Record Report (#10): October 5, 2006

Jean-Jacques Avenel: Waraba (Songlines): French bassist communing "with his Mande friends" -- odds are flautist Michel Edelin is a ringer, but the kora, bala and ngoni players must be the real thing. The African music is exceptionally gentle, with the bass laying back in the grooves and the flutes neither here nor there. This is the sort of thing that I imagine New Age aficionados would love if they ever got the chance to hear it -- not likely on a Canadian avant-jazz label. A- [jazz, world]

Jerry Granelli: Sandhills Reunion (Songlines): Granelli's music, constructed from clarinets and baritone sax, guitars and cello, has a spare windswept quality well suited to Rinde Eckert's plain-spoken words about Billy the Kid and the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The words make you think, as with the story of a sheriff who quit after shooting a man, troubled not by regret but by how certain he was that he was right: "It's a dangerous thing that kind of certainty. I believe doubt is what keeps us sane. Without it a man becomes a monster." A parable for our times. A- [jazz, spoken word]

Merle Haggard: Live From Austin TX (1985, New West): Austin became the alt-scene for country music when Willie Nelson arrived from Nashville, but it took the PBS series Austin City Limits to bring that fact to national consciousness. New West has started tapping into the archives for a series of DVDs, then decided some could survive on audio alone -- a good decision for those of us who'd rather hear music than see it. At 45:57, this is shorter than I'd like. It also tilts toward the Bob Wills songbook -- visiting Texas brings that out in Hag. But he hits the right notes, and the band really swings. A- [country]

Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Climbing the Banyan Tree (Clean Feed): Indian percussion, Chinese violin, Middle Eastern oud -- released in Lisbon, but recorded in that old melting pot, Brooklyn. Note that Jason Kao Hwang and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz are U.S. natives, and the leader is a Hyderabadi who went to Carnegie Mellon before taking up the north Indian classical tradition. That none of the three are deeply rooted in their ethnicity may be what lets them join together as a distinctive jazz group rather than limiting them to exotic fusion. A- [jazz]

Willie Nelson: Live From Austin TX (1990, New West): A typical show with the Family, a band that itches to slip in a little country jazz. He owns too many songs to fit into a concert, so he fast forwards through such high points as "Funny," "Crazy," and "Night Life" just to get to too many Kris Kristofferson songs. B+ [country]

Ollabelle: Riverside Battle Songs (Verve Forecast): Five vocalists with a fondness for old-time music, as opposed to the more recent old-timey variety, even when they write it themselves. But their arrangements of old fare, including one by namesake Ola Belle Reed, are easier to gauge. Especially striking is "Riverside" -- as in "down by the" and "ain't gonna study war no more" -- both for its complex layering and its weariness. B+ [folk]

Wilson Pickett: The Definitive Collection (1961-71, Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD): A soul shouter from the Alabama cotton patch, Pickett had a hit with the Falcons with a line about "the midnight hour." Atlantic picked him up, then sent him to Stax where he found his rhythm and turned his line into a hit. He recorded for Atlantic until 1971, when Muscle Shoals dried up and his Philadelphia makeover didn't take. But give him a beat and he could rise above it, nailing improbable covers and projecting so much macho he might just be that man and a half. A [r&b]