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Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart

Uri Caine’s take on the music of Mozart comes to the United States just a little too late to join the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Wolfie’s birth in 2006. While the anniversary tributes were often dutiful and routine, Caine’s playful deconstructions and augmentations deliver tons of delightful surprises. Caine sticks his inventions into … Read More “Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart”

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Ed Palermo Big Band : Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

More than perhaps any other 20th-century musician, Frank Zappa celebrated both the visceral and the cerebral, obscuring and enhancing his memorable melodies with mercurial, complex harmonies, irregular variations on rock and funk rhythms, and bawdy humor mixed with real pathos. On his second album of Zappa arrangements for big band, Ed Palermo and his big … Read More “Ed Palermo Big Band : Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance”

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Francisco Mela : Melao

On Melao, his first album as a leader, drummer Francisco Mela uses his sticks and his pen to craft spacious, lucid tracks with songful melodies and complex solos that always feel fresh and unlabored. With bassist Peter Slavov and keyboardist Leo Genovese joining him on rhythm, Mela keeps the bottom line hopping and strikes sparks … Read More “Francisco Mela : Melao”

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Marc Cary Trio: Focus

Marc Cary says his Focus trio seeks “a collaboration of three cultures.” On the trio’s debut, pianist and composer Cary draws on his Native American roots, bassist David Ewell takes bracing harmonic angles on the material that are inspired by traditional Chinese music, and Sameer Gupta mixes in rhythms from Indian classical music on his … Read More “Marc Cary Trio: Focus”

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Jazzhole: Poet’s Walk

You never know what you’ll dig up when you reach your hand into the Jazzhole, but for the past few years the ‘holes had a surfeit of soul, as on the band’s newest album, Poet’s Walk. Founding members Warren Rosenstein, Marlon Saunders and John Pondel have written 10 tracks built on even, steady rhythms. Glints … Read More “Jazzhole: Poet’s Walk”

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Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky

The five-horn frontline of Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, led by the one-named Skerik on tenor sax, can make gripping chaos from contrary motion or craft harmonies at once soft and rich. Joe Doria’s Hammond B3 and the drum work of John Wicks solidify the bass lines and amplify the funk and hip-hop rhythms that drive … Read More “Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky”

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Charles Pillow: Pictures at an Exhibition

You don’t really have to know anything about Modest Mussorgsky (one of the innovative, earthy Russian nationalist composers of the late 19th century) or “Pictures at an Exhibition” (his most popular work) to appreciate the sprawling, absorbing arrangement of it on Charles Pillow’s new disc. The saxophonist uses Mussorgsky’s idea of a pictorial suite, his … Read More “Charles Pillow: Pictures at an Exhibition”

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Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses (The Saul Cycle)

Violinist Sam Bardfeld tries his hand at writing and narration as well as bandleading and composition on Periodic Trespasses (The Saul Cycle), crafting a tongue-in-cheek tale of a luckless dude named Saul and his abiding passion for the Renaissance krummhorn. The vignettes are precious and goofy; thankfully, Bardfeld’s music operates at a much higher plane … Read More “Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses (The Saul Cycle)”

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Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra: Sacred Music of Duke Ellington

Before this review delves into the overarching aesthetic issues with which we critics so like to concern ourselves, I should note that the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra’s two-CD compilation of pieces from Duke Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts provides solid performances of mostly remarkable music. The Oregon Repertory Singers sound especially good under their conductor, Gil … Read More “Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra: Sacred Music of Duke Ellington”

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Roy Hargrove: Nothing Serious

The latest works from trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Nothing Serious and Distractions, do not attempt to bridge the gap between the brilliant straightahead jazz he played for most of his career and the soul, funk and hip-hop grooves that his RH Factor laid down on his last two albums. Instead, Nothing Serious, from his quintet, and … Read More “Roy Hargrove: Nothing Serious”

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Tom Abbs and Frequency Response: The Animated Adventures of Knox

