Noteworthy new jazz albums
A roundup of the best new jazz recordings and rereleases.
Anat Fort – A Long Story (ECM): Fort is a young jazz pianist who deserves a close listening. Born in Israel and transplanted to Brooklyn, she seems to compose with her soul in continual transit between these locales. While aided by veteran drummer Paul Motian, who inspired Bill Evans decades ago, and well supported by clarinetist Perry Robinson and bassist Ed Schuller, this is still a one-woman show in terms of casting a dreamy spell realized through pensively delicate harmonies culled from (perhaps) a better world. Grade: A–
Joshua Redman – Back East (Nonesuch): Enormously talented and ambitious, this grab-bag finds Redman performing with three different rhythm sections a rag-tag mix of exotic originals and oddball standards ("I'm an Old Cowhand" by that Broadway cowpoke, Johnny Mercer). But the high points are duets with saxophonists older and wiser, such as Joe Lovano, old enough to be Joshua's dad, and Dewey Redman, whose final solo appearance on this, his son's album, makes this a recommended purchase. Grade: B
Billy banG Quintet featuring Frank lowe – Above and Beyond (Justin Time): This live recording from 2003 captures the zenith of a quarter-century collaboration between two Vietnam War veterans. Violinist Billy Bang and saxophonist Frank Lowe transmute war trauma into searing and searching improvised music heavily colored by various global folk music traditions. Joined here by a flamboyant rhythm section, this album finds the late Lowe playing his heart out near the end of his life. Using an instrument long marginalized in jazz, Bang fashiones a violin sound as full-bodied as Lowe's sax. This is gritty jazz – bluesy, urgent, and yet polished and hopeful. Grade: A+
Various artists – That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History Volume 1, 1895 – 1927 (Music & Arts): This nine-CD box set (selling for the reasonable cost of six discs) was a Promethean labor of love on the part of ace jazz historian Allen Lowe. Lowe's anthologizing infinitely broadens our understanding of the roots of early jazz as being far more than blues and ragtime. Through samples of slapdash vaudeville numbers, jazzy military brass band marches, and corny jug bands, and through Lowe's meticulously illuminating commentary, you discover early jazz as multiethnic and multifaceted as classical symphonic music. Grade: A
JOE HARRIOTT – Free Form (Gott): British jazz from 47 years ago might not sound like your cup of tea if you think Americans invented and sustained the genre. But Joe Harriott was every bit as revolutionary and robust an alto saxophonist as Ornette Coleman. A Jamaican transplant, his striking originality can be caught on the tune "Calypso," in which a Euro-Caribbean, rhythmically nimble call-and-response is exhilaratingly tuneful and rowdy. He deserves a bigger chapter in jazz history than he received. This exploratory free-form jazz by his quintet should correct the record. Grade: B+