Jazz Consumer Guide (10):
Prospecting

These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #10. 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 May 1 to July 24, 2006, with non-finalized entries duplicated from previous prospecting. The notes have been sorted by artist. The chronological order can be obtained from the notebook or blog.

The number of records noted below is 244.


Mindi Abair: Life Less Ordinary (2006, GRP): Only got the advance on this, which has been out since April. In fact, I don't get much pop jazz anymore, even though I prospect it dutifully, and even wrote a Voice piece on it a while back. The bottom line is that the good stuff is far from great -- more like disco than anything in the jazz tradition -- and the bad stuff is pretty awful: a range that in my experience goes from low B+ to C- and may well get worse. This one is well above average. Abair has a nice, rich, blues-tinged tone on alto sax -- reminds me a bit of someone like Earl Bostic -- and she plays comfortably on top of Matthew Hager's uncluttered synth beats. She also sings every other cut or so -- a plain and cool voice that exudes no particular sexiness. On the other hand, most people trust their eyes more than their ears in that regard, and that's worked in her favor. Like most pop records, the hook song -- "Do You Miss Me" -- comes first. B

Susanne Abbuehl: Compass (2003-04 [2006], ECM): Second album by a Swiss-Dutch vocalist, singing slow pieces with minimal accompaniment: mostly piano, with some clarinet for color and occasional bits of percussion. She adds words to two pieces by Chick Corea and Sun Ra. Two more pieces are her arrangements of Lucio Berio "Folk Songs." More pieces add her music to words from James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, and Feng Meng-Lung. And one piece is original start to finish. Quite nice even if only consumed for atmospherics, although there's probably a good deal more to it for those with the patience to ferret it out. B+(**)

Ben Adams Quintet: Old Thoughts for a New Day (2005 [2006], Lunar Module): Leader plays vibes, with trumpet and tenor sax up front, bass and drums out back. Didn't sound like much at first, but then some of the trumpet (Erik Jekabson) and more of the sax (Mitch Marcus) started to grab my attention. I've faded in and out, which isn't a good sign, but suspect it deserves another spin. [B+(*)]

Ben Adams Quintet: Old Thoughts for a New Day (2005 [2006], Lunar Module): Vibraphonist, seems to be a Kansas boy -- received the "Kansas State Outstanding Percussion Award" four consecutive years, before moving on to Berklee (Gary Burton) and currently, well, somewhere near San Francisco. Quintet has two horns -- Erik Jekabson on trumpet, Mitch Marcus on tenor sax -- both of which have some bite to their solos. I'm less clear on the vibes -- harder to hook onto them, but many points catch one's attention. B+(*)

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

Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): One of the last nights at Anderson's Chicago club, with the saxophonist in charge, his long-time protégé Hamid Drake on drums, and Harrison Bankhead fattening up the sound with his bass. My main caveat is that this is much like what Anderson has been doing for the last 3-5 years -- I haven't heard all of his Velvet Lounge records, but the trend seems to be toward a measured, more balanced attack. Maybe he's getting old, or maybe he's just finding himself. [B+(***)]

Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): The weak spot here is Hamid Drake's vocal, but that's just something you put up with to hear his drumming. I can't say as I ever got into Anderson before Back at the Velvet Lounge (2002 [2003], Delmark), but he's been on a streak ever since then: Back Together Again, a duo with Hamid Drake; Blue Winter, a trio with Drake and William Parker; and now this trio with Drake and Harrison Bankhead. I resisted at first, figuring the records have little differentiation, and I shouldn't keep pushing the same thing over and over. But critical consensus seems to be that this is the winner, and I can hear that. Bankhead helps fill things out like a good bassist should but isn't tempted to crowd in like Parker. Also this one is a single. A-

Angá: Echu Mingua (2006, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Angá is congalero Angá Díaz. Echu Mingua is his saint's name in the Yoruba religion; relates to Eleggua, the God of crossroads, the owner of all roads in the world. He says, "this album is the realisation of all the ideas that I've gathered over the years." Methinks, too much kitchen sink here; surely he could have kept a few ideas in reserve. Most cuts have vocals of some sort: coros, chants, spoken word. Most have percussion of many sorts: congas, bongos, timbales, clave, bata, shekere, tamani -- a Malinke talking drum played by Baba Sissoko, who also plays n'goni. Cachaito plays bass on most cuts. Various pianists show up for a cut each, including Rubén González and Chucho Valdés. Turntablist Dee Nasty is all over the joint. One idea was to redo an Argentine piece by Pablo Nemirovsky, who drops in on bandoneon. Some cuts have strings, others horns, one guitar, three flute. Angá himself mostly plays congas, but adds some guiro on one cut. The result is an Afro-Cuban smorgasbord, often tasty, but way over the top. I didn't plan on covering this under jazz prospecting until I noticed "Round Midnight" and "A Love Supreme" -- two more half-baked ideas -- and side credits with Steve Coleman and Roy Hargrove. I expect that we'll hear more from him, and some day it will make more sense. B

"Killer" Ray Appleton/Melvin Rhyne: Latin Dreams (2004 [2006], Lineage): You know the dreams are Latin because you can hear Milton Cardona's congas. Leave them out, and maybe skip the shot of "Tequila," and you get a standard Hammond B3 trio: Rhyne's organ, Appleton's drums, and Ilya Lushtak's guitar. The only name I recognize here is Rhyne, who cut his first album in 1960 when this style was taking shape. He's made a comeback since 1993, as has the genre. The latter seems slight by definition, but this album is as thoroughly enjoyable as any organ grind I've run across in the last decade or so. Drummer and guitarist are a big part of this, and the congas are all the innovation these guys need, or want. [B+(***)]

"Killer" Ray Appleton/Melvin Rhyne: Latin Dreams (2004 [2006], Lineage): Russian guitarist Ilya Lushtak honors his heroes by recording with them. On the Hank Jones/Frank Wess album, he mostly took a back seat, but on this organ trio plus congas -- Latin, get it? -- he fills a more critical role. May be too early to dub him the new Grant Green, but how about the new Billy Butler? B+(**)

Ardecore (2005, Il Manifesto). Italian sources classify this as folk or folk-blues, although I suspect that this revisits at old Rome much like the Mekons rework country and western or the Pogues recast Dublin. One clue is that the title translates as "Hardcore"; another is that the core of the band comes from Zu, a group that straddles the politics of the Mekons and the Ex but usually ventures further into avant-jazz territory. But here Luca Mai's bari sax burnishes the luxurious sway of classic Italian melodies, while Giampaolo Felici sings with the coarse authority of a griot or cantor. A-

Available Jelly: Bilbao Song (2004 [2005], Ramboy): This is at least the fifth album since 1984 for this group. Michael Moore is the constant and mainstay, with cornetist Eric Boeren also contributing songs. The group's signature is many horns playing in free orbits. Four is the number this time, with Toby Delius joining Moore on various saxes and clarinest while Wolter Wierbos adds his trombone to Boeren's cornet. Frequent Moore collaborators Ernst Glerum and Michael Vatcher fill out the group, on bass and drums respectively. Too much going on here for me to get good focus on it yet, but I especially like the parts where the rhythm coheres, and the feature for Wierbos. [B+(**)]

Lisa B: What's New Pussycat? Tunes & Tales About Cool Cats (2006, Piece of Pie): As a rock critic, I'm used to taking voices as they come, but sometimes you get one that's so annoying nothing else much matters. This is one such voice. The songs with their overstretched conceptual ties are another problem, although I do sort of like the lullaby "When Malika Sleeps." C-

Ab Baars Quartet: Kinda Dukish (2005, Wig): The idea here is to take Ellington songs and rough them up, unhinge them, turn them into free-ish improvs. "Caravan" becomes "Kinda Caravan"; "Jack the Bear" becomes "Kinda Jack." Baars, a mainstay of the Dutch avant-garde, plays clarinet and tenor sax. The others play trombone, bass and drums. First impression is that it's too ragged to be real, but then it's not the sort of thing you'd expect to reveal itself all at once. [B+(*)]

Ab Baars Quartet: Kinda Dukish (2005 [2006], Wig): Ten Ellington pieces, played more than loose -- in most cases only snatches of the familiar themes emerge unscathed. Baars plays clarinet more than tenor sax, so the heft added by trombonist Joost Buis is essential. B+(**)

Lucian Ban & Alex Harding: Tuba Project (2005 [2006], CIMP): Well, if you're going to do a tuba project, the go to guy is Bob Stewart, so at least they got that part right. I can see why Ban, a New York-resident pianist from Romania, might want to do such a thing, but I don't quite get the point of adding two saxophones -- Harding's baritone and J.D. Allen's tenor. The fifth member of the group is drummer Derrek Phillips, so Stewart winds up stuck with the bass parts. Way way back when tuba was sometimes used in place of bass, and some pieces like "Cajun Stomp" suggest that, but "Muhal' Song" (for Abrams) is off in another direction.l But the main problem I have is hearing just what's going on. Maybe that's because I don't have the audiophile equipment producer Robert Rusch sells. Or maybe I just don't have the ears. Will try it again. [B+(*)]

Bang on a Can & Don Byron: A Ballad for Many (2004-06 [2006], Cantaloupe): Byron just plays clarinet on three songs here -- the Bang on a Can All Stars have a regular clarinet player, Evan Ziporyn, who handles the balance. Byron wrote most (all?) of the music, produced the album, and wrote the liner notes you have to go to the website to read. So, effectively, this is Bang on a Can Plays Don Byron, much like they previously played Eno or Terry Riley. I tend to think of Bang on a Can as natural successors to the Kronos Quartet: a classical-rooted repertoire group that crosses over into semipopular waters to show that their own chosen style needn't be hopelessly academic. But Kronos was/is a stock concept -- the string quartet. Bang on a Can seems more like a production company, with a lineup that shifts according to the project instead of forcing the project to conform. In this case, the lineup is clarinet, guitar, piano, cello, bass, drums. The cello is the main difference from Byron's own orchestrations, and it dominates here. Not sure what I think of this: strikes me as stiff and heavy, unjazzlike, but otherwise hard to classify. [B]

Patricia Barber: Mythologies (2006, Blue Note): Advance, not out unti Aug. 15, but after a string of vocalists I thought I'd play one I might like. (Never got the Cassandra Wilson, but maybe they knew better?) This is a song cycle based on Greek mythology, with a bit of "Whiteworld" stuffed into "Oedipus." Back when I was a philosophy major the main thing I learned was that every dumb idea in western civilization was first thought up by one damn fool Greek or another. Played this once while working on other stuff, but all I discovered is that it doesn't register unless you're listening. Then there's something to it: rousing sax, a little hip-hop, a mess of background vocals from the ominously named Choral Thunder. Some pluses and minuses -- might come together, but I have my doubts about the chorus. [B+(*)]

Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Aka "The Saul Cycle": Bardfeld narrates Saul's story in seven chapters, with pieces of music in between, the structure reminding me "Peter and the Wolf" -- I'm most familiar with Eno's version, but there's also a variant called Pincus and the Pig. I don't have the story straight, so that will take some further investigation. The group features Bardfeld's violin, Ron Horton's trumpet, and Tom Beckham's vibes, with Sean Conly and Satoshi Takeishi rounding up the rhythm. The violin has a little boogie in it; the trumpet is further out, and the combination is more than a little askew. Still working on it. [B+(**)]

Jeff Barnhart: In My Solitude (Arbors Piano Series, Volume 16) (2005 [2006], Arbors): Solo piano, a mix of stride and slower pieces. One of Barnhart's two originals here is "Remembering Ralph" -- for Sutton, an obvious influence. I find no real fault with this, nor much interest either, except that I wouldn't mind hearing more fast ones like "Stealin' Apples," the Fats Waller piece that closes the album. B

Ray Barretto: Standards Rican-ditioned (2005 [2006], Zoho): According to the notes, all but one track had been completed before Barretto died in January. That track has a scat vocal marking where he intended to add a congo solo, as well as some overdubbed conga by his son Chris. It feels more unfinished than that, but I have no real sense of Barretto's career work -- no doubt a major shortfall in my own learning. The pianist-arranger I know somewhat better, and it turns out that he too has passed from the scene: so this may serve as a double remembrance. Hilton Ruiz is the steady center here. Maybe too steady, but it wasn't meant to be his show. B+(*)

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

Batagraf: Statements (2003-04 [2006], ECM): Samples of unknown media announcers, something in Wolof, Sidsel Endresen uttering words like "blowback" and "softworks" and reminding us that there are things we don't know we don't know. The music is mostly percussion, with Frode Nymo's alto sax and Arve Henriksen's trumpet making brief appearances for emphasis. Leader Jon Balke remains inconspicuous on keyboards. There's little flow, but a barren fractured soundscape. B+(***)

Michael Bates' Outside Sources: A Fine Balance (2004 [2006], Between the Lines): Bates' previous album was called Outside Sources, so this fits into the unfortunately common pattern of an album generating a group name -- unfortunate, I say, because it makes a mess of trying to keep things in discographical order. There's also a disconnect in that the previous album, which I haven't heard, was a trio -- bassist Bates, drummer Mark Timmermans, and reedist Quinsin Nachoff -- but here expands to a quartet with the addition of trumpeter Kevin Turcotte. (Evidently replaced by Kevin Johnson as the band plays on.) Interesting music here, but I don't really have a handle on it yet. The two horns don't run as free as in similar lineups, suggesting that this is more thoroughly composed, or maybe just more limited. One piece was based on Prokofiev. [B+(**)]

Michael Bates' Outside Sources: A Fine Balance (2004 [2006], Between the Lines): Second album by this group -- the first was called Outside Sources and attributed to Michael Bates. But not really the same group -- this one expands from three to four, adding a trumpet to make your basic pianoless avant quartet. Up front are Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and Quinsin Nachoff on reeds. The leader plays bass and composes all the pieces, while Mark Timmermans drums. Lately quite a few groups have been structured like this: the format offers the two horns lots of options, but it also lets the bass run the pulse, which sets everything else up. Perhaps as many as a half dozen of my favorite albums over the last couple of years were set up this way. The difference between them and this one was that they usually featured great musicians, especially in the rhythm section -- William Parker and Hamid Drake, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway. I don't mean to knock Bates, who is a capable guy doing very interesting work here, but his group hasn't pushed itself to the forefront yet. B+(**)

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

Stefano Battaglia: Raccolto (2003 [2006], ECM, 2CD): The first disc is a piano-bass-drums trio, slow and free, fascinating as it tiptoes around the edges of chaos without ever taking the plunge. Second disc replaces the bass with Dominique Pifarély's violin, which upsets the sonic balance, moving the piano back a notch. B+(**)

Beans (featuring William Parker and Hamid Drake): Only (2006, Thirsty Ear): Another advance, but street date here is April 4, so this one should be out. Can't find the useless info sheet either, so time I know even less than the usual next to nothing. Beans is half of the former Antipop Consortium: raps a little, mixes beats. With Antipop did a previous Blue Series album with Matthew Shipp. Parker and Drake are a little out of their depth here, although the acoustic bass riff is nice to hear as a pulse-line. [PS: Found the hype sheet. Starts with this: "The Ornette Coleman of this rap shit/The link between Suicide, Sun Ra and Bambaataa." Seems to be a line from Beans on Beans. Actually, I'm not even sure he's the Curtis Amy of rap shit, but that would be closer to the mark.] B+(*)

Louie Bellson: The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the Jazz Ballet (2000 [2005], Percussion Power): So the former Ellington drummer follows in his master's footsteps in making an earnest offering before meeting his maker. I don't recall Bellson ever writing lyrics before, but it's a good thing he didn't try to make a career out of it. Having studiously avoided CCM, I can't say whether his words here achieve an unprecedented level in the dumbing down of Christianity or whether they're just par for the times -- the latter, I suspect. For example: "Throw the blues away/come and live God's way/you will then rejoice/'cause you made the choice/He is the one and only one/He's the Lord." USC's student choir are overkill here -- the effect could be camp, but I doubt it. USC's string orchestra are no better, but Bellson brought in a couple of ringers to beef up the Jazz Orchestra, with Bobby Shew and/or John Thomas cranking the trumpet up to, well, Bellsonian levels. In such moments, you can remember why Bellson could title albums Hot and Inferno and get credit for understatement. C+

George Benson: The Essential George Benson (1963-80 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): A good jazz guitarist, but conceptually he never got out of Wes Montgomery's shadow -- even if I have to score "California Dreamin'" in his favor, it's not much of a triumph. Turned into a gritless soul singer, then got worse, but this compilation cuts him off and doesn't dwell on all that. Instead, it packs sideman cuts with Jack McDuff, Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Tony Williams, and Dexter Gordon. B

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

David Berger & the Sultans of Swing: Hindustan (2005 [2006], Such Sweet Thunder): The title here is à propos of nothing -- it may put you in mind of The Far East Suite, but the record offers nothing Ellingtonian beyond the instrumentation of the big band. The gem-like arrangements do have some allure, and Aria Hendricks's few vocals have some charm, but the Sultans come up short of swing, and you know what that means. B

Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor of the Times (2006, Savant): He has a couple of albums with his name shortened to Gonz in the title. It fits: he has a huge tenor sound and plays with a lot of muscular action -- even the ballad-tempo piece feels thick, dense, rock solid. He's backed by piano-bass-drums, but rarely out of the spotlight: an old fashioned saxophone colossus. Sure, it's been done, and better, but not all that often. B+(**)

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: MTO Volume 1 (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): This group has been gigging around New York since 1999, so I've heard a lot about them over the years, and any record by them would be welcome -- if nothing else, just a way to map the reports to a sound. The idea came out of Robert Altman's Kansas City film, which Bernstein did research for -- listening to tapes from the old territory bands that toured around Kansas City in the late '20s and early '30s. This follows the sound a lot more closely than, say, Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, but it doesn't stop there, pulling in Prince's "Darling Nikki," Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed and Delivered," and something from Sly Stone I don't recognize -- Bernstein says, "I made Sly Stone sound like an early Bennie Moten thing." (The notes leave something to be desired; blind faith in the ability of live music to overcome critical facilities isn't all that popular a position among us critics.) Two vocals threw me at first, Matt Munisteri's more old-timey "Pennies From Heaven" kicking in first, Doug Wamble's Wonder tune slowly getting there. Working on it. [A-]

Ignacio Berroa: Codes (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Cuban drummer, moved to New York in 1980, working with Dizzy Gillespie for a decade. He's done quite a bit of session work over the last 25 years, but this is his first album, produced by Gonzalo Rubalcaba. The rhythm pieces jump out at you first, but there are quieter spots, where piano by Rubalcaba or Ed Simon and/or sax by David Sanchez or Felipe LaMoglia come to the fore. Impressive work. Need to spend more time with it. [A-]

David Bixler: Call It a Good Deal (2005 [2006], Zoho): An in-betweener, not quite free jazz, but a good deal dicier than the hard bop orthodoxy or your run-of-the-mill postbop. Bixler plays alto sax. His main credit is working in Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, which is a skill he doesn't make much use of here. This is a quintet, with Scott Wendholt's trumpet the other horn, and John Hart's guitar the chordal instrument. Both take liberties with time, as does bass-drums, and that gives this record an odd stutter that keeps it interesting. I'm not used to Hart doing this sort of thing; he acquits himself well. B+(*)

Jim Black/AlasNoAxis: Dogs of Great Indifference (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): The pieces here have regular rhythms with more or less fuzz, built up from bass and guitar, around the edges, closer to experimental rock or electronica than to postbop. The louder pieces are industrial grade, but most are quieter. Chris Speed plays tenor sax, providing melodic variation, or just as likely smoothing out the texture. Interesting sonically, especially the lighter pieces, but nothing quite jumps out. B+(**)