Tom Abbs first conceived The Animated Adventures of Knox cinematically. He translated the story (a description of emotional evolution) into musical structures, interpreted the musical structures with his band Frequency Response and then filmed images and edited them to fit the music he made. The process probably could create something fascinating, which is why it’s … Read More “Tom Abbs and Frequency Response: The Animated Adventures of Knox”

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Richard Leo Johnson: The Legend of Vernon McAlister

Though he had previously played acoustic guitar, when a friend presented him with a 1930s National Duolian steel-bodied model, Richard Leo Johnson took an immediate shine to its surprising playability and fascinating colors. Particularly intriguing was the name “Vernon McAlister,” crudely etched into the steel body. It fired Johnson’s imagination, and he spun a tale … Read More “Richard Leo Johnson: The Legend of Vernon McAlister”

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Dave Eggar: Left of Blue

Dave Eggar has played cello or piano with a dizzying array of artists, including Alice Cooper, Ornette Coleman, John Denver, Bobby McFerrin, Yo-Yo Ma and the Flux Quartet that he cofounded. Left of Blue, his new album, is not quite so diverse; mostly playing cello, Eggar either unspools big, sighing, romantic melodies or explores the … Read More “Dave Eggar: Left of Blue”

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Chris Murphy: On a Blue Afternoon

A gentle, insistent swing and insouciant, charming lyricism make Chris Murphy’s On a Blue Afternoon a leisurely yet absorbing way to spend an hour. The album is violinist Murphy’s tribute to West Coast cool jazz from back in the ’50s, but rather than making new recordings of old material, Murphy, bassist David J. Carpenter and … Read More “Chris Murphy: On a Blue Afternoon”

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The San Francisco ChamberJazz Quartet: SFCJQ

The San Francisco Chamber-Jazz Quartet differs from other jazz groups that invoke the word “chamber” as a descriptor, in that pop music from around the world inspires the SFCJQ just as much as classical and jazz do. The group’s problem is that for two-thirds of its self-abbreviated album, the SFCJQ turns whatever source material is … Read More “The San Francisco ChamberJazz Quartet: SFCJQ”

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Bedrock: Shelf-Life

In the land of Bedrock, groove is always king, but any specific groove’s hold on power is short-lived. Uri Caine (keyboards), Zach Danzinger (drums and percussion) and Tim Lefebvre (bass and guitar) obviously love the sweaty, cheesy music of the 1970s: “Blakey” is perfect theme music for an imaginary cop show, and the strut of … Read More “Bedrock: Shelf-Life”

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Paquito D’Rivera: The Jazz Chamber Trio

Paquito D’Rivera’s stated goal for his Jazz Chamber Trio is to “unify in one single concept the delicate intimacy of chamber music, the spontaneity of jazz, plus the rhythmic power of Latin-American music.” What his album The Jazz Chamber Trio proves is that D’Rivera is just the man for that job. He’s absolutely magisterial here, … Read More “Paquito D’Rivera: The Jazz Chamber Trio”

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Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Other Valentines

The Fred Lonberg-Holm trio is composed of Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Jason Roebke on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums. This combination poses some problems, as their new album Other Valentines proves. The cello and bass crowd each other when the cello goes low, creating a claustrophobic tonal atmosphere. The trio doesn’t have an instrument … Read More “Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Other Valentines”

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George Colligan’s Mad Science: Realization

George Colligan seems to have all the ingredients for a funky good time on his Mad Science trio’s new disc Realization: his trusty Hammond B3 organ, augmented by various synths and samples; guitarist Tom Guarna and drummer Rodney Holmes, both veterans of combining funk and jazz; nine Colligan originals written for the trio; and a … Read More “George Colligan’s Mad Science: Realization”

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Common Ground: High Voltage

Common Ground is led by Zach Brock and Tom Wright, both violinists who use amplifiers so that they can be better heard over their excellent rhythm section, composed of pianist Jordan Baskin, bassist Mike Arnopol and drummer Tom Hipskind. Unfortunately, the double dose of electrified fiddles on their new album, High Voltage, makes you wonder … Read More “Common Ground: High Voltage”

