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Ron Blake: Lest We Forget

Saxophonist Ron Blake’s nicely varied new set mixes and matches several styles, among them soul-jazz, blues, hard bop and funk. Blake sometimes plays in a soothing, lyrical fashion but proves equally compelling when doing more challenging material like “Minor Chant,” exploring Afro-Latin themes on “Asalto Navideno” or simply stretching out on straight pop tunes like … Read More “Ron Blake: Lest We Forget”

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Lonnie Plaxico: Rhythm and Soul

Lonnie Plaxico is a tremendous bassist and session man. His eighth album as a leader spotlights his brilliance in several areas, from gently, yet substantially backing vocalists to working both alone and with large combos. Plaxico uses Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” as a set piece to demonstrate his impressive solo bass facility, delivering a stunning … Read More “Lonnie Plaxico: Rhythm and Soul”

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Branford Marsalis Quartet: Romare Bearden Revealed

Branford Marsalis’ latest session is both a celebration of an incredible artistic genius, Romare Bearden, and a marvelous salute to African-American musical heritage and tradition. It’s also another indication that Marsalis was right to desert the corporate wars and go the independent route. This disc’s nine cuts have a joyous, emphatic quality that was seldom … Read More “Branford Marsalis Quartet: Romare Bearden Revealed”

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Terri Lyne Carrington: Jazz Is a Spirit

The theme and underlying message embodied in drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s new release is as important as the music, if not more so. Carrington, a first-rate percussionist who’s at home whether backing Lenny Kravitz or spearheading a hard-bop date, knows that nothing’s done more to kill jazz’s viability among younger people than stuffiness, so she … Read More “Terri Lyne Carrington: Jazz Is a Spirit”

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Where’s the Black Audience?

Everyone who’s followed jazz for more than 10 years has witnessed this scenario firsthand. A great musician (Sonny Rollins or McCoy Tyner, for example) comes to town with an equally excellent band for a one-night engagement in a major city’s biggest jazz club. A faithful audience gathers, and what eventually occurs is a great concert … Read More “Where’s the Black Audience?”

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Dave Douglas: The Infinite

Trumpeter Dave Douglas continues to delight and stimulate open-minded listeners while confounding those unwilling to accept the notion that there is no rigid approach to jazz improvisation or composition. Douglas’ latest release should also silence criticism that he’s a lightweight writer and inferior, limited soloist. His playing throughout The Infinite proves consistently inventive, strong and … Read More “Dave Douglas: The Infinite”

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Hamiet Bluiett/D.D. Jackson/Kahil El’Zabar: The Calling

While Hamiet Bluiett’s authoritative, rich baritone sax has worked well in quartet and large band settings, he’s also proven entirely capable of adjusting and succeeding in a trio format. His latest trio session with pianist D.D. Jackson and percussionist Kahil El’Zabar occasionally becomes too collaborative, however: the three are so attuned to each other that … Read More “Hamiet Bluiett/D.D. Jackson/Kahil El’Zabar: The Calling”

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Craig Bailey: Brooklyn

Alto saxophonist and flutist Craig Bailey spotlights the music of his group, Brooklyn, on his latest recording, and it is obvious from the opening notes of the date’s first tune, “The Crux of the Matter,” that he’s been heading this ensemble for over 11 years. There are no stilted performances or ragged edges that repeatedly … Read More “Craig Bailey: Brooklyn”

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Joshua Redman: Passage of Time

Only hype and the good fortune of winning the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition has elevated Joshua Redman ahead of fellow tenor player, and second-place finisher, Eric Alexander. Both are outstanding young players who have grown up musically in public, and on albums, though they’ve both hit some big potholes along the jazz … Read More “Joshua Redman: Passage of Time”

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Anthony Braxton Quintet: Basel 1977

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, chess grandmaster and occasional author Anthony Braxton once drew as much criticism and ridicule as Wynton Marsalis. Despite being a champion of experimental material in both the improvising and classical traditions, Braxton has been blistered for every sin, from having a cold, soulless style to being overly infatuated with Stockhausen and Dave Brubeck. … Read More “Anthony Braxton Quintet: Basel 1977”

