Record Report (#13): October 26, 2006

Ben Allison: Cowboy Justice (Palmetto): Like Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden, Allison plays bass and writes complex, catchy, often sublime songs that pack political titles because he's gotta call them something, and that's the least he can do. His "Tricky Dick" is Cheney, rolling casually on Steve Cardenas guitar with peppershot bursts of Ron Horton trumpet -- so infectious it stands out on an album where everything stands up. A- [jazz]

Beans: Only (Thirsty Ear): Half of the former Antipop Consortium, he raps a little, mixes beats, hangs with jazzbos. He's so alt the album cover tries to rustle up a little tie-in business by hyping featured avant-jazz legends William Parker and Hamid Drake. With live riddim like that, he scarcely needs the beatbox. B+ [rap]

Nils Petter Molvaer: An American Compilation (Thirsty Ear): Whereas trumpeter Jon Hassell's fourth world jazztronica dreamed of tropical Malaysia, Molvaer's post-Miles concoction is as icy cold as his home off the barren coast of Norway. After two fine albums on ECM, he got stuck on European labels with no US marketing, so this is a belated chance to catch up. Old pieces, live takes, remixes, a becalmed vocal by Sidsel Endresen. A- [jazz, electronica]

Sir Douglas Quintet: Live From Austin TX (1981, New West): They went fake English in 1965 when they broke "She's About a Mover," but soon their Texas roots and Mexican hobbies took over. This sums them up nearly a decade before leader Doug Sahm and organist Augie Myers founded the Texas Tornados, so it still leans Tex, and still reflects the garage-punk era when they opted for "96 Tears" over the Zombies. A- [rock]

Ska Bonanza: The Studio One Ska Years (1961-65, Heartbeat, 2CD): The Best of Studio One focused on the later reggae years when Bob Marley started to conquer the world market, but producer C.S. "Coxsone" Dodd's real heyday was in the early '60s, when Jamaica celebrated its independence by inventing ska. You can think of it as doo-wop with fresh faces and an irresistible rhythm -- studio bands and vocal groups, a pattern that survived into the dancehall era, but with more emphasis on the instrumental tracks that laid the grooves down for dub. Don Drummond's perfect ska skank "Man in the Street" leads off the second disc. Bob Marley and Toots Hibbert follow with their breakthrough hits. A [reggae]

Ion Petre Stoican: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 1 (1966-77, Asphalt Tango): Not a golden age in Romania. Small town musicians like Stoican had little chance to play except for weddings, but Stoican got his shot at recording as a reward for catching a spy, and made the best of it, rounding up a 14-piece orchestra featuring cymbalom virtuoso Toni Iordache -- the only player with enough clout to get mentioned by name on an album attributed to The People's Orchestra. Stoican's violin dominates, casting a dark, menacing shadow on music meant to be uplifting. In retrospect that shadow looms as sad, but also resilient, delivering an emotional wallop that gypsy music often skirts. A- [world]

Texas Tornados: Live From Austin TX (1990, New West): Two-fifths of the Sir Douglas Quintet plus conjunto accordionist Flaco Jiminez and the one and only -- now, sadly, late great -- Freddy Fender equals Tex-Mex supergroup. This catches them in a party mood celebrating their first album, which they stretch out with their old solo hits. I could do with less of Doug Sahm's relentless cheerleading, but you can feel his pride when he calls out Fender. B+ [country]

Eri Yamamoto: Cobalt Blue (Thirsty Ear): A young pianist who made a big impression on William Parker's Luc's Lantern leads a trio through Porter, Gershwin, a Japanese folk song, and a batch of originals -- mostly upbeat, showing a strong left hand and a fine touch on the chillout closer. B+ [jazz]