Lou Blackburn: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1963 [2006], Blue Note): That would be two albums in one year with the same lineup, including trumpeter Freddie Hill and pianist Horace Tapscott -- not yet 30, and nowhere near as distinctive or dominant as he became, but very solid throughout. Blackburn was a Los Angeles trombonist without much under his own name, but these sessions are bright, swinging hard bop, even the one released as Two-Note Samba. Must have been a law in 1963 that everyone had to release a samba album. B+(***)

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

Michael Blake: Blake Tartare (2002 [2005], Stunt): Starts and ends soft, with guitar groove and searching sax in between, including pieces by Mingus and Sun Ra that punch up the drama in the middle. Nothing spectacular, but a very satisfying arc. B+(***)

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

Ran Blake: All That Is Tied (2006, Tompkins Square): Solo piano, something Blake has done a lot of. Blake is 70, having recorded 35 records since his ESP-Disk debut 40 years ago. I've only heard a handful, and can't say that I've ever made much sense out of him. I just have a promo, with a quote on the front from John Medeski's liner notes: "A journey into an intuitive, mystical, poetic, personal and important world." Haven't seen the notes themselves, but that's about what this sounds like, even if I don't have the imagination or vision to see it myself. Francis Davis applauded this record. Brian Morton went even further: "the most beautiful and challenging piano record of the last 25 years." I don't doubt but that there's something here, but I'm giving up on trying to get it. B+(**)

Art Blakey: Holiday for Skins (1958 [2006], Blue Note): One of Blakey's many multi-drum experiments, following Drum Suite and Orgy in Rhythm, this one has three trap sets, seven Latino percussionists (including Ray Barretto), Donald Byrd trumpet, Ray Bryant piano, and Wendell Marshall bass. Doesn't seem like the drummers -- Philly Joe Jones and Art Taylor are the others -- ever get on the same wavelength as the Latinos, but the latter are happy to play along with anyone or anything. Especially Ray Bryant, who contributes some tasty moments. B+(*)

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

Theo Bleckmann/Fumio Yasuda: Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): As Americans we're much too close to Las Vegas to appreciate how strangely, definitively American the place can seem to foreigners. Fumio Yasuda orchestrates these songs not as show business so much as transcendental fantasy, inflating fluff like "Teacher's Pet" and "The Gal in Calico," but also playing "My Favorite Things" as light heartedly as "Chim Chim Cheree." Bleckmann sings, so sweet you feel faint. Bernd Ruf and the Kammerorchester Basel play their parts. B+(***)

Michael Bolton: Bolton Swings Sinatra (2006, Concord): First song is arranged for just strings; second for a big band with horns. Score that battle of the bands for the horns. The band here is slicker than Billy May's and hotter than Nelson Riddle's, which means on average it isn't quite up to either. But the real problem, of course, is that what matters is the singer, not the song. If not, Pat Boone would be Little Richard. Q.E.D. C+

Randy Brecker w/Michael Brecker: Some Skunk Funk (2003 [2006], Telarc): A partial reunion of the Brecker Brothers. Scanning through the credits lists the only member of this band, aside from the brothers, who was an alumni of their old fusion group is Will Lee. But the new group isn't decisive here. This overheated concert tape from Germany, "live at Leverkusener Jazztage," is dominated by the WDR Big Band Köln, who manage to obliterate any sharp edge or crisp beat the band throws their way. It's not that big bands can't play funk -- cf. James Brown -- but this one can't. Can't play fusion either. And it's rather sad to include an applause track on music this mediocre. C

Dave Burrell/Billy Martin: Consequences (2005 [2006], Amulet): A remarkable albeit rather limited meeting. Martin doesn't drum along, because Burrell doesn't give him anything to drum along with. He plays Tayloresque pianistics, if anything more abstract. Despite its tuning and variable decay, on some level the piano is just another percussion instrument, so why not think of this as a percussion duet? It's rather arbitrary whether I make this a low A- or a high B+, but for now I like it as an Honorable Mention because I got a one-liner for it: Old pianist shows young drummer what real percussion sounds like. B+(***)

The Chris Byars Octet: Night Owls (2001-02 [2006], Smalls): A smallish big band, with two brass and three saxes, the latter doubling on clarinet and flutes, plus the usual piano-bass-drums. Pretty mainstream stuff, with the harmonies layered on unobtrusively, none of that postmodernist harmonic theory. Even swings some. I'm more pleased than impressed. B+(**)

Elliott Caine Quintet: Blues From Mars (2005 [2006], EJC Music): Standard issue hard bop quintet, led by the trumpeter, with a few extra frills: vibes (DJ Bonebrake) on three cuts, congas on three more for a little Latin tinge, and theremin for the space effects on the title track. Bright, blues-based, swings; probably fun live, but at home you're more likely to reach for Lee Morgan. B

Carneyball Johnson (2006, Akron Cracker): Led by Tin Huey saxophonist Ralph Carney, guitarist Kimo Ball and drummer Scott Johnson contribute parts of their names, while Allen Whitman just offers up his bass. For those who missed it, Tin Huey was one of a half-dozen or so new wave bands to come out of Akron in the late '70s -- Pere Ubu and Devo were better known; the Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels, and the Numbers Band were more obscure; the Waitresses were a spin-off from Tin Huey's Chris Butler -- with a 1979 album fondly remembered for the Ubu-ish "I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts" (cf. Alfred Jarry's plays more so than the band). I hear they still play together. Haven't heard Carney's other albums, but saxophonists tend toward jazz -- after all, that's where the models come from. He plays Monk and Sun Ra here, which I haven't digested yet. But the loose and trashy pop singalongs based on the Yardbirds and Demond Dekker grabbed me immediately. [B+(**)]

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

François Carrier: Happening (2005 [2006], Leo, 2CD): A French Canadian alto saxist, Carrier first impressed me with a live trio album, Play, which did just that: tight, edgy, robust, exhilarating, but the sort of thing that other people could do if that was all they wanted. That same trio is the core of this album five years later -- Pierre Coté on bass and Michel Lambert on drums -- and they've grown even more telepathic, but Carrier has moved onto a broader sonic canvas by adding two more musicians. Uwe Neumann is a specialist in Indian music, playing sitar, sanza, and Indian talking drum. He is the backbone of these improvisations, the exotic center around which everyone else revolves. Mat Maneri plays viola, which vies with Carrier's saxes -- he plays soprano as well as alto -- as a second lead instrument. The liner notes talk about microtonalities in Indian music -- I don't quite get how that plays out, but recall that Maneri's father has long been noted for his microtonal work. What I am sure of is that the five long improvised happenings here never flag or lose interest. A-

Bill Carrothers: Shine Ball (2003-04 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): A shine ball is a pitch where a foreign substance has been applied to a baseball to give it an unexpected curve. The idea applies here because Carrothers plays a prepared piano in a trio setting. The preparation isn't extreme, but given that the pieces are improvised on the spot, it's likely that the precise sounds weren't fully anticipated; also that the range of temperaments was meant to generate as much surprise as possible. This sort of thing has been illegal, but not unheard of, in baseball since the 1920s. Whitey Ford was reputed to have a dandy. Not sure about Carrothers' near namesake, the 19th century pitcher Bob Caruthers, who rivals Ford for all-time career winning percentage. [B+(***)]

Bill Carrothers: Shine Ball (2003-04 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): Was wondering whether I hadn't graded Helen Sung's piano trio too conservatively when I put this piano trio album on. Turns out conservatively is right. Sung builds on the tradition, but here Carrothers goes somewhere else. It's not just that he plays a prepared piano -- not sure what "foreign substances" were applied where, but the piano rarely sounds like anything other than a normal piano, while the occasional metallic noises sound like they may just as well be coming off Gordon Johnson's bass or Dave King's drum set. The analogy to the banned baseball pitch is that Carrothers also applied foreign substance to his piano. The idea is to surprise the batter, or listener, with an unpredictable break, but as with the pitch the real trick is control. As with many spitballers, the prepared piano may itself be a feint -- mostly the piano comes through clear and sharp, while the improvs sneak past. A-

Marc Cary: Focus (2006, Motema Music): When I looked at Cary's website, the emphasis was on his Fender Rhodes work and the music playing was a cut above the usual smooth jazz jive. Digging around I found out that he has a couple of groups called Rhodes Ahead and Indigenous People -- his heritage is part Native American -- and that he produces dance music under the name Marco Polo. But this is an acoustic piano trio, not far out of the postbop mainstream, except it's faster and louder than usual, and drummer Sameer Gupta works in a little tabla. Also found out he worked his way through Betty Carter's boot camp. Also his side credits include two albums for Abraham Burton that blew me away. Still open on this one. [B+(**)]

Marc Cary: Focus (2006, Motema Music): Looks like Cary's main business -- can't say about interests -- is in taking his Fender Rhodes into funkier territory than the usual smooth jazz jive, but this is a conventional acoustic piano trio and the fare is respectable postbop, a bit faster and louder than usual. Cary has some impressive credentials, including a stint working for Betty Carter, and can clearly go anywhere he wants. David Ewell plays bass and Samir Gupta drums plus a little tabla -- nice touch, he might be another name to remember. B+(**)

Gilbert Castellanos: Underground (2005 [2006], Seedling): West coast (San Diego) trumpeter, originally from Mexico (Guadalajara); plays in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; has quite a bit of session work over the last 10-12 years, especially behind singers. Hype sheet compares him to "two of his earliest influences": Lee Morgan (one song covered here) and Clifford Brown. Doesn't sound a lot like either to me, although a cross isn't out of the question. Plays on their home court, mainstream hard bop. If that's your thing, I imagine you'd enjoy him live, and might even want this skillfully played, thoroughly enjoyable record as a souvenir. B+(**)

Serge Chaloff: Boston Blow-Up! (1955 [2006], Capitol Jazz): A hard swinging baritone saxophonist with a bop edge, Chaloff cut his teeth in Woody Herman's Second Herd, then moved on -- actually, was thrown out, for following Charlie Parker's habits too literally -- to cut a handful of memorable albums before he succumbed to a spinal tumor and died at age 33. Blue Serge (1956) is his masterpiece, a tight, elegant quartet where everything goes right, in part because the other three players -- Sonny Clark, Leroy Vinnegar, Philly Joe Jones -- are so dependable. This album is much sloppier but nearly as impressive. Produced by Stan Kenton, this is a sextet with three horns storming -- at its best the balance of raw power and feather light touch Kenton often aimed for and rarely achieved. A-

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

Joe Chambers: The Outlaw (2005 [2006], Savant): Although his credits list includes drums, Chambers primarily plays vibes here. Combined with Bobby Sanabria's percussion and Logan Richardson's soprano sax, this has a playful feel almost totally free of weight. Weird at first, then seductive. B+(**)

Thomas Chapin Trio: Ride (1995 [2006], Playscape): One of the most influential forces in the downtown resurgence of avant-jazz in New York in the early '90s, Chapin died young, age 40, leukemia. One measure of the respect accorded Chapin is the amount of live material that has been released since his death, including a massive 8-CD box from Knitting Factory defiantly titled Alive. Another is Michael Musillami's Playscape label, which is more or less the house organ of Chapin's former bandmates. So it's fitting that one more piece pop up here. The trio joins Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin. The record starts harsh before they ease off, find a groove, then tear it up and blare some more. Chapin plays flute as well as alto and sopranino sax, well enough I can't complain. Sarin takes a long drum solo -- I enjoyed every moment. Pavone plays some heavy duty bass. The set closes with a "Ticket to Ride" that made my day. [B+(***)]

Chris Cheek: Blues Cruise (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Most of the new talent debuts on Jordi Pujol's showcase label move on to other venues -- like Brad Mehldau, who returns with his piano trio here -- or they fade back into obscurity. Saxophonist Cheek has hung on for six albums now. (His website claims four -- he omits two live albums co-credited to Ethan Iverson, Ben Street and Jorge Rossy, but normally filed under his first-appearing name.) The new one is so relaxed he might have forgotten it too. But the group works at a high level of professionalism, and the results are unfailingly pleasant, maybe better. I guess if you're on a cruise, the last thing you want is for someone to rock the boat. [B+(**)]

Chris Cheek: Blues Cruise (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Just Cheek fronting Brad Mehldau's trio, doing four covers and five Cheek originals, mostly blues based, smoothly played, richly appointed, stretched out to the 5-7 minute range. Probably his least ambitious album ever. B+(*)

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

Chicago Underground Duo: In Praise of Shadows (2005 [2006], Thrill Jockey): Two now, or again, just Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor. When they stick to their main instruments, cornet and drums respectively, their spareness is attractive. However, they use the occasion to work all sorts of extra junk into the mix -- most of it can be categorized as electronics, but prepared piano and prepared vibes also enter the mix. At its most otherworldly it even sounds a bit like Harry Partch. Unfortunately, more often it doesn't sound like much of anything. B

Fay Claassen: Sings Two Portrait of Chet Baker (2005 [2006], Jazz 'N Pulz, 2CD): Recorded by a Dutch singer and group in remembrance of what would have been Baker's 75th birthday -- Baker spent his last years in Europe, dying in Amsterdam when he fell, or was pushed, out of a window. The second disc/portrait is the most straightforward, with Claassen singing from Baker's songbook with Jan Wessels' trumpet and Karel Boehlee's piano the key accompaniment. She's a more conventional singer than Baker, but captures some of his brittleness. The first disc refers back to Baker's legendary quartet with Gerry Mulligan, with Jan Menu playing baritone sax, and the singer scatting around where the trumpet might have been. Don't have much of a feel for that part yet. [B+(*)]

Avishai Cohen: Continuo (2005 [2006], RazDaz/Sunnyside): Bassist-led piano trio -- the pianist is Sam Barsh and the drummer is Mark Guiliana -- with extra oud on half of the cuts, adding string resonance to the dominantly mixed bass. The liner notes how tight the trio has become. A more neutral word is dense, and until I figure it out that will have to do. Cohen switches to electric for the last two cuts, which I definitely like. [B+(**)]

Avishai Cohen: Continuo (2005 [2006], RazDaz/Sunnyside): Bassist-led piano trio, with Amos Hoffman's oud added on half of the cuts to heighten the Middle Eastern influences. No political statement, but my considerable distance the continuum between Israeli and Lebanese music is more pronounced than its disjunction. The cover depicts a man, back turned to the camera, walking up a barren hill -- reminds me of sunburnt badlands in Wyoming at the end of summer, but could be Israel, or Lebanon, or points east like Syria or Jordan. Without idiots running around with guns it's hard to tell, and pleasing not to care. I do have some reservations about Cohen's fondness for classical music, which show up most prominently on "Arava." But the two electric bass pieces at the end more than make up for it. B+(***)

Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 [2006], American Clavé, 2CD): The first Conjure album, recorded in 1983 carried the self-explanatory title, Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed. Kip Hanrahan directed the music, composing some of it, bringing in a range of musicians to flesh out his ideas, with Reed himself reading the texts. Twenty-some years later, here is more of the same thing. Aside from Hanrahan and Reed, the only musician returning from the first Conjure album is David Murray, who looms large, as you may expect. Working on the rest. [B+(***)]

Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 [2006], American Clavé, 2CD): Long after two '80s albums, this is a third installment of Ishmael Reed texts channeled through Kip Hanrahan's music played by an impressive roster of musicians. The first, Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed is highly recommended; the second, Cab Calloway Stands in the for Moon much less so. This one comes in between. Reed's spoken pieces hold your interest more than the more song-like ones, which suggests that the music isn't quite up to snuff. What should be an all-star set of Latino percussionists -- Robby Ameen, Horacio El Negro Hernandez, Dafnis Prieto, Richie Flores, Pedro Martinez -- don't kick up much of a fuss, and I'm still not sure what Billy Bang does here. But the only holdover from the '80s group does loom large, and when he breaks David Murray steals the album. B+(**)

Bill Coon/Oliver Gannon: Two Much Guitar (2004 [2005], Cellar Live): I don't know, maybe I'm just getting soft on guitar at long last. Two Vancouver-based guitarists aided by bass and drums. Some of this is clearly electric, but most is subtly picked out, a steady flow that's hard to resist. Coon has been playing for twenty years, since 1995 in Vancouver. He has a previous trio album with the same bass-drums as here. Gannon is somewhat older -- why is it nobody bothers to put when they were born on their websites? -- with scattered credits going back to 1978, but only one record (as far as I've been able to find out) under his own name. B+(**)

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

Chick Corea: The Ultimate Adventure (2006, Stretch): I don't know, and couldn't care less, what this has to do with L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote a book under the same title. But as a fusion album this at least covers the basics: the sine qua non is groove, which this delivers in spades -- first two cuts are impressive enough in that regard I began to think this might amount to something. If this doesn't quite pan out, the reasons are the usual ones: the change of pace brings out the cheesiness in the keyboards and the choice of wind instruments leans strongly toward the flutes. Corea's previous Hubbard tribute, To the Stars, was a dud. This one isn't. B

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

The Crimson Jazz Trio: The King Crimson Songbook: Volume One (2005, Voiceprint): Drummer Ian Wallace put this group together after a tour with Frippless Crimson spinoff group 21st Century Schizoid Band. Nothing in Wallace's background suggests that he would come up with such a straightforward jazz group -- his resume includes Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, David Lindley, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, Keith Emerson, Crosby Stills and Nash, and so forth. Fretless bassist Tim Landers is another studio/tour pro with mostly rock acts on his list, although he can cite Gil Evans, Billy Cobham, Don Grolnick, and the Breckers. That leaves pianist Jody Nardone as the only certifiable jazz guy, but working out of Nashville he's got some mud on his flaps too. King Crimson was, and more or less still is, an English prog rock group led by non-singer guitarist Robert Fripp. Although it had some jazz threads, that doesn't appear to matter much here. What matters here is that the songs have enough structure to give Nardone something to nibble on, and he rearranges them enough to make it hard for someone as superificially acquainted with them as me to connect the dots. Where Crimson does approach the surface is in the undertow of Landers' bass. Otherwise, this is just a conventional piano trio that gets a lot of mileage out of songs that haven't entered the jazz canon. B+(***)

Roger Davidson: Pensando En Ti (2005 [2006], Soundbrush): Boleros and rumbas, mostly composed by the pianist-leader, played with an easy rhythm that lets the richness of the piano shine through. The group includes guitar, flute, and trumpet/flugelhorn, each folded in neatly. Davidson has a classical background, but he's worked in Latin forms before, notably on tangos with Pablo Aslan, who produces here. Lovely record, but it's almost totally lacking in tension. B+(*)

Kris Davis: The Slightest Shift (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Canadian pianist, migrated from Vancouver to Toronto to New York. I liked her first record, Lifespan, enough to list it as an Honorable Mention. This one pares the group down from six to four, losing two extra horns while keeping the critical one, Tony Malaby's tenor sax. Malaby is remarkably adept at sliding into groups and complementing but not upstaging the leader. Davis wrote all the pieces, working dense piano breaks into the mix. A good example of the left bank of the postbop mainstream. B+(***)

Guillaume de Chassy/Daniel Yvinec: Wonderful World (2004-05 [2006], Sunnyside): Piano and bass, respectively, although they mostly fill in around a set of voice samples "recorded on a cheap machine on the streets of New York City." Those include half-spoken, half-sung takes on "What a Wonderful World," "It Could Happen to You," and so forth, as well as song introductions and commentaries. A slight concept, but appealingly offhanded. B+(*)

Sugar Pie DeSanto: Refined Sugar (2005 [2006], Jasman): Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton in 1935, she got part of her name when Johnny Otis marketed her as Little Miss Sugar Pie in 1955. She recorded for Chess from 1959-66, then vanished until 1993 when she recorded the first of what now are four albums for Jasman. Her voice has deepened, developing some real grit and a fierce growl, and it carries what otherwise is a classic sounding but unexceptional r&b record. B+(*)

