Jazz in the spotlight
Guitar superstars, the next generation of Coltrane, Creeley's poetry in song, and more.
McCoy Tyner: 'Guitars'
"Guitars" (Half Note) delivers more than its title promises. This sensational CD/DVD consists of four guitar superstars, plus a banjo genius improvising with veteran pianist McCoy Tyner. Backed by the majestic rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette, Marc Ribot brings spiky atonality to the table. Bill Frisell offers his neofolky Americana. John Scofield bops his way through a standard by Tyner's former colleague, John Coltrane. Derek Trucks twangs his slide guitar runs into "Greensleeves." And, implausibly, Bela Fleck transforms his five-string banjo into an orchestral sound for "My Favorite Things." Unflappable in the face of such raging stylistic diversity, Tyner finds his momentous groove.
Just in time to save Latin jazz from an overworked formula, the Boston duo of pianist Rebecca Cline and saxophonist/flutist Hilary Noble reinvent Latin jazz incandescently on their newest album, "Enclave Diaspora" (En(jazz)ave). With an alert rhythm section manned by electric bassist Fernando Huergo, and a drummer with a hundred hands, Steve Langone, Noble and Cline turn traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms every which way. They fracture and recombine beats with improvisatory pizzazz and an insouciant air of serious fun. Who else could get away with musically quoting "La Marseillaise" midway through a rumba, or make a borrowed funk riff from George Clinton sound both intellectually meaty and hilarious?
Various Artists: '55 Years of Jazz'
Samplers rarely are consistently playable, but this CD/DVD set from Chicago's Delmark record label marks a notable exception. No other jazz company in the world has such a heterogeneous artist roster, from historic New Orleans players to the far fringes of the current avant-garde. Unpolished and rowdy performances pop up frequently, a consequence of musicians mining the far poles of the jazz spectrum. Start with the DVD showcasing six Chicago bands performing brilliantly at local nightspots – including a German neo-Dixieland band playing to a crowd inside a hardware store where a jazz club once stood.
Ravi Coltrane: 'Blending Times'
Think of the weight on your shoulders if your parents were major jazz performers. You can't evolve a style overly evocative of either. So you have a long apprenticeship and release four perfectly competent albums. Then the long shadows of your parents become cooperative muses, welcoming your hard-won individuality. Welcome to a new chapter of the Coltrane epic, "Blending Times" (Savoy), with the young saxophonist in a sterling quartet setting. Nine original compositions are performed with studied dignity and aching passion, particularly the sax and harp conversation that eulogizes his late mother, Alice, and implicitly honors his late father, John.
Frank Carlberg: 'The American Dream'
Jazz and poetry share a pervasive rhythmic awareness. Like this. See? Both can verge – then stutter. Or swing gaily. Depends. On what? The skill of the poet and players. Twelve of Robert Creeley's brief poems, like jazz, are here. On "The American Dream" (Red Piano Records). Pianist Frank Carlberg composed the tunes. Vocalist Christine Correa sings, declaims, whispers dreamily. Gets inside Creeley's pithiness and wit. And the rhythm section understands how poems scan. Precise. The poems and jazz cross-resonate, echo, ennoble, enrich, stir.