Joel Forrester writes nearly as much. Dave Sewelson (baritone sax), David Hofstra (bass, tuba), and Richard Dworkin (drums) were constants, with the alto and tenor sax chairs revolving over ten years and four albums. This collects their first two albums: Take the Z Train (1983) and the live Let's Flip (1985), with a few extra tracks thrown in, including a brief take of Forrester's theme for NPR's Fresh Air. Hard to know what to make of this: it's basically swing done by NYC's downtown fringe without any obviously ironic affectations -- sort of the premillennial version of Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra. Live record gets dicier. They can approach the marvelous at times, but don't make a habit of it. [B+(**)]

    The Microscopic Septet: Seven Men in Neckties: History of the Micros Volume One (1982-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Long before Sex Mob, this was the sound of New York's avant-garde yearning to be popular. The Micros matched a sax quartet led by Philip Johnston on alto and soprano with a rhythm section led by pianist Joel Forrester. Both leaders were clever, writing a little and appropriating a lot. Johnston trod on after the Micros' demise with groups like Big Trouble, the Transparent Quartet, and Fast 'N' Bulbous, while making ends meet by hacking film scores. The Penguin Guide sums him up aptly: "the perfect Tzadik artist: intellectual, playful, perverse and generically undefinable." That could also describe Tzadik honcho John Zorn, but Francis Davis adds that Johnston's is "a kinder, gentler postmodernism." Unfortunately, the abundant good humor lacks a killer punch line. B+(*)

    The Microscopic Septet: Surrealistic Swing: History of the Micros Volume Two (1981-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Two more albums -- Off Beat Glory (1986) and Beauty Based on Science (The Visit) (1988) -- and they're done, with a couple of cuts from an early session with John Zorn and John Hagen and more "Fresh Air Theme" stretching the dates. Offhand, I'd say the 1986 album slips a notch, but the 1988 one makes up the lost ground. Thought I heard an attractive tango on the latter, but the title claims it's a waltz. Oh, well. [B+(**)]

    The Microscopic Septet: Surrealistic Swing: History of the Micros Volume Two (1981-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Comparisons to the Lounge Lizards were inevitable, but Philip Johnston points out: "When the Lounge Lizards wore suits and ties they looked cool and hip and aloof; when the Micros wore suits and ties, we looked like a bunch of unemployed vacuum cleaner salesmen." Volume One's Seven Men in Neckties title reflects the dissheveled eclecticism of their first two albums. Volume Two's title, referring to the music rather than the musicians, suggests that they found themselves, and indeed they finally hit their stride in 1986's Off Beat Glory. Postmodernism can mean distance from the past, as with the Lounge Lizards, or it can take a playfully perverse turn by diving back into a past shorn of its historical bindings and context. Still, their limits are literal: you can conjure up a pretty good idea of what surrealistic swing might sound like even before you play this fine example. B+(**)

    Stephan Micus: On the Wing (2003-06 [2007], ECM): Advance copy. German composer, multi-instrumentalist. AMG classifes him as New Age -- not a good term, but I don't know what would be. Has 17 or so albums, going back to the mid-'70s, his first one featuring: voice, guitar, shô, Thai flute, sitar, rabab, Bavarian zither, shakuhachi. This one has most of those, notably less voice, and quite a few more, played solo but pieced together into a 10 part suite. Sounds vaguely South/East Asian, but nowhere in specific. No doubt interesting musicologically, but pretty static to my ears -- after all, I tend to agree with Ellington on these matters. B [Apr. 24]

    Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964 (1964 [2007], Blue Note, 2CD): This is touted as a true find -- actually, "a truly spectacular never-before-released performance" -- but I don't hear it. Actually, I don't hear much of anything, which surprises me. The same sextet -- Johnny Coles on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor sax, Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond on drums, as well as Dolphy on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet -- recorded Town Hall Concert 1964 two weeks later, an important album in the Mingus discography, then went off to Europe and recorded more, including a much bootlegged Paris concert that Sue Mingus insisted on officially releasing under the title Revenge! This starts out rather slow, with Byard doing a solo piano impression of Art Tatum and Fats Waller, followed by Mingus taking on "Sophisticated Lady" solo, then the band joins in for 29:42 of only intermittently coherent "Fables of Faubus." Nor does it get much better, although "Take the 'A' Train" and "Jitterbug Waltz" are at least recognizable. Dolphy is a major disappointment, especially given what he was doing on his own in what turned out to be his last year. His flute, in particular, is never more than a novelty, and sounds especially corny on "Jitterbug Waltz." This is an advance, and there are some things evidently screwed up on it. Will withhold final judgment until the final arrives. [B-] [July 17]

    Charles Mingus: In Paris: The Complete America Session (1970 [2007], Sunnyside, 2CD): One day, a batch of old songs, a group that doesn't rank among his great ones -- Eddie Preston on trumpet, Charles McPherson on alto sax, Bobby Jones on tenor sax, Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond (of course) on drums -- yielded two quickie LPs on the French label named America, minor blips in the Mingus discography. The master takes that went into the LPs fit on the first disc. The alternate takes, including many false starts, fill out the previously unreleased second disc. None of this is earth shaking, ear opening, or even moderately important. Still, if you didn't know better, the first disc could pass for a typical Mingus tour de force, and the scraps hold together better than they have any right to. B+(**) [May 22]

    Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake: Indigo Trio: Live in Montreal (Paperback Series Vol. 3) (2005 [2007], Greenleaf Music): Website says: "The Paperback Series is a revolutionary new way of making rare recordings available. This is music that the artists have long wanted to release, in a new format that now makes it possible. The CDs are packaged in a distinctive cardboard sleeve with full credits and information and offered at a special low price, exclusively from Greenleaf Music through our store, musicstem.com." I guess revolutions aren't what they used to be -- there's nothing even remotely impressive about the website pricing. I haven't heard the first two volumes, which are live sets by label proprietor Dave Douglas. Chicago musicians. Drake and Bankhead play often when Fred Anderson -- Bankhead is a dependable bassist, Drake is brilliant and then some. Mitchell plays with Bankhead in Frequency. Her instrument is flute, something I'm rarely impressed by, but the rhythm Bankhead and Drake throw up is so alive that a thin layer of frosting works. She also sings, or chants, one, with a thin, airy voice not unlike her flute, and that works as well. [B+(***)]

    Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake: Indigo Trio: Live in Montreal (Paperback Series Vol. 3) (2005 [2007], Greenleaf Music): Bankhead and Drake have another trio record out this year, with Fred Anderson. The rough tumbling rhythm is the same. The only difference is sassy young flute in place of wizened but still grizzly tenor sax. Mitchell also adds the chant to "Stand Strong" -- she does. B+(***)

    Térez Montcalm: Voodoo (2005 [2006], Marquis): One thing rock and roll did was make life tough for interpretive singers. Before, songwriters spread their wares like spores, and natural selection favored singers with voice, nuance, and payola. After, most singers hawked their own songs, and those that didn't have them seemed somehow deficient, regardless of vocal skills. It got so bad that good singers wound up stuck in jazz. I bring this up because even though Montcalm wrote three songs here and picked a couple that qualify as pre-rock (although not by much), what grabs me here are her striking reworkings of rock-era pop, especially Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child." Don't know much about her. Hails from Canada. Only address I've seen was Alberta, but she wrote one song in French. Don't know her age, but it says something that she introduces "How Sweet It Is" by talking about how she discovered James Taylor. Plays guitar. Has a voice that beats you into submission, not unlike Annette Peacock. Maybe there's a future for rock-era standards after all. [B+(***)]

    Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano: Time and Time Again (2006 [2007], ECM): One Rodgers/Hammerstein, one Monk, one by Lovano, the rest by Motian. Lovano and Frisell play soft and disjointed, kind of like Motian drums. There's a certain integrity to that, but it's hard to get excited about. Frisell sounds especially uninspired. B

    Mark Murphy: Love Is What Stays (2007, Verve): The Penguin Guide described Murphy's previous Till Brönner-produced Once to Every Heart as "a slightly strange one-off," but this one's another. Slow, lush, wrapped in strings, almost talked through. Murphy's been recording for fifty years now, during which I've scarcely paid him any attention. Didn't like him when he was hip, but even then he had some tolerable music. The half where he is backed by the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester Berlin is deadening; the other half too, with sensory deprivation replacing the torture. Lee Konitz plays on one track, but I was too bummed out to notice. D