Ramón Díaz: Diàleg (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): When I see a sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums quintet, I figure it's either a throwback to the classic hard bop lineup of 1955-65 or some slick postmodernist with a bag of advanced harmonic ideas up his sleeve. This one is neither, exactly. Unlike the harmonists, the instruments are separated out, each to its own calling -- for the piano that means slipping in a little Horace Silver or Bobby Timmons boogie and blues. But it's not stuck in a time warp either: less a throwback than a straightforward evolution forward. Never heard of any of these guys, but everyone pulls their own. Led by the drummer: guess we should call him the Art Blakey of the Canary Islands. A-

Philip Dizack: Beyond a Dream (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): If you're interested in auspicious debuts, here's one: Dizack was 19 when he cut this one, mostly with bandmates from the Manhattan School of Music -- Greg Tardy is the ringer, the only name here I recognize. Dizack plays trumpet, credits Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard as influences -- wow, that's young! Chopswise I'd say he's in their league already. My main caveats are that he tries to too many things at once -- a common complaint I have about well-schooled debut albums -- and that the messy two-sax sextet crowds his trumpet. I reckon we'll be hearing more from pianist Miro Sprague also. B+(**)

Dr. John: Mercernary (2006, Blue Note): The good doctor attacks the Johnny Mercer songbook, growling and snarling and occasionally kicking its ass. One Mac Rebennack original: "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer." Hardly needs saying! B+(*)

Michael Donahue: Bounce (2004 [2006], Amerigo): Two sessions with less starpower than In the Pocket -- the names here are Adam Nussbaum on one, John Patitucci on the other, Joey Calderazzo on both. Half the tracks have guitar (Norm Zocher), others bass clarinet (Ernie Sola). All of this fits the usual bright, bouncy, slinky postbop mold. B

The Miles Donahue Quintet: In the Pocket (1999 [2006], Amerigo): Donahue was born in 1944, but didn't start recording until 1995. He's produced quite a bit since then, but I've only heard these two examples. Plays alto sax, tenor sax and trumpet; also gets credit for keyboards, but the pianist you notice here is most certainly Fred Hersch. The tenor sax is most likely Jerry Bergonzi, but no other trumpet players are listed, and I like the trumpet here as much as anything else. Not sure how the Quintet is actually aligned. Credits list eight musicians, with three singled out as "featuring": Hersch, Bergonzi, and Kurt Rosenwinkle [sic]. Looks like Hersch and Bergonzi are in, but the guitarist is an add-on for four tracks. The record is the sort of postbop that I find annoyingly pointless: it sounds just like jazz, as opposed to something of its own creation. That isn't very well expressed: a rather vague idea, but "just like jazz" is a placeholder for something missing -- doesn't matter what that is, just that it's not there. What is there breaks down into separate pieces, most of which are impressive on their own. The stars -- Hersch, Bergonzi, Rosenwinkel -- are easily recognized for their signatures, which show how warranted their stardom is. Donahue's trumpet stands out more than his alto sax, but he makes an impression on both. B+(*)

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

Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra: Negra Tigra (2005 [2006], ILK): Herb Robertson adds to a lineup that is already heavy on brass and pushes them uncomfortably close to the brink. Crowding ten musicians onto two microphones also adds to the raw edge of the sound. The pieces demonstate that the this time the jungle is in Vietnam, although they don't integrate eastern sounds nearly as well as Billy Bang has done. But the five "Negra Tigra" fragments that frame the pieces take "Tiger Rag" into the scrappy jungle of the avant-garde, and that's what they do best. B+(**)

Anne Ducros: Piano, Piano (2004 [2006], Dreyfus): Her website proclaims her "de la diva du jazz vocal" -- reflecting perhaps a background steeped in classical music. I like her voice, her moves, even her scat, and how she handles many of her tried and true standards. On the other hand, she keeps her French pieces -- a Jacques Prévert song and a piece by Erik Satie -- outside of my grasp. And I don't think the multiple pianist concept works: two or three songs each by five pianists -- Chick Corea, Jacky Terrasson, René Urtreger, Enrico Pieranunzi, and Benoît de Mesmay -- doesn't sort out cleanly. But for the record, I did find myself looking up one pianist each time out: Pieranunzi. B

Ismael Dueñas: Mirage (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish piano trio, damn good one, even if I'm at a loss of words to describe them. Same thing happened with Dueñas's previous album, La Tiranía de la Cosa. [B+(**)]

George Duke: The Essential George Duke (1977-90 [2006], Epic/Legacy, 2CD): This series usually tries to span an artist's career, even if that costs a little extra. But this one cuts its losses, sticking to Duke's Epic catalog, nothing but warmed over funk. Half sounds like secondhand P-Funk, replete with Bootsy-like interjections. Other half sounds like what Pedro Bell slammed as Turf, Hot Air & No Fire, except when the girls sing -- you know, Sister Sludge. First disc is further marred by a trip to Brazil, but the second, surprisingly, turns into tacky, sticky fun. B

Mark Elf: Liftoff (2005 [2006], Jen Bay): He's a bop-influenced mainstream guitarist with a fairly soft tone and some speed, especially on the alternate take to the title piece, which does indeed lift off. Reminds me more of Herb Ellis than Wes Montgomery; may have some affinity to Pat Martino, but that goes beyond my area of expertise. It also helps that he works with a dream band here: David Hazeltine, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash. Tight, clean, professional; just what you'd expect. B+(*)

John Ellis: By a Thread (2006, Hyena): This is one of those albums that tries to do everything and does it well enough to tease you into playing along. Instrumentally, Ellis plays various saxes, bass clarinet and ocarina, backed by Aaron Goldberg's keyboards and/or Mike Moreno's guitar -- not a large group, but a loaded one. Musically, we have various shades of postbop, including blues and funk riffs. It's all impressively well rounded. B+(**)

Liberty Ellman: Ophiuchus Butterfly (2005 [2006], Pi): Another guitar album, but Ellman works more as an intermediary and facilitator, mostly for the three horns -- Steve Lehman's alto sax, Mark Shim's tenor sax, and Jose Davila's tuba -- as they stutter step in and out of phase. They maintain a fascinating indeterminacy, unwilling to cohere even when they occasionally pull in roughly the same direction. [B+(***)]

Liberty Ellman: Ophiuchus Butterfly (2005 [2006], Pi): English guitarist, hangs in avant circles in downtown New York. Leads a six piece group here, often just directing traffic between the three horns -- Steve Lehman on alto sax, Mark Shim on tenor sax, and Jose Davila on tuba -- which is all the trickier because the rhythms are so hacked up: "body-moving" is what he aims for, but that doesn't seem to mean all the body moving in the same direction. Don't think it quite comes together, but there's no shortage of interesting ideas here. B+(**)

Maurice El Médioni Meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions (2005 [2006], Piranha): Superficially, this is Cuban music sung in French and maybe a little Arabic, the meeting of an Algerian pianist (Jewish, based in France, a figure of some importance in the development of raï) and a Cuban percussionist (Judeophile, passed through Miami to New York, where he records for Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series). El Médioni traces his family tree back to al-Andalus, where Jews and Arabs created Spanish music, roots that not even Torquemada could stamp out. That Arab-Sephardic music lay at the base of Cuban music, augmented by much from Africa, waiting to be unpacked in meetings such as this inspired jam session. A-

Brian Eno/David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1979-80 [2006], Nonesuch): Interesting to think of this as jazz, even though neither principal has any jazz cred, and the record fit into no jazz tradition. But it also fit into no rock or pop tradition. It was a piece of pure experiment, pieced together ad hoc, using the studio (or more precisely, the tape recorder) as an instrument. It was unprecedented then, if not unrelated to Jon Hassell's Fourth World, but these days it is a type not far removed from things that jazz musicians do. This edition has seven extra tracks, each slighter, more minimal than the original eleven. Such narrow focus is perhaps its most jazzlike quality. A-

Gil Evans: The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (1958-59 [2006], Blue Note): This marks the emergence of Evans not just as an arranger but as an auteur, and fittingly starts by recasting the entire jazz tradition into his deftly layered, intricate modernism. This disc combines two albums, released as New Bottle, Old Wine and Great Jazz Standards -- the former with more of the latter, ranging from "St. Louis Blues" to Charlie Parker, the latter with more contemporary fare -- not that anyone will be surprise to find "Straight No Chaser" or "Django" there. These records have always long me as cold, calculated, a bit cut and dry, but this time through I'm struck by the solos on the latter half, especially Steve Lacy and Budd Johnson. B+(***)

Jon Faddis: Teranga (2005 [2006], Koch): Back in 1974-75 Norman Granz had Oscar Peterson do a series of Trumpet Kings records -- Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, not sure who else -- which turned out to be mostly disappointing, but the surprise, for me at least, there was one with Jon Faddis. He was barely past 21 at the time, an electrifying player, but he's had what seems like a nondescript career ever since then. For instance, the current Penguin Guide doesn't even give him an entry, and past editions have only credited him with one 3.5-star album. This comes down to career choices, and the choices Faddis made didn't produce much of a recorded legacy -- nine records in thirty years. Charlie Shavers used to have an act where he'd riff through the trumpet tradition, doing his impersonations of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and others, but those guys were Shavers' contemporaries -- he was saying, hey no big deal, I can do this shit too. Faddis grew up in awe of those guys, learned to imitate them, and that's where he got pigeonholed. He was so good at it Dizzy Gillespie kept him on hand for years as backup and for relief. Reminds me of the story where a cat was dismissed for merely copying Charlie Parker; he then shoved his alto sax at the detractor and said, "here, let's see you copy Charlie Parker." Faddis also worked in the shadows of big bands, filled in on studio dates; finally he moved into the big money institutions, directing the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. This is roughly the same career path that Wynton Marsalis, eight years younger than Faddis, took, but Marsalis did a better job of separating himself from his idols, wrote and recorded more, and got a lot more hype -- in other words, the main difference between Faddis and Marsalis is modesty vs. arrogance. For proof of that, see Faddis's new album. He rips into some high note stuff like you rarely hear these days and it's not obvious where it comes from -- must be his own. But mostly you notice that he slots his trumpet into the rhythmic roil rather than soaring beyond it: no showboat virtuosity here, just serious chops. Most of the album is quartet, and the rhythm section is exceptional: David Hazeltine is superb as usual on piano, but unexpected muscle comes from bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Dion Parson. Then there are guests. On most albums these days, guest shots are diversions, breaking the flow, but Senegalese drums, Frank Wess flute and Gary Smulyan baritone, one song each, are seamlessly integrated. Two diversions in the middle are something else. One is a duet with guitarist Russell Malone, a relative quiet spot. The other brings in Clark Terry for a second trumpet and a dish of verbal chop suey, with Faddis joining in. Breaks in the flow like that are plusses. Another play or two and I may have a Pick Hit. A-

PS: Bumped this up to A. Yes, we have a pick hit here.

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

Fattigfolket: Le Chien et la Fille (2005 [2006], ILK): Four musicians from Norway and Sweden. Recorded in France. Released in Denmark. Trumpet, sax, bass and drums -- gives them two leads, some harmonic options, no chords to tie them down. Mostly mid-tempo or slower, graceful, elegant, but parts kick in above the ECM line. B+(**)

Pierre Favre/Yang Jing: Two in One (2005 [2006], Intakt): Yang Jing plays pipa, a Chinese lute-type instrument with four strings. She was a soloist in the Chinese National Orchestra for twelve years -- no doubt she knows her stuff, but I'm having some trouble following it. Favre is a veteran drummer, adept in avant-garde contexts but also a long-time dabbler in exotica. His contribution is less clear here. I suspect that this will wind up in the category of sound environments, but it's probably worth a closer listen. [B]

Pierre Favre/Yang Jing: Two in One (2005 [2006], Intakt): Primarily the work of Yang Jing, who plays pipa, a four-stringed lute-like instrument. She mastered it as a soloist in the Chinese National Orchestra. Takes a while, but it grows on you. Favre is a Swiss drummer, works mostly in avant-garde circles but his interests are pretty broad. His effect here is much less obvious, but at the very least he deserves credit for making this happen, and probably a good deal more. B+(**)

Irving Fields Trio: Bagels and Bongos (1959 [2005], Reboot Stereophonic): This could, and possibly should, be as tacky as its title and songs like "Havannah Nagilah" suggest, but it isn't, and that works too -- prim, proper, a light touch that keeps the piano up front, leaving the bagel- and bongo-rhythms wafting in the air, faint aromas of the exotic. A-

Amanda Ford: On Fire (2006, Alanna): A pianist-singer-songwriter with little in the way of jazz connections -- probably unfair to consider her here, but it's usually a safe bet for me to slot under jazz any unknown female vocalist who's not clearly from Nashville or Austin. She's from Pittsburgh. The cover poses her in an evening gown, sitting at a piano, with a candle on top. There's a whole category these days of singer-songwriters marketed as jazz for no better reason than that's their label's niche -- they're no different from others marketed as folk, country, alt-rock, etc. This is thoughtful, elegant, unexciting. Probably deserves another listen now that I know what it isn't. Wish I thought I had time. B

Mimi Fox: Perpetually Hip (2005 [2006], Favored Nations, 2CD): Jazz guitarist, on her seventh album since 1987. Nickname is Fast Fingers -- she doesn't strike me as particularly fast or fancy, but she does pick out a strong line and she keeps her balance rhythmically. First disc is a small group -- piano, bass, drums, extra percussion on two cuts -- and it hums along nicely. Second disc is solo, and it holds together as well. Don't know her earlier work, and I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but won't mind studying it further. [B+(**)]

Free Range Rat: Nut Club (1999 [2006], Clean Feed): Starts chaotic. I've never been a fan of what Impulse used to define as "energy music" -- cacophony is the more normative term -- but once in a while something interesting emerges from it, and that's what more or less happens here. As far as I can tell -- another skinny promo disc -- Free Range Rat started as a trumpet-sax duo, John Carlson and Eric Hipp, respectively. Then they added bass, Shawn McGloin, then drums, George Schuller, for one of those free pianoless quartets, although a relatively messy one. This record also has Doug Yates, clarinet and bass clarinet, listed as "special guest." B+(**)

Frequency (2006, Thrill Jockey): I'm tempted to file this eponymous group album under Edward Wilkerson Jr., since he's probably the senior member and definitely carries the loudest horn, but most of his records are currently filed under 8 Bold Souls, an avant big band he was definitely the main force behind. He plays tenor sax and clarinet here, wood flute and bells. But everyone plays flutes of some kind or another, especially Nicole Mitchell, who ranges from piccolo to bass flute, plus melodica, Egyptian harp, and plastic bag. She has four albums and a Downbeat rising star poll win. She's also credited with two pieces to one each for the others, and perhaps more importantly the flutes take over after an early sax squall and the albums ends with a whimper. The other members are bassist Harrison Bankhead and percussionist Avreeayl Ra, both steady hands on Chicago's fringe. Lots of interesting spots here, but I have trouble keeping the thread, and weary of the flute register. B+(*)

The Bob Gallo Quintet: Wake-Up Call (2005 [2006], CD Baby): No label evident here, not even the usual website, although the hype sheet says this is available from North Country, and google points to CD Baby. I've used the latter before on self-released albums where no label is evident, so that will do here. No session dates either, but CD Baby gives this as a May 2005 release, while the hype sheet says Sept. 1, 2006. Gallo plays guitar. His resume mostly lists TV work, which doesn't cut much grease hereabouts. The quintet includes trumpet (Alex Sipiagin), piano (Misha Tsiganov), bass (Boris Koslov) and drums (Gene Jackson). The music is competent postbop with nice solo work from the the main three. B

Laszlo Gardony: Natural Instinct (2006, Sunnyside): Hungarian pianist, emigrated to US in 1983, has seven albums listed at AMG, which probably short-changes his early work. This is a trio with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel. Soft and sweet, worth listening to but not the sort of thing that demands you pay attention. B+(*)

Linton Garner Trio: Quiet Nights (2002 [2006], Cellar Live): Linton was Erroll Garner's older brother. Born 1915, raised in Pittsburgh, played piano for Billy Eckstine and others in the late '40s, moved to Montreal in 1962, and later to Vancouver, where he was a fixture on the scene until his death in 2003 -- 26 years after his more famous younger brother. His trio here includes Ross Taggart on tenor sax and Russ Botten on bass. The program offers standards with one Garner original. Garner gets a lot of space to open up, and Taggart has a broad, lush tone. It's all quite straightforward, very comfortable. B+(**)

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

Charles Gayle: Time Zones (2006, Tompkins Square): I always appreciated Gayle's occasional piano forays. Even when he ventured into Cecil Taylor territory they provided a brief respite from his torrential sax. But a whole album of solo piano offers no such contrast. And the last couple of cuts settle into a lovely pastoralism -- compounding my usual confusion. He's looking good on the cover. I'm happy for him. B+(*)

Charles Gayle Trio: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2006, Ayler): After all his attempts at diversification -- piano, violin, solo piano album, can Gayle with strings be far behind? -- it's a pleasure just to hear him blow and his trio-mates, Gerald Benson and Michael Wimberly, bang. Doesn't hurt that he sticks with his more moderate alto instead of unleashing his full fury tenor. Helps that he mostly goes with standards -- gives you an easy frame of reference, even if his "Cherokee" is pretty far afield. B+(***)

Jay Geils-Gerry Beaudoin and the Kings of Strings (2005 [2006], Arbors): Two guitarists. Geils is the same guy who ran the J. Geils Band, a venerable Boston rock group I never got around to checking out. According to his bio, he was a big Benny Goodman fan when he was growing up, and finally reverted to his first love when he recorded Jay Geils Plays Jazz! (Stony Plain; haven't heard it, but anything with Scott Hamilton is promising in my book). Haven't heard Beaudoin before either -- he has several swing-oriented albums going back to the early '90s. Beaudoin is also on Geils' jazz album, and they've taken to calling themselves the Kings of Strings. The guitarists are fine enough, but the only thing that keeps the hyperbole from becoming laughable is the tag, "Featuring Aaron Weinstein" -- the young violinist whose debut, A Handful of Stars I recommend highly. Beaudoin describes Weinstein as "the most mature 19-year-old I've never met." Actually, he's the world's youngest old fogie, a teenager who set his stars on Joe Venuti and figured out how to get there. He's less impressive here than on his own album, where he pointedly picked out his own choice accompanists and went straight for Bucky Pizzarelli (and Houston Person and Joe Ascione). Still, this is pretty enjoyable. B+(**)

Shawn Glyde: Alternate Rhythm (2006, Imuso): The idea here was to start with an interesting rhythmic concept, then flesh it out. Glyde recorded the drum parts first, lots of time signatures like 13/16 and 19/16, but however alt they may be, they still stick within fairly rigid grooves. The melodies and harmonic layering was added later, with keyboarders Jason Galuten and Brad French and fusion bassist Jimmy Haslip sharing credits. Other mix-ins include sax (more soprano than tenor), guitar, and Meghan McKown's scat (two tracks). Glyde describes this as "constructed backwards," but what he's backed into is a semi-smooth fusion album. Still, he hasn't drained it of interest -- credit the oblique strategies. B+(*)

Gnappy: Unloaded (2006, Bean Pie): Austin TX group, claim their formula is one jigger jazz, two jiggers funk. Guitar, bass, sax, drums, some guest trumpet, a so-so vocal track also provided sans vocal, a bit of rap. Not sure about Marcus Cardwell's sax since the tracks I noticed had Steve Johnson guesting. Nor am I sure what I think of it all, but most likely it's easier to fake the funk than the jazz. [B]

