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Birth of the Cruel 

Progressive jazz for your silent night

Wednesday, Dec 16 1998
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photo by Francis Wolf
A dozen or so jazz-label heads dropped by my place a few months ago for Monday Night Football. Over a couple of cases of Lucky Lager, they bragged on their upcoming releases. "Sounds rad," I said, "but don't put 'em out in the fall, they'll get buried. At Xmas, people buy Jewel, not jazz." Naturally, the honchos all ignored me. So it's not my fault if you can't find some of the following fine non-mainstream slabs.
 
MIGHT NOT DRIVE YOUR
UNCLE FROM THE ROOM
 
Joe Lovano, Trio Fascination (Blue Note). I thought I had made a mistake and put on some 1965 Archie Shepp record, then I checked the label and realized how saxist Lovano, always big-chested but often a bit careful, got so loose and free: The bassist is the prickly Dave Holland, and the drummer is Elvin Jones, who all but invented multipulse rhythm. Now I have a new favorite Lovano disc.
 
Mark Turner, In This World (Warner Bros.). The rhythm section makes the difference again. Lend young tenorman Turner the talents of bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Brian Blade and the ultrasensitive pianist Brad Mehldau, who've all worked a lot with Joshua Redman, and he exceeds himself (and Redman). This one has real breathing, boosting nightcap sway.
 
Chick Corea and Origin, Live at the Blue Note (Stretch). Pianist Corea comes on with a rigorously conceived sextet featuring windmen Bob Sheppard and Steve Wilson. Smart and sensual, this live date may still sound fresh in 25 years.
 
Larry Coryell, Tom Coster, Steve Smith, Cause and Effect (Tone Center). This one, on the other hand, gives you no reason to suspect it isn't 25 years old. Abetted by keyman Coster and drummer Smith, guitarist Coryell climbs into the electricity and rides it all over the funkin', crunchin' universe. Back in the saddle.
 
Art Ensemble of Chicago, Coming Home Jamaica (Atlantic). Lovely balladry, effortless swing, even reggae and '50s rock & roll -- the kings of experimental clashitude party down homestyle, the way traditionalist stiffs can't imagine. Maybe you thought these old rascals couldn't pull off such tricks in their sleep?
 
Ari Brown, Venus (Delmark). Seems every town has an unknown master; Chicago owns several, prime among them being reedman Brown, who flows like a warm river, just making time disappear. The irresistible title number, simultaneously a lament and a Latin celebration, is as wonderful a tribute to a dead friend as you could conceive.
 
OUT THERE
 
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Mark Dresser, Eye'll Be Seeing You (Knitting Factory). The only way former L.A. bassist Dresser might be ignored as a major neoclassical composer is if the classical types fear he improvises too expertly. Here, his soundtrack to Buñuel y Dali's Un Chien Andalou is a series of perfect miniature gems -- absurdity and genius condensed by the trio of Dresser, pianist Anthony Coleman (whose own complementary Jean Vigo soundtrack shares the CD) and the extraordinary young reedman Chris Speed.
 
Vernon Reid, Elliott Sharp, David Torn, Gtr Oblq (Knitting Factory). Living Colour (etc.) slasher Reid and border-crossing experimentalists Sharp and Torn plunge you into a three-guitar electric ocean where texture, rhythm, melody and noise swim together. Headphones, please.
 
Harriet Tubman, I Am a Man (Knitting Factory). Knitting Factory strikes yet again with a wiggy power trio named after a 19th-century abolitionist and fronted by Brandon Ross (guitarist for Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson and, uh, Jewel!). Turn it on and let it churn. Primal.
 
Ben Goldberg, Twelve Minor (Avant). You can still hear the klezmer influences from clarinetist Goldberg's earlier New Klezmer Trio days, but he's been stretching into ever more distant reaches of jazz conception, playing with energy, imagination and a hell of a lot of soul. Here, the spaces between his trio's unpredictable guideposts are filled by Miya Masaoka (electric koto) and Rob Sudduth (tenor). If you pay attention, Ezekiel's visions will swarm your head.
 
WAY OUT THERE
 
William Parker/In Order To Survive, The Peach Orchard (Aum Fidelity). Bassist Parker is a walking, living doom. Who else has the balls to release two double CDs (this is the second) of the strongest, most passionate free urban improvisation, both in about a year's span? Simple, dark theme statements quickly leave terra firma and stay aloft for as long as you can stand it; The Peach Orchard's summit is "Posium Pendasem No. 3" (I had eight years of Latin and can't translate it), where Cooper-Moore's stately piano arpeggios take on the weight of classic ritual. Music for the elect.
Joe Morris Quartet, A Cloud of Black Birds (Aum Fidelity). Guitarist Morris is growing on me. I put on one of his discs while blindfold-multiple-CD-shuffle-moding the other day, and his pinched linearities took on a fresh logic in the context of less extreme music than his own. With violinist Mat Maneri as a foil, Morris' bitter herb feels like undogmatic harmolodics, New York­style.
 
Bright Moments, Return of the Lost Tribe (Delmark). Those who miss the total abandon of '65 Coltrane will appreciate the McCoy Tyner in pianist Adegoke Steve Colson, and the dual-sax mix-it-up of Joseph Jarman and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. And anything with drummer Kahil El'Zabar and bassist Malachi Favors in it is bound to smell of Africa in the most pungent way.
 
William Hooker, Hard Time (Squealer). Who's the baddest of the bad? Anyone who has caught New York drummer Hooker locally knows the answer. Hard Time accompanies his brutal humanism with unrestrained screeling and barfing from synth, guitar and sax. "What is that noise?" asked my wife, phoning me midtrack. Be honest, listeners: When all the wrapping paper is scattered around the living room, this, not "Silent Night," is what you really want to hear.
 
SETS
 
The West Coast Jazz Box: An Anthology of California Jazz (Contemporary). About 40 years too late, historical evaluation is catching up with the West Coast's contribution to jazz. Here in your face are four CDs featuring your Dexter Gordon, your Chet Baker, your Hampton Hawes and many more, plus key regional recordings by visitors like Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. Add the recent separate reissue of numerous Pacific Jazz titles from Teddy Edwards, Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank and several less familiar names, and the result should spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
 
Herbie Hancock, The Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions. Everybody knows about Maiden Voyage and the fierce bites Wayne Shorter was taking in the early '60s, but if it weren't for this six-CD box I might never have encountered Hancock's brilliant, queasy 1969 large-group experiment, The Prisoner.
Miles Davis, The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (Columbia Legacy). The same year Miles Davis' sideman Hancock was sculpting his elegant Prisoner orchestrations, Davis himself was hacking his music back to the bare stone. Rock, that is. Enormously popular as the relentless grooves of Bitches Brew were, the outtakes on this four-CD set contain, as Kirk Silsbee has noted, the seeds of music that would be released over the next few years -- music so freaked-out that it would quickly purge the windfall audience Davis had gleaned. Only now are listeners coming to grips with it, in the form of techno and DJ reassembly.
 
The Blue Note Years: 60th Anniversary Box Set. There are two likely responses to being presented with this 14-CD retrospective of Alfred Lion's jazz label, which has featured every kind of music from stride piano to bebop, hard bop, organ blues, avant-garde and new traditionalism. The first reaction is a wan smile accompanied by fear and trembling. The second is outright rage at having such a responsibility thrust upon one, possibly followed by the presenter's being struck upon the cranium with the object in question. If the latter reaction seems imminent, move quickly away, because it's gonna hurt. A lot.

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