Say what you will about electronica as a genre, but no one can deny it's opening up whole new avenues for established artists. No, I'm not talking about earthling David Bowie's recent market-friendly dive into trip-hoppy illbience, but that's a start. New York trumpeter Ben Neill is far more interesting. He's created his own instrument, a "mutantrumpet," which is in essence a traditional trumpet kicked through the grid of William Gibson's music shop. Six valves, three bells, a glissiando slide, and a MIDI hookup makes it unique, but Neill's trippy songwriting makes it cool. Think Branford Marsalis on funky shrooms, toss in some drum and bass, a little big beat, and you're on the right path. With help from DJ Spooky, Helmet's Page Hamilton, and the guys from Spring Heel Jack, this is one of the trippier examples of acid jazz reflux to come down the pike in some time. Millennial jazz or just some well-looped sonic mayhem? Does it even matter? I think not. Next stop Birdtown.
3 stars - Marc Savlov
Manhattan Nocturne (Arabesque)
One of the great ironies of Charlie Parker's life was that his premature death in 1955 precluded him from realizing just how extensively his seminal innovations changed the evolution of jazz. Maybe that's why, 40 plus years later, there's something wonderfully eerie about hearing alto saxophonist Charles McPherson; no one on the planet embodies the sound, style, or spirit of Bird more definitively (so much so, in fact, that Clint Eastwood had him play the alto parts on the soundtrack to his movie, Bird.) From the opening notes of this new album, his third for Arabesque Records, you're immediately struck by the reverence in which McPherson has carried the torch as he reels off a blistering Parkeresque solo on the Monk classic, "Evidence." Both here and throughout the album it's hard not to imagine that this just might be what Bird would have sounded like today. Not to be completely pigeonholed, however, McPherson is far more than a one-trick pony as his 12-year association with Charles Mingus will attest. As such, the most memorable material in this set is his quartet of originals which balance out two pair of ballads and bebop. It would be remiss of me not to credit his veteran, all-star rhythm section of pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Victor Lewis, who are all instrumental in assuring that this is a first-rate, straight-ahead session.
3.5 stars - Jay Trachtenberg
At Carnegie Hall (Columbia)
Live at the It Club (Columbia)
Live at Carnegie Hall (Columbia)
These CDs contain a mixture of previously unissued and previously released material. The Davis material comes from a 1961 concert during which he's heard both with a big band playing Gil Evans arrangements, and with his working quintet including tenorman Hank Mobley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The discs were cut during a period in Davis' career when his evolution was temporarily on hold. Not that he should be condemned for this; Davis also did some wonderful, incandescent big band work in collaboration with Evans, and some of their splendid efforts are heard here. The Monk 2-CD set comes from a 1964 club appearance with a quartet including tenorman Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales, and drummer Ben Riley. In Rouse, Monk had one of the great, unsung tenormen. His playing shows that he was a precursor of Sonny Rollins in that he synthesized the styles of Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. Both Rouse and his pianist boss perform with vigor and imagination here; it's one of the better albums they made, which is saying a lot. Dexter Gordon ranks as the most important bop tenorman. He was a secondary influence on Rollins and a major influence on Coltrane. He'd been a European expatriate for 16 years when he returned to New York in 1978. This CD dates from that year, when Gordon was getting belated recognition, but was, unfortunately, past his peak. He plays with a solid rhythm section including pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Eddie Gladden. On two tracks he duels with guest tenorman Johnny Griffin. Dexter still plays well here, but his time and articulation aren't as precise as previously and he doesn't play with the urgency he displayed in the Forties. You won't waste your money if you get this disc, but it's not the first Gordon recording you should buy.