Gnappy: Unloaded (2006, Bean Pie): Jazz-funk group from Austin TX, basically a sax-guitar-bass-drums quartet with a wee bit of vocals, including a rap, plus some guests. I go up and down on them -- means they can prick my interest, but have trouble sustaining it. B

Brad Goode: Hypnotic Suggestion (2005 [2006], Delmark): Trumpet player, in a quartet with pianist Adrean Farrugia. Harvey Pekar notes that this 54-minute album was recorded in two and a half hours: "That helped add spontaneity, a live feeling, to the proceedings." Yes, but it also means that they kept what they came up with on the spot. Which isn't bad, but after playing it three times I've invested more time in it than they did, and have less to show for it. B

Dexter Gordon: Gettin' Around (1965 [2006], Blue Note): The last of the Blue Notes. Gordon sounds relaxed, his huge sound towering over light but sprightly accompaniment from Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and Barry Harris on piano. B+(**)

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

Grismore/Scea Group: Well Behaved Fish (2004 [2006], Accurate): Steve Grismore plays guitar. Paul Scea plays various saxes and flutes. They open with Ornette Coleman's "Dancing in Your Head," which presumably frames their interests -- certainly fits their instruments. Fun to hear that piece again, but none of their own works move Coleman forward. Rather, they move toward a fairly generic but spirited fusion, even keeping trumpeter Brent Sandy on hand for those little Milesian riffs. B+(*)

Marty Grosz and His Hot Combination (2005 [2006], Arbors): For some reason I hadn't put together that Marty is the son of German artist-satirist Georg Grosz. I knew that Marty was born in Berlin in 1930, but it's not all that rare for Europeans to latch onto prewar American jazz styles. In one of the stories here he identifies himself as American, which makes sense -- he came over with his father in 1932. Still, he sings the first verse of "Just a Gigolo" in German, after a 6-minute historical intro. That sets up a 10-minute explication of "English Blues." Those stories are interesting, but they're not all that replayable. On the other hand, the music pieces are delightful: he plays Condon guitar, and sings like Waller, but less convinced of his genius. Good band, too, including Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson and James Dapogny -- all stars in a style that never loses its charm. B+(**)

Tsegué-Maryam Guèbro: Éthiopiques 21: Ethiopia Song (1963-96 [2006], Buda Musique): Born 1923, the daughter of a noted Ethiopian writer. Like her father, she was educated in Switzerland, learning a half-dozen languages, as well as piano. After the Fascists conquered Ethiopia, she was deported to an island near Sardinia. After the war she returned to her studies in Cairo. In 1948 she entered a monstery, becoming a nun. She later made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, staying there as an interpreter for the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch. She recorded two solo piano albums in Germany in 1963, another in 1970, one more in 1996. She also cut an album of liturgical music where she played organ, but this album just collects her solo piano music. It strikes me as neither the classical music of her teachers nor the native music of her country, and it certainly isn't jazz. Mostly small figures, delicately played. Several songs refer to rivers, reflected in the easy flow and quiet contemplation of the music. A-

Kip Hanrahan: Every Child Is Born a Poet: The Life & Work of Piri Thomas (1992-2002 [2006], American Clavé): Could have listed this under Thomas, who wrote and recites most of the words, or even Jonathan Robinson, who directed the documentary film this is the soundtrack to, but Hanrahan orchestrated this, much as he has the Conjure albums with Ishmael Reed. In some ways he's even more central here -- as gripping as the words are, the instrumental interludes are exceptionally captivating. Thomas is perhaps best known for his 1967 memoir Down These Mean Streets. [B+(***)]

Kip Hanrahan: Every Child Is Born a Poet: The Life & Work of Piri Thomas (1992-2002 [2006], American Clavé): Effectively this does for Thomas -- author of Down These Mean Streets, perhaps America's best known Puerto Rican writer -- what Conjure does for Ishmael Reed. The words are more prosaic, but the narration has palpable impact. However, the music, meant for a soundtrack, has less impact -- a little trumpet, but it's mostly the Latin percussionists who save the day. B+(*)

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

Roy Hargrove: Nothing Serious (2005 [2006], Verve): The advance copy was attributed to the Roy Hargrove Quintet, but the final backs down to the leader, the cover showing the musician in dark portrait, the business end of his flugelhorn down on his chest, the background all blurry. He looks confused, lost, or maybe just sad -- which explains nothing about the bright, brassy music inside, least of all how serious to take it. If one insists on taking it seriously, one has to wonder why he overreaches just to come up with clichés. If not, why does he make going through the motions seem like so much work? Don't know about him, but I'm confused, lost, and maybe sad here. Only things I'm sure about: the unison harmony sounds awful; Slide Hampton's guest spots are a plus; further play is more likely to send this down than up. B

Winard Harper Sextet: Make It Happen (2006, Piadrum): The way I parse the credits sheet, the Sextet seems to have eight members, including three percussionists not counting a leader who plays balafon as well as drums. Another five musicians show up for several tracks, including quasi-stars Antonio Hart and Wycliffe Gordon; also Abdou Mboup and his talking drum. Over fifteen tracks running 77:56 they cover a lot of ground, starting with Charlie Parker and working their way through pieces by six band members -- OK, maybe that's the Sextet? Too many different things going on here to make a coherent album, but lots of good things in the details: the African percussion pieces are notable; guest pianist Sean Higgins romps on Ray Bryant's "Reflection"; guest trombonist Wycliffe Gordon brings down the house in "After Hours"; probably more. Harper's having a ball. B+(**)

Terra Hazelton: Anybody's Baby (2004, HealyOPhonic): Jeff Healey's sometime singer, she has more growl than purr in her voice, which probably suits her more for rockabilly like "Long As I'm Movin'" than the trad jazz her band, with guest spots from Marty Grosz, plays so well. No complaints about the band, but the most touching thing here is the closer, a country-ish thing she sings over nothing but her own strummed guitar. B+(***)

Jeff Healey: Among Friends (2002 [2006], Stony Plain): Blind from age one, Healey is a Canadian who learned to play blues guitar laying his axe flat on his lap. After several albums, he picked up a trumpet and started playing trad jazz, inspired and spurred on by Dick Sudhalter on this first rough cut album, now reissued by his new label. I prefer the new one, It's Tight Like That, and not only because Chris Barber joins in. But there's nice stuff here, like the rhythm guitar on "Stardust" -- also the roughness in his voice, which seems to be on the right track. B+(*)

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

Jeff Healey & the Jazz Wizards: It's Tight Like That (2005 [2006], Stony Plain): Now that I've heard Healey's first trad jazz album -- haven't heard his earlier albums, which evidently were blues or blues-rock -- I'm impressed at how much tighter his band has become. In particular, Christopher Plock has a much larger role on clarinet and various saxes, Jesse Barksdale has taken over most of the guitar, and violinist Drew Jurecka is a major addition. Of course, guest Chris Barber looms huge here. He gives Healey a trumpet's best friend: a trombone -- remember that Armstrong never left home without one. He sings three songs, and he keeps everyone sharp -- he's played this kind of music fifty-some years. Recorded live, a terrific show. A-

Heernt: Locked in a Basement (2005 [2006], RazDaz/Sunnyside): Trio, led by drummer Tom Guiliana, who also dabbles in electronics. With electric bass (Neal Persiani) and tenor sax (Zac Colwell, who also employs alto, clarinet, flute, keyboards, guitar and whatnot) this is an oblique groove album with some rough edges -- the sort of thing I tend to fall for, but not the most compelling example. Last piece is a dirge, "Brawling on Epic Landforms" -- good title, but a downer. B+(*)

Andrew Hill: Smoke Stack (1963 [2006], Blue Note): It looks like it's finally Hill's time. This year's Jazz Journalists Association Awards nominated Hill both for Musician of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award. He's got a good new album out on his second returnt rip to Blue Note. And his new/old label has started to put his catalog in order. This one is unusual among his early records for its lack of horns. It's not quite a trio, in that he uses two bassists, frequently playing arco. But it's a good example of how far he could push his piano, especially as he surfs over such volatile time shifts. A-

Andrew Hill: Pax (1965 [2006], Blue Note): Now that Hill's lived long enough to have become a legend, his old (and now new) label is finally bringing his old catalog back in print. This session has always had problems seeing the light of day: the original was shelved until 1975 when it finally came out as part of a garbage collection project. It isn't garbage. It should have sold fine just on names -- Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis, Joe Chambers -- but it's actually better than that. Hill's piano is always into something surprising, and the horns take the hint and play much further out than expected. A-

Buck Hill: Relax (2006, Severn): Haven't heard from the longtime DC mailman for a while -- he recorded for Steeplechase from 1978-83 and later for Muse from 1989-92, but only has a 2000 live album since then. Pushing 80, he's still sounding pretty good: a broad tone on tenor sax, a fondness for blues licks, a typical soul jazz backup group with organ and guitar. Nothing anyway near remarkable here, but it welcomes us back home. B+(**)

Maurice Hines: To Nat "King" Cole With Love (2005 [2006], Arbors): Singer tribute albums usually beg the question, why not the original? I predict that once my original surprise and delight wear off, this will wind in the Honorable Mentions, but right now the only similar album I can think of that I find this charming is Roseanna Vitro's Catching Some Rays -- as in Ray Charles, and obviously there the vocal comparison was less in lay, so the music took over. Hines is Gregory's older brother. He has the same talent set -- dancer, actor, singer, in roughly that order -- but never got so famous. The songs are the ones you know. Hines' voice is damn close to Cole's, so he depends on ticks and nuances for variation. The band is first rate -- some real swing, especially the Tommy Newsom arrangements. [A-]

Stevie Holland: More Than Words Can Say (2006, 150 Music): Art song seems like the right term here: standards, plus a couple of originals, played for dramatic effect -- slow, articulate, drenched in strings, torchers by aroma if not by attitude. There are at least half a dozen distinct strains competing under the general rubric of vocal jazz. This is one that has little appeal to me -- despite a couple of pianists I admire, the music has no connection to the jazz tradition, nor does the very talented singer. This just reminds me that had Barbra Streisand grown up on cabaret instead of Broadway musicals she'd be touted as a jazz singer too. B+(*)

Will Holshouser Trio: Singing to a Bee (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Plays accordion, with Ron Horton on trumpet and David Phillips on bass. The trumpet stands out starkly against accordion, especially when Horton goes high. The bass, however, burrows under, with little presence on its own -- seems like drums might have been more useful. Touches of Weill seem inevitable, but nothing connects with tango or klezmer -- Holshouser also plays with David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness, but what's lacking on all fronts is momentum. (One more gripe: Clean Feed, following Palmetto and others, has started to only send out promo sleeves. I don't grade down for this, but do find it annoying. I did manage to read the liner notes online -- something about haiku that made no sense to me -- but can't comment on the real packaging.) B

Ron Horton: Everything in a Dream (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Horton comes out of New York's Jazz Composers Collective, a circle that includes Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough, and others. On a map of the jazz universe they'd fit on the seam between academically respectable postbop and the more formal segments of the avant-garde. In other words, they are serious cats, seeking to advance the state of the art within an acknowledged formal framework. This record here is nothing if not ambitious, and there is much to admire in it. Horton's own trumpet and flugelhorn are joined by two saxes, piano, drums, and two basses. The saxes are John O'Gallagher (alto) and Tony Malaby (tenor), both superb. All of the players have excellent parts, including featured bass solos for Masa Kamaguchi and John Hebert. I'm less pleased with how they come together. There's something sour in the sax-trumpet harmony I find a real turnoff. Maybe there's some new-fangled harmonic theory at work here? -- I've hade the same reaction to dozens of albums from this same milieu. Still, it's hard not to admire what he's done here, even if I can't quite bring myself to like it. B+(*)

Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: Way Out East (2005 [2006], Songlines): This sounded horrible at first then started to kick in, rather strangely. The lineup has no bottom, no beat, no propulsion: the leader's piano, Peggy Lee's cello, Ron Miles' trumpet, and Sara Schoenbeck's bassoon. It has a studied, rather stately chamber music feel, appealing in a rather abstract way. [B+(*)]

Jason Kao Hwang: Edge (2005 [2006], Asian Improv): I've played this several times, going up and down on it, which makes me think it's a record that rewards careful listening but doesn't emerge clearly from the background. The lead instruments are the leader's violin and Taylor Ho Bynum's cornet, a nice combination. The quartet is filled out by Andrew Drury and Ken Filiano. Still working on it. [B+(**)]

Jason Kao Hwang: Edge (2005 [2006], Asian Improv): Hwang has been around a while -- his CV doesn't give a birth date, but dates back to 1975 at NYU, so I figure he's closing in on 50 -- but he's only emerged as a major jazz violinist in the last few years. Although he was born in the US, he seems to have spent much of his career exploring Chinese classical music. Most of his jazz work incorporates typical Chinese tones and rhythms, but I wonder whether a blindfold test would peg the Chinese influence here. Good quartet here with Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Ken Filiano on bass, and Andrew Drury on drums. His previous Asian Improv record, Graphic Evidence, was more distinctly Asian, while his record with William Hooker and Roy Campbell as the Gift pushed much harder into avant terrain. This is somewhere in between. B+(**)

Susi Hyldgaard: Blush (2004 [2006], Enja/Justin Time): Danish singer with four albums. Sings in English. Has no jazz moves that I can recognize, nor any rock moves, so this album feels rather sedentary. She plays piano. Some cuts have bass and drums; others strings and/or vocal backup. Two cuts are remixes. The beats on the last one help. C+

Instinctual Eye: Born in Brooklyn (2005 [2006], Barking Hoop): Free improv from a multilateral trio consisting of Kevin Norton (drums, vibes), Frode Gjerstad (clarinet, alto sax), and Nick Stephens (bass). The two long pieces take some strange curves, breaking up into noise then suddenly cohering into something quite unexpected -- intense details, less clear as to the overall trajectory. The longer first piece has Norton mostly on vibes, a finely tuned percussion kit that contrasts strongly with the clarinet. B+(**)

Aaron Irwin Group: Into the Light (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Irwin plays alto sax in a quartet with guitar, bass and drums. Tenor saxist Rich Perry also appears on five of eight tracks. Moderate postbop, not much distinguished, although guitarist Ryan Scott has some nice moments, and Perry makes himself heard. B

Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa: Raw Materials (2005 [2006], Savoy Jazz): Put this on as soon as I got it, and I've played it three times since, so this isn't really a first impression. But it really is just an impression: I've been playing the record in odd moments when I couldn't really focus. It took me a while before I realized that these pieces are just duets. Iyer is so adept at marshalling time and filling space that I never suspected anything to be missing. But my strongest impression of the record is that it annoys me. I'm inclined to blame Mahanthappa's tone -- a sour, metallic taste, all edge. I can think of other alto saxists with a similar bite -- most notably, Jackie McLean -- so perhaps there's something more bugging me here. Iyer's work here remains impressive -- he's a major figure, and judging from his other work Mahanthappa is at least a useful one. This leaves me with a conundrum: impressions thus far have made it clear to me that I'm never going to like this enough to rate it even as an Honorable Mention; on the other hand, it's possible that if I played it another 3-5 times I might develop the grudging admiration that would push it into low B+ range, or I might get so annoyed to list it as a Dud. Right now I'm not looking forward to either. B

D.D. Jackson: Serenity Song (2006, Justin Time): The core trio here looks promising, with bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Dafnis Prieto joining the pianist. Jackson was a student of Don Pullen, and every now and then you hear something that only comes out of Pullen's bag -- rare and welcome sounds. But most of the pieces have something more: Sam Newsome's soprano sax on four, Christian Howes's violin on five, Dana Leong's trombone on one and cello on two, with some duplicates along the way. I'm never one to complain about trombone, but the others are mixed blessings. The strings add little more than a glistening thickener, but the sax takes over -- once to impressive effect, but I'm less sure about the others. [B+(**)]

Hank Jones/Frank Wess: Hank and Frank (2003 [2006], Lineage): From the label website: "Each Lineage recording is an organic collaboration of living legends and the strongest and most exciting young performers, created in order to perpetuate the timeless straight-ahead jazz aesthetic." The young performers list starts with guitarist Ilya Lushtak -- Russian born, grew up in San Francisco, moved to New York in 1996, 30 years old when his website bio was written -- who runs the label and arranges these collaborations. Jones and Wess, of course, are near the top of anyone's living legends list, and anything that lets them keep on recording is fine by me. Nothing new here, except that Lushtak continues to please as a sideman. Wess plays flute on a couple of tunes, but few people sound better on tenor sax, so that's what stands out. B+(**)

Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Palm of Soul (2005 [2006], AUM Fidelity): The lonesome legend of the New Orleans underground finally gets a fair hearing. I've heard Jordan a couple of times before without ever managing to get past the caterwaul, but he seems calm and thoughtful here. Drake and Parker indulge in their usual bag of tricks -- guimbri and gongs, tablas and frame drum, Hamid chants along with one -- as well as their usual genius. [B+(**)]

Junk Box: Fragment (2004 [2006], Libra): Another Satoko Fujii album -- she's working at a rate that rivals Vandermark or Braxton back in the '70s. This one is a trio with sidekick Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and John Hollenbeck on drums, but the pianist wrote all the pieces. Most are pounded out in thick chords, with trumpet for tension and growl -- the drummer is there mainly for accents. Nothing lets up even when they slow down. [B+(***)]

Nancy Kelly: Born to Swing (2005 [2006], Amherst): I wish artist's websites would provide such basic info as when and where one was born. Age in singers doesn't matter as much as it does with baseball players, but every little bit of info helps. This is Kelly's third album. The two previous ones, on the same label, came out in 1988 and 1997, so she's, uh, pacing herself in nice nine year intervals. Her website claims a "thirty-plus year career," but also notes that she started at age four, so she could be no older than Jack Benny. Standards stuff, swings heartily, like her voice and poise, and especially like her saxophone player: Houston Person. B+(**)

Frank Kimbrough: Play (2005 [2006], Palmetto): Piano trio, with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Paul Motian -- for more than forty years now the pianist's best friend. Moderate, tasteful postbop. If anything, too moderate, too tasteful. B

Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Brotherman in the Fatherland (1972 [2006], Hyena): One more live shot from the archives, a bit earlier and a lot louder than two others the label sent me for reference -- The Man Who Cried Fire and Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom. Less talk, more covers, fewer tricks -- although the booklet does have a picture of Kirk blowing three horns at once, and other bits of misdirection. Live albums take on poignancy after an artist dies, functioning as memoirs for those who have memories, and curiosities for those who are merely curious. B+(**)

Toby Koenigsberg Trio: Sense (2005 [2006], Origin): Piano trio, young guys who grew up together, based in Seattle. After Kimbrough, I'm immediately struck by how much livelier this is -- not just that it goes faster but slow spots develop in more interesting ways. Some of this is repertoire: a couple of Bud Powell pieces, a couple of variations on "Stella by Starlight." B+(**)

Adam Lane Trio: Zero Degree Music (2005 [2006], CIMP): A young bassist with big ambitions. He cites Ellington, Stockhausen, and Japanese noise band Melt Banana as influences prime influences. A more extensive list includes actual bassists: Charles Mingus, of course, and Bootsy Collins, why not? He has one group called Full Throttle Orchestra, and another called Supercharger Jazz Orchestra. He has orchestral works and solo works. Also a quartet with John Tchicai, Paul Smoker and Barry Altschul. I haven't heard any of those -- another SFFR. Before I looked him up, this one struck me as avant-grunge, recalling Christgau's first Nirvana review: "the kind of loud, slovenly, tuneful music you think no one will ever work a change on again until the next time it happens, whereupon you wonder why there isn't loads more. It seems to simple." This is simple like that. Lane's pieces are all pulse, some slow, most fast. Vijay Anderson drums along, reinforcing the pulse rather than fighting it. All this, especially stretched over 70 minutes, wouldn't amount to much without the third member, saxophonist Vinny Golia. He's another ambitious guy, with his own label and a huge catalogue I've barely cracked, but here he too keeps it simple, riffing over whatever pulse Lane lays out. Plays soprano and tenor, and while I naturally prefer the big horn the small one works just as well here. Could be upgraded. Could be a Pick Hit. A-

Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: New Musical Kingdom (2001-04 [2006], Clean Feed): Looks like Lane's a guy worth keeping tabs on. This is one of several groups/configurations he runs -- the only one I've heard before is a trio with Vinny Golia, but their first record has made my A-list, and I'm ticked off that CIMP didn't send the follow-up as well. This particular group appears to be six pieces, more or less: trumpet, two saxes, electric guitar, bass and drums. They have a previous album on Cadence called No(w) Music, which I haven't heard. This one was pieced together from two sets of sessions, with Lynn Johnston's baritone sax replacing Jeff Chan's tenor sax on the latter. Lane plays bass, and it's safe to say he's studied his Mingus -- for his bass, of course, but also for his compositional approach, and perhaps even more importantly for his skill at taking a mid-sized group and making them sound monstrous. One play doesn't begin to reveal everything that's going on here -- thus far the only track that's sunk in is the last one, something called "The Schnube." Will get back to it in due course. [B+(**)]

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

Tom Lellis: Avenue of the Americas (2004-05 [2006], Beamtide): Jazz singer, male; AMG reports that his influences include Mark Murphy and Jon Hendricks. Likes to write lyrics to Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett songs. Plays a little piano and guitar, but gets help here from Gary Fisher, Dave Kikoski, Kenny Werner, and Toninho Horta. I've never cared for Hendricks' hipsterism or Murphy's slick affectations, but Lellis doesn't register high on either's horseshit scale. Doesn't register on much of any scale, probably because he has more obvious problems. Like which is worse: the Beatles suite or the bossa nova import? C

Dave Liebman/Steve Swallow/Adam Nussbaum: We Three: Three for All (2005 [2006], Challenge): The packaging here is thoroughly confusing. The front cover, from top to bottom, says Three for All in small bold print, then much larger but thinner We Three, then below that the name musicians. The spine just says Three for All. This could be parsed all sorts of ways, and I've changed my mind several times thus far. Regardless of collective intents, the record necessarily turns on the saxophonist-flautist. In all the time I've been doing Jazz CG, no musician has been more consistently disappointing than Liebman: a featured dud for his Saxophone Summit with Brecker and Lovano, but that was only the most flagrant of three or four albums I discretely buried. I tended to blame this on his growing fondness for the soprano sax, so I took it as a favorable sign that he opens here on tenor, and held together quite nicely. Of course, he does bring his soprano out, along with his flutes, but nothing goes terribly awry here. I need to focus more on Swallow, who's somewhat hard to hear, but Nussbaum is a big part of what holds this together. Maybe Liebman just needs to be nudged back into his zone. [B+(***)]

Dave Liebman/Steve Swallow/Adam Nussbaum: We Three: Three for All (2005 [2006], Challenge): I think they intended We Three for a group name, but I'm annoyed enough with the extra bookkeeping of dealing with ad hoc groups that I'll stick with the artists-first listing. The news here is that Liebman has finally turned in a good album after three or four duds in the time I've been doing Jazz CG. It helps that he's playing more tenor, but his soprano has something this time, and -- well, I didn't notice the flutes, so they must not be too bad. The bigger help is probably that he's got a rhythm section that keeps him on his game. Not exactly a breakthrough. Just very solid all around. B+(**)

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

Art Lillard's Heavenly Band: Reasons to Be Thankful (2000 [2006], Summit): The big band can indeed be heavenly -- not only when they work their Latin vibe, but when they flesh out the details on more conventional fare. The vocal pieces -- six, with three lead singers -- are nicely done, but not up to the rest of the band. B+(**)

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

Liquid Soul: One-Two Punch (2006, Telarc): Mars Williams learned his craft under legendary Chicago avant-gardist Hal Russell. After Russell died, Williams recruited Ken Vandermark to fill Russell's shoes in the NRG Ensemble. Vandermark reciprocated by inviting Williams into the first edition of the Vandermark Five. When acid jazz came around, Williams split off to form Liquid Soul with synth programmer Van Christie, and they've been plugging away at it for a decade now, with generally indifferent results. This one at least packs a punch, and even builds to a noise crescendo at the end, showing that Williams hasn't forgotten what NRG was all about. Formally, this is still pop jazz, spliced together from undocumented sessions with a long list of minor collaborators -- the only one with any real jazz cred is Hugh Ragin. B+(**)

Joe Locke-Geoffrey Keezer Group: Live in Seattle (2005 [2006], Origin): A quartet with vibes, piano or other keyboard, bass and drums. Most of this races along at quite a clip, which seems to work for Keezer and against Locke. Indeed, in two plays I've gotten very little out of the vibes, and I've gotten rather tired of the galloping, crashing keyboards. B-

Fred Lonberg-Holm Quartet: Bridges Freeze Before Roads (2001 [2006], Longbox): The leader is based on Chicago, plays cello, has done some interesting things -- I particularly like a 2005 album called Other Valentines. Most recently he's replaced trombonist Jeb Bishop in the Vandermark Five. This just appeared but dates back a few years. The quartet includes Guillermo Gregorio on clarinet, Jason Roebke on bass, and Glenn Kotche on percussion. The music is dense and viscous -- it doesn't move so much as it seeps. Interest is minimal, mostly as dull background din. B-

Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars: Carnival Conspiracy (2005, Piranha): The trumpeter behind Hasidic New Wave and the Klezmatics networks, pulling together forty-some musicians from eight countries to rip through songs in four languages interleaved with brassy instrumentals. Cover sez "File under: USA / World / Carnival / Klezmer / Brass" -- it's all those things, but I also like the closer for its solemn soulfulness. A-

Joe Lovano: Streams of Expression (2006, Blue Note): Advance copy, store date Aug. 1, so no urgent need to sweat details like two of the piece-sets being called "Steams of Expression Suite" -- probably just a typo. Or how many of ten hornsmen are used how often. Or why three groups of pieces are blocked out as suites, leaving three other pieces as stragglers. Or what Gunther Schuller is doing here -- why he's involved in "The Birth of the Cool Suite" and not the others. Or how much of the piano is provided by the late great John Hicks. Later for all that. For now, note that there's an awful lot going on here, and that some of it is quite remarkable. I've always preferred Lovano as the sole horn in small groups, and I haven't cared for his previous work with Schuller, especially Rush Hour, but this can't be dismissed out of hand. Could rise or fall, but this is likely to wind up on quite a few critics' year end lists. [B+(***)]

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

Pamela Luss: There's Something About You I Don't Know (2006, Savant): Good singer, with a lot of help, especially from Vincent Herring, who produces like a kid in a candy store. Interesting that the most familiar songs -- "Georgia on My Mind," "Fever," "My Funny Valentine" -- are far and away the most irresistible. B+(**)

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

Carl Maguire: Floriculture (2002 [2005], Between the Lines): This recalls Monk's quartet, both in lineup and in the trickiness of the compositions: the leader plays piano while alto saxophonist Chris Mannigan tries to negotiate the unexpected changes. But whereas Monk mostly found odd notes that somehow worked, Maguire is more devious in his twists and inversions. It's a credit to the band that they hold it all together -- especially bassist Trevor Dunn, who gets the added challenge of a tribute to Mark Dresser. B+(***)

Pete Malinverni: Joyful! (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): A gospel album, built around the pianist's quintet with Steve Wilson and Joe Magnarelli doing notable work on alto sax and trumpet, but dominated by a full-blown choir, the Devoe Street Baptist Church Choir, and narrated by the Reverend Frederick C. Ernette, Sr. As long as it stays traditional its joy packs a punch, but when the words stray from the old themes, you start to wonder. Or I do, anyway. Like is it true that Christians have gotten so much dumber even in my own lifetime? Or is it just that what used to be personal faith has become a social and political plague? Hard to see the joy in all that. B

Michy Mano: The Cool Side of the Pillow (2003 [2005], Enja/Justin Time): Mano is a Moroccan DJ, working in Norway since "his early twenties" -- however long that is. Sings, plays sentir, works up a mix of gnawa roots with electrobeats and scattered exotics from the Oslo melting pot -- Madagascar, India, not sure where else, but the guitarist is named Niklai Bielenberg Ivanovich and the beatmaster is named Paolo Vinaccia. The producer is Norwegian jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, also providing keyboards and programming. One piece is a rap -- sounds like French but the intro is probably Arabic. Others may be folk songs, with chant vocals as much in the background as fore. Jazz content is minor, but Bendikt Hofseth's tenor sax carresses the vocals. B+(***)

Ray Mantilla: Good Vibrations (2006, Savant): A while back I made a survey through my database trying to figure out who the most legendary jazz musician was who I still didn't have any records by. As I recall, the answer I came up with was Cal Tjader, a vibes player who recorded dozens of Latin-tinged albums from 1951 up to his death in 1982. I suppose one thing this illustrates is that I've never held out much hope for Latino vibes powerhouses, and I mention it now because I never imagined them bowling me over like the first two cuts here -- Lionel Hampton's two most famous showstoppers, with Mike Freeman on vibes and percussion all around coming from Mantilla, Bill Elder and Steve Berrios. The record softens out after that, as Hampton is displaced by polite boleros and Enrique Fernández joins in on flute. But the closer bounces back, not least because Fernández goes heavy on baritone sax. Think I'll give it another shot. [B+(**)]

Ray Mantilla: Good Vibrations (2006, Savant): The vibes man is Mike Freeman, and he gets off to a terrific start on two Lionel Hampton classics, but loses ground after that, as the Latin percussion takes over -- "special guest" Steve Berrios as well as the leader. Nothing wrong with that, but they need some little thing extra to make it remarkable, and that only happens when Enrique Fernández switches from flute to baritone sax for a finale called -- what else? -- "Bari Con Salsa." B+(*)

Klemens Marktl: Ocean Avenue (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Young drummer from Austria. Followed his studies from there to Holland and New York. His resume cites a long list of drummers he's studied under, headed by Lewis Nash -- a mainstream master who rarely stands out but invariably makes whoever he's playing with sound better. Marktl doesn't stand out either, but he's got a good pianist here in Aaron Goldberg and he's got Chris Cheek on his various saxes, and they work together to create a seamless piece of postmodern cool. B+(**)

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

Billy Martin & Grant Calvin Weston: Live at Houston Hall (2002 [2006], Amulet): I tend to reflexively discount drum records -- maybe that's my rock roots, the result of listening to John Bonham go on and on and on. Martin, of Medeski and Wood fame, has more than a dozen albums on his own label now -- solo drums, duo drums, electrobeats, turntablists, remixes of all of the above. I've heard seven, which is way more than any non-fanatic needs, but they're all interesting in various ways. This, like most live albums, was probably more fun when it was experienced live, but even now it strikes me as the best of the crop, and one of the more consistently engaging, as well as exciting, drums albums I've heard. Even so, I'm unsure how to rate it. Maybe if Weston played more trumpet than just the splash midway through? B+(***)

Jordi Matas Quintet: Racons (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish guitarist, based in Barcelona. Quintet includes saxophonist Marti Serra and pianist Jorge Rossy, as well as bass and drums. His guitar is more up front than Stewardson's, so it's easy to follow his clean, lean lines. Serra complements him ably, but doesn't stand out like Malaby. Nice record. B+(*)

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

The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra (2003 [2006], Cryptogramophone): I know very little by Maupin -- certainly nothing that sounds like this. Looked him up on AMG and their Similar Artists list starts: Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Howard Johnson, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson. Can't imagine what they have in common, much less in common with Maupin. Chico Freeman is the next guy on the list (maybe he's plausible) then Marty Ehrlich and George Coleman -- huh? Maupin's main instrument here is bass clarinet, followed by tenor and soprano sax, alto flute, and piano. The Ensemble adds bass, drums, percussion, working around whatever Maupin brings front and center. Mostly he brings an attractive, loose, low key album, that does little to resolve his stylistic affinities. Maybe he doesn't have any. B+(*)

Christian McBride: Live at Tonic (2005 [2006], Ropeadope, 3CD): Three-plus hours of live action is a lot to sit through, but at $18.98 list this is something of a bargain. The breakout yields three cleanly distinct discs. All feature the same funk-fusion quartet, with McBride playing more electric than acoustic bass, Geoffrey Keezer more electric keyboard than piano, Ron Blake honking and Terreon Gully drumming. The first disc is just the quartet, with cuts selected from two sets -- reportedly the best, but really just a baseline. Second disc brings in guests Charlie Hunter, Jason Moran and Jenny Scheinman, stretching out for long and insinuating jams. Third disc has a different set of guests -- DJ Logic (turntables), Scratch (beat box), Eric Krasno (Soulive guitarist), Rahsaan Peterson (trumpet) -- on even longer jams with hip-hop flavor. Excessive, indulgent, lots of chatter and applause. B+(***)

Pete McCann: Most Folks (2005 [2006], Omnitone): Guitarist, with two previous albums on Palmetto and sideman credits going back to 1990 -- the booklet claims fifty albums, but AMG only lists about half that. I didn't recognize the name, but I've heard two of his credits, both A- albums: Tom Varner's The Window Up Above and Matt Wilson's Going Once, Going Twice. His website plays up his flexibility: "Pete's playing encompasses a wide variety of musical styles and genres -- Straight-ahead, Post-Bop, Avant-Garde, Latin, Jazz-Rock Fusion." The booklet puts it this way: "From gentle nylon acoustic guitar sounds to sinewy and intricate jazz guitar runs to roots-of-grunge Jimi Hendrix inspired hooting." I'll have to listen further to see if I can sort out this variety, but this strikes me as tight and focused -- whatever the opposite of eclectic is. The most immediate appeal is John O'Gallagher, whose alto sax is always on edge. But McCann plays distinctively around the sax, and holds the focus on his own, even when the going gets quiet. Also on board are bass-drums I trust -- John Hebert, Mark Ferber -- and pianist Mike Holober, who I only know from one of the better big band records I've heard in the last few years. [A-]

John McLaughlin: Industrial Zen (2006, Verve): I was originally scheduled to write up an entry on McLaughlin for the Rolling Stone Guide, but it got scrubbed when we ran into a disagreement about some early records I hadn't been able to dig up. I did manage to get all of his Verve records, which carry on from 1986, but in the rush I never got around to playing, much less digesting, all of them. This one makes me wish I had those records under my belt, but I'm not sure it's going to inspire me to do the research. I'm also not sure they'd help much. Despite a couple of nods to India -- specifically, two vocals by Shankar Mahadevan that actually seem a bit out of place, and two more cuts with Zakir Hussain on tabla -- this is a heavy-duty fusion album, much heavier than anything I've heard him do since the early '70s. The difference from the '70s is more programming, and I'm not sure that that's a plus. Nor does the spot sax from Bill Evans and Ada Rovatti, mostly soprano, help much. When he cranks it up it sounds good but not all that interesting. That's always been a risk with fusion. [B]

Jackie McLean: It's Time (1964 [2006], Blue Note): The alto saxist set his destination for out the year before in two remarkable albums with trombonist Grachan Moncur, but this one is a bit more equivocal. The group veterans lean back toward hard bop, but McLean's pushes them hard, even getting some abstract comping from Herbie Hancock. The newcomers are bassist Cecil McBee and trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who writes three pieces, including the soft closer. B+(***)

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

Metta Quintet: Subway Songs (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): From "Morning Rush" to "Evening Rush," most pieces start with a bit of subway noise then flower into delicate, exquisitely detailed postbop. Only five pieces, with Mark Gross's alto sax offset by Marcus Strickland on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet; Helen Sung's tart piano, Joshua Ginsberg's bass, and H. Benjamin Schuman's drums. Schuman founded an educational outfit, JazzReach, which this group is tied with. Makes some sense that they all teach, given how close to the state of the art their music feels. I usually like it a little rougher, but this is so slick my druthers can't get much traction. B+(**)

Misja Fitzgerald Michel: Encounter (2005 [2006], No Format/Sunnyside): Guitarist, French I think, plays acoustic and electric, 6- and 12-string. The latter reminds me of one of the first reviews I wrote, where I lampooned Leo Kottke for sounding like he had too many strings on his guitar. But the density works better here, especially since he has a first rate bassist in Drew Gress. Nine of eleven pieces are trios, with Jochen Rueckert on drums. Two songs each from Coleman and Coltrane, one from Shorter, one from Bill Stewart, the rest originals. The trio pieces are dense and meaty. The other two songs feature Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax. He sounds terrific, but putting him on the opener is a bit of misdirection. [B+(**)]

Harry Miller's Isipingo: Which Way Now (1975 [2006], Cuneiform): A South African bassist who moved to England in the early '60s, Miller was the glue that held together an unusual juncture of English avant-gardists and South African exiles. Here the former are Keith Tippett, Mike Osborne and Nick Evans, while Mongezi Feza and Louis Moholo fill out the band. In other groups, the range expands to Elton Dean on one end and Dudu Pukwana on the other -- Miller plays on the latter's In the Townships, the quintessential township jazz album. Despite founding Ogun Records, very little of Miller's own work came out before he died in 1983. A couple years ago Cuneiform delved into this circle and recovered some old radio tapes of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, where township jive and avant-thrash seemed to be locked in a death struggle. In this group they tend to cancel each other out, resulting in a surprisingly mainstream flow. Still, it has much of interest -- especially Tippett's piano and Feza's trumpet. [B+(***)]

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

Dom Minasi: The Vampire's Revenge (2005 [2006], CDM, 2CD): Dedicated to Anne Rice, inspired by her vampire books, of all things, this like so many large-scale projects in the jazz underground depends heavily on the auteur's friends. Critically, I would say, because they're an interesting bunch and add all sorts of strange and wonderful things to Minasi's amusing score. Just to cite a few: Borah Bergman, Perry Robinson, Mark Whitecage, Jason Kao Hwang, Herb Robertson, Steve Swell. Minasi's core trio is solid too, with Ken Filiano and Jackson Krall joining the veteran guitarist. The vampires, on the other hand, enter through Carol Mennie's two scats-plus-shouts -- "just one more" repeats ad infinitum until she takes her "bite" -- and Peter Ratray's somber recitation. B+(**)

Hank Mobley: Dippin' (1965 [2006], Blue Note): Aside from a token ballad this could just as well be a Lee Morgan album, since trumpet runs roughshod over sax at will, at least when these two play; it holds up better than most because Harold Mabern and the rhythm section keep things moving, but also because Mobley gets to stretch out a bit on the ballad. B+(*)

Mold: Rotten in Rødby (2005 [2006], ILK): No relation to the '90s rock group of the same name. This is a group with three Danes and a German, formed in 2000 when they met up in New York. Two horn quartet -- Anders Banke on saxes and clarinets, Stephan Meinberg on trumpets -- with Mark Solborg's guitars and electronics instead of bass. Interesting group, more free than anything else. Need to play them again. [PS: Original CD was unplayable, but somehow I managed to burn a viable copy.] [B+(**)]

Mold: Rotten in Rødby (2005 [2006], ILK): Another two horn quartet -- Anders Banke on saxes and clarinets, Stephan Meinberg on trumpets -- only with Mark Solborg's guitars and gadgets instead of bass. Can play dense and rockish or loose and free. Don't know much about the group: three Danes, one German, met in New York, one previous album, they like to muck around with capitalization, usually spelling the group name moLd. There must be a dozen more or less comparable groups in Scandinavia -- would be a project to sort them out, and may become worth tackling before too long. B+(**)

