Rhapsody Streamnotes: November 8, 2009

These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 27. Past reviews and more information are available here.


Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara: Tell No Lies (2008-09 [2009], Real World): British guitarist with a severe case of blues hooks up with Gambian griot producing a raw Saharan sound both exotic and familiar. B+(**)

Ahilea: Cafe Svetlana (2009, Essay): Macedonian DJ Ahilea Durcovski, based in Vienna fuses Balkan beats with mild mannered electronica, the sort of stuff that succeeds because it seems to try too hard. B+(***)

Daby Balde: Le Marigot Club Dakar (2009, Riverboat): Senegalese, fula not mbalax, which gives it a soft folkie base, but live may sharpen it up a bit, with bits of horn and backing vocals beyond the strings-and-percussion. His earlier Introducing album was an enchanting find; this is more or less in that vein. B+(**)

The Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) (2009, Interscope): Too scattered to sort out in two quick plays, but so bumptious it followed me all over the house when I wandered around, one pop hook after another settling into my brain. Don't know if this will prove a great album, but it certainly is a fun one. A-

Goran Bregovic: Alkohol (2008 [2009], Wrasse): Still referred to as Serbo-Croatian, as if the splintering wars of the Yugoslav dissolution hadn't happened. Indeed, he's less limited and less specific than his ethnicity, borrowing from Roma and other sources. Most of his catalog consists of film scores, and he evidently does big business in weddings and funerals, but this live album lets him tear loose of programmatic constraints. A-

Cage: Depart From Me (2009, Definitive Jux): Rapper, formerly a member of a group called Smut Peddlers (album title: Porn Again). Lyrics have some promise, but I find the music a little heavy handed, almost metal. Someone described this as "Atmosphere-meets-Eminem," but that's mostly potential. B

Rosanne Cash: The List (2009, Manhattan): Twelve covers, list selected by dad, all classic, none particularly his songs (although I'm sure he's nailed a few). A few are joined for duets, but the guests don't add much. She sings as strong and clear as ever, even on something like "She's Got You" where the standards are high. And she brings some little changes here and there: "I'm Movin' On," for instance, trades velocity for torque. A pretty great interpretive singer. A-

Michael Chapman: Time Past Time Passing (2008, Electric Ragtime): English guitarist, b. 1941, singer-songwriter, may have started in jazz but mostly plays folk clubs. This appears to be a solo recording, just guitar and voice on most but not all pieces. Guitar has a definitive flow, much like John Fahey. Voice and sometimes guitar reminds me of Dave Alvin at times. This is the first I've heard of 30+ albums, and the only one on Rhapsody, so I have no way of comparison. Seems like a significant figure. A-

Terri Clark: The Long Way Home (2009, TLC/Capitol): Most of this sounds routinely neotrad, sometimes driving a point -- one I noticed was "Poor Girls Dream," including a bit of lyric: "If you got a million you want two/if you got nothing, any little thing will do." B+(*)

Condo Fucks: Fuckbook (2008 [2009], Matador): Yo La Tengo spinoff, kind of like Sonic Youth turning into Ciccone Youth except less ambitious. Mostly surf trash from the 1960s, including garage bouncebacks from the Troggs and the later but similarly inspired Richard Hell ("The Kid With the Replaceable Head"). B+(**)

Marshall Crenshaw: Jaggedland (2009, 429): He will always sound the same, and will always make or break on setting his hooks consistently. He does that more consistently than I've heard him since, oh, 1991's Life's Too Short. Wonderful when he does. Ordinary otherwise. B+(***)

Speech Debelle: Speech Therapy (2009, Big Dada): Anglo rapper, originally from Jamaica, recording in Australia, flows easy with much of the beat coming off the precise English accent, but gradually sneaks up on you, especially the self-help "Finish This Album" and the peaceful closing title track. B+(***)

Doom: Born Like This (2009, Lex): I gather Daniel Dumile has dropped the MF. He's never had much respect for his brand name anyway, sloughing some albums off as Viktor Vaughn, working collaborations like Madvillain and Danger Doom. Hard to follow, as indeed are his albums. The fuzzy underground undertow is a plus, and when I catch some rhyme it's likely to be witty. Just not catchy enough. B+(***)

John Fogerty: The Blue Ridge Rangers Ride Again (2009, Verve Forecast): Like the first Blue Ridge Rangers album 36 years ago, a set of country-ish covers. Seemed overly obvious to me at first, but maybe even fans don't know "Paradise" and "Never Ending Song of Love" as well as I do. Got harder after that, taking a while for me to pick up on Buck Owens and John Denver and Ray Price, and most of the rest I merely recognized as having heard somewhere -- excepting, of course, the Everly Brothers closer. Unlike the first ride gets help this time. Has nothing to prove either, other than that he can still cash a check. B+(**)

Michael Hurley: Ida Con Snock (2009, Gnomonsong): Venerable folkie, cut his first album around 1970, a couple of pretty good ones later that decade plus a masterpiece when Peter Stampfel and the then Unholy Modal Rounders joined in. Since then he's knocked out a sly, understated, underachieving album every couple of years, of which this is about average. B+(**)

Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3 (2009, Roc Nation): Hard and loud, mostly full of shit, as if he's really as good as he thinks. Turning it down helped, and there's probably more there if you pay attention to the little things rather than the big ones. B+(**)

Miranda Lambert: Revolution (2009, Sony Nashville): Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was every rock critic's country album of the decade, setting up expectations here that will have to be sorted out. First pass the three songs I was most taken by turned out to be 3 of 4 she didn't write or co-write: "The House That Built Me" was built from touching detail; "Time to Get a Gun" was anthemized in ways that Fred Eaglesmith never could pull off. I had forgotten about Eaglesmith's song, but had no doubt about John Prine's "That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round". Still, she didn't cover it; she snatched it so ferociously you know she knew she had to prove her mettle. It's the best thing I've heard all year. Second time through her songs got a notch better. A-

Mrcio Local: Says Don Day Don Dree Don Don (2009, Luaka Bop): Subtitle, or alternate title depending on how you parse the album cover, "Adventures in Samba Soul." There seems to be a whole "samba soul" genre, generic compilations and all, with some added funk beats and a snort of hip hop. B+(**)

Syran Mbenza & Ensemble Rumba Kongo: Immortal Franco: Africa's Unrivalled Guitar Legend (2009, Riverboat): Mbenza as a long history as a guitarist in Congo bands, especially with the rumba group Kkl. He's reasonably well positioned to spin a Franco tribute, although I don't have enough details about this album -- an endemic problem trying to work off Rhapsody -- or enough general expertise to see just how it works. My guess is that his approach is to do as Franco would do, which is to cut an album that would fit neatly on a shelf full of Franco albums. That much he's done. Still, don't expect a lot of flashy guitar, either here or on Franco's numerous albums. A-

Modest Mouse: No One's First and You're Next (2009, Epic): EP, 8 tracks, more than 30 minutes, that used to qualify for an LP. First couple of songs capture their classic sound, but they wander a bit after that -- bright shiny metal, a bit of thrash, some opera. B+(*)

Clara Moreno: Miss Balanco (2009, Far Out): Like Bebel Gilberto, a second generation bossa nova singer: Moreno's mom is Joyce Silveira Palhano de Jesus, or just Joyce. Mostly fits the classic mold, but she has a little grit in her voice, and the band is a little jumpier than the old days norm -- both good moves. B+(***)

The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come (2009, 4AD): The song titles refer to Bible verses, although not so simply as to quote them. Can't say much about textual analysis, except that John Darnielle's renderings are much closer to the real world, and in that are somewhat complex. Could go higher. Seems like a record you have to live with a bit -- two or three plays aren't definitive. B+(***)

P.O.S.: Never Better (2009, Rhymesayers Entertainment): AMG describes as "rock-rap"; Christgau corrects, "punk-rap." Someone named Stefon Leron Alexander. I'm not fast enough to catch the words, but the music has a sharp edge to it, beatwise, the rap adding to the rhythm. B+(**)

Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II (2009, Ice H2O): Wu-Tanger, recycling his first title, from 1995 with only a couple of releases in between. I never was someone who could keep them all straight -- as far as I could tell group and solo albums were pretty much interchangeable (except maybe for Ol' Dirty Bastard), but this guy [Corey Woods] is deeper into the corporate sound than most. Lots of guest spots. Lots of crime shit, mostly sound like like fiction. I'm not sure I approve, except when they wed samples to bullshit like "Kiss the Ring." Other than that, best thing here is "Ason Jones," recycling the Dirty one once more. B+(***)

Seprewa Kasa (2008, Riverboat): Group from Ghana with an Osibisa guitarist and dueling seprewas -- a stringed instrument likened to a kora, pictured on the cover. Vocals too, that distinctive tenor originally packaged with palm wine. A rather light combination, not a lot of range, very beguiling. B+(***)

Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2008-09 [2009], 2nd Story Sound, 2CD): The North Carolina Rambler's brief career spanned 1925-30, his life 1892-1931, collected on three CDs on County, a 4-CD JSP set, and a 3-CD Columbia/Legacy box with some other stuff slipped in. I made it a point to pick up every old time country CD I ran across used, and found County's compilations especially useful, but Poole stood out compared to virtually everyone else I ran into -- on a par with the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, whose reputations preceded them, and Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers. Poole never wrote a song, but by the time he was done he owned a bunch of them, and held his own on the rest. I still favor the originals, but can't begrudge Wainwright's project. He doesn't have the twang, but he does have the dog-eared take and lots of hindsight and a few friends to work with. He works a few originals in, but they're hard to pick out on the fly. A- [Later: A]