(Miles Davis) 5 stars
(Thelonius Monk) 4.5 stars
(Dexter Gordon) 3 stars- Harvey Pekar
CHARLIE HUNTER & POUND FOR POUND
Return of the Candyman (Blue Note)
It ain't quite straight jazz and it sure ain't hip-hop, but the music Charlie Hunter's cooking up is a bit of both. Groove jazz, maybe. Smooth-toned and funky grooves that define the songs hold each in connection with the next and the last. Hunter's guitar work is brilliant, if for no other reason than he keeps a perfect and unobtrusive bottom on the proceedings. What sets Return of the Candyman apart from Hunter's other projects, however, is vibraphonist Stefon Harris. There are few sounds as seemingly inspired by magic as a vibraphone riding a scale in a stick-crossing stroll down the bars, and Harris can be alternately haunting and on fire. At the end of the shufflin' "Huggy Bear," for instance, the long notes hit on the vibes are hypnotic in their oscillations. The short interlude tunes interspersed throughout the album are great bridges that make for a complete and cohesive collection of songs, and the back and forth of Hunter and Harris is a joy to hear. The two of them even take a song as long-buried as Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" and not only make it live again, but also entirely their own tune.
3.5 stars - Christopher Hess
Double Barrel (Hannibal)
Formed by former Jazz Warrior, veteran bassist and bandleader Gary Crosby in 1991, Jazz Jamaica is an English nine-piece band that blends ska, mento, jazz, and reggae. Call the result "skazz." The mixture of jazz with Jamaican styles has been around since the mid-Fifties, or at least since the Skatalites got things rolling along, and like their brethren, Jazz Jamaica's songs are built on firm and flowing basslines that gives each tune its danceable swing. Unlike the Skatalites, though, the band also highlights the guitar, an addition that works extremely well on "Exodus," the film theme Eddie Harris kicked so much ass on, and "Shank-Kai-Chek," probably the hottest tune on the disc. A few cuts are less than moving, like a flat execution of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," but most of the 11 tunes herein, including Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly" and Charlie Parker's "Dewey Square," are worthy of any decent party. If you dig jazz or Jamaican music in general, then lock and load a Double Barrel.
2.5 stars - David Lynch
Going Once, Going Twice (Palmetto)
Two things have happened since drummer Matt Wilson's debut album was released in 1996: he's become one of the most sought-after musicians in New York City, and he put together his own band. Wilson is that rare breed - a musical drummer, smart, loaded with chops and taste, who pulls off a wide range of styles with equal aplomb. Though integral in units led by the likes of Dewey Redman and Lee Konitz, it's Wilson's own saxophone-heavy combo that gets the spotlight on Going Once, Going Twice. Andrew D'Angelo and Joel Frahm square off and fight like cornered cats, providing frenetic chatter as well as a choral-like beauty on quieter moments; their reeds essentially frame every tune. Still, it's easy to tell this is a drummer's album; Wilson clatters, slaps, and punches out unflappable rhythms. Though dense, his playing retains remarkable subtlety. Going Once... includes an auction-laden title track along with fiery and funny originals influenced by artists from Ornette Coleman to Sun Ra. And you have to admire an album that covers both Herbie Nichols and Patti Page. Best of all, at 34, Wilson's just getting started. Get your bids in now.
4 stars - Jeff McCord
In the Vernacular (Leaning House)
On Donald Edwards' debut for Dallas-based jazz label, Leaning House, the Louisiana drummer not only lists names such as Wessell Anderson, Nicholas Payton, and Mark Whitfield, he enlists terrific performances from them. Turns out both Anderson and Whitfield owe Edwards a karmic jazz obligation; he played on both of Anderson's terrific releases for Atlantic, and currently plays with Whitfield, who records for Verve. Throw another bayou son, Nicholas Payton, Daniel Lanois' Nineteenth Century New Orleans studio, and two days in December, and Edwards' transformation from indie label unknown to pedigreed gentry is complete - on paper, anyway. On album, as soon as Anderson's red, hot, & blue alto sax meets up with Payton's ol' Brownie trumpet blowing, and still-unknown Brice Winston's hold-yer-own tenor playing on the lead-off track "Finger Painted Swing" and then trading solos on another Edwards' original, "Duke of Duckland," it's one impressive, in-the-pocket number after another. And Edwards' drumming? Ellis Marsalis' liner notes sum it up well: "Edwards' prowess over the three basic elements of music (rhythm, melody, and harmony) is evident throughout this recording." (The Donald Edwards Quartet plays the Victory Grill, Friday, June 12.)