Nils Petter Molvaer: An American Compilation (2001-06 [2006], Thirsty Ear): There are precedents for trumpet over beats: Miles Davis's funk fusion, Jon Hassell's fourth world exotica. More recently: Russell Gunn, Erik Truffaz, and to some extent Dave Douglas, Nicholas Payton, Wallace Roney. I'm not sure when Norwegian trumpeter Molvaer tapped into this vein: certainly by 1996 when he started work on Khmer (ECM), but earlier idea probably appear with his Masqualero group, which dates back the the mid-'80s. Khmer was dominated by synth beats, a relentless chug-a-lug like a toy engine that pulled everything forward. The follow-up, Solid Ether (ECM) was more varied, with a more expansive soundscape. The earlier title suggested an interest in Hassell, but nothing musically connected the work to Southeast Asia, and Molvaer's subsequent work feels more Nordic than ever. After the ECM records, Molvaer's discography gets messy, especially for Americans. A new studio album (np3) and some remixes (Recoloured, Remakes) came out on Universal subsidiaries somewhere in Europe. A live album (Live: Steamer) and another studio album (er) came out on Molvaer's Sula label. The latter two albums will get a US release later this year on Thirsty Ear's Blue Series -- already long on smart jazztronica thanks to Matthew Shipp's avant-DJ convergence. But first, at a matter of introduction, we get this primer. I wish I knew better where these pieces came from -- looks like about half come from np3, although different mixes are always a possibility. It's less immediately striking than the previous studio albums -- more atmospheric, less machine-like -- so it takes a while for the picture to flesh out. Perhaps most striking of all is a closing ballad sung by Sidsel Endresen, "Only These Things Count." A-

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

Marc Mommaas with Nikolaj Hess: Balance (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): Music this sparse depends on balance, which is evident here. Two tenor sax solos, the rest with Hess piano added. The tone is even handed, the dynamics measured -- the sax challenging but unaggressive, the piano helpful but less interesting. B+(**)

Ben Monder Trio: Dust (1996 [2006], Sunnyside): Having appeared on ninety-some albums, Monder is a flexible postbop guitarist who can be depended on to fit in and add something every time out. This reissue of a 1997 album originally in Arabesque shows him in the lead, laying out his kit, a fair approximation of the state of the art in jazz guitar. B+(*)

Ben Monder: Excavation (1999 [2006], Sunnyside): Another reissue, originally on Arabesque. Pretty much the sum of its parts: shifty microwaves of rhythm from Jim Black and Skuli Sverrisson (aka AlasNoAxis), scat hymns from Theo Bleckmann, guitar-drenched window dressing from Monder. B

Monsieur Dubois: Ruff (2004 [2006], Challenge): This Dutch group bills itself as "danceable hard jazz." Reminds me of a scene in Running on Empty when the music teacher asks what's the difference between samples of Madonna and Beethoven, and River Phoenix answers that you can't dance to Beethoven. The reason is that shifting rhythm confounds dance. This group can force its hard jazz to be danceable by straitjacketing the beat, but is it still jazz? Seems like it could be, but it's tough to see how. Rock solid 4/4 is no more common in jazz these days than rhymed couplets in poetry. This isn't accidental: lack of formula, of predictability, keys our interest in jazz. The result is that I spent most of the first spin here wondering when something was going to happen, oblivious to all their hard work. I suppose it is to their credit that this didn't immediately register as smooth jazz either. It's more like dance funk played by a standard issue jazz quintet -- plus extra percussion, so it's actually a sextet. Acid jazz, I guess. B

Michael Moore Quintet: Osiris (2005 [2006], Ramboy): Only one previous Moore Quintet album in the catalog, cut in 1988 with a crew of Americans who read like an all-star team right now (Robertson, Hersch, Helias, Hemingway). This has the same instrument lineup, but mostly Dutch musicians -- trumpeter Eric Vloeimans is the best known, followed by pianist Marc van Roon. The lineup suggests hard bop, but this plays more like chamber music, mostly soft and silky. Not sure what to make of it. [B]

Lee Morgan: Tom Cat (1964 [2006], Blue Note): With three horns this is a little busy up front, but Morgan's trumpet is never far from the spotlight. McCoy Tyner provides some slick interludes when he gets the chance, and contributes one song to make sure he does. The Penguin Guide has a clever putdown of this album: "With complete absence of irony, the final track is 'Rigor Mortis.'" The song in question is spelled "Riggarmortes" and it's pretty upbeat. Still, there's something wrong with an album where Jackie McLean doesn't bother to make himself noticed. B

Lee Morgan: The Gigolo (1965 [2006], Blue Note): A brisk, chunky hard bop quintet, with Wayne Shorter playing second banana to the trumpeter, and perhaps more importantly pianist Harold Mabern cooking up the grits and gravy. B+(*)

Paul Motian: On Broadway Vol. 4 (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): A lot of packaging confusion here: front cover reads "PAUL MOTIAN TRIO 2000+ONE ON BROADWAY VOL.4 OR THE PAR A DOX OF CONTINU ITY" give or take some spaces. Spine is simpler, as above. Trio 2000 + One has appeared before in an album of that name, with Motian, bassist Larry Grenadier, and saxophonist Chris Potter the probable trio and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi the One. This time, however, the pianist is replaced by vocalist Rebecca Martin on eight songs. I don't believe that any of the three previous On Broadway albums have vocals -- they were mostly quartets with Lovano, Frisell and Haden -- Martin's dusky vocals are a natural here. That piano and vocals are exclusive is a reflection of Motian's fastidiousness -- at the risk of a bad pun, the older he gets, the less motion he wastes. Potter, too, is a revelation -- don't recall him working much behind singers, but he's always right on the mark here. [A-]

Paul Motian: On Broadway Vol. 4 (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): Fifty years after he came of age in the Bill Evans Trio, Motian may still be the busiest drummer in jazz, with a dozen or more new albums over the last two years. But not he hardest working drummer. His secret is economy: no flash, nothing so tedious as keeping a beat, just a bare minimum to keep everyone on edge. He's stingy enough with this Trio + One that we won't let his two guests play on the same cut. Pianist Masabumi Kikuchi warms his spots up, while singer Rebecca Martin cuts hers back to a hushed stroll. In both cases the songs do the work, and Chris Potter's sax fills out the space. A-

John Moulder: Trinity (2005 [2006], Origin): This sounds more like that vaguest of categories, soundtrack music, than jazz. It is expansive, richly orchestrated, wears its emotions on its sleeve. Moulder composed, plays guitar, and keeps it flowing, with a lot of help from friends -- Laurence Hobgood piano, atmospheric horns (including Paul McCandless), various percussionists. Impressive but not all that interesting. B

Mujician: There's No Going Back Now (2005 [2006], Cuneiform): This group dates back to 1988, with seven albums now. Pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall are prolific in their own rights, especially Dunmall. Paul Rogers plays a 7-string bass that looks like a monstrous lute. Tony Levin is the drummer. There's one piece here, long, untitled, evidently made up on the spot. Strikes me as underrecorded and/or underdeveloped -- fades out in at least one moment that strikes me as indecision -- but parts are interesting enough to demand further play. [B+(*)]

Mujician: There's No Going Back Now (2005 [2006], Cuneiform): This stalwart Anglo-improv quartet goes back to 1990, maybe earlier -- pianist Keith Tippett used the name in 1981 on a solo album, so how do you count that? The Penguin Guide files the group albums under saxophonist Paul Dunmall's name these days -- he's certainly the one who brings the noise. The others are Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums. They are less prominent as leaders but have extensive discographies as well. Their circle is one that I've never really penetrated: I've heard five out of thirty albums Penguin Guide lists under Tippett and Dunmall, but can't say as I've made much sense out of them. This one doesn't help much either. There are moments of bracing sax, but they seem few and far between. There are moments when the piano or bass threatens to do something interesting, but they soon fade. Every now and then the record sort of drops into the subsonic realm, but only one piece is listed. Seems short, but 45:30 should be plenty to get your point across, if you have one. B

Michael Musillami's Dialect: Fragile Forms (2006, Playscape): A guitarist with a dozen albums going back to 1990. Also the proprietor of a label which since 2000 has focused on an interesting circle of downtown New Yorkers, most with ties to the late Thomas Chapin. This group is a quartet with Michael Madsen on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. Although Musillami is credited with writing all of the songs, the key player is Madsen, who often seems to be stomping off orthogonally to whatever the others are doing. I suppose that means the fragility of the forms is shown by fracturing them. Some chance this record will grow on me even more. [B+(***)]

Michael Musillami's Dialect: Fragile Forms (2006, Playscape): The guitarist's songs might not seem so fragile if pianist Michael Madsen treated them more gently, but that would miss the point, not to mention some terrific piano. Drew Gress and Matt Wilson square off the quartet, firming up the bottom. The only problem with focusing on the fractures is that is slights the Ellingtonian elegance of something like "Emmett Spencer." B+(***)

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

Roy Nathanson: Sotto Voce (2005 [2006], AUM Fidelity): The first song reminds me of an Annette Peacock song. The second is a sickly pop hit that Billy Jenkins got to first. In other words, both are good, but remind me of better. The music throughout reminds me of the Jazz Passengers, not surprising given that Nathanson was their leader and Curtis Fowlkes is also on board here, but the music takes a back seat to the words, and therein lies the rub. After the first two songs this gets drab, starting with a riff on "Motherless Child" and quickly descending into Brechtian territory, or do I mean Tom Waits? Interesting ideas here, but too many allusions make me think it should be better. B+(*)

NOW Orchestra & Marilyn Crispell: Pola (2004 [2005], Victo): NOW stands for New Orchestra Workshop, not that that helps much. Based in Vancouver under baritone saxophonist Coat Cooke's artistic direction, they've been around in some form or other since 1987 (or maybe 1977). With 14 musicians, including a vocalist used mostly for sound, they're a large, potentially ungainly, group, but I'm more struck by how they pull together. Their recordings seem to be tied to guest opportunities -- Barry Guy, René Lussier, George Lewis -- and Crispell fills that role here. In fact, she's worth concentrating on. Especially if you thought her ECM albums have been a bit tame lately, she gets plenty rough here. [B+(***)]

NOW Orchestra & Marilyn Crispell: Pola (2004 [2005], Victo): A large free jazz orchestra, led by Coat Cooke, based in Vancouver, provincial enough that they still feel the need to keep their anarchy intact. They've been around a long time -- at least since 1987, maybe longer -- but they only record when they get a guest, and Crispell is a dandy. I don't think she's ever recorded in a group like this -- one's tempted to compare them with Alex von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra, but the Germans are far more violent even if their pianist isn't. Crispell's solos are the gems here, but the ensemble work impresses more often than not. Could be I should hold this back in case it convinces me to slide it up a notch, but working near the deadline the best way to get it in is as what it certainly is, an honorable mention. B+(***)

Open Door: So Close to Beautiful (2006, Hipbone/Kindred Rhythm): Actually a soft hip-hop album, reminds me a bit of the Stereo MC's, perhaps crossed with some trip-hop. One cover: "DJ," from David Bowie's Eno-produced period. Principals are Vicki Bell (vocals, remix), Peter Adams (keybs), Ray Grappone (beats), with a bunch of guests. B+(*)

Brian Owen: Unmei (2005 [2006], OA2): First album by a young (age 23) Seattle-based trumpeter. Basic hard bop quintet format, with tenor sax (Jay Thomas), piano (John Hansen), bass and drums, but it's more advanced than that, with elaborate flows and intricate work. One of the more impressive debuts I've heard lately, but I should note that the parts that most caught my ear turned out to be the work of the veteran saxman. B+(*)

The Ed Palermo Big Band: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance (2006, Cuneiform): I put this on without looking at who, what, when or how -- just figured the day was about done, so I'd get a taste of it before I went to bed and play it again in the morning. Loud and brassy at first, then it gets stranger, then I notice rockish guitar, then some guy comes on and sings absolute crap. Impatiently waiting for it to end, and no it don't get no second chance in the morning -- no telling how low the grade can really go, I'll just take a guess and be done with it. Record's over, so I pick it up and proceed with my paperwork. Turns out there's a simple reason why it's so awful: all compositions by Frank Zappa. So it's not just crap; it's secondhand crap. C-

John Pizzarelli/The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Dear Mr. Sinatra (2005 [2006], Telarc): Don't recall seeing this in credits before, but for the record Pizzarelli wears Brioni suits and formal wear. He's photographed walking on the beach in his Brioni suit with an umbrella, but barefoot -- guess he doesn't have a shoe contract yet. The title suggests the likely problem is too formal and too respectful, and there's something to that, although formal is the last word one would use to describe his soft-cushioned voice. The Claytons, Hamilton, et al., know this music cold, and warm it up per the instructions on the box. In other words, nothing new, but most of the songs wear well anyway. B

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

Planet Jazz: In Orbit (2005 [2006], Sharp Nine): This is a tribute band to little known drummer Johnny Ellis, who died in 1999 at age 44. Ellis wrote most of the songs, commonly playing the others -- pieces by Charlie Shavers, Hampton Hawes, Duke Ellington-Johnny Hodges. In fact, so many Ellis alumni are on board that this could be considered his ghost band. Pianist Spike Wilner is the main mover here, and he's pulled together a solid mainstream band -- saxophonist Grant Stewart, trumpeter Joe Mangarelli, guitarist Peter Berstein. The covers take off, but the Ellis originals -- nonsense like "The Cow Is Now" and "The Lemur Is a Dreamer" -- don't quite make it. B

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

Odean Pope Saxophone Choir: Locked & Loaded: Live at the Blue Note (2004 [2006], Half Note): Pope's choir is more like a big band with nine saxes and no brass -- the key being that the group is anchored by a piano-bass-drums rhythm section. The saxes do their best to harmonize, but for this gig they get outgunned by the guests: Michael Brecker on two cuts, Joe Lovano on two, and James Carter on the finale. Brecker stands out as the soloist on a hot night, but Carter works the group harder, making "Mantu Chant" the choice cut. B+(**)

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

Bobby Previte: The Coalition of the Willing< (2005 [2006], Ropeadope): Not sure about the iconography, but the big quote under the clear plastic tray is from George Orwell's 1984, and the liner notes end with "Wake up everybody." Previte, Charlie Hunter, and Jamie Saft try to do their part by cranking up the volume, but all they get for it is a pretty decent fusion album. Skerik and Steve Bernstein help out, and Stanton Moore appears on one track. B+(**)

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

Dafnis Prieto: Absolute Quintet (2005 [2006], Zoho): Cuban percussionist, made it to New York in 1999, and and ever since then folks who presumably know about such things have been raving about him. I've heard him as a sideman on half a dozen albums, and more often than not I've been impressed too. But I didn't like his previous album, About the Monks, and I don't much like this one either, although it's easier here to hear what his fans hear in him. For one thing, his knowledge of Cuban music is encyclopedic, but his ambitions are such that he tries to show it all off. One choice cut is "The Stutterer" -- amazingly jerky percussion, real strong sax blast from Yosvany Terry. That's followed by "Afrotango," more or less self-explanatory, with a nice Henry Threadgill guest appearance. But then he delves into Spanish classicism on "One Day Suite" and loses me. B+(*)

Andrew Rathbun/George Colligan: Renderings: The Art of the Duo (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): "Art of the Duo" is a phrase that's been batted around by several labels -- I'm not sure if it's a regular feature with FSNT, but Concord had such a series, and I recall an Albert Mangelsdorff album of that title. Dave Liebman, who's done a few duos himself, wrote the liner notes here. Like Liebman, Rathbun plays tenor and soprano sax. Colligan plays piano. This is effectively chamber music. It starts with a piece by Ravel, then runs through a seven-part 25:46 suite. Later, along with a couple more originals, there's a 22:08 piece by Spanish composer Federico Mompou. So overall, it feels more like classical than jazz -- the piano plump, the sax shading. I don't really get it, but find much of it appealing. B+(*)

Bob Reynolds: Can't Wait for Perfect (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Young saxophonist, mostly tenor but one cut on soprano, graduated summa cum laude at Berklee, so his disavowal of perfectionism may have come harder than for most. He fits pretty tightly into a set of mainstream saxophonists like Bob Berg, Benny Wallace, Steve Grossman, Bob Rockwell -- a rich, full-bodied tone that suggests that's what tenor sax was always meant to sound like, a taste for music that's neither old nor new but something hoping for timeless, plenty of chops that rarely get stressed. No doubt he's a tremendous student. Not sure yet where else he's going. [B+(***)]

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

The RH Factor: Distractions (2005 [2006], Verve): Let's pretend there are two distinct concepts here, instead of just one mess. On the one hand, we have four instrumentals -- two very brief -- where Hargrove and Fathead Newman riff over contemporary funk grooves. If he wanted to run with that, he could crank up the heat a bit and aim for a state of the art update on Roy Eldridge -- that could be a lot of fun. On the other hand, he brings on a rehash of the post-'90s r&b swamp with its cluttered vamps and turgid grooves and muddled vocals, not even leaving much room for his horn. I don't see much hope there, although I do dig the one blatant P-Funk retread here ("A Place"). B

Jason Rigby: Translucent Space (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): More postbop complexity here: nine musicians, although I doubt that more than the core quartet -- Rigby, Mike Holober on piano, Cameron Brown on bass, Mark Ferber on drums -- play all that much. Rigby plays three weights of sax, bass clarinet and wood flute. I think this is his debut, although he's been on a half dozen or so other people's albums, including one by Kris Davis I rated an Honorable Mention. With virtually all new jazz composers coming up through the academy, I suppose the attraction of postbop is that it provides the sort of framework for emotional articulation that classical music provided way back when. I could care less about the degree of difficulty here, but I am impressed that how well he holds it all together. Also impressed, once again, by Holober. [B+(**)]

Jason Rigby: Translucent Space (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): A relatively large group here, with Rigby playing tenor, soprano and alto saxes, bass clarinet and wood flute. Still, it rarely feels cluttered -- don't have a track-by-track breakdown, but it may be that the two clarinets, flute, trumpet, and for that matter cello, are sparsely used. Mike Holober's Fender electric piano does get a good deal of use, and is a plus here. B+(**)

Pete Robbins: Waits & Measures (2004 [2006], Playscape): Second album. Plays alto sax and clarinet. This is a sextet with Sam Sadigursky on heavier reeds (tenor sax and bass clarinet), Eliot Krimsky on keybs, guitar, bass and drums. First song, "Inkhead," is delightfully disjointed, almost Monkish. Nothing else stands out like that, but the album continues with flashes of thoughtful, intricate, sometimes quirky music. B+(**)

Carl Hancock Rux: Good Bread Alley (2006, Thirsty Ear): As long as I'm in a bad mood, here's another advance, release date May 23, out already. Don't know Rux. Read that he does spoken word -- how does that differ from rap? -- but this is all sung. Could be something here, but it's hard to tell, and whatever it is it isn't jazz. Bad sign is yet another riff on "Motherless Child." B

Samo Salamon Quartet: Two Hours (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): The leader is a young guitarist from Slovenia, who worked his way through Austria to New York where he moved in with John Scofield. Doesn't sound much like Scofield, nor like Bill Frisell -- to whom he dedicates a tune -- nor to anyone else I can think of. But then I'm having some trouble hearing him around the other three-quarters of his quartet. That's because they're, well, it should suffice just to list them: Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, Tom Rainey. Awesome was the word I was fumbling with, but I need to sort this out further before I go that far. [B+(***)]

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

Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band: The Subway Ballet (1988-2005 [2006], Evening Star): Conceived as dancing commuters enter and exit the series of subway stops from Brooklyn to Harlem, the music fits the concept literally enough that the unchoreographed ballet is unnecessary. The highlight comes with the Hassidic diamond merchants, identified by David Krakauer's clarinet. As for the metatonal theory, all I know is that it doesn't require a piano. Bonus: four tracks from Sandke's early days as a fusion guitarist. Guess I was wrong when I grouped him with all those young fogies he's spent most of his career playing with and for. B+(***)

