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When Two Worlds Collide

Lately, Texas-born jazz guitarist Bruce Forman's focus has been on western swing, the hot 1930s hillbilly subgenre initially proposed by Milton Brown and Bob Wills. As leader of Cow Bop (who just released their third album, Too Hick for the Room), Forman, by adopting a traditional dance-band role as opposed to the cerebral realm of bebop adventuring, represents a fascinating dichotomy. Bop cats are notoriously allergic to anything that even faintly resembles entertainment — by the Bird-'Trane era they all detested Satchmo and his "mouldy figges" — but Cow Bop embrace the down-home format without sacrificing any of their complex, communicative musicality. Taken with the Los Angeles legacy of jazz-country trailblazing (Jimmie Rodgers and Armstrong recorded together here in 1930; when the Palomino opened in 1949 it promptly instituted a weekly jazz night), this ranks as a passionate mutation of dazzling proportions.

With material that draws from L.A.–based C&W spearheads Sons of the Pioneers and Merle Travis, plus Tin Pan Alley and Nashville standards, Too Hick showcases the band's deft knack for musical miscegenation, an issue that Wills' Texas Playboys aggressively forced; his guitarist Junior Barnard was neck and neck with Charlie Christian in terms of amplified '30s swing-to-bop expression. That competitive chain of custody is exactly where Forman thrives, resulting in a riveting, legitimate expansion of both forms.