    Jeff Newell's New-Trad Octet: Brownstone (2007, BluJazz): Alto saxophonist, educated in Nebraska, relocated to New York. Studied under Dave Liebman, teaches at Brooklyn Music School, moonlights as Coordinator of Music and Worship at New Baptist Church. Presumably knows his way around the moderns, but cultivates the old, starting with three Sousa pieces and ending with "Amazing Grace" and a self-penned, vocals included, piece called "Fill the Temple" which easily counts as the best new gospel I've heard in more years than I can reckon. In between, he offers a set of formal exercises ("March," "Bolero," "Waltz," etc.) collectively titled "Hymn Pan Alley." The Octet includes tuba as well as bass, guitar as well as keyboards. [B+(***)]

    Jeff Newell's New-Trad Octet: Brownstone (2007, BlueJazz): Newell's interest is in gospel, as shown by the two final pieces: an interesting take on "Amazing Grace" and a rousing original with vocals called "Fill the Temple." Hard to say what is new here other than his membership in the so-called New Baptist Church, but his trad is rooted in pre-jazz -- three Sousa pieces lead off, then a suite of "March," "Bolero," "Waltz," "Zydeco," and "Reprise" called "Hymn Pan Alley." Still, they sound fresh, not musty. B+(**)

    New York Electric Piano: Blues in Full Moon (2007, Buffalo Puppy): Piano trio, with Pat Daugherty leading on a Fender Rhodes electric. The soft edge to the piano is distinctive, not as cheesy as you might expect -- especially when interacting with Tim Givens' bass. So New York it was recorded in the Catskills. B

    Judy Niemack: Blue Nights (2007, BluJazz): Playing this after Lauren Hooker provides an interesting contrast between experience and ambition. Niemack's a real pro. She cut her first album in 1978, her second in 1988, then one every few years after that: this is her ninth. In many ways it's just another, but she finds an easy, comfortable groove even working in a vein cluttered with vocalese. She also commands a more formidable band: guitarist Jean-François Prins is the only one I'm unfamiliar with, and he does a lovely job, as does Jim McNeely and Gary Bartz, in particular. If in the end I prefer Hooker, it's more because I like what she's trying to do. Maybe someday she'll do it as well as Niemack. B+(**)

    Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Blood (2004, Kopasetic): I was impressed by Nilsson's guitar on the Fay Victor album, so thought some due dilligence was called for. He has two previous albums with his avant-rock (or is it post-punk fusion?) quartet Aorta. Electric bass and drums power and thrash, and saxophonist Mattias Carlson squawks, but the guitar leads. Nilsson plays rock guitar with jazz chops: I get the feeling this is mostly improv, spontaneous inventions based on core concepts. There are a bunch of Scandinavian groups working along these lines -- Atomic, Jazz Mob, the Thing -- but this may be the best. [A-]

    Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Blood (2004, Kopasetic): Quartet, two Nilssons, one Carlson, one Carlsson. The leader plays fast, dazzling electric guitar, over a pumping fusion rhythm. The Carlson, Mattias, plays tenor sax and "electrified alto sax" but mostly lurks in the background, a contrasting color. They could pass for rock on attitude, or jazz on shops. Several Scandinavian have tried their hands at postpunk fusion -- while most have the attitude, this one has a guitarist up to the challenge. A-

    Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Janus (2005, Kopasetic): Second albums, at least among rock groups, tend to be stronger musically but have weaker material than first albums. This was especially true among punk rockers, who either grew or shrunk into self-caricature. This is jazz, but these guys started out in rock, and they track that model well. The first album was all thrash and fury -- bring the noize with great guitar that can't be characterized as guitar solos because the band doesn't leave Nilsson enough room. This one is much more varied -- the quintessential growth sign -- which gives everyone a chance to show their skills. For instance, saxophonist Mattias Carlsson discloses a ballad style not previously evident. Only problem is that when you slow the guitar-dominated mix down too much it starts to sound like heavy metal. Not sure how that will weigh out in the end. A lot of interesting music here. [B+(***)]

    Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Janus (2005, Kopasetic): Saxophonist Mattias Carlson shows some real progress here, taking the lead on occasion and holding it. Nilsson's guitar is still impressive, but the more varied music works against his strong suite, especially when it slows down. B+(***)

    Seth Noonan Brewed by Noon: Stories to Tell (2006 [2007], Songlines): Noonan is a Boston drummer. Brewed by Noon is one of three groups he juggles, along with the Hub ("spit-in-yer-face attitude of punk, and the muzo-sophistication of jazz") and Chips (duet with Aram Bajakian). Brewed by Noon dabbles in world music, with vocals from Ireland and Africa, although the three guitars (Bajakian, Jon Madof, Marc Ribot) seem to be more to the point. Interesting record, although the four vocal tracks don't do much for me yet. [B+(**)]

    Sean Noonan Brewed by Noon: Stories to Tell (2006 [2007], Songlines): Drummer-led group with a lot of electricity -- three guitars, bass, and Mat Maneri's amped viola -- and some African percussion. Could be an awesome fusion group, but they break the pace with four vocal songs. Abdoulaye Diabaté's griot grates on me, and Susan McKeown's duet doesn't go anywhere, but Dawn Padmore's jazz ballad is a nice change of pace. B+(*)

    Miles Okazaki: Mirror (2006 [2007], CDBaby): Guitarist, from Washington state, based in NYC now. Father taught photography; he studied math, literature, and visual arts, and provides four very attractive graphic panels in this package. Has an association with Jane Monheit, which has no discernible effect here. I'm tempted to group this under fusion, the main rationales being that electric guitar leans that way, he uses some electronics, and postbop isn't all that satisfactory an alternative. But arguing for the latter is the fact that most cuts feature two reeds. Christof Knoche is Okazaki's steady mate on bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, and harmonica. The other spot is mostly held by David Binney (7 cuts on alto sax), but Miguel Zenon (3 cuts on alto) and Chris Potter (1 on tenor) also appear. Impressive, promising debut. [B+(**)]

    Miles Okazaki: Mirror (2006 [2007], CDBaby): Plays guitar, but also did the graphics on and in the package, which provide a nice analog to the music, which suggests new age and/or fusion without ever falling into either rut. Also suggests jazz with his reliance on reeds: Christof Knoche is a steady presence on bass clarinet, alto and soprano sax, and harmonica, complemented by guest stars David Binney, Miguel Zenon, and Chris Potter. B+(**)

    Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos: Invites Chris Cheek (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Group aka OJM. Also on cover: Music by Carlos Azevedo and Pedro Guedes. Credits also cite Azevedo and Guedes for musical direction, piano, Fender Rhodes. The Orquestra is full scale: four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds (six counting Cheek), bass, drums. Strikes me as quite ordinary as big band productions go: lots of layer and polish on the brass, forgettable solos, not much going on in the rhythm. Cheek may be the star, but he doesn't stand out. C+

    Judith Owen: Happy This Way (2006 [2007], Couragette): English singer-songwriter, seventh album, according to AMG, where she's classified as Jazz (Singer/Songwriter, Contemporary Jazz). They also quote Jamie Cullum describing her as "a female Randy Newman -- not sure whether that's sexist or just plain wrong. If Newman wrote a song called "We're Only Human" it would make you wonder more than this one does. No doubt she's a skilled singer, but the music is constructed mostly out of string swatches, sounding like wallpaper. Not impressed with her songwriting either, but there's little here to make me give it any thought. In a jazz singer that may not be a fatal flaw, but it doesn't make for much of a Randy Newman. C+ [May 22]

    William Parker & Hamid Drake: First Communion + Piercing the Veil (2000 [2007], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Not missing a marketing angle, this is subtitled "Volume 1 Complete," with a new Parker-Drake duo album, Summer Snow, sporting a "Volume 2" note. Volume 1 is what Universal would call a Deluxe Edition or Sony/BMG a Legacy Edition, where the 2001 release of Percing the Veil is now padded out to fill two discs. The padding in this case is a live tape from two days before the studio date. It is the sort of broader context that adds depth to a classic album even when the filler isn't on the same level -- rarely in this case. It pays to focus on Drake here. Parker spend a fair amount of time off-bass -- especially in the studio sessions, where he indulges in exotic wind instruments (bombarde, shakuhachi) and percussion -- but that just gives Drake more variations to respond to. But he's so attentive that he provides a prism for interpreting Parker. And he shows you his whole range, including tabla and frame drum. A-

