Record Report (#21): December 21, 2006

Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar): There's a story that one day Coleman went to a jazz camp, and the next day he was teaching. In 1959 he promised The Shape of Jazz to Come, but no one really caught up with him. He's dropped from sight periodically over the years, often coming back with fresh bursts of inspiration, as when he reinvented fusion and called it harmolodics. Now at 76, 10 years after his last album, he drops off a live one, and it's the consensus album of the year. The new group challenges him with two bass players, one plucking and one bowing, building up a turbulent substrate for his alto sax. And once again he makes beauty out of chaos. A [jazz]

David Krakauer & SoCalled With Klezmer Madness: Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me (Label Bleu): On his own, Krakauer's klezmer is exceptional only in the exuberance he brings to his clarinet, a level of excitement reflected in his band's name. What distinguishes this is SoCalled's beats, samples, and raps, not least the long list of false truisms handed down from Bubbe. B+ [world]

KRS-One: Life (Antagonist): Old school, not so much in the elemental beats and hooks as in the old-fashioned realpolitik. He's a true hip-hop patriot, one of the few who believes that his commitment to the music, the society, and the nation are one. So he makes fun of "Bling Blung," exhorts us to "Wake Up," berates us to "Gimme Da Gun," reminds us that "I Am There" and "I Ain't Leavin'." So straight the irony-impaired can get it. A- [rap]

Odyssey the Band: Back in Time (Pi): Back in 1983 James "Blood" Ulmer, a jazz guitarist schooled by Ornette Coleman and a blues singer deep in the Delta, cut a record called Odyssey. Years later Rolling Stone ran a poll which picked Odyssey as the best record ever that had not been reissued on CD -- testimony both to how strange and wonderful the record was. The group was a trio, with Charles Burnham on violin and Warren Benbow on drums. They got back together for Reunion in 1998, and here they are one more time. Ulmer's recent blues albums for Hyena have gotten straighter even as his vocals gain depth -- Birthright is a good one -- but here the guitar-violin harmonics are so enchanting I find the two vocals a distraction. A- [jazz]

Roy Orbison: In Dreams (1963, Monument/Legacy): The third of a series of reissues. His earlier Lonely and Blue (1960) and Crying (1962) remind you that Orbison was a singles artist in an era when LPs were strictly hits-plus-filler, but this one proves that he did make progress in the filler department. It helps that the music rocks harder, but also the strings avoid the ickiness that his hits transcended. But mostly it shows you that his extraordinary voice could wrap itself around a song without just blasting it to the heavens. B+ [rock]

Bill Sheffield: Journal on a Shelf (American Roots): A singer-songwriter from Atlanta with a deep feel for the old blues, down to the way his fingers shuffle the guitar strings. Everything here rings true, but the choice cut is "I Don't Hate Nobody": "And if you hate my little song, you know I don't hate you/Because I know sweet forgiveness/Always comes back in kind/So I don't hate nobody it's a waste of my time." A- [blues]

Ali Farka Toure: Savane (World Circuit/Nonesuch): As you go north in Mali toward Toure's birthplace in Timbuktu, the music gets simpler, drying out with the landscape, until it turns into something analogous to American blues. Frequent comparisons between Toure and John Lee Hooker have always struck me as off base. For one thing Toure's music is more social, and for another it is more relaxed. This album, released a couple of months after his death, so presumably his last, excels in both regards. That makes it typical, but also exemplary. B+ [world]