White Denim: Fits (2009, Downtown): Austin, TX group, broke their first album in England. This is the second. Christgau describes them as a "commercially perverse Austin shred-fusion tercet." I don't know what that means. AMG treats them as psychedelica ("spazzy blues-based Nuggets rock, before falling into an abyss of prog-on-peyote scales"), which makes a bit more sense. They start in a muddy incoherent void, from which semi-interesting beats and falsetto voices eventually emerge, which they usually manage to thrash. I mostly find them annoying, a problem I've had with too-clever rockers going back as far as Zappa. B-

Wonderlick: Topless at the Arco Arena (2009, Rock Ridge): Starts with three adolescent fantasies, two ordinary ones about teen lust, the third much scarier for its past tense: "We Run the World." Band members had a smart/funny 1990s group called Too Much Joy, disbanded so they could make a living in the business world, which they don't exactly rule but have done well in. They later consider their holdings, but they're also a bit subversive; e.g., their one cover, "Janie Jones," which they slow down so you can hear all the words, even the ones they made up. B+(**)

Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (2009, Matador): Figured this for a covers album, but they're all originals -- don't know the band well enough to tell if old or new, but I figure they're operating in some zone of irony. Sounds typical for the most part -- maybe they're taking the title as permit not to have to prove anything. Still, the closing 15:54 "And the Glitter Is Gone" is a soaring/crashing guitar instrumental, plenty rousing. B+(***)

Tom Z: Dan-h-S (2006, Tratore): After three perfectly good multi-artist compilations, David Byrne turned his Brazil Classics series over for two volumes by Z, one old and one not so old, both beyond my ken, but after sort of liking them the first time around, Christgau returned to them in the course of revising his CG book and fell in love. I don't know whether my view would change with prolonged exposure: they're around here somewhere and someday I may give them another trial. Since then Z's idiosyncrasies have become more immediate and less ponderable, which for me at least works better. This one is choppy in weird and rather wonderful ways. A-

Missing

Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

  • The Monks: Black Monk Time (Light in the Attic)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:


Louis Armstrong and the All Stars: Satchmo at Pasadena (1951 [2009], Verve): One complaint is that Satch spreads center stage around too much, but Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, and Jack Teagarden earn their keep and their billing, and the sketch with Velma Middleton on "Baby It's Cold Outside" is an all-time classic; the only other problem is that it ends too soon, which is why I recommend the 4-CD version: The California Concerts, sadly out of print. A-

Louis Armstrong and the All Stars: New Orleans Nights (1950-54 [2008], Verve): A short compilation of six good ole good 'uns, mostly from two-part 78s, some with original All Stars, some with latter day stand-ins; most of these warhorses have been done and done, but only "New Orleans Function" sounds forced, or maybe I just mean schematic. A-

Roy Ayers: Ubiquity (1971 [2009], Verve): The namesake album for the group vibraphonist Ayers ran for the next decade; light funk, a couple of indifferent vocals, the catchy "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" reduced to pure cutesiness and probably better off for it. B-

Roy Ayers Ubiquity: He's Coming (1971 [2009], Verve): A more consistent album with a stronger band -- Sonny Fortune, Harry Whitaker, John Williams, Billy Cobham -- not that it makes much difference; the funk grooves remind me of disco, but rarely take off; the vibes help out, especially on the closer, "Fire Weaver." B

Roy Ayers Ubiquity: Virgo Red (1973 [2009], Verve): Pleasant enough with Ayers keeps his looping vibes out front of the groove, but falters when they aim for anything more, especially "Love From the Sun." B-

Roy Ayers Ubiquity: Change Up the Groove (1974 [2008], Verve): Not much of a change up, but they did manage to focus better, not even letting the occasional vocal disrupt the groove. B

Roy Ayers Ubiquity: A Tear to a Smile (1975 [2009], Verve): More vocals, a recipe for disaster that is saved only by hiring better outside vocalists; more original songs, which means there's less here to recognize, for better or (mostly) worse. C+

Roy Ayers Ubiquity: Vibrations (1976 [2008], Verve): No covers, most of the vocals by Ayers, this lounges languorously until a backup singer gets the gospel spirit and someone cranks up the amp, which still isn't enough to overcome the pedestrian beats. C

Roy Ayers Ubiquity: Lifeline (1977 [2007], Verve): Funk, stuck in a relatively minimalist groove, with occasional gospel antics; the leader's vibes have never been more irrelevant. C+

Roy Ayers: You Send Me (1978 [2008], Verve): Adds singer Carla Vaughn, starting off with the worst version ever of a Sam Cooke song; much better when it returns to form, with Ayers' mundane voice and generic funk grooves. C

Gato Barbieri: Chapter One: Latin America (1973 [2009], Impulse): The Argentine tenor saxophonist joins Coltrane's label and does him one better, ecstatically extending Coltrane's sound and technique to Latin standards while cranking up the party percussion. A-

Gato Barbieri: Chapter Two: Hasta Siempre (1973 [2009], Impulse): Same deal as Chapter One, which is why these albums fit so seamlessly in the 1997 Latino America reissue; maybe a bit more ragged around the edges, but when you live dangerously and survive, that's called a rush. A-

Gato Barbieri: Ruby, Ruby (1978 [2007], Verve): The music is full of synth strings, lush and sweeping at best but more often forgettable, or best forgotten; the Latin percussion helps pick up the pace, and Barbieri's tenor sax remains singular, a thin reed straining against the weight of the world. B+(*)

Gato Barbieri: Tropico (1978 [2009], A&M): Disco beats, swirling choruses, banks of synthy strings with synthy fake Latin beats, the only thing that salvages this is the tenor saxophonist, who sounds magnificent even buried past his navel in murk. B

Count Basie: On My Way & Shoutin' Again (1962 [2009], Verve): The big band takes on ten Neal Hefti pieces, tightly arranged, immaculately played, but not as explosive as the band was a few years earlier; recording a couple weeks after the Cuban Missile Crisis, maybe Basie decided to cool off his atomic shtick. B+(*)

Count Basie: Basie Land (1963 [2009], Verve): Billy Byers composed ten songs and sharpened up the charts, giving the stars more solo space while tuning up the machine. A-

Walter Beasley: Beasley (1987 [2008], Verve): A slight soul singer slotted as jazz because he plays alto and soprano sax, kicked off his debut album with the forthright "I'm So Happy," which for lack of anything better is also the closer. B-

Walter Beasley: Just Kickin' It (1989 [2008], Verve): Title cut leads off, a trivial slice of funk that kicks everything else here, most of which drags ass, some even unable to get up a vocal. C

Walter Beasley: Intimacy (1992 [2008], Verve): Nothing memorable here, let alone intimate or sexy or even the least bit funky; fewer vocals than the first two albums. C+

George Benson: Shape of Things to Come (1968 [2007], Verve): With Wes Montgomery dead, Creed Taylor picked up this agreeable substitute, then fed him to Don Sebesky for the cosmopolitan treatment; he holds up better than Montgomery did, and closes with a treatment of "Last Train to Clarksville" (the Monkees' hit) that is inspired kitsch. B+(*)

George Benson: Tell It Like It Is (1969 [2008], Verve): Marty Sheller produced, adding a bit of Latin tinge, but there's no jazz interest here, just pop instrumentals -- the best a sly "My Cherie Amour" -- with Benson making his soul man move on three vocals, most successfully "Tell It Like It Is." B

George Benson: I Got a Woman and Some Blues (1969 [2008], Verve): I.e., "I Got a Woman," "Bluesadelic," "Good Morning Blues," although I suppose one could argue that "Without Her" tries to tie it together; singing more with less voice, sounds more like the progression of a loser. [29:52] C

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Soul Finger (1965 [2009], Verve): His run tripped up when he left Blue Note in 1964, but here he gets one more album out of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, adds Lucky Thompson, and shows his usual eye for talent in a young pianist named John Hicks; even wrote a song, something with a little Latin tinge. B+(**)

Willie Bobo: Bobo Motion (1967 [2008], Verve): Add a little clave to insipid pop tunes like "Up, Up & Away" and you get . . . well, insipid pop cha-chas; the Neal Hefti and Joe Tex tunes are better, but the vocals sound like watered-down Santana, not that he/they could sing either. B-

Luiz Bonfa: Composer of Black Orpheus Plays and Sings Bossa Nova (1962 [2008], Verve): Most of the title is small print, so could just be Bossa Nova; he plays guitar better than he sings, and the best things here are just guitar with a bit of percussion; the strings don't help. B+(**)

Luiz Bonfa: The Brazilian Scene (1965 [2008], Verve): One of Brazil's major guitarist-composers, but wrapped up in strings and produced so lazily it's hard to tell. B-

Luiz Bonfa & Maria Toledo: Braziliana (1965 [2008], Verve): Husband-and-wife do bossa nova, soft and seductive, of course, the guitarist even more so than the singer, not a major figure in her own right. B+(**)

The Brecker Brothers: Return of the Brecker Brothers (1992 [2008], Verve): Michael on sax, Randy on trumpet, had a run on Arista 1975-81 -- Heavy Metal Be-Bop was a concept title -- then regrouped for this funk slice; the horns aren't bad, the beats so so, the vocals a mistake, as is slowing it down. B

Norman Brown: Just Between Us (1992 [2008], Verve): Smooth jazz guitarist, first album, sticks to basics with modish post-disco grooves, occasional bits of vocals so slight they do little harm. B