    William Parker & Hamid Drake: Summer Snow (2005 [2007], AUM Fidelity): A "volume 2" five years after their previous duo, Piercing the Veil. The bass and drums sets are much the same, with Parker perhaps a bit more grooveful, but the exotica is harder to follow, perhaps because their growing expertise is making it more exotic. It's also making it subtler, quieter, and harder to follow. Also possible that the drummer who had so much to prove first time has grown comfortable with his laurels, or is merely letting Parker set the pace instead of meeting him more than half way. B+(**)

    Joăo Paulo: Memórias de Quem (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Solo piano. First time I tried to look him up I wound up with the Portuguese wikipedia page for Pope John Paul. AMG credits him with eight albums since 1998. Don't know any more than that. Picked this out at a bad time, but I don't have the time to spend on stuff I consider marginal. The piano itself doesn't sound all that great, but I like his rhythmic ideas and find his riffing interesting. If I gave it more time, it might rise a notch or so. Or not. B

    Susan Pereira and Sabor Brasil: Tudo Azul (2006 [2007], Riony): Brazilian singer, working in New York at least since 1991, although I'm not aware of any previous records. She wrote five of ten songs, sings them with authority but not all that distinctively. What makes the album work is the band. The horns stand out, even Laura Dreyer's flutes, even more so her alto and soprano sax and Claudio Roditi's spots on trumpet. [B+(***)]

    Oscar Peterson and Friends: JATP Lausanne 1953 (1953 [2007], TCB): Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts were like all-star games: random sets of headliners turned loose on things like "C-Jam Blues" -- the 19:23 opener here, where everyone gets their turn to spin, slam, and dunk. It's ironic that Peterson wound up on top of this belatedly released radio tape. At 27, he was Granz's handyman, little known, but a fast, hard swinging pianist who raised the play of everyone else on the floor. The frontliners here were Flip Phillips, Lester Young, Willie Smith, and Charlie Shavers -- with the latter's blistering trumpet setting the pace. The last two cuts drop down to a trio, with Peterson, Smith, and Gene Krupa: both give Peterson some solo space, and remind us why Smith was widely regarded as one of the three great alto saxophonists of the swing era, along with Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter. B+(***)

    Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Live in Japan (2004 [2007], CAM Jazz, 2CD): Just simply a real good piano trio. I'm not sure what makes this work so well, what to say about them, why it works, or why it even matters. Will hold this back until I get some answers. [B+(***)] [May 22]

    Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Live in Japan (2004 [2007], CAM Jazz, 2CD): I've cooled on this since my first flush of enthusiasm -- maybe the informality of the live setting, maybe just the length. Pieranunzi is a fine pianist, especially on the slow stuff like was featured on Ballads, recorded about the same time with the same trio. Johnson and Baron are superb -- no surprise there. B+(**) [May 22]

    Bucky & John Pizzarelli: Generations (2006 [2007], Arbors): The better known son is a crooner stuck between his Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra tributes, but he started off as a pretty sharp guitarist, a chip off the old Bucky, as it were. The father never ventured far from swing, a graceful rhythm guitarist but not a great soloist. Father and son previously waxed duos in the early '80s, collected as The Complete Guitar Duos (The Stash Sessions), as well as a 1998 album Contrasts (Arbors) -- both well-regarded, but I haven't heard either. This this one is tasteful, modestly intricate and intimate. B+(**)

    Roger Powell: Fossil Poets (2006, Inner Knot): His main claim to fame was playing synths in Todd Rundgren's space group Utopia, adding resonances to the etymology of the word. Other credits include Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell and David Bowie's dreadful Stage album. He's older now, evidently wiser as well. He styles this as "retro-future" music, meaning electronic, but toned down and dialed back for oldsters. His beats are dependable: they hold the music together without crossing either into dance or ambient -- chill might be the right word, but not too cold. Simple enough I'm not sure it'll sustain interest. I'd be tempted to classify it as New Age, but it's much better than that neighborhood. [B+(**)]

    Roger Powell: Fossil Poets (2006, Inner Knot): Powell's "retro-future" suggests that there must have been such a thing as pre-postmodernism, only we were fortunate enough not to recognize it as such at the time. Powell's resume isn't promising: even if we discount Bat Out of Hell as a fluke, he played the synths that drove Todd Rundgren's Utopia over the deep end. The only jazz credit I find on his CV is a Charlie Rouse album. This one is marginal genrewise, synth-driven instrumentals with a steady beat, eschewing both funk and spaciness -- too square for jazz, too soft for fusion, too old-fashioned for experimental rock, too much fun for new age. Comes to a nice soft landing with what sounds like a real piano. I've refiled this under Pop Jazz, but the smoothies won't like it either. B+(**)

    (((Powerhouse Sound))): Oslo/Chicago Breaks (2005-06 [2007], Atavistic, 2CD): I've never been sure what some Ken Vandermark group names really mean -- Territory Band, Free Fall, FME all suggest something more/less different from reality -- but this one couldn't be more literal. Vandermark has a batch of songs, half dedicated to JA stars (Burning Spear, Lee Perry, Coxsonne Dodd, King Tubby), half to others distinguished mostly by hardness (Miles Davis, Bernie Worrell, Hank Shocklee, the Stooges). He took them to Oslo to record with his School Days crew (Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love), Lasse Marhaug's electronics, and doubled up on the bass by bringing Nate McBride along -- both bassists play electric. Then he returned to Chicago with McBride and added Jeff Parker on guitar and John Herndon on drums for more/less the same set. Vandermark sticks to tenor sax, and is the sole horn on both, a setup that by now promises powerhouse avant-honk. He's on spot almost as much as with Sound in Action Trio, or for that matter the McBride-driven Triple Play, although there's more going on here -- particularly with Parker. Not done with this yet, but grade is minimal. Could be a Pick Hit. A-

    The Puppini Sisters: Betcha Bottom Dollar (2006 [2007], Verve): A vocal trio, modelled on the Andrews Sisters down to a good chunk of their songbook, reportedly inspired by The Triplets of Belleville, which as far as I can tell they had nothing to do with. Only one Puppini too: Marcella, an Italian-born, London-based cabaret singer. The other two are Kate Mullins and Stephanie Brown. The frothy sound works best on proven material, but seems more awkward when they try more modern fare, even though songs like "Wuthering Heights," "Heart of Glass," and "I Will Survive" have strengths of their own. [B] [May 1]

    Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 [2006], Wig): Two Canadians, clarinettist Lori Freedman and pianist Marilyn Lerner, started recording as Queen Mab a decade or so ago. I haven't heard anything they've done before, either together or in side projects, which include classical and klezmer as well as free jazz improv. This is their second trio album with cellist Ig Henneman, who is right in the thick of things. It's difficult going, and I'm not sure just what I think of it, but on second play the discordant piano gets my attention. [B+(*)]

    Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 [2006], Wig): Rather difficult music: Ig Henneman's viola is apt to squeak, or squawk even. Lori Freedman's bass clarinet isn't enough to overwhelm it, and is prone to squawking as well. Marilyn Lerner's piano provides what passes for rhythm, but only occasionally. But while this is unlikely to convince doubters, I'm finding it coherent, and the discomfort just stimulating enough to want to follow. B+(**)

    Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 [2007], ECM): This continues a string of first-rate albums, on CAM Jazz as well as ECM, with the trumpeter wry and laconic, like he's finally settled on his life's work. What's unsettled here is the trombonist, young Gianluca Petrella, who shares the line in front of piano, bass and drums. Petrella's Blue Note exposure won him Downbeat's TDWR poll, a rare breakthrough for any European. While I take that with the proverbial grain of salt, Petrella adds something here. [B+(***)] [Feb 6]

    Joshua Redman: Back East (2006 [2007], Nonesuch): Looks like he's recovered. The illness began when Redman was cast as Lester Young in Robert Altman's Kanas City. From that point he overhauled his sound, thinning his tone and loosening up his dynamics in emulation of Young. That may not have been such a bad idea -- after his first two auspicious albums, Redman had gotten into repeating himself, and he did get at least one good album -- 2000's Beyond -- out of the concept, before he discovered the organ and looked like he might follow Javon Jackson's trajectory, albeit at a much higher level. This one is dedicated to his late father Dewey Redman, who joins in on Coltrane's "India" and closes the album on his own. Before East takes over with two originals ("Mantra #5" and "Indonesia") and "India," Redman has some fun with the West, including a marvelous take on "I'm an Old Cowhand." Mostly tightly focused sax trios, with a 7-to-3 ratio of tenor to soprano, and nothing to apologize for on the weaker instrument. I was too busy writing to catch the first two cases where he slips a second sax in -- Joe Lovano's tenor on "Indian Song" and Chris Cheek's soprano on "Mantra #5" -- so I'll need to study this some more. [A-]

