Various Artists: Cal Arts Jazz ’96

Each year, the most talented student performers and composers at the California Institute of the Arts share their wares on a compilation sampler CD. Each year, the offerings get better and better-and will hopefully serve as a launching pad for future stars willing to deviate from radio formulas. This year’s sampler, Cal Arts Jazz ’96 (Cal Arts/Capitol Records) is no exception to the exceptional series, offering pieces ranging from swinging Latin jazz (Abby Loces’ elemental “Quina,” a dramatic cut above anything on the market) to violin-driven fusion run amok (Art Hirahara’s “Third Generation: Sansei”). Other standouts include Adam Lane’s tense, mournful “Blues for Richard Davis,” which expressively uses trombone as a wail and dissonance as confusion, and Bodila Mashishi’s blithely swinging, “Waiting for Linda,” which recalls the lushness of a ’50s era club tune. Where else could you find a tune as inventive as Dan Cantrell & Rebecca Hot Gessert’s broad, cheeky epic, “Economic Situation,” born of industrial rock effects and 42nd Street-on-acid vocal arrangements? Laurie Anderson would be proud…These inventive treats make the Cal Arts sampler one to look for, and look forward to, each year.