A Night at the Vanguard With the Kenny Burrell Trio (1959 [2008], Verve): With Richard Davis and Roy Haynes, a supple, rather quiet set that slowly sneaks up on you, finishing with masterful takes on Ellington and Monk. B+(*)

Terry Callier: Occasional Rain (1972 [2008], Verve): Singer-songwriter, started as a folk singer, but more like an unpolished soul man who doesn't go for anything slick or pop; has something of a cult following, but it's hard to say why. B

Terry Callier: What Color Is Love (1973 [2008], Verve): More soul, still about the only contemporary he reminds me of is Major Lance, who was still more pop; clicks on maybe 2 of 7 songs, and has redeeming social merit on the cover. B

The John Coltrane Quartet: Africa/Brass (1961 [2008], Impulse): His first Impulse! album, with -- despite the credit -- a large group that leaned heavily on Eric Dolphy; the session also generated a Volume 2 and various repackages, of which 3-cut 33:40 original selection is the shortest and the heaviest. A-

John Coltrane: Live at the Village Vanguard (1961 [2008], Impulse): Less is less, whether compared to the 4-CD box set that finally documented this legendary 4-night stand with Eric Dolphy, or even to the 5-cut Master Takes single that also came out in 1997; this stops short 36:31, after a blistering "Chasin' the Trane" that's just getting started. A-

John Coltrane: Impressions (1961-63 [2008], Impulse): Scattered live scraps, each side with something 3-4 minutes and something 14-15 minutes; the leader is a little iffy at the start, but the Quartet is as steady as ever; besides, with Coltrane the search is part of the allure. B+(**)

John Coltrane/Archie Shepp: New Thing at Newport (1965 [2009], Impulse): Two separate sets, with Coltrane's Quartet conflicted and sloppy on one 12:43 cut, Shepp both further out and more authoritative with Bobby Hutcherson's vibes interesting in their own right; previous CD releases had one more cut each, the extra material helpful although Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" is even more discombobulated. B+(*)

Chick Corea: Tones for Joan's Bones (1966 [2005], Rhino/Atlantic): Before Scientology, before fusion even, a first album buried deep in the times: a standard issue hard bop quintet, with Woody Shaw's trumpet and Joe Farrell's tenor sax ricocheting over the rhythm, the pianist filling in gaps and flashing speed, showing a bit of grace when he carves some solo space on the title track. B+(**)

Elvis Costello: Live at the Mocambo (1978 [2009], Hip-0): Widely circulated bootleg recording from a tour date in Toronto -- note palm trees on cover -- pushing his first two records, in its second or third official release. The marvelously catchy songs on My Aim Is True left the studio sounding weak and muddled, but he blasts through six of them here, not bothering with anything moderate like "Alison"; instead, he works in burners from This Year's Model like "The Beat," "Pump It Up," and "Radio, Radio," plus the stray single "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea." Some patter and lots of audience feedback -- he stiffs them with no encore. Sound is rough, but that's pretty much the point. A-

The Crusaders: Pass the Plate (1971 [2008], Verve): First album after dropping Jazz from their name, jazz having already become rather negligible in their pop-funk evolution; first side is a medley, the second short boogie pieces from Joe Sample, neither making a lot of sense. B-

The Crusaders: Images (1978 [2009], Blue Thumb): Several albums down the line, the loss of Wayne Henderson cuts way back on the brass quotient; that cleans up the space for Wilton Felder's soul sax, but when he lays out you notice that Joe Sample has lost his boogie and the residual grooves are a little light. B

Paul Desmond: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1969 [2008], Verve): A whole album of Simon & Garfunkle covers, tricked up as easy listening schmaltz by producer Don Sebesky, with Desmond playing so sweet your teeth hurt; at least nobody feels compelled to sing along. C-

Will Downing: Come Together as One (1989 [2008], Verve): A straight up soul singer, nary a jazzy effect on his second album, but he works his bumps and grinds and grooves with an earnestness you have to respect -- at least as long as the songs hold up. B

Will Downing: A Dream Fulfilled (1991 [2008], Verve): He's settling down into his niche here, sort of a lighter, gentler Teddy Pendergrass; doesn't need much of a groove, just enough to float on. B+(*)

Dr. John: City Lights (1978 [2008], Verve): Done as a fluke rock star, not yet established as a local folk legend, Mac Rebennack tries his hand as a singer-songwriter on a mostly-jazz label, and mostly succeeds, thanks in part to a helping hand from Doc Pomus. B+(**)

George Duke: Faces in Reflection (1974 [2008], Verve): Keyb player, major credits with Cannonball Adderley and Frank Zappa, not that he bears much likeness to either; basically a synth-playing funkateer, his fusion pleasantly enjoyable, any temptation to slow it down or dub in a vocal fatal. B

George Duke: Feel (1974 [2008], Verve): Same as above, only more tempted, more conflicted, more confused. B-

George Duke: I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry (1975 [2008], Verve): Good thing is that he's trying more things -- blues riffs, grunge rock, idiosyncratic rhythms; also helps that he's singing better, but no matter how interesting his experiments, he keeps falling back into his faux-funk rut. B

Ersatzmusika: Voice Letter (2007 [2008], Asphalt Tango): First album, previous to Songs Unrecantable above, pre-Cooper, everything else all the more so; e.g., I note that the titles are in English, but rarely make out more than a scattered word, which floats in music a shade denser, a bit more upbeat, and/or a lot funnier. A-

Bill Evans: The V.I.P.s Theme (1963 [2008], Verve): Movie music, backed by a string orchestra that manages to avoid being soupy or silly (although not by a lot), with the pianist more forthright than usual; given diminished expectations, not so bad. B

Maynard Ferguson: Octet (1955 [2008], Verve): Stan Kenton's flashy young trumpeter leads a big enough band -- Georgie Auld, Herb Geller, and Bob Gordon on saxophones; Conte Candoli also on trumpet; Shelly Manne behind the drums -- through seven Bill Holman pieces (plus one Johnny Mercer) built for this kind of speed and precision. A-

Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong: Porgy and Bess (1957 [2008], Verve): After two utterly delightful standards albums together -- Ella and Louis and Ella and Louis Again -- their third (and last) goes high concept, with Russ Garcia laying the orchestration so thick his stars can't get a word in for 12 minutes; the overkill is remarkable but tedious; the singers (and trumpet solos) marvelous; the songs often not up to snuff. B

Ella Fitzgerald: Live at Mister Kelly's (1958 [2007], Verve, 2CD): So much live Ella tends to run together, but two full discs picked from a three-week club run just overwhelms you with how much talent and verve she brought to such a wide range of material; the breakneck scat, the off-the-cuff lyric rewrites, you figure her metier is speed, then she drops a pure ballad like "Stardust" on you and just nails it. A-

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella in Hollywood (1961 [2009], Verve): So much live Ella tends to run together, but this slice catches her at some sort of a peak, warm, funny, downright athletic when she scats, with Lou Levy and Herb Ellis bright spots on the band. A-

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella in Hamburg (1965 [2007], Verve): Backed by Tommy Flanagan's trio, a quick, topical set of Ella being Ella, ripping through "Body and Soul," "A Hard Day's Night," "The Boy From Ipanema," "Old MacDonald Has a Farm," virtually anything that gets in her way, acing the standards making good fun of the novelties. B+(**)

The Fugs: Greatest Hits 1984-2004 (1984-2004 [2007], Fugs): The date bracket pushes this well past their heyday, but the mostly live format lets them sneak in "Slum Goddess," "CIA Man," "Kill for Peace," and others that history refuses to render archaic. They are themselves history, quoting Blake and warning "Here Come the Levelers". They still aren't compelling musicians, but folk music keeps the bar low when respecting it at all. I still prefer their early work when they sounded prematurely grizzled. B+(***)

Stan Getz: Stan Getz in Stockholm (1955 [2008], Verve): The pickup rhythm section is a pleasant surprise, led by pianist Bengt Hallberg, who later went on to cut the legendary Jazz at the Pawnshop albums; Getz sticks to light and airy standards, closing upbeat with "Get Happy" and "Jeepers Creepers." B+(***)

Stan Getz/Gerry Mulligan/Harry Edison/Louis Bellson and the Oscar Peterson Trio: Jazz Giants '58 (1953-57 [2008], Verve): Producer Norman Granz's favorite thing: an all-star jam session; four songs to stretch out on, plus a ballad medley which may be why the album tilts toward Getz, although Mulligan is the workhorse here, and Edison is as sweet as ever. B+(***)

Stan Getz: Big Band Bossa Nova (1962 [2008], Verve): After Jazz Samba sold a bit, Getz returned to the Brazilian well many times, especially over the next two years; Gary McFarland arranged and conducted the snazzy big band backdrop, and Jim Hall took up the guitar, but the key player here is the saxophonist. B+(**)

Stan Getz & Luiz Bonfa: Jazz Samba Encore! (1963 [2008], Verve): Getz's Jazz Samba breakthrough was cut with Charlie Byrd on guitar and Big Band Bossa Nova featured Jim Hall, but soon real Brazilians lined up to get in on the act, with guitarist-composers Bonfa and Jobim joining here; they tend to understatement, but Getz takes care of that. A-

Stan Getz: With Guest Artist Laurindo Almeida (1963 [2008], Verve): For once the guitarist is as good as the material, and the Brazilian percussionists are tuned into that, which just goes to push Getz even further. A-

Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto #2 (1964 [2008], Verve): A quickie follow-up to Getz/Gilberto, the most successful of Getz's bossa nova records, recorded live at Carnegie Hall; seems loose, disorganized, too much Gilberto, not enough Getz. B

Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto: Getz Au Go Go (1964 [2007], Verve): Short live set; only three sambas to camouflage Gilberto's affectless vocals, the rest American standards that are at best quaint; Getz, of course, is sterling. B+(*)

Stan Getz: Dynasty (1971 [2009], Verve, 2CD): Live in London with a guitar-organ-drums section he picked up in Paris: guitarist Ren Thomas and organist Eddy Louiss steer clear of soul jazz clichs, as does Getz, who's more likely here to come out fierce than to do his floating-in-air thing. A-

Stan Getz: Apasionado (1989 [2009], Verve): Produced, arranged, and co-written by Herb Alpert, backed by a long list of studio hacks including strings (possibly fake), recorded two years before his death, this should be easy to dismiss, but Getz plays magnificently, and you have to pay close attention to even nitpick the backing. B+(***)

Terry Gibbs and His Big Band: Swing Is Here!! (1960 [2009], Verve): Born Julius Gubenko, plays vibes, came up through the Dorsey, Herman, and Goodman big bands, has a ball with his own herd here; not sure who did the arrangements, but they're crisp, with sharp cats in the band and the vibes slipping and sliding over the crests. B+(***)

Astrud Gilberto: The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965 [2008], Verve): A fluke star, whose nearly featureless voice was all that "The Boy From Ipanema" needed, catapulting her from wife of star Joo Gilberto to her own album; no such magic here, but Antonio Carlos Jobim dishes out delicious sambas, which Marty Paich waters down with strings. B

Astrud Gilberto: Look to the Rainbow (1965-66 [2008], Verve): Gil Evans takes over the orchestration, having trouble toning it down so it doesn't upstage the singer; she is fine on prime Brazilian tunes we've learned to associate with her voice, but very weak in English. B-

Astrud Gilberto/Walter Wanderley: A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness (1966 [2008], Verve): Wanderley's a Brazilian organ player swept up in the bossa nova craze, not very promising, but a better match for the singer than the elaborate orchestrations of Gil Evans. B

Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy on the French Riviera (1962 [2009], Verve): Mostly Latin fair, with two songs from pianist Lalo Schifrin and two more from Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Hungarian guitarist Elek Bacsik throwing some curveballs; with 7 songs totalling 51:59, they get to stretch out a little; while Gillespie's played hotter trumpet, he doesn't disappoint here. B+(***)

Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy Goes Hollywood (1963 [2008], Verve): Themes and hits from Exodus, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, Lolita, a "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Days of Wine and Roses" -- smartly played by Gillespie's quintet, even on songs so set they can't bust them loose. B+(**)

Dizzy Gillespie: The Cool World (1964 [2008], Verve): Nominally a soundtrack to Shirley Clarke's film about young people growing up in Harlem, the music written by Mal Waldron, set pieces that are carefully measured with none of the clichs or atmospherics that make up most soundtracks -- note that four song titles mention "Duke"; Gillespie's quintet includes James Moody on tenor sax and flute, and Kenny Barron on piano. B+(***)

Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues (1955-56 [2007], Verve): Two late period sessions, some people find her broken down sound poignant, but I find it awkward, especially when she searches for an affect she used to find naturally; on the other hand, Verve's groups were stellar, and she held some sort of patent on magic. B+(*)

Milt Jackson: At the Museum of Modern Art (1965 [2008], Verve): A live set with Cedar Walton on fleet bebop piano and James Moody floating by on flute; Jackson's vibes tie it all together, accenting the differences while retaining his trademark sense of swing. B+(*)

Keith Jarrett: Treasure Island (1974 [2009], Impulse): His peak period, having left Miles Davis to run two stellar quartets as well as the marathon solo that made him legendary; this is the American quartet, second album, his rockish chording and Charlie Haden's phat bass propelling Dewey Redman into paroxysms of joy. A-

The Jazz Crusaders: At the Lighthouse/Pacific Jazz Records (1962 [2006], Blue Note): Early on they were a hard bop band that recalled pre-bop for its high spirits -- Wayne Henderson's trombone tailgated Kid Ory and Trummy Young, Joe Sample's piano showed a flair for boogie woogie. B+(**)

The Jazz Crusaders: Old Socks, New Shoes . . . New Socks, Old Shoes (1970 [2008], Verve): Group's last album before dropping "Jazz" from their name, starts with an irresistible Sly Stone concoction, which they can't repeat let alone supersede; on the other hand, their regular funk fare makes better use of the evident leader's trombone. B

Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina: Elis & Tom (1974 [2008], Verve): Regina doesn't have much more range than Astrud Gilberto, but she hits the right tone here for a set of classic Jobim, done simply or with full orchestra, sometimes the difference scarcely matters. A-

Antonio Carlos Jobim/Gal Costa: Rio Revisited (1987 [2008], Verve): A live set covering the usual songbook from "One Note Samba" to "Corcovado," the seductive grooves lifted from the weak sound by Costa and a backing chorus. B+(**)

Budd Johnson: Ya! Ya! [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1970 [2002], Black & Blue): An unsung hero, the guy who taught Ben Webster to play tenor sax, on a swing through France with Charlie Shavers on trumpet, pretty much as underrated as Johnson, and some local unknowns on "Body and Soul" and a batch of blues -- bread and butter, cheese and red wine. B+(**)

Quincy Jones and His Orchestra: The Quintessence (1961 [2007], Impulse): Crisp big band arrangements, eight songs in a scant 30:45, the leader already beyond playing trumpet -- why bother when you can hustle up Freddie Hubbard, Thad Jones, Clark Terry, and Snooky Young? B+(**)

Quincy Jones: Explores the Music of Henry Mancini (1964 [2009], Verve): This turns out to be an interesting match, where Mancini's playful movie music gets some interesting twists from a big band with its own sense of whimsy, with Jones tapping not only his usual stars but young blood like Gary Burton and Roland Kirk. B+(***)

Quincy Jones: Smackwater Jack (1971 [2009], A&M): A transitional record, jonesing to go pop but lacking the charisma to put it across, and still with all his networking tempted to sneak in lots of nice little jazz touches, like he was doing a soundtrack or something. B

Quincy Jones: You've Got It Bad Girl (1973 [2009], Verve): Mixed bag, mostly soft soul tracks with vocals, two from Stevie Wonder suffering the most, a fetching instrumental "Eyes of Love," a respectable "Manteca," some mediocre theme music; short even for LPs at 29:28. B-

Joyce/Nana Vasconcelos/Mauricio Maestro: Visions of Dawn (1976 [2009], Far Out): Full name, Joyce Silveira Palhano de Jesus, was one of the classic bossa nova singers who came to prominence in the 1960s -- like Gal Costa and Elis Regina, she has her own Antonio Carlos Jobim duo album to proove it. These Paris sessions came later, a slice of Acid Folk, a Brazilian hallucination that defies description much less categorization. But it starts with the percussionist, who won't settle for a samba beat when so many African ghosts haunt him. The singers work around him, sometimes surprising us and them. A-

B.B. King: Live at the Apollo (1990 [2008], Verve): In strong voice and robust guitar, but nothing stands out of the ordinary other than "Since I Left You Baby"; maybe, indeed, "The Thrill Is Gone." B

John Klemmer: Barefoot Ballet (1976 [2008], Verve): A series of light saxophone pieces, modestly blown, with just enough rhythm to keep them seductively on track; at this rate I doubt that he'll ever amount to much, but this is nice and easy to listen to, nothing excessive or cloying. B+(*)

John Klemmer: Arabesque (1977 [2008], Verve): A tenor saxophonist, starts out nearly solo to establish some cred, then eases off a bit to sail off on the synths and quasi-Latin percussion; nothing arabesque to the music, but he probably likes the sound of the word. B

The Ramsey Lewis Trio: At the Bohemian Caverns (1964 [2008], Verve): Starts with an 11:38 medley from West Side Story, following up topically with "People," but the other side sticks closer to jazz and blues standards, the piano rarely takes the easy way out, and bassist Eldee Young works in some idiosyncratic soloing. B+(*)

The Ramsey Lewis Trio: The In Crowd (1965 [2007], Argo): Live set, headlined with his hit, the main concession to popular taste here is a willingness to get rowdy, especially with Eldee Young's shouts and Redd Holt's exuberant drums; cheap thrills, fun enough. B+(**)

Ramsey Lewis: Goin' Latin (1966 [2008], Verve): He doesn't go very far Latin: some bongos, Willie Bobo's "Spanish Grease," a samba; he mostly makes instrumental kitsch, the kind he occasionally scored novelty hits with, and he roughs the misses up enough to keep you from thinking he's a hack. B+(*)

Hugh Masekela: Home Is Where the Music Is (1972 [2008], Verve): Runs 76:33, a double LP fit onto a single CD; his ex-home is South Africa, and the more he looks back the harder he charges forward, eventually erupting in a well-earned vocal; some Americans in the band take a while to catch on, but saxophonist Dudu Pukwana is perfectly at home. A-

Wes Montgomery: Goin' Out of My Head (1965 [2007], Verve): With Verve the signature guitarist of his generation developed a jones for icky pop songs, which is partially interfered with here by the staunch, even bombastic, big band backup of Oliver Nelson; both have their moments, although they rarely share them. B

Wes Montgomery: Down Here on the Ground (1967-68 [2009], Verve): No longer incredible, in his last year just (nearing 45) a pleasant instrumentalist playing hackneyed pop tunes over chintzy Don Sebesky orchestration with Hubert Laws flute and Ray Barretto congas. B-

Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond Quartet: Blues in Time (1957 [2009], Verve): Five years later the same pair recorded the sublime Two of a Mind; this is more tentative, as two of the coolest saxophonists ever puzzle each other out. A-

Oliver Nelson and His Orchestra: "Fantabulous" (1964 [2008], Verve): A big band session, deep and bluesy, with a lot of muscle and not much filigree, mostly deserving of its innovative exclamation. B+(***)

Oliver Nelson: The Kennedy Dream (1967 [2009], Verve): A tribute to the late president, each piece introduced by a memorable speech fragment, followed by the big band loping through what inevitably winds up sounding like movie music, a bit too somber as if that's the necessary emotion. [29:02] B

Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Song Book (1952-53 [2009], Verve): Part of the first round of songbook albums Peterson's trio cut for Norman Granz -- most of the series, but not Kern, were reprised in 1959; these were cut in marathon sessions to be sorted out later; classic standards, given a quick once-over that showcases Peterson's dazzling talent and effortless swing. [PS: I was wrong here. The album was cut during the 1959 sessions and released in 1959. This is different from the 1952 album Plays Jerome Kern.] B+(**) [Later: B+(***)]

Oscar Peterson: Plays Count Basie (1955 [2008], Verve): Peterson and Basie adored each other, but Peterson never bothered with the idea of leaving notes out, so this feels well fleshed out, especially with guitarist Herb Ellis filling out a quartet that includes Buddy Rich. B+(**)

Oscar Peterson with Strings: In a Romantic Mood (1955 [2008], Verve): One of the sillier ideas prevalent in the 1950s was that strings make a record romantic; another was that slow songs are even more so; Russ Garcia provides the strings here, turgid and vapid; makes you think about shooting everyone but the piano player. C

Oscar Peterson & Nelson Riddle (1963 [2009], Verve): Two supporting actors in search of a leader, which should be the pianist, but he's neither loud nor aggressive enough to take charge, leaving you with swarms of strings and flutes and the occasional puddle of piano. C+

The Bud Powell Trio: Blues in the Closet (1956 [2009], Verve): With Ray Brown and Osie Johnson, mostly bebop tunes (including Dizzy Gillespie's "Be-Bop" and "Woody n' You" and Monk's "52nd Street Theme"), played with typical flair. B+(**)

Ramp: Come Into Knowledge (1977 [2007], Blue Thumb): Roy Ayers discovery from Cincinnati -- name is an acronym for Roy Ayers Music Productions -- with a one-shot disco album, with neither a distinctive singer nor a dancefloor commanding beat; the best songs remind me of better disco groups, and they're not all that good. B-

Revolutionary Ensemble: Vietnam (1972 [2009], ESP-Disk): Leroy Jenkins single-handedly invented a new path for violin in avant-jazz, scratched raw, searching the ins and outs of the fractured rhythmic support of comrades Sirone and Cooper. B+(**)

Max Roach Plus Four: Quiet as It's Kept (1960 [2009], Verve): A pianoless group fronted by the two Turrentine brothers (Tommy on trumpet, Stanley on tenor sax), with Julian Priester on trombone and Bob Boswell on bass; the drummer's too tricky to file this away as hard bop, which leaves the horns a little uncertain. B

Joe Sample/David T. Walker: Swing Street Caf (1978 [2008], Verve): A keyboardist who is perfectly happy recycling Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, and Bill Doggett, teams up with a funk guitarist who rarely gets his name on the cover, but is equally happy just to be here. B+(*)

Lalo Schifrin: Piano, Strings and Bossa Nova (1962 [2008], Verve): Argentine pianist, best known later for his soundtracks and quasi-classical Jazz Meets the Symphony fare, but at the time worked for Dizzy Gillespie; the arrangements are every bit as straightforward and obvious as the title. B

Little Jimmy Scott: Everybody's Somebody's Fool (1950-52 [2008], Verve): Early, and rather starchy, sides with the diminutive singer backed by big bands led by Lionel Hampton, Billy Taylor, and Lucky Thompson, snarfed up from the Decca catalog; a reissue of a 1999 compilation, which seems like a violation of the series rules. B-

Nina Simone: Let It Be Me (1980 [2009], Verve): Live set, small group, her piano prominent, her voice worn and weary, her key songs done better elsewhere, the extras dross. C-

Jimmy Smith: Hobo Flats (1963 [2008], Verve): Actually, another Oliver Nelson big band album, the horns subdued, setting up the organ player for his title role; still, it mostly works, partly because they stay close to the blues where everyone knows his place, mostly because Smith is player enough to keep in front of this parade. B+(**)

Jimmy Smith: At Club Baby Grand, Vol. 1 (1956 [2008], Blue Note): Early on, a guitar-organ-drums trio live in Wilmington, Delaware; guitarist Thornel Schwartz never made a name for himself, but Smith is all over the machine, doing the things that made him famous, including enough ugliness in the lower registers to obviate the need for a bassist. B+(**)

Jimmy Smith: At Club Baby Grand, Vol. 2 (1956 [2008], Blue Note): More of the same, "Caravan" giving the guitarist something sweet to chime in on, three more standards a lot of grist for the organ grinder. B+(*)

Jimmy Smith: Plays Fats Waller (1962 [2008], Blue Note): Trio with guitar and drums, but they add very little to Smith's organ, this time taking nearly everything slow, painting famous songs so thick with pastels they're only barely recognizable. B

The Amazing Jimmy Smith Trio: Live at the Village Gate (1963 [2008], Verve): With guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Billy Hart, four tracks running a short 30:23; Smith's intensity is keyed up, but his energy tends to compress the sound into a dense ball of blues riffs, with Warren providing little relief. B-

Jimmy Smith: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1964 [2007], Verve): Cover shows Smith and a buxom model back-to-back, the latter with a wolf head, the sort of cornball literalism that reminds me of Johnny "Guitar" Watson (except that Watson would have exposed a lot more skin); a big band thing with Oliver Nelson and/or Claus Ogerman, crisply played, the band lighting a fire under Smith who scuries to keep the organ out front, most impressively on "Women of the World." B+(***)

Lucky Thompson: New York City, 1964-65 (1964-65 [2009], Uptown Jazz, 2CD): An excpetional saxophonist whose slim discography has gradually built up as lost sessions and live shots have been uncovered; two more, the first disc an octet at the Little Theater, the second a quartet at the Half Note, neither indispensible but the sheer beauty of Thompson's tenor sax comes out especially in the smaller group setting. B+(**)

Cal Tjader: Plays the Contemporary Music of Mexico and Brazil (1962 [2008], Verve): Arranged by Clare Fischer, who wrings any rhythmic complexity out of the music, leaving a soft, hapless backdrop for Tjader's vibes. C+

McCoy Tyner: Today and Tomorrow (1963-64 [2009], Impulse): A mix of trio and sextet tracks, the horns an intriguing lineup of Thad Jones, John Gilmore, and Frank Strozier, the pianist hanging in and coming on strong in his spots. B+(**)

Sarah Vaughan and Her Trio: At Mister Kelly's (1957 [2007], Verve): With Jimmy Jones on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums, should be the sort of group that cracks Vaughan out of her statuesque diva pose and loosens her up, but it doesn't work out that way; note that this only has 9 of 20 songs on the 1991 CD. B

Grover Washington Jr.: Inner City Blues (1971 [2008], Verve): First album by the smooth jazz legend, runs with two Marvin Gaye smashes and respectable fare like "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Loves You, Porgy"; Creed Taylor produced and Bob James arranged the lush synthy backdrop, but Washington's deep, clear sax carries the day. B+(*)

Grover Washington Jr.: All the King's Horses (1972 [2008], Verve): Same formula, substituting Aretha Franklin and Bill Withers songs for Marvin Gaye, which dials the funk back a bit, lets the orchestration swell, and undercuts the saxophone, which is really the only reason we're here. B

Grover Washington Jr.: Soul Box (1973 [2008], Verve): Creed Taylor produced, Bob James arranged and conducted, the usual crew played, the saxophonist blew elegantly; the key advantage here was that the seven songs spread out over 2 LPs, one or two cuts per side, the grooves stretched out, the synth simplified, the sax craftily paced, poised to climax. A-

Grover Washington Jr.: Feels So Good (1975 [2009], Verve): The first Washington album that actually sounds funky, a credit more to bassist Louis Johnson than to Bob James, who would just as soon recycle disco schmaltz B+(**)

Grover Washington Jr.: A Secret Place (1976 [2009], Verve): Cover depicts Washington playing a soprano sax in the woods, and indeed there's more soprano here than heretofore; it floats aimlessly over the standard issue funk, where the rarer tenor sax at least tries to grapple to force some form of coherent whole. B

Grover Washington Jr.: Reed Seed (1977 [2009], Verve): His final album for Kudu -- the only one omitted from this series is Mr. Magic, regarded well enough it didn't need a budget reissue; by this point he's settled into utter pleasantries, mild funk and silky soul, with Marvin Gaye giving way to Billy Joel. B

Delroy Wilson: Dub Plate Style (1978 [2009], Pressure Sounds): This recycles 1978's 20 Golden Greats, which seems less a compilation -- only 10 songs reappear from any albums I could find -- than a dubwise synthesis, somewhat weak and underdeveloped as is often the case with the one-time child star, but increasingly groovewise as they wear on. B+(**)