    Joshua Redman: Back East (2006 [2007], Nonesuch): Before East takes over with two originals and Coltrane's "India" -- the latter a last session with father Dewey -- Redman has some fun with the West, including a rollicking "I'm a Old Cowhand." He earns his right to play soprano sax on three cuts, and his tenor is more robust than any time since he landed that Lester Young role in Altman's Kansas City. A-

    Ed Reed: Sings Love Stories (2006 [2007], Blue Shorts): Jazz singer. Grew up in Watts. Claims to have been in high school talent shows with Esther Phillips and Bobby Nunn, which pretty well dates him. Also claims to have sung in San Quentin with Art Pepper in the band, and on his rare occasions out of jail to have done "open mikes" with Wardell Gray, Hampton Hawes, and Dexter Gordon. This appears to be his first album, and he's looking pretty good, and not just because everyone I've listed thus far is long gone dead. He gets props on the cover from Tootie Heath and Sheila Jordan. They're not far off base, but whereas Jordan can take the approach of singers like Jon Hendricks and Jimmy Scott and add something ineffable, Reed just has the basic moves. His songbook isn't very interesting, and he merely does it justice. I might be more impressed if I had a higher opinion of his peers. B

    Logan Richardson: Cerebral Flow (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Young (b. 1980) alto/soprano saxophonist from Kansas City, educated at Berklee and the New School, based in NYC. Runs a quintet here with vibes-guitar-bass-drums. Runs on the wild side, with fast, complex runs, leaps, and the occasional squawk, against mostly free rhythm. Not inconceivable he has Charlie Parker in mind, but he's a completely contemporary player. Mike Pinto's vibes make interesting contrast here. Also impressed with bassist Matt Brewer, even younger, who's worked with Greg Osby -- who, by the way, offers praise in the booklet. Could go higher; impressive debut. [B+(***)]

    Logan Richardson: Cerebral Flow (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): The debut album from a Kansas City alto saxophonist starts accapella, then takes flight over free rhythms strongly accepted by Mike Pinto's vibes. Next up is a wry-toned ballad with Mike Moreno's guitar filling in. Step by step, Richardson works around the edges, showing everything you can do with an alto sax except sit on it. A-

    The Rocco John Group: Don't Wait Too Long (2006 [2007], COCA Productions): COCA stands for Coalition of Creative Artists. Looks like a front group: their "contributors" include three-fourths of this quartet, no other musicians, but a few painters, dancers, poets, etc. Rocco is Rocco John Iacovone. He plays alto sax, and wrote the songs. The group started as a trio in 1997, adding trumpeter Michael Irwin for this album to make a freewheeling pianoless quartet. AMG has no record of Iacovone before this album, but the website lists five albums, a couple cut off the beaten path in Alaska. Iacovone reportedly "cut his teeth" playing in Sam Rivers loft-era orchestra; also studied with Lee Konitz. Album could move up a notch, but it's so much down my alley I feel the need to go cautious. [B+(***)] [June 2]

    Nino Rota: Fellini & Rota (1952-2003 [2007], CAM Jazz): From 1952 until his death in 1979 Rota composed music for Federico Fellini's movies. This is presumably the original music, as collected in a 1996 compilation, with a more recent coda by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. As with so many soundtracks, the logic remains on screen, and the selections -- some quite marvelous -- don't flow so much has hop all over the map. I've somehow missed most of Fellini's famous films, but recognize the circus atmosphere of several of these pieces. Rota was less innovative than Ennio Morricone in using electronics, but otherwise worked from a similar pallette. B+ [May 8]

    Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Inevitable, although you expect something more upbeat, with a more pronounced Afro-Cuban rhythm to it. This is pensive, detailed; just sort of eases its way along. B+(*)

    Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser: Airwalkers (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Trombone/bass duos, as limited sonically as you'd expect. Two great players, capable of sustaining a high level of interest if the listener is up for it. Rudd has rarely exposed himself this intimately. Dresser, on the other hand, does it all the time. [B+(*)]

    Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser: Airwalkers (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Bass-trombone duo. Seems to me this is more Dresser's show: he does this sort of intimate abstraction quite often, it's always difficult to follow but sometimes interesting when you do. Always great to hear Rudd, and a rare treat to hear him this rough but still in control. But not a record that will convert anyone. B+(**)

    Jerome Sabbagh: Pogo (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): Good young mainstream saxophonist, born in Paris, educated in Boston, lives in New York. Writes all his own material. Plays tenor and soprano, and is adept enough at the latter that it doesn't mess up his game -- unlike most of the post-Coltrane, post-Shorter generation who take the combination as de rigeur. This is a quartet with Ben Monder on guitar, Joe Martin on bass, Ted Poor on drums. Quiet spots are beguiling; louder stretches flow smoothly. A little more polished than North, cut by the same group on Fresh Sound New Talent a couple of years back. B+(**)

    Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Slovenia guitarist, has a slightly earlier record, Two Hours (Fresh Sound New Talent), still stuck in my list of deserving honorable mentions waiting for words to come to me. That one was a quartet, with Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey. This one is a quintet, with Dave Binney, Josh Roseman, Helias, and Gerald Cleaver. I prefer the former -- at least Malaby over Binney, but I like the trombone here, and while I'm less familiar with Binney, he can excite. Another reason may be that the guitar gets a bit less space here. He's quite a player. [B+(**)]

    Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, from Slovenia, where I believe he's still based, although he hangs out enough in New York to have developed some powerful connections. Clearly, he favors fast crowds. His previous FSNT album, Two Hours, featured Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey. This one goes with Dave Binney, Josh Roseman, Helias, and Gerald Cleaver. He's got a tour set up now with Donny McCaslin, John Hebert, and Cleaver. Also has two albums I haven't heard on Splasc(h) with mostly Italian groups, but Binney appears on one and Tyshawn Sorey on the other. What I have heard is high-powered, exciting stuff. Only caveat is that his preference for crowds hasn't given him a lot of space to stretch out, so it isn't clear yet how distinctive he is. But he sure likes to play. B+(**)

    Dino Saluzzi Group: Juan Condori (2005 [2006], ECM): Argentine bandoneon, born 1935, in a quintet with three younger Saluzzis and a percussionist named U.T. Gandhi. Felix Saluzzi plays tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, although he doesn't stand out -- the string sound of guitar and bass is much more prominent. Folkish, not particularly close to tango. [B+(***)]

    Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner: Ojos Negros (2006 [2007], ECM): Bandoneon-cello duets. Saluzzi is an Argentine who's done some notable work in the past, but seems to be slowing down lately. Lechner is a German cellist with classical credits, an ECM album of Chants, Hymns and Dances by Gurdjieff and Tsabropoulos, an appearances on previous ECM jazz albums by Saluzzi and Misha Alperin. This one is especially slow and resonant. It started growing on me about half way through, and deserves another listen. [B+(**)]

    Henri Salvador: Révérence (2007, Circular Moves): Born 1917 in French Guiana, still alive and active, no recording dates, but presumably this is recent: French chanson so natural, so lithe, so effortlessly swinging you have to wonder what's up. For one thing Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil make appearances, and there are jazz cats mixed in with the frogs. Salvador's discography goes back at least to the '40s. I've never heard him before, so have no idea where this stands in his oeuvre. A-

    Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Among my earliest musical experiences was an extreme distaste for Euroclassical music, which has attenuated only slightly over the years. This makes me suspicious of the classical backgrounds inevitable in the university programs that produce most young jazz musicians these days, not to mention all those "third stream" projects that first appeared when the academy discovered jazz back in the '50s. In bring this up because my first impression of this record was that it sounds like classical music only better. It even crossed my mind that this is what Mozart might sound like if he was really as good as everyone seems to think. Obviously, I need to listen some more. Sassetti's previous records have been small piano groups -- Ascent impressed me enough to make it a Pick Hit. This one has dozens of extra musicians, including a large percussion group, a saxophone quartet, something called Cromeleque Quinteto (clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn), and so forth, all deployed with the precision and taste Sassetti exhibits in his piano. [B+(***)]

    Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (2005 [2007], ECM): Working off an advance copy here, although the release date is April 24, so presumably this is out, but not part of the top tier promotion. Quintet here, with Marc Baron's alto sax joining Sclavis' usual clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax combo in an unusually fierce -- for Sclavis, and especially for ECM -- front line. Blame that on the rhythm section: Paul Brousseau's keyboards, Maxime Delpierre's guitars, François Merville's drums. They keep the beat steady and charging -- effectively this is a fusion album, improvised enough to keep it interesting. [B+(***)] [Apr. 24]

    Secret Oyster: Sea Son (1974 [2006], The Laser's Edge): Danish instrumental group, not sure whether they intended to play fusion or progressive rock, but they're so upbeat they they missed the boat on krautrock -- probably too busy partying. B+(*)

    Jan Shapiro: Back to Basics (2006 [2007], CDBaby): So, I go to her website, and it starts a Flash sequence of photos sliding into view, starting with a scared-looking child and ending with a curly brunette morphing into a dyed blonde who's clearly been through a lot. Then I click enter and get a lecture on how I not only have to upgrade to Flash Player 8, I have to disable the pop-up window blocker in my browser. So fuck that. What else do we know? Born 1959. Educated in St. Louis and at SIU in nearby Edwardsville. Teaches voice at Berklee. Looks like this is her third album. Straightforward arrangements of standards, with a piano-guitar-bass-drums band that does its job. Good singer, even on the slow ones once she gets your attention. If I were doing choice cuts, "Sister Sadie" would be one. B+(*)

    Bill Sheffield: Journal on a Shelf (2006, American Roots): Not a jazz record, but Bill Milkowski reviewed it in Jazz Times, so I figure that opens an opportunity for a second plug. Sheffield fancies himself as a bluesman, but he comes off more as an alt-country folkie with a strong preference for blues forms. I singled out a song called "I Don't Hate Nobody" for my singles list last year. It even convinced me to waste less time on the despicable scum in the White House, although I still haven't fully internalized it. I like his blues guitar too. A-

    Mark Sherman: Family First (2006 [2007], MHP/City Hall): Vibraphonist, Bronx-born, studied tympani at Juilliard but may have learned more from Elvin Jones. Six albums to date. First I heard was previous one, which I liked. Impossible not to like this one either. He has the natural swing mainstreamers aspire to, and gets ample support from pianist Allen Farnham and, especially, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli. B+(*)

    Wally Shoup/Gust Burns/Reuben Radding/Greg Campbell: The Levitation Shuffle (2003 [2007], Clean Feed): Cover doesn't have first names, so this is probably not how I'll wind up attributing the album, but I might as well spell them out up front. They play alto sax, piano, bass, and drums, respectively. The pieces are all group improvs, free and open and more than a little scattershot. Shoup and Burns are based in Seattle, and they make an interesting pair: the former's saxophone seems about par for the style, but Burns makes a fascinating accompanist in repeatedly crashing his piano against the grain. B+(*)

    Judi Silvano: Women's Work: Live at Sweet Rhythm NYC (2006 [2007], JSL): Jazz singer, married or somehow involved with Joe Lovano -- his website makes more of the relationship than hers, but neither is all that forthcoming. She sings with an all-female trio here -- Janice Friedman on piano, Jennifer Vincent on bass, Allison Miller on drums -- tackling 11 songs written by 9 women. (Silvano and Mary Lou Williams are the repeaters; Friedman adds one from the band.) Silvano's phrasing and timing are impeccable, enough to carry these songs without complaint or much surprise. Especially good to hear Carla Bley's "Can't Get My Motor to Start." B+(*)

    Zoot Sims: Zoot Suite (1973 [2007], High Note): Grew up in a vaudeville family, picked up the tenor sax, and made a name for himself with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, emerging as one of the latter's legendary "four brothers" sax section. On his own, his discography splits into two chunks: he recorded a lot in the late '50s, with 1956 a bellweather year (cf. Zoot!), but he faded in the '60s, with nothing between 1966-72. Norman Granz brought him back in 1975 for Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers, where his distinct tone and innate sense of swing reinvigorated the whole songbook, and kicked off a marvelous run until he succumbed to cancer a decade later. This poorly recorded archival tape leads into the latter period, one of the few great second acts in jazz history. The quartet with pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Mousey Alexander is in gear. The songbook looks back to Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Sims' main influence, Lester Young. Sims even unveils his soprano sax "Rocking in Rhythm." Not exactly history being made; more like one of those faint tremors the significance of which emerges later. B+(**)

    Slavic Soul Party! Technochek Collision (2007, Barbčs): I had this on the world shelf until I read the fine print, discovering that this Gypsy brass band is firmly rooted in the five boroughs of New York, and that the names I recognize are downtown jazzers, starting with leader Matt Moran. He's better known in these parts as the vibraphonist with John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, but here he sticks to drums and composes everything not credited to Trad. or Toussaint. A-

    David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Young Canadian trumpet player, currently NYC-based, in a quintet with saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Nate Radley, bass, and drums. Wrote all the material except for Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Straightforward: the rhythm section has a little swing to it, the two-horn stuff meshes nicely, I like his tone and lyricism, and the guitarist gets in a couple of nice solos. [B+(***)]

    David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Seamus Blake plays tenor and soprano sax, comes from Vancouver, has seven albums under his own name (two on Fresh Sound, five on Criss Cross), and has shown up as a sideman on a half-dozen releases per year since 1992. He fits into mainstream records but has a knack for elbowing his way to the outside, as he does here. Smith is a Canadian trumpet player, and they make a fine pair, with Nate Radley's guitar along with bass and drums. Exemplary postbop, bright, lively, full of fire and finesse. Sounds just like it's spozed to. B+(***)

    Mark Soskin: One Hopeful Day (2006 [2007], Kind of Blue): Pianist. Not a lot under his own name, but since 1976 has worked for Billy Cobham, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Mann, Bobby Watson, Pete and Sheila Escovedo, others. Credits Cedar Walton as an influence, which sounds about right. Wrote 4 of 9 pieces here, but not the best stuff -- "On the Street Where You Live" is a sweeping, swirling opener. One of those records I lost interest in midway and punted, then kept hearing too many good things to simply dismiss. The band is superb -- from back to front: Bill Stewart, John Patitucci, Chris Potter. Anyone who thinks Potter's the great saxophonist of his generation will find more ammunition here. John Abercrombie joins for two pieces, which are merely typical. Pianist is fine, and takes the last one solo. B+(*)

    Jane Stuart: Beginning to See the Light (2006 [2007], Jane Stuart Music): Ellington, not Reed. She's a singer with a nice, moderate voice; first record, but she has a bunch of stage credits, including a turn as Joan Baez in Richard Farina's "Long Time Comin' A Long Time Gone." I like her quite a bit mid-tempo and faster, much less so on the ballads. The band supports her fine, but doesn't demand much attention on their own. B

    The Tierney Sutton Band: On the Other Hand (2006 [2007], Telarc): Six of eleven songs (or eight of thirteen, given two reprises) have "happy" in the title. Dyslexically there's also "Glad to Be Unhappy," but even the happy songs aren't what you'd call bubbling. The others are "You Are My Sunshine," "Great Day!," "Haunted Heart," and "Smile." Two are apocalyptic: "Great Day!" and "Get Happy," the latter done both up and down, as is the secular "Happy Days Are Here Again." Jack Sheldon guests on two tracks, including a duet vocal and some unseemly patter added to "I Want to Be Happy." As Sutton explains in the liner notes, "Our search for happiness is an odd business." For example, it makes for the first good album I've heard from her. Last one was called I'm With the Band. This one credits the band because this time they're with her. [A-]

    Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring (2007, Hannibal): Original Tin Hat Trio members: Rob Burger (piano, accordion), Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mark Orton (guitar). Burger left in 2004, replaced by Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Zeena Parkins (harp), and finally Ara Anderson (trumpet, piano). Sticker says to "file under Tin Hat Trio," and there's continuity enough, even though I have no clue what they're up to. The common phrase is "chamber music" -- and indeed they seem to be closer to Kronos Quartet than any jazz combos, although they don't have, or much care for, the conventions of a string quartet. The instruments seem to selected for oddness, even before the players started dragging celeste, dobro, auto-harp, bowed vibes, and bul-bul tarang into the mix. I'm puzzled, but not unintrigued. [B+(*)]