Sex Mob: Sexotica (2006, Thirsty Ear): Figured I should play this next after MTO, since this is another Steven Bernstein group. Or at least was: working off an advance (release date Aug. 1) here which comes with no info on who plays what, or who wrote what, or when it was recorded, or any of that. Thirsty Ear has been one of the most consistently interesting jazz labels of the new century, but they've never gotten their basic bookkeeping down. What the hype sheet says is: "Sex Mob and Good & Evil present an electro-acoustic fantasy inspired by Martin Denny." I have to admit I'm not down with Denny -- as best I recall, what made his exotica exotic was liberal use of bird calls. These guys are clever enough to do a bit of that with acoustic horns, but this time maybe they got too clever? Not clear where the sex is. [B]

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

Matthew Shipp: One (2005 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Shipp has developed into a marvelously percussive pianist since he took over Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. But this solo piano album reverts to the melodic explorations of his early solo albums, with only a whiff of extra left-hand muscle. Not without some interest, but not a lot of movement. B+(*)

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

Shot x Shot (2005 [2006], High Two): Philadelphia quartet, two saxes, bass and drums. Two of the guys, alto saxist Dan Scofield and bassist Matt Engle, also work with Sonic Liberation Front, but nothing Cuban here. I suspect that the effective leader is drummer Dan Capecchi, who wrote the first two pieces and sets the tone throughout. Mostly mid-tempo, with intertwined saxes and a lot of internal tension. B+(***)

Horace Silver: Silver's Serenade (1963 [2006], Blue Note): Silver's quintets were mostly interchangeable, but this line-up was a bit shy of the others: Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook tended to blare in unison, while Gene Taylor and Roy Brooks overreacted. Center, of course, was Silver's piano, a rollicking gospel-tinged party machine. B

Sergi Sirvent/Santi Careta: Anacrònics (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Sirvent is a pianist who impressed me every time out, even though I've yet to fall hard for one of his albums. The best to date is filed under Unexpected and called Plays the Blues in Need, and that's in my draft as an honorable mention. That album plays off Monk, so it makes sense that the best of these duets is the one where Sirvent runs away with "In Walked Bud." Lots of standards here, a nice range of pieces, effectively character sketches for the pianist. Careta is a guitarist and less assertive. Don't have much feel for him, but he has another album on the shelf. B+(*)

Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky (2004 [2005], Hyena): Don't know Skerik's full or real name, where he came from (a sensible guess is Seattle), how old he is, or anything else beyond the public record: he plays tenor sax and has recorded since 1991, usually in rockish groups -- Sadhappy, Tuatara, Critters Buggin', Mylab, and Garage a Trois. That gives him two out of something like two, maybe three, fusion-ish jazz albums I've A-listed in nine Jazz CGs. This is his second Syncopated Taint Septet album -- haven't heard the first. The name comes from longtime federal narc chief Harry J. Anslinger, who derided jazz as "syncopated taint" as part of his campaign against the evils of marijuana. I'm not quite as taken by this one as I was by Mylab and Garage a Trois, probably because those are beat albums, whereas Skerik is a horn man. He runs five horns here -- three saxes, trumpet and trombone -- but while that thickens up the brass, if also cuts his own impact down a bit. Still, an interesting album, in a style that has yet to be pigeonholed with a name. Maybe I'll think of one next spin. [B+(**)]

Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky (2004 [2006], Hyena): The group breakdown is three reeds, two brass, Hammond, and drums, with little or no electronics. The horns rarely break loose, so the effect is long on groove with thick harmonics, much less so on beat. I like most of what I've heard from Skerik -- think he has the potential to cross both ways; like his analysis and instincts. But when he calls one song "Go to Hell, Mr. Bush" -- the honorific blunted a punch that should have landed harder. B+(*)

Dr. Lonnie Smith: Jungle Soul (2005 [2006], Palmetto): I probably should have placed Smith's previous Palmetto album, Too Damn Hot!, on my Duds list, but I had no idea that anyone might have been taken by such a slight and tepid outing. So that this one is pretty good comes as a big surprise. I don't know what to make of producer Matt Baltisaris's credits for "rhythm and acoustic guitar," but they can't have hurt. Guitar is central, most clearly electric, almost certainly the work of Peter Bernstein, who displays a rare knack for working within the soul jazz genre. Drummer Allison Miller also works inside, most tastefully on the chilldown closer, "Jungle Wisdom." Given such restraint from the group, even Smith dials his Hammond down, finding a temperate range that's just right. Maybe the previous album was too damn hot after all. B+(**)

Jimmy Smith: Softly as a Summer Breeze (1958 [2006], Blue Note): Standards fare with Smith comping lightly behind a series of light-handed guitarists -- Kenny Burrell, Eddie McFadden, Ray Crawford -- which despite some nice moments doesn't give you much of a feel for anyone involved; Bill Henderson sings on four bonus cuts -- he's not so incredible either. B

Casually Introducing Walter Smith III (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): The artwork, especially the type on the back, recalls Blue Note's '60s work, most explicitly Sam Rivers' debut, Fuschia Swing Song -- a record that also contributes the first song here. Beyond that the relationship stretches thin, as does the tone of Smith's tenor sax. (He also plays soprano, and sometimes it takes a while to figure out which is which.) Still, there's something likable about this record. The keyboard work stands out -- mostly Aaron Parks, but Robert Glasper takes the cake for his Fender Rhodes cheese whiz on "Kate Song." The Mingus piece is lovely as usual. And the saxophonist finally connects with his "Blues" routine, even if it's a bit textbook. Smith's still young enough -- born in the '80s as near as I can tell -- that his resume's still in pursuit of his education. Don't think this is very good, but I do feel like hearing it again. [B+(*)]

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

The Bob Sneider & Joe Locke Film Noir Project: Fallen Angel (2005 [2006], Sons of Sound): Film music -- don't get what film noir has to do with it, given that the films and writers are second generation and then some -- Dave Grusin, Mark Isham, Jerrald Goldsmith, Tomasz Stanko. Makes for smokey atmospherics, but not much more. B+(*)

Soft Machine: Grides (1970-71 [2006], Cuneiform, CD+DVD): Back in the '70s I had most of Soft Machine's studio albums, but I don't recall them very well. First one (or maybe two) was led by Kevin Ayers, so they were mostly short, amusing songs, things like "Joy of a Toy" and "Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle." Third was a double-LP with Ayers gone and the four remaining musicians each doing one side-long song, but the only side I ever played much was Robert Wyatt's spacey, loopy "The Moon in June." The remaining albums, Fourth through Seven, have become a blur -- all I recall is noodling synth pop instrumentals, sublimation into the machine. Somewhere along that series drummer-vocalist Wyatt fell out a window and was paralyzed from the waist down. He bounced back with a cover of "I'm a Believer" and followed it up with a couple of brilliant albums -- Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard is one of my all-time favorites; also notable are his vocals on Michael Mantler's The Hapless Child and Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (actually an undercover Carla Bley album) -- and many more idiosyncratic ones. Saxophonist Elton Dean went on to establish a reputation in avant-garde jazz before he died last year -- have only heard a couple of his records, so he remains a project. Don't know what happened to Hugh Hopper or Mike Ratledge -- presumably the main guys behind the blur. The band broke up in 1976. Recently, quite a few of their live tapes have appeared, but this Amsterdam concert is the only one I've heard. It was recorded in 1970, which locates it between Third and Fourth. It remains predictably rockish, especially in Wyatt's drumming, but also in the keyboards and bass. Still, Ratledge manages to vary the keyboards enough to keep interest as well as momentum, and thereby provides a dandy springboard for Dean to break loose, which he does, raising the temperature throughout the show. Package also includes a DVD, which I haven't seen yet, or maybe ever. Priced extra for it too, which is a shame. Wonder what else I've missed. A-

Sonando: Tres (2006, Origin): More gringos. Fred Hoadley took his Berklee education to Seattle and founded a salsa band in 1983, Bochinche, then moved on to Afro-Cuban with the founding of Sonando in 1990. He plays piano and tres guitar, and looks like the leader here. Tom Bergersen studied conga at Stanford. Chris Stromquist went all the way to Cuba for six weeks of bata instruction. Ben Verdier (bass), Chris Stover (trombone), and Jim Coile (saxphones, flute) are also regulars, but the record employs quite a few extras. The group has the basics down, and Hoadley's tres is particularly elegant. But compared to the model music I've heard out of Cuba, they keep it simple and moderate, easy to follow and enjoy. That's no knock: I'd rather hear them push the limits of their second language, which they do, than hear someone else water down their first, even though both can be useful bridges. B+(**)

The Source (2005 [2006], ECM): This Norwegian group dates back to 1993 when three of four members were students at the Trondheim Conservatory of Music. They recorded an album in 2000 with Cikada string quartet -- haven't heard it, but it got a favorable nod from Penguin Guide. ECM didn't list the group members on the cover, as they often do. The name, and probable leader, is saxophonist Trygve Seim, with trombonist Øyvind Braekke providing a second horn. Mats Eilertsen, the non-Trondheimer, plays bass. (The original bassist was Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, best known for his work with Ken Vandermark.) Per Oddvar Johansen drums. The lineup recalls groups with Roswell Rudd and Albert Mangelsdorff, but toned way down in ECM's customary way, jazz that is free but without offense. Takes a while to sort it out, but this is promising. [B+(**)]

Esperanza Spalding: Junjo (2005 [2006], Ayva): Quite a name. She comes from Portland OR, is barely old enough to legally drink, plays bass, sings, and composed all or parts of four of nine songs here. Well, sings is kind of a stretch: she reminds me more of Keith Jarrett than Sarah Vaughan, although she's a good deal more artful at scatting along than Jarrett is. The record's a trio, with Aruán Ortiz on piano and Francisco Mela on drums, but like all good bassist-leaders she gets the benefit of the mix. Nice debut. Could pick up another star if I left it open and worked on it. B+(*)

Melvin Sparks: Groove On Up (2005 [2006], Savant): This comes out of the gate like gangbusters -- organ and flashpick guitar, the cut is "MyKia's Dance" -- but this cools off quickly, and not just because such a narrow concept of groove needs a change of pace. That's what the two guest vocals are for. B-

Martin Speake: Change of Heart (2002 [2006], ECM): English alto saxist, in a quartet with Bobo Stenson, Mick Hutton and Paul Motian -- names enough to make the front cover. Not familiar with him, although he's recorded quite a bit over the last ten years. This is rather inside out, nice balanced -- Stenson certainly earns his keep. A fine record, the sort of art and craft we hope for, something that sustains our interest all the way to the end. Probably too modest to be a great one, but we'll see. [B+(***)]

Martin Speake: Change of Heart (2002 [2006], ECM): English alto saxist. Don't know his other work, but this quartet with Bob Stenson on piano, Mick Hutton on bass, and Paul Motian on drums plays out thoughtfully. Stenson is probably the focal point. This is a good example of his work, and of Motian as well. The sax runs laconic and/or wistful -- nice, but alto seems a shade too bright for this music. B+(**)

Rossano Sportiello: Heart and Soul (2005 [2006], Arbors): Volume 14 of the Arbors Piano Series, solo piano recorded at the Old Church in Bowsil, Switzerland. Whereas Concord's Maybeck Hall Series went for relatively name pianists, including some who are a little bit out there -- Joanne Brackeen was an early one -- Arbors seems to be grooming the next generation of Dick Hymans. This one is distinguished by an exceptionally light touch, bringing a nice swing to everything he plays. B+(*)

Billy Stein Trio: Hybrids (2005 [2006], Barking Hoop): Debut album by a guitarist who "has been working in New York for the best 30 years, continually honing his style." Stein played in Milt Hinton's Jazz Workshop in the mid-'70s, in a class that produced Sam Furnace and Kevin Norton. Don't know much more than that, but by the time Norton finally recorded Stein his guitar style was about as honed as you can get. He dances adroitly on a surface of bass and drums, always keeping a step ahead of your expectations. The trio is ably filled out by Rashid Bakr, who's played for William Parker, and Reuben Radding, the guy you call when Parker doesn't answer his phone. The bass-guitar interplay here is particuarly sweet. [A-]

Mike Stern: Who Let the Cats Out? (2006, Heads Up): Pretty ugly cats, if you ask me. Stern's guitar is only half ugly, which is the least he can do for what's basically a fusion album: lots of electric bass, some gratuitous sax from Bob Franceschini, two dishes of Roy Hargrove trumpet, two more of Gregoire Maret harmonica, the usual keybs. Only thing that bothers me much is Richard Bona's vocals: don't see any point, even as scat, which is sort of the fallback position once you realize you've nothing to say. Not sure this is worth a Dud slot, but he did get his mug on the cover of Downbeat. B-

Jamie Stewardson: Jhaptal (2003 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, first attracted to rock, then to John McLaughlin. Moved from Colorado to Boston in 1984 to attend Berklee. Later studied with John Abercrombie, Joe Maneri, Mick Goodrick. Doesn't have much of a discography: as far as I can tell, this is first album, with one other appearance. He wrote all of the songs here, but first time through here his guitar is relatively invisible -- at least compared to Alexei Tsiganov's vibes and Tony Malaby's tenor sax. Quintet also includes John Hebert and George Schuller -- all things considered, a terrific band. Need to go back again more closely and focus on the guitar. [B+(**)]

Harri Stojka: A Tribute to Gypsy Swing (2004 [2006], Zoho): A set of fast-paced guitar-heavy instrumentals, more gypsy than swing, but "Swanee River" is neither. Occasional references to Django Reinhardt and four cuts with violin don't make this the Hot Club, even out here in Cowtown. B-

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

Colin Stranahan: Transformation (2005 [2006], Capri): Led by the drummer, a rather fancy postbop ensemble, with two saxes, piano and bass, plus trumpet on four cuts, vibes on another. Much of this impresses me despite some misgivings about the basic approach. B+(*)

Thomas Strønen: Parish (2005 [2006], ECM): One of many Scandinavian drummers I've noted several times. Most straddle over into rock, but Strønen's metajazz interests run more toward miniaturist electronica. This is a typical acoustic jazz quartet, but cut small and bleak: short pieces, small figures, lots of open space. Fredrik Ljungkvist mostly sticks to clarinet, keeping to a softer focus than his tenor sax. Bobo Stenson plays piano and Mats Eilertsen bass. I find this very attractive -- not least the drums. [B+(***)]

Thomas Strønen: Parish (2005 [2006], ECM): Norwegian drummer, the founder of Food, generally classified as a post-rock band, often dabbles in electronics. But this one is a straight acoustic jazz quartet firmly planted into ECM's old age Nordic aesthetic -- some irregularities in the percussion pop up here and there, but mostly the drummer goes with the mild flow set by Bobo Stenson's piano, Fredrik Ljungkvist's clarinet or tenor sax, and Mats Eilertsen's bass. Well done, especially for Stenson, and another facet to a musician worth watching. B+(**)

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

Thomas Strønen: Pohlitz (2006, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian drummer goes solo, jazz cred evidently secured by improvising it all live. The credits suffice as an outline: "beatable items, live electronic treatments, music." Not sure whether the latter is meant as a discreet input or the sum of the parts. Sounds a bit like Harry Partch to me, with chime-type objects but no strings. But he shows his jazz cred by swinging some. Been on the fence over this one for a good while -- it's rather slight, but in the end it's too fascinating to skip over. A-

Helen Sung Trio: Helenistique (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Another good piano trio, with Derrick Hodge on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Sung composes one piece, starting with it and reprising it at the end. In between she arranges a wide range of more or less standard fare, ranging from James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout" to Prince's "Alphabet Street, including the inevitable Ellington and Monk pieces, the less obvious Kenny Barron. A slow, stretched, bass-centric "Where or When" is especially refreshing. [B+(***)]

Helen Sung Trio: Helenistique (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Don't know when or where she was born, but her "Chinese heritage" was tempered by growing up in Houston, and she got a couple of music degrees in Austin before switching to jazz, following the not-unusual track of study in Boston and career in New York. Plays piano. Has a quote on her website from a similar pianist named Kenny Barron, something about "her flawless technique, great imagination, great harmonic conception and real understanding of the language of jazz." As a critic, I probably would have fudged that a bit, but he's basically right on the money. One original here, "H*Town," leads off and reprised at the end, a vamp with some bite. It holds up as well as everything else -- pop standards, jazz standards including a Monk-Ellington-James P. Johnson sequence, Prince's "Alphabet Street" -- and there's something interesting going on in all of them. Comes with the Lewis Nash seal of approval. B+(***)

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

Lew Tabackin Trio: Tanuki's Night Out (2001 [2006], Dr-Fujii.com): Better known for his featured role in wife Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band, Tabackin runs a tight trio on the side. This is a live set from Japan -- been out there a while, but has only recently become available here. He plays flute on three pieces -- a majority if you discount the two encore covers -- and runs through a smart set of postbop moves, getting a substantial sound. His tenor sax, of course, has more muscle tone, especially on the well studied encores -- "Body and Soul" and "Rhythm-A-Ning." B+(**)

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

Aki Takase/Lauren Newton: Spring in Bangkok (2004 [2006], Intakt): Piano and voice, the latter more instrument than verbal -- the exception is the semi-spoken "Das Scheint Mir," in amusingly orchestrated Deutsch. Impressed as I am by Newton's vocal prowess, I perhaps inevitably find the piano more attractive. B+(*)

Martin Taylor: The Best of Martin Taylor (1978-2004 [2006], The Guitar Label, 2CD): Having only heard three of the Scottish guitarist's many albums, I hoped this might provide a welcome overview, but it's turned out to be frustrating and annoying. Inspired by Django Reinhardt, Taylor emerged in the late '70s with Stéphane Grappelli, and went on to record a splendid Spirit of Django tribute. He has a light touch, which doesn't swing so much as it floats, dazzlingly quick and clever. This works impressively in small contexts, solo even. But he also has a fondness for cheese, which is indulged throughout, but mostly on the first disc -- simpy songs, Kirk Whallum slickness, smooth jazz that turns syrupy. Second disc is more interesting -- a better best-of is clearly possible. B

John Tchicai/Charlie Kohlhase/Garrison Fewell: Good Night Songs (2003 [2006], Boxholder, 2CD): Both Tchicai and Kohlhase play various reeds -- bass clarinet and various saxes -- while Fewell plays guitar. The former are milder than usual, and the latter blends in, making this subtler and more atmospheric than I expected. [B+(*)]

John Tchicai/Charlie Kohlhase/Garrison Fewell: Good Night Songs (2003 [2006], Boxholder, 2CD): Two reed players -- Tchicai plays tenor sax and bas clarinet, Kohlhase plays tenor, alto and baritone sax -- and a guitarist. The effect, maybe even the concept, is like a toned-down, spaced-out variation on the Sonny Simmons-Michael Marcus trios -- the horns more polite, which doesn't mean less interesting, the rhythm folded in rather than popping out. B+(**)

Yosvany Terry Cabrera: Metamorphosis (2004 [2005], Ewe): A saxophonist from Camaguey in Cuba, now in New York. Plays alto, I think, but just specified as sax here. I've noticed him on several recent latin jazz records. He's if anything less prominent here, mostly because his sax is often shadowed by Avishai Cohen's trumpet. Normally I don't care for that approach, but this time it works. The other prominent instrument here is Mike Moreno's guitar. Latin, of course, but ranges a bit and never settles into a rut. [B+(***)]