Tom Z: Dan-h-S (2006, Tratore): Choppy Brazilian psychedelica, most likely so-named because it makes no sense that the broken riddims and nonsense rhymes could ever get under your skin and wrapped around your synapses, yet strangest of all this turns out to be catchy. A-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:


Ahleuchatistas: Of the Body Prone (2009, Tzadik): Guitar-bass-drums trio: Shane Perlowin, Derek Poteat, Ryan Oslance, respectively. Fifth album since 2004, with Oslance a newcomer this time. Rather metallic, not inordinately heavy but dense, not much that strikes me as jazz; maybe post-grunge. B

Herb Alpert & Lani Hall: Live: Anything Goes (2009, Concord): Hall, a/k/a Mrs. Herb Alpert, first emerged as the vocalist for Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66. She cut 7 albums for A&M from 1972-84, a couple in Spanish. Alpert, of course, is a trumpeter whose Tijuana Brass band scored several pop hits in the 1960s, "Whipped Cream" being one of the more substantial. Mostly indelible standards, with "Besame Mucho" and a Djavan song the only entries from south of the border. Hall rarely gets much traction with the songs; Alpert's trumpet is a plus. B

Fred Anderson: Staying in the Game (2008 [2009], Engine): Pushing age 80, seems to be mellowing still, but this is pretty much his standard trio disc, the slight dropoff partly attributable to Tim Daisy instead of Hamid Drake on drums, partly sound -- although regular bassist Harrison Bankhead comes through loud and clear. B+(**)

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Infernal Machines (2008 [2009], New Amsterdam): Cover looks familiar, but I don't have any note of this in my records. Argue is from Vancouver, arrived in New York in 2003, studied with Bob Brookmeyer. Big band arranger, with a big band that probably intersects quite a bit with Mike Holober's group(s). Name comes from a John Philip Sousa line, the residue of an era when machines could appear monstrous. Argue's band, however, is nothing like that. This one is clean and functional verging on slick and powerful. B+(***)

The Hashem Assadullahi Quintet: Strange Neighbor (2009, 8Bells): Saxophonist, plays alto and soprano, b. 1981, studied in Texas and Oregon, based in Eugene, OR, although he seems to have some kind of deal going in Thailand. First album, with Ron Miles (trumpet), Justin Morell (guitar), Josh Tower (bass), and Jason Palmer (drums). This has sort of a suite feel to it, not just in the first five linked pieces: the instruments tend to fold together in neat bundles with few attempts to break out and solo. Reminds me a bit of Mingus, only mellower, the guitar sweeter and tighter than a piano would be. B+(**)

Cyro Baptista & Banquet of the Spirits: Infinito (2009, Tzadik): Brazilian percussionist, has half dozen albums since 1997, including last year's group-giving Banquet of the Spirits. Not really sure who all plays on this, as the three or four sources I've found disagree. Core band is evidently Baptista on all sorts of percussion and exotica; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass, oud, gimbri; Brian Marsella on keyboards and maybe melodica; Tim Keiper on drums. Add to that a list of guests that may or may not include Anat Cohen, John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Z Mauricio, Romero Lubambo, Ikue Mori, Peter Scherer, and a lot of people I don't recoginze (Tom-E-Tabla?). Some vocals. Traces of Brazilian and Middle Eastern musics, but no clear fusion or synthesis. Some of it's intriguing, but most I don't get. B

The Terence Blanchard Group: Choices (2009, Concord): This is a mess, difficult to sort out under the best of circumstances, hopeless streamed one time through a tinny computer. Blanchard has done a fair amount of soundtrack work, on top of which he likes to orchestrate high-minded concept albums -- e.g., his score to Malcolm X followed by The Malcolm X Jazz Suite (much better). He makes both work sometimes but he's also pretty erratic. This has a few overripe stretches, but it also has some respectable semi-trad jazz and some blistering trumpet. It also has long stretches of spoken word, courtesy of Dr. Cornel West, that break up the music. I couldn't follow them all, but what I heard is interesting in its own right, if not necessarily in the context of an album. Generally less conspicuous, but more annoying, are the soft soul vocals of Bilal. Real grade could be a bit higher or lower -- maybe more but right now it doesn't seem cost-effective to figure it all out. B+(*)

Rob Burger: City of Strangers (2009, Tzadik): Tin Hat founder, plays piano but also lots of other instruments, like accordion, guitars, lap steel, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, marimba, vibes, jew's harp. Short pieces, 31 in all, many just soundtrack fragments, most augmented with viola and violin, one with Marc Ribot guitar. Nice enough, but doesn't flow all that well, and is far from substantial. B

C.O.D.E.: Play the Music of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy (2008, Cracked Anegg): I guess the artist credit is a trivial cipher for "Coleman, Ornette; Dolphy, Eric." The group consists of Ken Vandermark (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax), Max Nagl (alto sax), Clayton Thomas (bass), and Wolfgang Reisinger (drums). The nine tunes are from Coleman and Dolphy (two medleyed together), each member arranging. Nagl has been on my shopping list a long time, but I hadn't managed to find anything by him before. Similar to the Vandermark 5's Free Jazz Classics, both in the assured command of tricky music and their willingness to run with it. B+(***)

Freakish: Anthony Coleman Plays Jelly Roll Morton (2009, Tzadik): Pianist. AMG credits him with 9 albums since 1992, omitting a couple of duos he came up on on the short stick of, and maybe some group albums I'd file his way -- Sephardic Tinge, the Selfhaters, not sure what else. No doubt he was thinking of Morton when he titled an early album Sephardic Tinge then recycled the album name as group name. This is solo, as straightforward as any Morton tribute. "Freakish" is an obscure song title. I suppose if Morton were around he'd explain how he invented Monk. B+(**)

Harry Connick, Jr.: Your Songs (2009, Columbia): Searching the top of the bestseller list for a dud, but this isn't it -- just can't bring myself to dislike it. A long list of stellar credits (don't have song-by-song breakdowns) are almost impossible to recognize: Wayne Bergeron, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Ernie Watts. The music is almost totally dominated by anonymous string orchestration, more Nelson Riddle than Billy May, and not Riddle -- but then Connick isn't Sinatra either, so the downsizing works surprisingly well. Half the standards come from the rock era, with obvious lemons from Elton John, Billy Joel, Bacharach and David, even the Beatles, turning into bright spots. At worst, a little dull. B+(*)

Chick Corea & Gary Burton: The New Crystal Silence (2007 [2008], Stretch, 2CD): Back in 1972 ECM released the old Crystal Silence, giving Burton top billing. The pair bounced into each other several times since then, leading to this 35th anniversary reunion. Two discs: the first fortified by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the second a bare duo. Needless to say, the latter works better, mostly by avoiding the excess gunk. Still, on their own this is pretty thin. B-

The Neil Cowley Trio: Loud Louder Stop (2008, Cake): British pianist, leading a trio with Richard Sadler on bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. First record, Dis-Placed, won a BBC Jazz Album of the Year poll; I liked it enough to include it in a Jazz CG. Similar stuff this: bright acoustic (and some electric) piano; sharp chords, often repeating, always keenly rhythmic. They get compared to E.S.T. a lot -- there seems to be a certain pop cachet to that in Europe, but they strike me as both brighter and more mainstream, a bit like Ramsey Lewis at his very best. Except that Lewis was almost never at his best, and these guys always are. B+(***)

On Ka'a Davis: Djoukoujou! (2009, Tzadik): Guitarist, joined up with Sun Ra near the end of the latter's career, manages an unruly mob here, long on bass and percussion, with horn credits, like vocal credits, merely divided into "fronting" and "backing." Davis has another new record out this year, Seed of Djuke, which I picked as an HM. It had pretty much the same group, more vocals, a bit more generic funk. This is rougher, dirtier, like he's finally getting some mileage out of his Sun Ra channel. Especially vivid is a squeaky sax solo early on -- I figure it's probably Saco Yasuma. B+(***)

Finger Poppin' With Joey DeFrancesco: Celebrating the Music of Horace Silver (2008 [2009], Doodlin'): A batch of Horace Silver classics played by a Silver-like group, only with DeFrancesco's organ replacing both piano and bass, which costs a bit of sparkle on the high end. You'd think it would also add to the churchiness, but that's not really DeFrancesco's style, and if anything he loses some of the gospel swagger and sway. The two horns are Tom Harrell on flugelhorn and Tim Warfield on tenor sax. They both have moments, but neither really breaks loose. [NB: Rhapsody didn't cooperate in playing all of the songs.] B+(*)

Kurt Elling: Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman (2009, Concord): The 1963 John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is one of those records that always seemed like it should be better than it is. Coltrane's Ballads, from 1962, was one of his most deeply pleasurable albums. Hartman was a smooth singer who could be an asset in the right setting. The Tyner-Garrison-Jones rhythm section was in peak form. But it really doesn't live up to all the wishful thinking invested in it. Elling doesn't exactly try to recreate it: he adds a couple songs, working several others into medleys. He adds some strings. He taps Ernie Watts for the tenor sax role -- a welcome choice but about as far away from Coltrane as contemporary saxophonists get. Of course, Elling is even further removed from Hartman. He manages to bury his vocalese shtick, only rarely lapsing into his idiosyncrasies, mostly keeping his voice in tune. Recorded live, throwing in some backstory of the album. B-

Bla Fleck/Zakir Hussain/Edgar Meyer: The Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto & Music for Trio (2009, Koch): Banjo, tabla, bass for the principals. Their trio pieces are modestly exotic, the strings in sharp contrast, the percussion balancing them in tone and shifting the music. The three movement concerto is fortified by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The trio still stands out there, making you wonder why they need the semiclassical backdrop anyway. Probably some institutional money and prestige riding on it. B+(*)