    Scott Tinkler: Backwards (2007, Extreme): Hails from Australia, plays trumpet, professionally since 1983, with half a dozen records, of which I've heard none. The obligatory list of folks he's played with ranges from Branford Marsalis to Han Bennink. This album is no doubt atypical, if for no other reason than he plays solo. I can't think of more than 3 or 4 trumpets players who've done that. It's clearly a tough job physically, and the results are necessarily sparse. Still, he holds my attention as well as anyone. B+(*) [June 8]

    David Torn: Prezens (2005 [2007], ECM): AMG's entire biography reads: "Hard-edged fusion guitarist with aura of mystery. Influenced by Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Terje Rypdal, and Robert Fripp." I can imagine Wire playing him those in one of their Invisible Jukebox interviews. Wikipedia is more forthcoming: born 1953; studied with Leonard Bernstein, John Abercrombie, and Pat Martino; cousin of Rip Torn, Geraldine Page, and Sissy Spacek; survived a brain tumor that left him deaf in right ear; since then about half of his credits have been for mixing and/or producing. Four cuts are solo things with Torn mixing guitar and electronics. One more adds drummer Matt Chamberlain. The other seven tracks backs Torn with Tim Berne's Hard Cell trio -- Craig Taborn on keyboards and Tom Rainey on drums -- although one could just as well view the group as Berne's Science Friction quartet with Torn replacing guitarist Marc Ducret. In the latter case Torn is a heavier, more rockish guitarist, into broad tonal assaults rather than noted lines. He threatens to turn the album into structure, but Rainey is too quick to let him get away with that. This fits nicely into the great wave of guitar albums of late. I might prefer to hear Torn supporting Berne rather than the other way around. Haven't heard Torn's early albums. His previous tour on ECM produced the well-regarded 1986 album Cloud Over Mercury, with a lineup that included Bill Bruford, Tony Levin, and Mark Isham. I haven't heard any of his previous records, but the group shift must be notable. I do know that Torn has mixed most of Berne's recent albums, so he certainly knew what he was getting into. [B+(**)] [Apr 17]

    Gianluigi Trovesi/Umberto Petrin/Fulvio Maras: Vaghissimo Ritratto (2005 [2007], ECM): Advance copy. Trovesi is an established saxophonist with records going back to 1978, playing alto clarinet here. Pianist Petrin, like Trovesi, comes out of Italian Instabile Orchestra. Percussionist Maras has played with Trovesi since early '90s. A "chamber improvisation" project which pulls together melodies from classical and pop sources. Starts slow, but proves to be enticing, hard to resist. Title translates as "vague impression" or "beautiful picture" or something like that. [B+(**)] [Apr. 24]

    Turtle Island String Quartet: A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane (2006 [2007], Telarc): There are those who regard the Coltrane Quartet's A Love Supreme as the crowning achievement of the jazz canon, and they have a case. But this group manages to drain every ounce of interest from the score, even Jimmy Garrison's bass, and not just because the Turtle Islanders wield nothing heavier than a cello. With the last two movements reduced to 2:44 and 2:47, the acknowledgment here is their lack of ideas. The album itself is flushed out to 64:17 by the inclusion of other pieces, some by Coltrane ("Naima," "Moment's Notice"), some associated with him ("My Favorite Things" is the one sure shot here), and some written in his honor. But no "Giant Steps," let alone "Ascension." Maybe that ROVA record wasn't so bad. C+

    Postscript: Wound up making this Dud of the Month, mostly because it was easy to write. Dropped the grade down a bit, since I didn't feel it read right to end the review with PLUS. C

    Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 [2006], Skirl): This got lost in my filing system because the box is a non-standard form factor, similar to DVDs. Tyft is Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Andrew D'Angelo (alto sax, bass clarinet), Jim Black (drums, electronics), although the dominant player appears to be Jensson, and this was recorded on his home turf in Iceland. Jensson also plays in Black's AlasNoAxis group. D'Angelo I know less about, although he goes back to 1991 in a group called Human Feel, and has played in Orange Then Blue and Either/Orchestra, and has a trio called Morthana -- band mates are Anders Hana and Morten J. Olsen. Not sure what to make of the record: Jensson's guitar spend most of its time in the lower registers, where it could just as well be electric bass; D'Angelo is even noisier. Not a bad mix of groove and dissonance. [B+(**)]

    Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 [2006], Skirl): Guitar-sax-drums trio: Hilmar Jensson, Andrew D'Angelo, Jim Black, respectively. Black minors in electronics, especially in his AlasNoAxis group, which Jensson also plays in. D'Angelo gets a fairly typical avant squawk. Unlikely anyone would like this who isn't already well atuned to the noisier end of the avant-garde, but the guitar-drums rump can produce some interesting fractured funk grooves, and they close on a mood piece when that's the last thing you expect. B+(**)

    James Blood Ulmer: Bad Blod in the City: The Piety Street Sessions (2006 [2007], Hyena): The city, natch, is New Orleans, home of Piety Street Studios, the latest stop on Ulmer's and Vernon Reid's tour of America's blues studios. Originals like "Katrina" and "Survivors of the Hurricane" lead off, and near the end there's "Backwater Blues" from the wake of the 1927 flood. In between this wanders and wobbles a bit, with a rap-prefiguring Willie Dixon tune called "Dead Presidents" thrown in "for comic relief" -- quote from hype sheet; the booklet itself has virtually nothing to say. Ulmer's jazz background may be the key to keeping his blues records loosey-goosey, but it's getting hard to tell them apart. Charles Burnham's electric fiddle is a plus here. B+(***)

    The Unseen Guest: Out There (2005, Tuition): German label, owned by Schott. Don't know why I'm getting this. Two singer-songwriters, Declan Murray and Amith Narayan, with additional musicians mostly with Indian names, mostly playing Indian instruments. Management based in Singapore. I shouldn't spend the time, but this isn't bad. The music is mostly guitar and mandolin on top of the Indian percussion, with violin and harmonica for variety on one cut each. Lyrics in English, and I can't complain about them either. B+(**)

    Allan Vaché: With Benny in Mind (2006 [2007], Arbors): They don't list roles here like they did on Bucky Pizzarelli's tribute to Freddie Green, but the casting is obvious: John Sheridan as Teddy Wilson, Vincent Corrao as Charlie Christian, and Christian Tamburr as Lionel Hampton. Phil Flanigan plays bass, Ed Metz Jr. drums, Vaché clarinet. The songs are as expected, as are the performances, which is the only possible critique. Goodman's sextet could surprise you now and then, even today. Tamburr strikes me as someone worth keeping an eye on. B+(*)

    Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos (2006 [2007], ArtistShare): Distracting trying to write about Leonisa Ardizzone while listening to this: both are jazz singers backed by guitar-bass-drums trios, and both move beyond the norm, but that's where the similarities end. Ardizzone is a novice with an unknown band working off the standards. Victor and Ensemble are something else. She has one of those deep voices that so impress jazz writers, closer to Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln than Sarah Vaughan. That's not my idea of a plus -- I'm not a big fan of any of them, even when I can recognize what wows everyone else -- but it stands her apart from most vocalists, and she makes it work -- if not with Vaughan's precision, at least with a good deal of Carter's daring. Her songs go even further off the beaten path, with elaborate phrasing wrapped around convoluted melodies -- not something I'm inclined to like, but her band set them up impressively. Bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael TA Thompson are dependable avant players. I'm not familiar with the guitarist, but I've been playing guitar albums all week, and Anders Nilsson's the first one I want to hear more from. Complex, ambitious record. [A-]

    Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos (2006 [2007], ArtistShare): I guess we can add Victor to the Betty Carter family of jazz singers, if we could find anyone else to fill out a family. The voices are similar, although Victor's a shade or two lighter. The musical rigor is comparable, especially when Victor slides a verse onto a free rhythm without chaos ensuing. Most of all, they both run adventurous, cutting edge bands. My discovery here is guitarist Anders Nilsson, who always has something to say. The others are bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, who rank as household names, at least in this household. A-

