Four From the Wide Spectrum That Is Jazz


It’s not surprising that many observers are sensing a jazz revival. KJAZ-AM is betting on the notion that jazz can be a commercially successful radio format in Los Angeles. Jazz continually pops up in television commercials, usually to underscore advertisers’ ideas about the good life. And a jazz album--by Diana Krall--was nominated for the Grammy album of the year in 1999.

One of the many reasons for the revival is surely that there is so much jazz, in so many different styles--from New Orleans to bop, from fusion to smooth, from cutting edge to world beat--active and available. Here’s a mini-survey touching upon just a few of the far-ranging recordings that arrive nearly every day:

Joe Lovano, “52nd St. Theme” (***, Blue Note). At 47, tenor saxophonist Lovano is too young to have participated in the high energy, creative vitality of the bop era. But, like Wynton Marsalis and his associates, Lovano is working hard to keep alive the thread of bop and hard bop. This latest album might easily have had the name of Tadd Dameron as a co-creator, because the gifted bop composer-pianist is represented by five selections, most arranged for a nine-piece ensemble by the veteran orchestrator Willie “Face” Smith (a friend of Lovano’s father, tenor saxophonist Tony “Big T” Lovano).

But Lovano has always done more for his albums than simply throw tunes together, and he supplements the large ensemble with some colorful alternatives: a touching version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” performed with the sole accompaniment of John Hicks’ piano; a driving, three-tenor romp (with George Garzone, Ralph Lalama, Lovano and the rhythm section) through Miles Davis’ “Sippin’ at Bells”; and Dameron’s “The Scene Is Clean,” done as a trio number with bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Lewis Nash. Lovano is solid throughout, his big, brusque sound and confident articulation reminiscent of early Sonny Rollins, but tinged with a gutsy, emotional communicativeness that seems to trace back to the boisterous style of his father.

Roy Haynes, “The Roy Haynes Trio Featuring Danilo Perez and John Patitucci” (***, Verve). Unlike Lovano, Haynes, 74, was very much a part of the original bebop scene. Fifty years after he recorded with Bud Powell’s Modernists, Haynes leads his current trio in a sentimental journey through his personal lexicon of musical experiences in a studio and a live set. Among the tracks--Powell’s “Wail” (which Haynes recorded with Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Tommy Potter and Powell); “Shulie a Bop” (from Haynes’ lengthy stint with Sarah Vaughan); “Sippin’ at Bells”; and a pair of lesser-known Thelonious Monk tunes, “Bright Mississippi” and “Green Chimneys.”


Any drummer-led trio inevitably faces the question of how prominent the drums can, or should, be in the musical mix. But Haynes has long been one of the most musically sophisticated of all percussionists, and his work here interacts superlatively with the other players, in part because of his masterful use of the brushes--a seemingly lost art among too many younger drummers. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Perez, who is rapidly becoming one of the very top-level pianists, and Patitucci, a bassist who moves easily from in-the-pocket timekeeping to roving, cello-like solos, are the other members of the trio. And the results are the stuff of solid, mainstream improvising. Maybe the next step is to get Haynes together with Lovano for an album.

Graham Haynes, “BPM” (***, Knitting Factory Records). Fans of straight-ahead jazz, however, would do well to approach this new release from Roy Haynes’ son with some degree of caution. Captivated by electronics, classical music and the general deconstructionist attitudes of the past decade or so, Haynes’ music sometimes suggests what Miles Davis might be doing had he not passed away in the early ‘90s. Haynes’ cornet and fluegelhorn sounds, his phrasing and articulation have a Davis-like quality, and, like Davis, he refuses to be defined by any specific category. Several of the tracks here use loops, samples and thematic material from Wagner’s “Parsifal” and “Tristan und Isolde,” in some cases (“Tristan in the Sky”) with quite lovely results. Other works are dominated by hip-hop rhythms, industrial-like electronics, atmospheric environmental sounds and whatever sort of undefinable music that surfaces in Hayne’s imaginative mind--not always jazz, as such, but never less than compelling.

Erik Friedlander, “Skin” (*** 1/2, SIAM Records). The cello has been a rare instrument in jazz. Harry Babasin was one of the pioneers in the ‘40s, and Fred Katz was fairly visible with the Chico Hamilton Quintet in the ‘50s. Most of the more noticeable solo work, however, was generally provided by bassists such as Oscar Pettiford, Richard Davis and Ron Carter, doubling on cello (and occasionally employing string bass tuning). Friedlander, however, has quickly established himself as a potential innovator, playing with the ease and swing of a wind instrument player. Even more importantly, he has brought a cutting edge, imaginative sensibility to his music, refusing to be restricted by the blues and standards of much straight-ahead jazz.

“Skin” was recorded and filmed live in the studio for simultaneous release on CD, DVD and VHS videocassette. The music is far-reaching, with five Friedlander originals; a pair of Julius Hemphill pieces; a Henry Mancini Latin line (“Susan,” from the soundtrack of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”); and a love song (“Sahel Va Danya”) by Iranian diva Googoosh. Despite the diversity of the material, however, the undercurrent of jazz rhythm and the presence of probing improvisation are ever present, in Friedlander’s playing as well as the alto saxophone of Andy Laster, and the surging bass and drum work of the brother team of Stomu and Satoshi Takeishi.