Yosvany Terry Cabrera: Metamorphosis (2004 [2005], Ewe): Afro-Cuban saxophonist, usually goes under name Yosvany Terry. Record doesn't specify which when where -- alto seems to be his main horn, but I've also seen him play tenor and soprano, and he probably uses all three here. Avishai Cohen plays trumpet for a contrasting horn, Mike Moreno plays some nifty guitar, and the usual suspects -- Luis Perdomo, Hans Glawishnig, Dafnis Prieto, Pedro Martinez -- keep the complex riddims bumping and grinding. B+(**)

Toots Thielemans: One for the Road (2006, Verve): The reigning, all but permanent poll winner on "other instrument" -- in his case harmonica -- returns with an album of Harold Arlen songs. Good songs, of course. Harmonica adds soulful texture, but on nine of the songs it's background for nine guest singers, none of whom impress me as much as Carrie Smith did on Sir Roland Hanna's Arlen tribute. Also lurking in the background are uncredited strings. B

Thirsty Ear Presents: Nu Jazz Today (2002-06 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Another advance. Don't see a release date, so perhaps this isn't a real release. In any case it's just a label sampler, with two tracks each from five recent (or near-future) albums: Groundtruther, Longitude; Sex Mob, Sexotica; Nils Petter Molvaer, An American Compilation; Matthew Shipp, One; Carl Hancock Rux, Good Bread Alley. The first three fit into the label's jazztronica stream, even though Molvaer evolved his own independently. Shipp's solo piano and Rux's soul food fit somewhere else. Good stuff, but docked for uselessness -- unlike, I might add, their two previous samplers, Blue Series Essentials and The Shape of Jazz to Come. Also, given how Nu Soul stacks up, they should think twice about describing anything as Nu Jazz. B-

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

Thomas Storrs and Sarpolas: Time Share (2005 [2006], Louie): Rob Thomas justly gets top billing here, even if doing so leads to confusion. He is the latest in the series of violinists to work in the String Trio of New York, and he sets the tone here. Dave Storrs is a drummer based in Oregon or thereabouts. I've noticed him elsewhere as a guy who plays with the band, and he adds a lot to the violin here. Dick Sarpola plays bass; George Sarpola adds some extra percussion, hence the Sarpolas. B+(***)

Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit (2004 [2006], CD Baby): No evidence of a label name, so I'll go with the e-retailer. The leader is drummer Chris Parker, who also produced and painted the cover art. The band includes David Mann (tenor sax, soprano sax), Clifford Carter (piano, synth), Will Lee (bass, vocals), and Ralph MacDonald (percussion). Don't know any of the, but I'd say, and the photo doesn't disprove me, they've been around. The booklet puts it this way: "a Who's Who of the greatest Jazz Funk Soul and Rock session players on the planet." In other words, journeymen, but damn good ones. Only one piece here originated in the band, but they stretch out delightfully on Miles Davis and Don Grolnick. Lee sings two -- one each from Bill Withers and Gene McDaniels -- and nails both. He's also the source of the DigiTech vox on "Rockin' in Rhythm" -- less impressive, but a hot warm-up. B+(**)

Trio Beyond (Jack DeJohnette, Larry Goldings, John Scofield): Saudades (2004 [2006], ECM, 2CD): The concept here was to do a Tony Williams Lifetime thing -- cf. Emergency!, a 1969 album with Williams on drums, John McLaughlin on guitar, and Larry Young on organ. DeJohnette is a fair match for Williams, but Scofield and Goldings twist the dial away from Young and McLaughlin's more outré fusion back toward soul jazz. Nothing much wrong with that, especially with them playing hotter than they have in years, but nothing much new with it either. B+(*)

Trio 3 (Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille): Time Being (2005 [2006], Intakt): Another album cover parsing problem: is Trio 3 the group name, or part of the title, or just some flotsam collecting on the spine? The musicians' names appear as well: they're recognizable as individuals and self-explanatory in combination. First impression is: pretty much what you'd expect. If Lake doesn't overwhelm, that's because the others are constantly on his case. [B+(***)]

Trio 3 (Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille): Time Being (2005 [2006], Intakt): Turns out that this group has at least three more albums under the Trio 3 name, so I've changed my attribution and filing here. The musicians' names figure large on the cover, as well they should, so we'll keep them up front here, in parens. Otherwise I'd just have to name them in the review body, then point out that what they do is pretty much what you'd expect them to do, given what they've each done, together and apart, over their collective hundred-plus man-years on jazz's leading edge. B+(***)

Trio-X (Joe McPhee, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen): Moods: Playing With the Elements (2004 [2006], CIMP): McPhee started recording around 1968. He is one of the most accomplished jazz musicians of the era, the kind of guy who should be climbing up Downbeat's Hall of Fame ballot, yet I wonder how many jazz fans have actually heard him. I haven't heard many myself: 9, compared to AMG's list of 46 albums and compilations. This is because no one has been more doggedly marginal, commercially speaking, but it's also because he's such a firm believer in the magic of the improvisatory moment that his records strike one -- me, anyway -- more as instances than statements. Half-a-dozen records in, you sort of know what he can do, beyond which it isn't necessary to hear all the times he does it -- not that I wouldn't mind. This one strikes me as in that same vein, a good example of his range that doesn't quite stand out. One unusual thing about McPhee is that he is the only major jazz musician since Benny Carter to distinguish himself on both brass and reeds. Here is plays tenor sax, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet, and balances them evenly, doing similar things in distinct voices. Duval and Rosen are pretty much the Cadence combine's house band, a dependable free base for any labelmate who shows up. Haven't heard their other Trio-X albums, so can't compare them. Could be being overly cautious here -- if you don't know McPhee, this is as good a place to start as any. B+(***)

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

Saadet Türköz: Urumchi (2005 [2006], Intakt): Swiss-based singer, originally from East Turkestan, reverses her migration in returning to Almaty and on to Beijing to record her solemn, stately folk music in the ancient style, with sparse strings, scarce drums, haunting voice. B+(*)

Jeremy Udden: Torchsongs (2003-05 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Plays soprano and alto sax, leading off with soprano here. Credits include work with Either/Orchestra and Jazz Composer's Alliance Orchestra. Studies include Steve Lacy, whose "Blinks" is the only non-original here; Bob Brookmeyer, who guests on two tracks, including a duet; and the inevitable, ubiquitous George Garzone. I often fret when I see a long list of credits -- ten names here -- but this breaks down to two sessions, with most cuts at quartet or less, but three cuts with six or seven show a good deal of skill at knitting the sound together than a minimum of clutter. Among the sidemen, guitarist Ben Monder stands out. B+(**)

Gebhard Ullmann/Chris Dahlgren/Jay Rosen: Cut It Out (2000 [2006], Leo): Not sure what's going on here. Ullmann plays bass clarinet and bass flute, which with bass and drums keeps everything down in the seismology range. [B]

Gebhard Ullmann/Chris Dahlgren/Jay Rosen: Cut It Out (2000 [2006], Leo): With Ullmann playing bass clarinet and bass flute, this is pitched low enough it may take a seismograph to fully sort it out. I find it shifts in and out. Like what I hear when I hear it, both the hard-earned lines and the residual rumble. B+(*)

The Uptown Quintet: Live in New York (2004 [2006], Cellar Live): A departure for the label, both in featuring non-Canadians and in presenting something not recorded in Vancouver's Cellar. File the group under pianist Spike Wilner, who wrote three of seven songs, but also note front line Ryan Kisor (trumpet) and Ian Hendrickson-Smith (alto sax), who add strong voices and a song apiece. As the names show, this is a strong, mainstream, blues-swinging group. The atmosphere is relaxed, they're comfortable, this is what they do. B+(*)

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

Diego Urcola: Viva (2005 [2006], Cam Jazz): Like his fellow Argentine and frequent collaborator Guillermo Klein, Urcola plays Latin jazz but with a more extended European feel. He's not as ambitious as Klein -- more like a well travelled sideman who winds up calling in a lot of chits to make an album that he does little to dominate. The group is strong all around, with Antonio Sanchez and Pernett Saturnino on percussion and a slew of guests -- Dave Samuels' marimba and Paquito D'Rivera's clarinet stand out. Leader plays trumpet. B+(*)

Warren Vaché and the Scottish Ensemble: Don't Look Back (2005 [2006], Arbors): The Scottish Ensemble is a string group, 12 in number. Three arrangements were by 87-year-old Bill Finegan, "the dean of arranging" -- means nothing to me. The others were by James Chirillo, who conducted and plays a little guitar. Vaché's cornet is frequently lovely, but the strings turn me off. Could be a dud, especially if I wanted to do something on the deadly seduction strings hold for horn players. The last two Vaché records I've heard were A-listed, so this is no more personal than Waltz Again was for David Murray. B-

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

Johnnie Valentino: Stingy Brim (2004 [2006], Omnitone): What's immediately striking here is the instrumentation. Three-fifths of the group would make an organ-guitar-drums trio, but their music eschews groove for shifty postmodernist patterns. The other two-fifths are horns, but they're meant to provide an old sound: Bob Sheppard favors clarinet over tenor sax, and Randy Jones plays tuba in its ancient bass mode. Organist Mick Rossi also plays harmonium, mixing a little Italian roots music into the New Orleans mud. The leader plays guitar. The promo sheet says he "grew up in the '60s and '70s in a predominantly Italian South Philadelphia neighborhood filled with musicians, including guitarists Eddie Lang and Pat Martino." Lang died in 1933, so that's a faux pas, even if he's a certain influence. Martino was more direct, but Valentino's heady mix of old and new moves well beyond his mentors. B+(***)

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

Jerry Vivino: Walkin' With the Wazmo (2006, Zoho): A fixture in Conan O'Brien's late night orchestra, Vivino credits Louis Prima and Louis Jordan, not to mention Louis Armstrong, as inspirations. The title jump blues shows some connection to Prima, at least, but his humor deficit leaves Jordan's "Knock Me a Kiss" a little on the sweet side, and his third vocal doesn't even try. His tenor sax has some growl to it, but he takes half the album here on flute, and when he does that he gives away a lot of weight. B

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

Cuong Vu: It's Mostly Residual (2005, ArtistShare): I've heard Vu in interesting contexts before, and this got some play in last year's year-end lists, so I tracked it down. Mostly rather noisy fusion work built on Stomu Takeishi's bass riffs, with Ted Poor on drums and the leader on trumpet. I usually like Takeishi's work, but don't get much out of him here. More interesting is "Patchwork," which at least starts quiet and measured, where "recruited guest" Bill Frisell is conspicuously in the mix, then stretches out and breaks up a bit. B

Larry Vuckovich Trio: Street Scene (2005 [2006], Tetrachord): Pianist, born Yugoslavia 1936, moved to US in 1951, settled in San Francisco, studied under Vince Guaraldi, worked for Cal Tjader, spent a good deal of time as the house pianist at the Keystone Korner, worked in New York for much of the '90s, is now back in California. I know all those things because the guy wouldn't try to bullshit anyone. His motto is "straight ahead," and that's how he plays it. This sounds like a piano trio ought to sound like: the slow ones articulate, the fast ones swing, a hint of blues when called for. He does cheat a bit by bringing in Hector Lugo's congas for extra percussion on four numbers, but they slip by without incident. Doesn't do any of the Balkan folk stuff he's most famous for. B+(***)

The Chris Walden Big Band: No Bounds (2005 [2006], Origin): I can't help but admire someone who these days can still conceive of big band jazz on such a grossly ludicrous scale. How big are we talking? Well, he's got four French horns to work with. Five cellos. Admittedly, only one harp. I also have to say that singer Tierney Sutton is a plus on her feature -- as long as she sings, everything else just sort of blurs into the ghost of Billy May. In general, the orchestration isn't bad, but it's something to worry about when your best themes come from Walt Disney. Not even Sun Ra could make that work. C+

Fred Wesley & the Swing'N Jazz All-Stars: It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing (2005 [2006], Sons of Sound): This is sponsored by or a benefit for something called The Commission Project, which has something to do with golf, which has something to do with swing, which brings us around to Ellington, who always dug trombonists, which leads us to Wesley, who got his name listed first because he's the only All-Star here you might have heard of unless you're on the Sons of Sound mailing list. Wesley actually only plays on seven cuts here, but nobody plays on all eleven -- Marvin Stamm comes closest at nine. The other All-Stars are: Carl Atkins, Mike Holober, Bob Sneider, Keter Betts, Jay Leonhart, Akira Tana and Rich Thompson. One's a bass duet. Nice record, but can't say it means much even if it swings a little. B+(*)

Kenny Wheeler: It Takes Two! (2005 [2006], Cam Jazz): Guitarists, that is: John Abercrombie and John Parricelli. And two more: Wheeler on flugelhorn and Anders Jormin on bass. I'm not all that clear on how the guitars sort out -- there are fairly detailed notes here, but I've been listening in passing. Wheeler has recorded a pile of records recently for this label, all slight, intricate, intriguing, indecisive. This is one more I don't quite know what to do with. [B+(**)]

Carla White: A Voice in the Night (2005 [2006], Bright Moon): Singer. Been around a while, with eight albums going back to 1983. Open, breathy, straightforward voice; not all that jazzy, but she sings with authority, maintaining her presence on the slow ones. Has a complimentary set of musicians here, with John Hart's guitar and Claudio Roditi's trumpet and flugelhorn always welcome. B+(**)

Jessica Williams: Billy's Theme: A Tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor (2006, Origin): She does a lot of solo piano -- one measure is that 9 of 22 albums listed in the current Penguin Guide are solo. Her website claims she's done 40 albums, and certainly there are more solos among them. She does them, of course, because she can -- I can't think of a mainstream pianist more consistently satisfying. Well, maybe Art Tatum -- one connection Williams and Taylor share is admiration for Tatum. Beyond that I don't know: Williams wrote and/or improvised all the pieces here, and I don't know Taylor well enough to map any of the connections. [B+(**)]

Jessica Williams: Billy's Theme: A Tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor (2006, Origin): Two caveats here. One is that I'm not familiar enough with Taylor to figure out how these pieces -- all Williams originals, so most certainly not even in Taylor's songbook -- link up. The other is that I'm rarely smitten by solo piano, and when it does happen it's usually someone with enough left hand to keep a whole rhythm section running. This is not one of those moments -- the record is patient and introspective, but I'm drawn into it anyway. Nor is this the first time she's overcome my prejudices. B+(***)

Cassandra Wilson: Thunderbird (2006, Blue Note): Don't know what to make of her. My first encounter was when she was part of New Air and, as best I recall, married to Henry Threadgill -- something you don't read about much any more. (Wikipedia mentions it using past tense under Threadgill, but not under Wilson.) Before that she worked with Steve Coleman and M-Base. She's recorded albums under her own name for JMT from 1985 and Blue Note from 1993. I've heard three before this one -- a small sample I have no real feelings about. She has one of those deep, dusky voices that form a line from Sarah Vaughan through Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln, although I can't say that she's ever done much with it. (I'm not a big fan of the other three either, but with Vaughan and Carter at least I have a pretty good idea why others are big fans; Lincoln is as big a mystery to me as Wilson.) This album, produced by T Bone Burnett, fits poorly within any known jazz tradition. Half originals written with studio hands, mostly Keefus Ciancia; half the sort of songs Burnett tends to find. The only one I like much is a slow "Red River Valley" done with nothing more than Colin Linden's guitar. Don't dislike any of it, but don't get it either. B

World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006, Justin Time): Jaleel Shaw is the fourth sax these days, but only one cut here sticks to the original Quartet conception, and even that one just adds a curtain of harmony to a David Murray solo. I've never much liked Julius Hemphill's original concept even though my admiration for the individuals (Hemphill included) is nearly boundless. So the fact that the rest of the cuts have bass and drums is welcome -- the springboard, I think, so some of the most glorious honking in the three mainstay's careers. The political themes are less incisive than I'd like -- David Murray's line, "the Republican Party is not very nice," may be the first understatement in his career. (He was trying to come up with a rhyme for Rice, like "screws you twice" or "sucks like lice" or "pulls a heist.") Oliver Lake rants on the New Orleans smackdown. Hamiet Bluiett comes up with the sharpest concept, "Amazin' Disgrace," but winds up short for words. One guest who does have the words is Craig Harris, who takes his home turf's neocons on in "Bluocracy." Blood Ulmer also sings one, but the best he can come up with is "Mannish Boy" -- good enough you won't mind, even if you have to wonder. Americans hate politics, and with all due respect to Mingus, so do these guys. But when they get their blood up, they sure can blow. A

Eri Yamamoto: Cobalt Blue (2006, Thirsty Ear): Another advance, out July 18. From Osaka, moved to New York to study at New School and stuck around. This is her debut, a piano trio, originals aside from a Japanese folk song and standards by Porter and Gershwin. But she made a pretty strong impression last year handling the piano for William Parker's trio, Luc's Lantern. Her trio mates here are David Ambrosio on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums. Strong rhythm, nice touch. One of the better piano trios I've heard lately. [B+(**)]

Eri Yamamoto: Cobalt Blue (2006, Thirsty Ear): This picks up nicely from her piano trio performance on William Parker's Luc's Lantern -- except, of course, bassist David Ambrosio doesn't make nearly as much of an impression as Parker. But most of this is upbeat, where she shows a strong left hand, and her touch is fine on the chillout closer. Covers of Porter, Gershwin, and a Japanese folk song, plus a batch of originals. B+(**)

Yellowjackets: Twenty Five (2005 [2006], Heads Up): The group, founded in 1981 by Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip and a couple others now long gone, has been around for 25 years now. To mark the occasion, we get a live album with old songs and a bonus DVD with more of the same. The current group includes saxophonist Bob Mintzer since 1990 and drummer Marcus Baylor since 2000. Haslip plays electric bass. Ferrante and Mintzer play synths as well as acoustic instruments. Never listened to them before I started Jazz CG, but based on their previous album I found myself wondering which smooth jazz group was the all-time worst -- their major competition seems to come from Acoustic Alchemy and Urban Knights, but I can't say as I've exhaustively researched the subject. This one, however, isn't bad. It no doubt helps that they get to cherry-pick from their songlist. It also seems to be the case that smooth jazz groups in general, regardless of what they'll stoop to in the studio, fall back on their jazz chops when they go live. Mintzer certainly knows his way around Michael Brecker if not David Murray. Ferrante knows his Chick Corea if not Dave Burrell. Baylor can play around the beat as well as on it -- "Greenhouse" strikes me as pretty valid, all the way down to Mintzer's solo coda. The "free bonus DVD" is just another concert. B+(*)

Bobby Zankel & the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound: Ceremonies of Forgiveness (2005 [2006], Dreambox Media): A large band with an even larger sound, this gets in your face from the get go, and rarely lets up. Most of the solos jump out, including Zankel's alto sax, Elliot Levin's tenor sax, and Tom Lawton's piano. Their sound at least flirts with wonderfulness, but it also wears down a bit -- maybe I mean wears you down. B+(**)

Pete Zimmer Quintet: Burnin' Live at the Jazz Standard (2006, Tippin'): This is almost exactly what most people think of as jazz these days: standard forms -- a blues, a waltz, some pop themes, but all originals -- stretched out over 7-13 minutes with solos rotated between trumpet/flugelhorn, tenor sax, piano, bass and drums, all of which are articulate and swing hard. The live setting is appropriate -- we all know that the essence of jazz is its continuous invention, on stage, before an audience. Zimmer is a young drummer, well schooled, hard working, and he's got a perfectly solid group here -- Joel Frahm is the biggest name and probably the senior citizen, but everyone does their job. Only problem is that when it comes to recorded jazz, this level of professionalism is the norm and therefore not all that noteworthy. B+(*)

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

Zu/Mats Gustafsson: How to Raise an Ox (2004 [2005], Atavistic): With two baritone saxes, this gets ugly fast and barely lets up. Still, it has some groove to it, mostly thanks to Massimo's bass, and it's the groove that holds it together. B+(*)