    Frank Vignola: Vignola Plays Gershwin (2006 [2007], Mel Bay): Guitarist, heard of late in the Frank and Joe Show, although I first noticed him in an old timey/trad jazz group called Travelin' Light. Actually, Joe [Ascione] is on board here as well. Vignola does standard stuff with a lot of zip and presence, and takes no chances on formula here: he doubles up the guitar by adding Corey Christiansen, and doesn't bother with any obscurities or feints. So there's not much to it, but it sounds terrific. B+(***)

    Bennie Wallace: Disorder at the Border: The Music of Coleman Hawkins (2004 [2007], Enja/Justin Time): When I first heard about this, I was expecting something more intimate. At nine pieces (four reeds, two brass), the opportunity to compare and contrast Wallace to Hawkins is much diminished. But this was staged live on Hawkins' 100th anniversary, so you can imagine the clamor to get in on the act. Six pieces: two Hawkins originals, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Body and Soul," "La Rosita," and a 16:40 "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" to close. What it lacks in revelation it makes up for with good cheer. B+(**)

    David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (2006 [2007], AUM Fidelity): Allegedly "the last ever U.S. performance by David S. Ware's revered Quartet" -- not sure whether that's a statement about Ware, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and the drummer du jour (in this case Guillermo E. Brown) or about the U.S. The Quartet goes back to 1990, when Parker was established as Cecil Taylor's bassist and the others were practically unknown. For a while it was tempting to compare them to the Coltrane Quartet, but by now they've lasted three times as long. Recorded live, this adds one more slice to Live in the World, its immediate spontaneity compensating for the fact that they break no major ground. Ware is mesmerizing, Parker magnificent, and Shipp one of the few pianists who can hold his own in this company. A-

    Waverly Seven: Yo! Bobby (2006 [2007], Anzic, 2CD): Bobby is Darin, the record a salute to his songbook, which once you get past his early Atlantic hits could just as well be Frank Sinatra's songbook. The group is Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Anat Cohen and Joel Frahm on reeds, Manuel Valera and Jason Lindner on keyboards, Barak Mori on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums, with Scott Robinson and Vic Juris appearing as guests. Frahm and Valera get extra credit for producing. Not sure who did the arrangements, but they're pretty straightforward -- indeed, for all the talent here the remarkable thing is how little they have to add. Not even an explanation why Darin matters, which would be useful 'cause sometimes I forget. B

    Postscript: Colin Negrych wrote in to point that the the arrangements credits were listed in very small print on the back cover: Anat Cohen, Avishai Cohen, and Jason Lindner did one song each; the rest were Manuel Valera.

    Kenny Werner: Lawn Chair Society (2007, Blue Note): I should have written this up first time I played the release. At least that way my confusion could seem resolvable through further experience. As it is, I've played this 6-8 times -- often at times I didn't expect to be able to concentrate on anything but I thought I'd give it a chance to connect. Bottom line is: it hasn't, but I can't tell you why. Chris Potter has moments at peak form. Trumpet player is no slouch either: Dave Douglas. Brian Blade and Scott Colley navigate the undertow, never more authoritatively than when they break free. Werner's a good pianist, and I don't mind when he dabbles in electronics except when it gets slow and gloomy. I don't know Werner's other work, but that may not matter given how strong the horns are. Come to think of it, Douglas and Potter have often confused me in the past. I have no doubt that they are brilliant musicians, and there are stretches here as elsewhere to underscore the point, but this isn't the first time they've managed to throw me. B+(*)

    Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta (2007, Dune): Another concept album, based on a character named Albert Jenkins who, like Wilson, plays trumpet. Works better, partly because the story line is confined to a few songs, which are straightforwardly blues-based. Like the other Dune artists, Wilson is based in London, but he was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and grew up in New Orleans. That explains his references to Delta blues and New Orleans polyphony, the yin and yang of his music. Fits him much, much better than the soul man moves on his previous Jazz Warrior. [B+(***)]

    Ethan Winogrand: Tangled Tango (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Drummer, originally from New York, now based in Spain where his wife's family comes from, has one previous album. This is a quintet, more or less, with Gorka Benitez on tenor/soprano sax or flute and Steven Bernstein on trumpet for the horns, Ross Bonadonna on guitar, Carlos Barretto on bass (with help from Eric Mingus on two cuts). Straightforward stuff, lovely tone on the horns, not much tango, tangled or otherwise, to justify the title. B+(**)

    Wishful Thinking (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): I tend to associate trumpet-sax-piano-bass-drums lineups with hard bop, but that doesn't work here: this is closer to free than postbop. I look for leaders lurking behind group names, but four of five musicians here -- the drummer excepted -- write about evenly, and none is bucking for a masters degree in harmonic theory. Sometimes I pick one by reputation, but I don't recognize any of these guys: Johannes Krieger (trumpet), Alípio C[arvalho] Neto (tenor sax), Alex Maguire (piano), Ricardo Freitas (electric bass), Rui Gonçalves (drums). Let's see: Neto and Maguire are producers; Luis Delgado mastered the disc; Neto and Delgado mixed it; and Neto wrote the liner note, so I guess he wins on points. Neto comes from Brazil, Maguire from the UK, Krieger from Germany, the others from Portugal. Lively, complex, interesting, too varied to really get a good grip on. [PS: Further research shows that Neto and Gonçalves were in IMI Kollektief; Maguire has played with Michael Moore, Elton Dean, Sean Bergin, and Pip Pyle -- I've only heard one of those albums, Moore's White Widow, an A-; nothing more on the others. It takes a while for names to sink in with me. Also there are bits of conventional postbop harmonizing, although the label's assertion of "good hard bop with a funky electric bass and a wild piano going from the stride tradition to God knows where" is pretty misleading.] B+(*)

    Sam Yahel Trio: Truth and Beauty (2005 [2007], Origin): Plays Hammond B3. Recorded three albums 1998-99; this is his fourth. In the meantime, he hooked up with Joshua Redman in the Elastic band. Redman returns the favor here, and Brian Blade fills out the trio. That looks promising on paper, but the record comes off soft and unfocused. Redman, unlike his new record, reverts to his slippery post-Prez style. Yahel cuts back on the soul jazz grind in favor of postbop niceties. Of minor interest to Redman fans. B+(*)

    Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (2006 [2007], Leaf Note): Alto saxophonist, born in Japan, based in New York since 1989. First album. Composed all but one of the pieces, and rounded up a superb quintet: Roy Campbell on trumpet and flugelhorn, Andrew Bemkey on piano and bass clarinet, Ken Filiano on bass, Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. Mostly free, but she has a disciplined sound, even when she gets rough. She plays xaphoon, some kind of bamboo sax, on one cut, slow with a Japanese folk feel that Thompson gets into. One song has a dramatic torrent of words attributed to Golda Solomon. Both experiments work, as does her main course. [B+(***)]

    Dept. of Good and Evil Feat. Rachel Z (2007, Savoy Jazz): Rachel Z is a pianist originally named Rachel Nicolazzo. She has at least 9 albums since 1992, but I've missed her until now -- my only encounter was the time when I was accidentally caught Mary McPartland toasting her on "Piano Jazz," where she made a favorable impression. AMG lists Wayne Shorter as a "similar artist" -- she recorded a Shorter tribute album, but that hardly makes her similar; "influences" are Joanne Brackeen, John Hicks, and George Garzone -- latter just means she's lived in Boston, where Garzone has taught everyone; "see also" includes Najee, although I certainly don't recommend following up there; "styles" include Crossover Jazz, which she's pretty much managed to crossover from. She's got a couple of cheesecake album covers in the past, but this isn't one. I can't say as I hear much Brackeen or Hicks in her piano, but I couldn't argue strongly against Hancock and/or Tyner. The mod touches here include a couple of rock songs (Sting, Joy Division) and a couple of unclaimed weak vocals on originals. Judging from the typography, the group is a piano trio plus guests Tony Levin on electric bass and Erik Naslund on trumpet. Seems more middle brow than mainstream. Probably of minor interest, but shouldn't be easily dismissed. [B+(*)]

    Joe Zawinul: Brown Street (2005 [2007], Heads Up, 2CD): Looks like this was originally released last fall. The cover shows two street signs intersecting: "Brown Street" and "Black Market." It also offers more artist names: Alex Acuńa, Nathaniel Townsley, Victor Bailey, WDR Big Band. The spine, thankfully, reduces the title and credit to something more manageable. The Big Band offers plenty of punch, but the key here is Zawinul's rhythm section, a group he calls the Zawinul Syndicate. They pitch in with Latin and African beats that juice up even tired Weather Report horses. The only false move is when they take one easy. [B+(***)] [Feb 27]

    Joe Zawinul: Brown Street (2005 [2007], Heads Up, 2CD): Sticker says: "Zawinul revisits Weather Report classics for the first time." His former band never impressed me much, although there was never any doubt as to the individuals' talents, keyboardist included. But Zawinul's rhythm section goes Weather Report's one better, adding African beats to Latin. And the WDR Big Band adds horn depth, punching up the arrangements. B+(*)

    Carry Over

    The following records, carried over from the done file at the start of this cycle, were also under consideration for this column.