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Anthony Braxton/Scott Rosenberg: Compositions/Improvisations 2000

When he abandons the alto, Braxton’s solos can stand with any contemporary saxophonist. He emerges the dominant voice on the date Compositions/Improvisations 2000, an encounter with another multiple-saxophone stylist, Scott Rosenberg. Rosenberg displays wit and verve on tenor, but his sopranino, alto and contrabass clarinet work pale next to Braxton’s. Braxton is not only more … Read More “Anthony Braxton/Scott Rosenberg: Compositions/Improvisations 2000”

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Anthony Braxton: Ten Compositions (Quartet) 2000

Ten Compositions (Quartet) 2000 highlights a May 2000 quartet session with guitarist Kevin O’Neil, bassist Andy Eulau and drummer Kevin Norton. Excellent engineering and sound enable the listener to fully hear Braxton on alto and flute. His work here doesn’t lack energy or intensity; it’s filled with surprise and ingenuity. He’s a competent flute player, … Read More “Anthony Braxton: Ten Compositions (Quartet) 2000”

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Russell Gunn: Smokin Gunn

Trumpeter Russell Gunn spent most of the ’90s disavowing the conventional wisdom given jazz musicians. He played on hip-hop sessions, concentrated on concept works as a composer and participated in such controversial sessions as Wynton Marsalis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning opus Blood On the Fields. His first and last Atlantic release, 1999’s Ethnomusicology, Vol.1, was wildly erratic, … Read More “Russell Gunn: Smokin Gunn”

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Pat Metheny Trio: Trio > Live

Guitarist Pat Metheny’s music and approach belies rigid compartmentalization. While he’s quite capable of handling straightahead jazz, Metheny will periodically explore the avant-garde, dabble with rock and funk grooves, venture into folk or New Age themes, even utilize feedback and noise. He’s equally impressive on acoustic or electric instruments, and his playing seldom lapses into … Read More “Pat Metheny Trio: Trio > Live”

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Chris Speed: Emit

Chris Speed’s among the better saxophonists toiling in what’s usually labeled outside or avant-garde music. Speed doesn’t owe as much to Albert Ayler as some contemporaries. He doesn’t boast a huge tone, and there’s as much precision as passion in his phrasing. While there’s power and depth to his solos, Speed normally avoids hard bop … Read More “Chris Speed: Emit”

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Woody Shaw: Live (Volume One)

Trumpeter Woody Shaw was a compelling, exciting soloist and bandleader whose ’70s and ’80s recordings were consistently excellent, and occasionally spectacular. Yet even within jazz circles Shaw didn’t enjoy the prestige and fame he deserved. Unfortunately, after his tragically premature death in 1989 at 45, many observers reexamined his fine dates for Enja, Red, Muse, … Read More “Woody Shaw: Live (Volume One)”

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Bluiett: With Eyes Wide Open

There haven’t been many more aggressive, demonstrative baritone saxophonists in recent jazz history than Hamiet Bluiett. He dominates in the bottom register, playing with a fury and command that becomes even more evident when he moves into the upper register then returns with ease to the baritone’s lowest reaches. Bluiett’s participated in so many seminal … Read More “Bluiett: With Eyes Wide Open”

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Bruce Williams: Altoicity

Bruce Williams certainly has a beautiful alto sax sound, and his previous Savant CD showed he’s mastered the basics. His second release features five superb numbers; unfortunately, there are six others that range from humdrum to utterly forgettable, and those prevent the CD from being a first-rate showcase for Williams’ talents. The opening selection, “Tangerine,” … Read More “Bruce Williams: Altoicity”

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Joey Baron: We’ll Soon Find Out

Drummer Joey Baron’s a more versatile percussionist than one might expect considering his reputation; he’s certainly earned avant-garde spurs for his work with the likes of John Zorn and Tim Berne, but he’s also turned in capable, sympathetic stints with Jim Hall and Toots Thielmans. Still, his Down Home CD surprised many fans a couple … Read More “Joey Baron: We’ll Soon Find Out”

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