Flow Trio: Rejuvenation (2008 [2009], ESP): Basic avant-sax trio, with Louie Belogenis on tenor sax, Joe Morris on bass, and Charles Downs on drums. Sax is rather lacklustre, partly sonic but mostly because the one thing this group doesn't do is flow. B

Melody Gardot: My One and Only Thrill (2009, Verve): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey; second album, evidently some kind of bestseller. Wrote 9 songs, co-wrote 2, and picked one cover, "Over the Rainbow." Her voice has unobvious appeal, and most of the songs work in unpredictable ways. Six are swathed in strings, which sound awful at first but quickly recover -- another burden she manages to slough off. Name sounds French; not sure how that works, but the one song she wrote in French is a choice cut. B+(*)

Ben Goldberg: Speech Communication (2009, Tzadik): Clarinetist, has 8 albums since 1992, plus three more by his New Klezmer Trio group (1990-2000). This is another trio, in Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series, so there's some suggestion that this is a New Klezmer Trio reunion -- drummer Kenny Wollesen is shared, bassist Greg Cohen is new. With all original tunes, doesn't sound very klezmerish, but isn't far removed either. Starts solo, but picks up nicely with bass and drums. The deep-sounding clarinet on a couple of pieces is a contra alto. B+(***)

Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Phases of the Night (2007 [2008], Intakt): If you take Penguin Guide as gospel, there is probably no major jazz artist that I am further behind on than Barry Guy. (I've rated one Guy record plus two from London Jazz Composers Orchestra, for most intents Guy records. For comparison, I have 5 from Derek Bailey, not much better, especially percent-wise.) Guy seems to have written these four pieces, reportedly inspired by paintings by Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Wilfredo Lam and Yves Tanguy. They do vary in density, detail, and color, the denser the better with this group. The pieces tend to start with bass rumble, and while Crispell is awesome, she never quite beats Guy into the ground. Remarkable, I think. Wish I knew for sure. A-

Roy Hargrove Big Band: Emergence (2008 [2009], Emarcy): Mainstream trumpet player, made a big splash early on which still serves him well in polls. Has tried his hand at Cuban and pop-funk, and now moves on to big band, weighing in heavy at 18 pieces plus occasional vocalist Roberta Gambarini. Some nice things here, like a "My Funny Valentine" that stays on the delicate side, and plenty of power when Hargrove wants to put pedal to the metal. Gambarini is nothing special here. B+(*)

Stefon Harris & Blackout: Urbanus (2009, Concord): Vibraphone player, got a big boost signing with Blue Note in 1998, one of the first jazz musicians who grew up with hip-hop and promised to fuse the two together. This album looks like he's still pushing that line, but it sounds like something else altogether: fractured rhythmically, Monk-like but working different angles, augmented by Marc Cary's keybs and a palette of soft reeds -- flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet. Some vocals, or vocoder, muddies the water a bit -- not to my taste, but interesting still. B+(**)

Guy Klucevsek: Dancing on the Volcano (2009, Tzadik): Accordion player, b. 1947, a major figure on the instrument since the late 1980s, covering a wide range of styles -- AMG lists his genre as Avant-Garde and his styles as including World Fusion, Klezmer, and European Folk. He's not a jazz musician in the bebop sense, but most other senses will do. Group is normally a quartet with Steve Elson (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax), Pete Donovan (bass), and John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion); on a couple of tracks Alex Meixner's accordion replaces Elson. A couple of waltzes, some dancing, not a lot of volcano. B+(**)

Joe Locke/David Hazeltine Quartet: Mutual Admiration Society 2 (2009, Sharp Nine): Vibes-piano duet, reinforced by Essiet Essiet on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. As the title suggests, Locke and Hazeltine have done this before, with their 1999 album Mutual Admiration Society. Vibes-piano is one a combination that tends to work, as Milt Jackson/John Lewis showed many times. Locke first came to my attention in a duo with Kenny Barron, But Beautiful. Hazeltine is one of the best mainstream pianists working, notable both as a trio leader and accompanist. Nice enough, but still this scoots by without leaving much of an impression, like all the mutual admiration doesn't produce any tension to spark our interest. B+(*)

Carl Maguire's Floriculture: Sided Silver Solid (2009, Firehouse 12): Pianist, called his first album Floriculture (2005, Between the Lines) and kept he name for his group, even though only Dan Weiss (drums) returns here: John Hebert takes over the bass slot, Oscar Noriega alto sax (although clarinet and bass clarinet are more prominent), and most importantly Stephanie Griffin expands the quartet to quintet with her viola -- the dominant sound, giving the whole an abstract, fractured chamber music feel, punctuated by the occasional Sturm und Drang. B+(**)

Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Kind of Brown (2009, Mack Avenue): Bassist, wound up on the cover of Downbeat's critics poll issue, winning acoustic bassist over perennial Dave Holland, coming in second on electric bass. He has nine or so albums since an impressive major label deubt in 1994 and a huge number of side credits (AMG's list runs to four pages, but there looks to be a lot of chaff in there). This is basically a Holland-style group, with high saxophone (Steve Wilson on alto and soprano) and vibes (Warren Wolf Jr.) to steer clear of the bass, although McBride goes one step further, omitting the trombone in favor of pianist Eric Reed. McBride swings harder and has a fondness for funk, but he doesn't exert enough gravity to keep the lighter elements from floating away. B

John McLaughlin/Chick Corea: Five Peace Band Live (2008 [2009], Concord, 2CD): Another anniversary reunion, this time looking back 40 years to joint service under Miles Davis. Corea plays electric piano here, chasing or pushing McLaughlin through a series of 20-minute groove pieces, with Christian McBride and Vinnie Colaiuta helping out. It's pretty good for what it is, even when Corea is just diddling on his own, as happens a lot in "Dr. Jackle," but the pay off comes when Kenny Garrett chimes in. I've gotten to where I don't expect much from these guys, so this is a very pleasant surprise. B+(**)

Medeski Martin & Wood: Radiolarians II (2008 [2009], Indirecto): The second of three discs of presumably related material -- I didn't get these, although I've been getting hype for a forthcoming box set that pulls them all together (not that that guarantees I'll get the box set either). Radiolarians are protozoa with intricate mineral skeletons. Medeski composed all but one of the pieces here (other comes from Rev. Gary Davis), but the stripped down, rhythm-first feel reminds me more of Billy Martin's sideline records, especially when Medeski plays piano. I like it more than anything I've heard by the group in a long time. Medeski wheels the organ out near the end on "Amish Pintxos" and that works fine too. B+(***)

Medeski Martin & Wood: Radiolarians III (2008 [2009], Indirecto): Evidently the end of this series, starts more abstractly with more piano, shifts midway to organ and pumps up the volume, ends toned down again. Group comps this time. B+(**)

Ted Nash: The Mancini Project (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Saxophonist, leaning more toward tenor this time, also playing alto, soprano, alto flute, and piccolo, leading a quartet -- Frank Kimbrough (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Matt Wilson (drums) -- on an all-Mancini program. Most Mancini projects play up the playful side of catchy soundtrack tunes, but Nash drills straight into the melodies. Would have preferred less flute, but even that is nicely thought out. B+(***)

The Nu Band: Lower East Side Blues (2008 [2009], Porter): Quartet, label describes them as free bop. Veterans: the horns are Roy Campbell (trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn) and Mark Whitecage (alto sax, clarinet); the rhythm section is Joe Fonda (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums). Third album together since 2001. All four contribute songs, with Fonda's called "In a Whitecage/The Path," and Whitecage's "Like Sonny." Despite the "Charlie Parker Place" roadsign on the cover, doesn't strike me as boppish -- has a bit of a world music vibe. B+(***)

Old Dog: By Any Other Name (2007 [2009], Porter): Quartet, led by saxophonist Louie Belogenis (or Louis -- google gives Louie the edge by a little more than 3-to-1), credited with tenor here. Other members: Karl Berger (vibes, piano), Michael Bisio (bass), Warren Smith (drums). Belogenis' early credits (c. 1992) are with God Is My Co-Pilot (seems to be a post-no-wave rock group with porn themes) and Prima Materia (Rashied Ali group channeling Coltrane and Ayler); later he fronted a group with Roy Campbell called Exuberance. Seems like a formidable player, especially well versed in late Coltrane. Berger lays out the first cut, then enters on piano, then moves to vibes, making good use of both instruments. The sort of record I would put back for further listening if I actually had it. B+(**)

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Imaginary Values (1993 [2007], Maya): Cautionary tale: I thought I'd check to see if I could find anything recent and unheard by Parker on Rhapsody, given that I have a lot of his material written up for the CG. Rhapsody listed this as 2008 -- their dates are often useless, but they're the first ones I see. AMG and Amazon have it as 2007; not too far out of date. AMG gives the label as TCB, but almost everyone else agrees on Maya. So I play it and research some more. It shows up in discographies as recorded in 1993 at the Red Rose Club in London. Penguin Guide, which only lists recording dates, has it as a 4-star, rating it one of the trio's best efforts. Hard for me to tell. Rhapsody won't play the 3rd cut or the 6th. I jump to the 8th ("Invariance"), which PG singled out, but I don't really get it. This is difficult music, abstract, lots of oblique angles, prickly spines sticking out every which way. Parker plays more soprano sax than tenor, which makes this wobblier than usual, and Guy and Lytton are always difficult. And it's way too late to keep pursuing a line that isn't going to produce anything. So for now, but I'm not scratching it off the shopping list. B+(**)