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Keith Jarrett: Radiance

In the liner notes for his first solo album in eight years, pianist Keith Jarrett admits that many of his listeners “will be momentarily (at least) shocked at the initial absence of melodic-or even motivic-content,” as Radiance is two discs’ worth of free improvisation, performed in 2002 at concerts in Osaka and Tokyo. But it’s … Read More “Keith Jarrett: Radiance”

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Guillermo Klein: Una Nave

Pianist/guitarist/composer Guillermo Klein’s Una Nave takes obvious inspiration from the music of Klein’s native Argentina but treats it freely and with a keen ear for catchy melodies, malleable yet infectious rhythms and dramatic musical progressions that make many of the pieces feel like stories. “Flores” moves from gentle Fender Rhodes and guitar to quiet vocals … Read More “Guillermo Klein: Una Nave”

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Meshell Ndegeocello: Dance of the Infidel

There is great music, and then there is good music that is great at accomplishing a specific task. The latter can be found on Dance of the Infidel, the first album from bassist/inveterate explorer Meshell Ndegeocello’s new band Spirit Music Jamia: It stands a chance of being the finest chillout record of 2005. Ndegeocello formed … Read More “Meshell Ndegeocello: Dance of the Infidel”

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Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers: Chemistry

Three recent jazz-violin releases, taken together, prove that jazz doesn’t care what instrument you play as long as you play it well. Zach Brock and SavoirFaire each go further afield stylistically than Diane Delin does, but her mastery of her aesthetic allows her album to beat their spottier outings. Brock’s second album with the Coffee … Read More “Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers: Chemistry”

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Robin Holcomb/Wayne Horvitz: Solos

In a successful marriage, the two partners must strike a balance between having no interests whatsoever in common and meddling in each other’s business all the time. Or so I’m told. Anyway, pianists Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb have been married for 25 years, but Solos marks their first album together-and even here, as the … Read More “Robin Holcomb/Wayne Horvitz: Solos”

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McCoy Tyner: Counterpoints

McCoy Tyner’s piano makes some ugly noises on Counterpoints (Milestone). Don’t blame Tyner; it’s the piano that has a severe case of the out-of-tunes, possibly because the tracks on this album were recorded live on an outdoor stage in Tokyo in 1978. Nevertheless, notes twang when they should sing, and blue harmonies turn a nauseating … Read More “McCoy Tyner: Counterpoints”

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Jazz Jamaica All Stars: Massive

By all rights, Jazz Jamaica All Stars’ Massive should break through to the fabled mainstream and sell a million copies-to hipsters looking for something a little different to get bodies moving at crowded parties, to jazz aficionados who appreciate sizzling solos over bumping beats, to Jamaican pop fans who can see their touchstones as points … Read More “Jazz Jamaica All Stars: Massive”

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Rachel Z: Everlasting

Rachel Z’s new album, Everlasting, will dismay every jazz purist who hears it. Looking at the track listing, you might think that the cause of this disquiet would be her choice of songs, from artists like Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones and the Smashing Pumpkins. But despite their nonsongbook origins, all the songs here offer … Read More “Rachel Z: Everlasting”

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Spooky Actions: Music of Webern

Whether you’ll like Spooky Actions’ Music of Webern depends greatly on whether you like Webern, so let’s start there. Even before he converted to the serialism of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern had taken eagerly to atonal composition. Webern wrote compressed pieces in which single notes stand out from thin textures and achieve great … Read More “Spooky Actions: Music of Webern”

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Matthew Shipp: Blues Series Continuum: Sorcerer Sessions

Downtown music, so named because many of its practitioners ply their trade in the lower part of Manhattan, has been busting the barriers between genres for long enough that it may as well be its own genre of relentless barrier-busting. But if it’s no longer particularly ground breaking to combine jazz, classical, pop, electronica and … Read More “Matthew Shipp: Blues Series Continuum: Sorcerer Sessions”

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