3 stars - Raoul Hernandez
Make Some Noise (Ark 21)
Make Some Noise is the anything-but-sophomoric second release from Chicago's collective of groove, Liquid Soul. This 10-piece band (three horns, bass, rapper, drums and percussion, turntable, guitar, and keyboards) is one of only a few groups able to merge amped-up funk, classic and avant-jazz, rhythm and blues, Latin, hip-hop, and rock. And this album, with the smokin' sound check gem "Ricky's Hat" and three tunes from their weekly gigs at Chicago's infamous Double Door, showcases Liquid Soul at its best. The remaining nine studio cuts are just as adrenaline-injecting: the Spanish Doppler-effect introduction of "Yankee Girl," a racy rappin' adaptation of Dizzy Gillespie's 1942 classic "Salt Peanuts," the elephant stampede salsa shadings of "My Three S.O.B.'s," and the opener "Threadin' the Needle," a wall of drop funk fueled by Nineties style scratching, Seventies R&B beats, Eighties edginess, and Mars Williams' furious sax solo. Thirty years of music rolled into one song makes plenty of noise.
4 stars - David Lynch
MICHAEL BRECKER QUARTET
Two Blocks From The Edge (Impulse!)
One thing you gotta say about saxophonist Michael Brecker - he's consistent. It's hard to remember the last time he put out an album that wasn't truly satisfying. He possesses an amazing set of chops, an authoritative combination of brain and brawn. The man can really blow, and the album's title track, with its ebb and flow of intensity, is one of the finest performances in jazz this year. Pianist Joey Calderazzo has played with Brecker for years and although vastly underrated, he's an outstanding and complex soloist who contributes nearly half the compositions in this set. The nimble James Genus on bass and the explosive Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums provide Brecker with a roiling rhythm tandem. Two Blocks From the Edge seems an apropos title for this date, because it finds Brecker and his group a close but comfortable distance from the cutting edge; close enough to generate some refined turmoil, but still well within the realm of mainstream sensibilities. It's a winning combination.
4 stars - Jay Trachtenberg
Payton's Place (Verve)
Despite the fact that jazz flourishes at outdoor festivals from Monterey to Montreux, the perception of the genre remains that of smoky, after-hours music. Thing is, after hours is when real jazzmen cut loose. Given that, it's no surprise when New Orleans horn blower Nicholas Payton and musical partner/tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield take flight on the righteously funkified "Zigaboogaloo," a down-home tribute to Meters' stickman, Zigaboo Modeliste. The next tune, "The Three Trumpeteers," picks up that gauntlet as Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove raise their trumpets to Payton's in a rousing all-for-one salute. The excellent "A Touch of Silver," featuring tenorman Joshua Redman follows, as does the one impulse this album fosters more than any other: Turn it up. Way up. Payton's third album for Verve, Payton's Place is easily his best, the 24-year-old trumpet phenom's big, brassy tone having become that much more commanding and demanding of your total attention. Wayne Shorter's "Paraphernalia," and another Wynton guest shot, "Brownie a la Mode," keep the energy up 'til the end of this 70-minute recording, which, when it ends, leaves an ardent desire to return to Payton's Place.
3.5 stars - Raoul Hernandez
Home (Heart Music)
Few experiences are more vein-opening in nature than recording solo. It's a move every serious pianist must eventually make, but one of the hardest to pull off successfully; it's not just about superlative talent and arranging skills. Joe LoCasio has these and more, yet Home still misses its mark. Both structurally and spiritually, the piano is unyielding. Notes don't bend or inflect. Players must develop a style and character to distinguish themselves. Moments on Home stand out, just not enough of them. Voicings are too uniform, dense left hand chordings dominate, and the subtler single note melodies often veer too close to new age twaddle for comfort. Like so many of his peers, LoCasio, who settled in Houston in '77 after stints with Freddie Hubbard and Chet Baker, has forsaken the new-town-every-night lifestyle jazz musicians must accept for what is often their only other real option - educating others. Yet style and character come from the challenge of pleasing a demanding set of audience members and fellow musicians night after night. In jazz, the road remains the ultimate teacher.
2.5 stars - Jeff McCord