Jessica Pavone: Songs of Synastry and Solitude (2009, Tzadik): Violinst, best known for her work with guitarist Mary Halvorson. This is a tough record for me to relate to: a string quartet with double bass instead of a second violin. It is played by Toomai String Quartet -- Pavone doesn't perform. Doesn't kick off my usual allergic reaction to classical music, but it's in the same sonic range, and refuses to break out. B-

Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (2008 [2009], Porter): Andrew Cyrille on drums, Paul Dunmall on tenor sax and bagpipes, Henry Grimes on bass. Live set, all group improvs, raw both in sound and substance. Grimes sounds especially primitive here, Ayleresque even. Dunmall has always been hit-and-miss, but he's pretty much always on here. He even squeezes out a couple of minutes of rather sublime music on his bagpipes, elsewhere more often than not an implement of torture. Cyrille may get first billing alphabetically, but he does a remarkable job of holding it all together, and gets to end the set on a rapturous crash. They didn't try to tone down the applause, and for once it's deserved. A-

Benny Reid: Escaping Shadows (2008 [2009], Concord): Alto saxophonist, b. 1980, second album; filed it under pop jazz, which has much more to do with the saxophone, which could fit nicely in any postbop context -- he has a sweet tone on the ballads and can romp on the fast ones. Worse than the keybs-guitar-bass is the scat slung by Jeff Taylor. B

Revolutionary Ensemble: Vietnam (1972 [2009], ESP-Disk): The latest reissue of the periodically reissued debut disk of the Leroy Jenkins-Sirone-Jerome Cooper trio. Nothing specific about Vietnam, but it was in the air in revolutionary circles of the time. Jenkins single-handedly invented a new path for violin in avant-jazz, scratched raw, searching the ins and outs of his comrades' rhythms. B+(**)

Revolutionary Ensemble: Beyond the Boundary of Time (2005 [2009], Mutable Music): A live set cut on a tour in Poland, effectively a last hurrah before pioneering violinist Leroy Jenkins died in 2007. The trio with bassist Sirone and drummer Jerome Cooper worked together from 1971-78, then regrouped for a remarkable album in 2004, And Now . . . (Pi). So this promises more, but they come out uncertain and despite various characteristically intriguing moments never really get their sound together. They come closest in the two closing improvs, even when Cooper switches to synth. B

Adam Rogers: Sight (2008 [2009], Criss Cross): A guitarist with a light touch on long and elegant lines, backed by John Patitucci on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Four originals, covers of bebop and standards; stays within a fairly narrow sonic band, requiring more attention than I like but often rewarding it. B+(*)

Warren Smith Composers Workshop Ensemble: Old News Borrowed Blues (2009, Engine): Hard working, little recorded drummer, ringleader here for something sort of like a big band but rather casually arranged: 2 trumpets, euphonium/bass trombone, 5 reeds, bass violin and guitar but no bass, a second drums/vibes player, plus extra African percussion. A three-part quite, four pieces called "Free Forms," one called "One More Lick for Harold Vick" (an obscure saxophonist c. 1960). I didn't make much sense of it all, but it just sort of slid by with slippery grooves and good humor. B+(**)

Luciana Souza: Tide (2009, Verve): Brazilian singer, has a nice clean tone in the main line of Brazilian pop and jazz singers, a bit higher pitched. Three Brazilian songs strike me as exceptional, but none of six in English piqued my interest. Larry Klein wrote five of the latter, so he's suspect; the sixth was from Paul Simon, not someone I'm particularly fond of. B

Tim Sparks: Sidewalk Blues (2009, Tonewood): Solo guitar, not sure what "fingerstyle" means -- guessing, I substituted "fingerpicked" in my review of Sparks' Little Princess. This is a bit less intriguing, probably because the old blues, gospels, rags, and jazz tunes (Fats Waller the most recent) have mostly been fingerpicked over before. B+(**)

Mike Stern: Big Neighborhood (2009, Heads Up): Electric guitarist, learned fusion under Miles Davis, but it was rather late in the game when Davis was well past his peak. He's never much impressed me on his own, garnering a dud for Who Let the Cats Out? last time. New record is more groovewise, mostly metallic but one song sounds slightly African. Don't have the breakdown of which guests play on which cuts, and not sure that it makes a lot of difference. Most common effect is to wrap some vocals around the mainline, but not even that gets annoying. B

Grant Stewart: Young at Heart (2007 [2008], Sharp Nine): One album back. Another quartet, with Tardo Hammer (piano) and Joe Farnsworth (drums) constants, but with Peter Washington in the bass slot (big improvement, not a surprise). Starts with the luscious title song, followed by a slow burn on "You're My Thrill." Turns a bit boppy on the one original, "Shades of Jackie Mac," for Jackie McLean, and stays more or less in that mode through Ellington and Jobim. Album cover has a brunette draped over his shoulders, his best Bennie Wallace move to date. Doesn't have the ballad tone, but he seems more comfortable here. B+(***)

Grant Stewart: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (2009, Sharp Nine): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1971, basically a generation but little else removed from one-time young fogeys like Scott Hamilton and Ken Peplowski. Last time I reviewed a record by Stewart the label owner/producer wrote in to register his dismay and hope that I would listen to the record again. I don't mind letters like that. I might even learn something some day. But I didn't change my mind, and he never sent me another record. This is Stewart's second since then: a quartet with Tardo Hammer (piano), Paul Gill (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Eight Ellington and/or Strayhorn songs, "It Don't Mean a Thing" the only one I can instantly ID. Reminds me that my main problem with Stewart is that his tone strikes me as rather dull, at least compared to a dozen similar sax players. On the other hand, there's something here that resists the young fogey caricature. B+(**)

Marcus Strickland: Of Song (2008 [2009], Criss Cross): After several self-released albums, Downbeat's rising star (#2 at tenor sax, #1 at soprano sax) sloughs an album off on the premier Dutch mainstream label. Quartet, with David Bryant on piano added to his trio of Ben Williams on bass and brother E.J. Strickland on drums. Seems a little slow to me, starting with "Ne Me Quitte Pas" and a harp-enhanced Oumou Sangare song. "It's a Man's Man's World" is barely recognizable only from the bass, and I don't think the piano adds a thing. A good saxophonist with better albums. B+(*)

David Taylor: Red Sea (2009, Tzadik): Taylor is billed as "one of the world's greatest virtuosos on the bass trombone." While most 16-18 player big bands have a bass bone alongside three standard ones, I've never heard of one touted as a virtuoso before. It's hard to tell here: the dominant vibe is slow and ugly, inspired by and borrowing from Cantor Pierre Pinchik. But Taylor gets help in that department: Scott Robinson is credited with nine instruments, mostly down deep as well -- bass sax, contrabass clarinet, contrabass sarrusophone, tenor rothophone, bass flute, like that, plus something called a treme-terra I can't find any info on. Some toy piano and other sounds, some vocals, a lot of Warren Smith percussion. Hard to figure but oddly intriguing. B+(*)

Lucky Thompson: New York City, 1964-65 (1964-65 [2009], Uptown Jazz, 2CD): An excpetional saxophonist whose slim discography has gradually built up as lost sessions and live shots have been uncovered. Two more, the first disc an octet at the Little Theater, the second a quartet at the Half Note, neither indispensible but the sheer beauty of Thompson's tenor sax comes out especially in the smaller group setting. B+(**)

Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship (2009, Thrill Jockey): Instrumental rock group, been around since the early 1990s, with Jeff Parker, who has some jazz cred, on guitar, but more often than not he's buried under the keyboards -- presumably John McEntire and John Herndon, although both are also credited with drums. The pieces have some structure and sometimes get edgy if not quite noisy. B+(***)

Ken Vandermark/Barry Guy/Mark Sanders: Fox Fire (2008 [2009], Maya, 2CD): Two sets recorded in Birmingham and Leeds, more or less home turf to bassist Guy and drummer Sanders. Vandermark plays tenor sax and clarinet; sounds magnificent on the former, fierce on the latter. Don't know whether the pieces are group improvs, come from Guy's stash, or are more mixed. Doesn't make a lot of difference. Guy has an interesting bag of tricks, and Vandermark fleshes them out admirably. A lot to listen to in one shot; wish I had this. B+(***)

Jeff "Tain" Watts: Watts (2008 [2009], Dark Key): Drummer, broke in at age 21 on the first Wynton Marsalis album (back when Wynton was 20 and Branford 21). Has six albums under his own name -- one cut in 1991, a second (first released) in 1999, picked up the pace after that. Quartet with Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, and Christian McBride, high octane mainstreamers who can run with a fast one. "The Devil's Ring Tone: The Movie" adds some noise, something about "W" and the Devil. B+(*)

Matt Wilson Quartet: That's Gonna Leave a Mark (2008 [2009], Palmetto): Two horns -- Andrew D'Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Jeff Lederer on tenor sax -- plus Chris Lightcap on bass and Wilson on drums. Lederer is a good deal rougher around the edges than Joel Frahm, who had paired with D'Angelo on previous Wilson -- Going Once, Going Twice is one I recommend. D'Angelo tends to walk on the wild side himself, so the pair threaten to run away with the album. Covers tend towards freebop. Wilson's originals are more buttoned down. War's "Why Can't We Be Friends" is an inspired peace offering at the end. B+(***) [later: A-]