    1. Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: Teatro (2004 [2006], European Echoes) B+(**)
    2. Charly Antolini: Knock Out 2000 (1999, Inak) B+(**)
    3. "Killer" Ray Appleton/Melvin Rhyne: Latin Dreams (2004 [2006], Lineage) B+(**)
    4. The Leonisa Ardizzone Quartet: Afraid of the Heights (2006 [2007], Ardijenn Music) B+(***)
    5. Lynne Arriale Trio: Live (2005 [2006], In+Out/Motema) B+(***)
    6. Ab Baars Quartet: Kinda Dukish (2005 [2006], Wig) B+(**)
    7. The Heckler by Juan Pablo Balcazar Quartet: Heckler City (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(***)
    8. Michael Blanco: In the Morning (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(**)
    9. Dave Burrell: Momentum (2005 [2006], High Two) B+(***)
    10. The Catz in the Hatz featuring Steve Johnson: Resilience (2006, Rhombus) C+
    11. Nels Cline/Wally Shoup/Chris Corsano: Immolation/Immersion (2005, Strange Attractors) C+
    12. Nels Cline: New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill (2006, Cryptogramophone) B+(**)
    13. The Crimson Jazz Trio: The King Crimson Songbook Volume One (2005, Voiceprint) B+(***)
    14. Meredith d'Ambrosio: Wishing on the Moon (2004 [2006], Sunnyside) B+(**)
    15. Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark) B+(***)
    16. Les DeMerle: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 1 (2005 [2006], Origin) B+(***)
    17. Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss (2006 [2007], Telarc) B+(***)
    18. Mike Dillon's Go-Go Jungle: Battery Milk (2006 [2007], Hyena) B+(**)
    19. Pierre Dřrge & New Jungle Orchestra: Negra Tigra (2005 [2006], ILK) B+(**)
    20. Ismael Dueńas: Mirage (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(***)
    21. Liberty Ellman: Ophiuchus Butterfly (2005 [2006], Pi) B+(**)
    22. Mimi Fox: Perpetually Hip (2005 [2006], Favored Nations, 2CD) B+(**)
    23. Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Live at the Blue Monk (2006, Charles Lester Music) B+(**)
    24. Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (2002 [2004], Squealer) B+(***)
    25. Anke Helfrich Trio: Better Times Ahead (2005 [2006], Double Moon) B+(**)
    26. Steve Herberman Trio: Action:Reaction (2006, Reach Music) B+(**)
    27. Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin) B+(**)
    28. Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2005 [2006], Dare2/Sunnyside) B+(***)
    29. John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys & Desires (2004 [2006], Intuition) B+(***)
    30. Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa: Raw Materials (2005 [2006], Savoy Jazz) B
    31. Hank Jones/Frank Wess: Hank and Frank (2003 [2006], Lineage) B+(**)
    32. Sofia Koutsovitis: Ojalá (2005 [2006], CD Baby) B+(***)
    33. David Krakauer: Bubbemeises: Lies My Grandma Told Me (2006, Label Bleu) B+(***)
    34. Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 [2007], Blue Note) B+(***)
    35. David Kweksilber + Guus Janssen (2003-06 [2006], Geestgronden) B+(***)
    36. Steve Lacy Quintet: Esteem (1975 [2006], Atavistic) A-
    37. Jerry Leake: The Turning: Percussion Expansions (2005 [2006], Rhombus Publishing) B+(***)
    38. Tom Lellis: Avenue of the Americas (2004-05 [2006], Beamtide) C
    39. George Lewis: Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (2004 [2006], Intakt) B+(***)
    40. John Lindberg/Karl Berger: Duets 1 (2004 [2007], Between the Lines) B+(**)
    41. Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized (2006, Clean Feed) B+(***)
    42. Branford Marsalis: Braggtown (2006, Marsalis Music/Rounder) B+(**)
    43. Delfeayo Marsalis: Minions Dominion (2002 [2006], Troubadour Jass) B+(**)
    44. Myra Melford/Be Bread: The Image of Your Body (2003 [2006], Cryptogramophone) B+(**)
    45. Mike Melvoin Trio: You Know (2006, City Light) B+(**)
    46. Metta Quintet: Subway Songs (2005 [2006], Sunnyside) B+(**)
    47. Hendrik Meurkens: New York Samba Jazz Quintet (2005 [2007], Zoho) B+(**)
    48. Mi3: We Will Make a Home for You (2002-03 [2005], Clean Feed) B+(***)
    49. Wolfgang Muthspiel: Solo (2004, Material) B+(**)
    50. Wolfgang Muthspiel: Bright Side (2005 [2006], Material) A-
    51. Wolfgang Muthspiel/Brian Blade: Friendly Travelers (2006 [2007], Material) A-
    52. One More: The Summary: Music of Thad Jones, Vol. 2 (2005 [2007], IPO) B+(**)
    53. Mikkel Ploug Group (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(**)
    54. Les Primitifs du Futur: World Musette (1999 [2006], Sunnyside) A-
    55. Juan Carlos Quintero: Las Cumbias . . . Las Guitarras (1997-2006 [2006], Inner Knot) B+(**)
    56. Matt Renzi: The Cave (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(***)
    57. Florian Ross Trio: Big Fish & Small Pond (2006, Intuition) B+(**)
    58. Roundtrip: Two Way Street (2005, Jazzaway) B+(***)
    59. Rutherford/Vandermark/Müller/van der Schyff: Hoxha (2004 [2005], Spool/Line) B+(**)
    60. Vittor Santos: Renewed Impressions (2005 [2006], Adventure Music) A-
    61. Scenes [John Stowell/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop]: Along the Way (2006, Origin) B+(**)
    62. Irčne Schweizer: First Choice: Piano Solo KKL Luzern (2005 [2006], Intakt) B+(**)
    63. David Sills: Down the Line (2005 [2006], Origin) B+(**)
    64. Soft Machine: Grides (1970-71 [2006], Cuneiform, CD+DVD) A-
    65. Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning (2005 [2006], Inakustik, 2CD) B+(***)
    66. Sonic Liberation Front: Change Over Time (2006, High Two) A-
    67. Mike Stern: Who Let the Cats Out? (2006, Heads Up) B-
    68. John Taylor: Angel of the Presence (2004 [2006], CAM Jazz) B+(***)
    69. Yosvany Terry Cabrera: Metamorphosis (2004 [2005], Ewe) B+(**)
    70. Thomas Storrs and Sarpolas: Time Share (2005 [2006], Louie) B+(***)
    71. Geoff Stradling: Les Is Mo' (2006 [2007], Origin) B+(**)
    72. The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook (2006 [2007], Zoho) B+(***)
    73. Tammen Harth Rosen Dahlgren: Expedition (2001 [2006], ESP-Disk) B+(**)
    74. Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit (2004 [2006], CD Baby) B+(**)
    75. Gian Tornatore: Blackout (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(**)
    76. Trio East: Best Bets (2005 [2006], Origin) B+(**)
    77. Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Round About Weill (2004 [2005], ECM) B+(***)
    78. Lars-Göran Ulander Trio: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (2004 [2005], Ayler) B+(***)
    79. Larry Vuckovich Trio: Street Scene (2005 [2006], Tetrachord) B+(***)
    80. Torben Waldorff Quartet: Brilliance: Live at 55 Bar NYC (2006, ArtistShare) B+(***)
    81. Mort Weiss: The B3 and Me (2003 [2006], SMS Jazz) B+(**)
    82. Jessica Williams: Billy's Theme: A Tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor (2006, Origin) B+(***)
    83. Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 [2006], Omnitone) B+(***)
    84. Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: The Scenic Route (2006 [2007], Palmetto) B+(**)