2017: The Year in Jazz

The year 2017 was a thrilling one in jazz, bursting with new ideas, original voices, and irreverence. Jazz, for lack of a better word, is never in any one place at any one time — there are always many things happening within various mini-scenes, with talent coming from every direction—and from every generation (Roscoe Mitchell, at 77, is just as vital now as when he made his debut a half-century ago).

This year about four dozen records could’ve cracked any “best of” ranking, but here are 15 that had special resonance in 2017.

1. Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II Emerging Worlds (FPE Records)

Mitchell released two albums in 2017: Liberation Narratives, a collaboration with the poet and founder of Third World Press Haki R. Madhubuti, and this Afrofuturist suite recorded live at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago two years ago during the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Mitchell, on flute and electronics, composed and arranged all the music, and her Black Earth Ensemble—which includes the always compelling Tomeka Reid on cello—is electrifying. Alex Wing on guitar and avery r. young on vocals are revelations. A mesmerizing work and, to these ears, the record of the year. (Mitchell was the artist-in-residence earlier this month at NYC Winter Jazzfest.)

2. Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (ECM)

Like Nicole Mitchell, the saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell (no relation) presented the four trios here at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2015. (He was one of the original members of the AACM.) It includes long-time collaborators like Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal, and new ones like the celebrated drummer Tyshawn Sorey (see below), who also plays piano and trombone on this outing. The overall effect is both ominous and joyous.

3. The Heliocentrics: A World of Masks (Soundway)

So many of Gil Scott-Heron’s lyrics seem as if they were written for today — “Winter in America,” “We Beg Your Pardon” — and none more so than “Is That Jazz?” This eclectic East London collective, which fuses jazz and funk with a wink to Sun Ra, is aided here by rising saxophone star Shabaka Hutchings (was also in town for Winter Jazzfest) and the ethereal vocalist Barbora Patkova. Is that jazz? I don’t know, and I don’t care. It’s an enthralling, unforgettable 45 minutes of music.

4. Trio Heinz Herbert: The Willisau Concert (Intakt)

Dominic Landolt (guitar), his brother, Ramon (keyboards, samples), and Mario Hänni (drums) are about as far away as you can get from a traditional trio. Their telepathic excursions, from quietly intense to out-and-out raucous, are best appreciated live. This album was recorded in Willisau, Switzerland, at one of the premier festivals for free and experimental jazz, famous also for the poster art by the festival’s founder, Niklaus Troxler. Rousing and unforgettable.

5. Tomas Fujiwara: Triple Double (Firehouse 12)

The 40-year-old drummer drifts from background to foreground with regular colleagues (and all-stars) Gerald Cleaver, Mary Halvorson, Brandon Seabrook, Ralph Alessi, and Taylor Ho Bynum. The results are electrifying and relentless. Brainy new-fusion that takes the roof off. One of the most exciting releases of this year.

6. Matthew Shipp: Piano Song (Thirsty Ear)

Shipp told this publication in early 2017 that he was going to stop recording. Blah, blah, blah. The East Village pianist can’t not record. His latest, on the label that cleared new paths within jazz under his leadership in the early 2000s, is one of his very best. That’s saying a lot. With the untrendy partners Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums, the results are rich, emotional, smart, and witty.

7. Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (ECM)

One of the most admired pianists of this — or any — generation, Taborn has been on hundreds of recording sessions (including Roscoe Mitchell’s Bells for the South Side) but has never recorded prolifically as a leader, which makes this all the more special. Accompanied by the likes of Chris Speed, Chris Lightcap, and his fellow Minnesotan Dave King of the Bad Plus, Taborn conjures eerie, beautiful soundscapes, especially on electronics, in one of the year’s essential albums.

8. Irène Schweizer – Joey Baron: Live! (Intakt)

The veteran Swiss free-jazz pianist has made her reputation, in part, working in the unloved duo format with drummers like Han Bennink and Andrew Cyrille. On her latest, a live date in Zurich, she conspires with none other than Joey Baron. Her percussive attack, informed as much by pre-War stylings than of Cecil Taylor, artfully maneuvers around Baron, and she’s unafraid to clash toe-to-toe with him.

9. Eskelin/Weber/Griener: Sensations of Tone (Intakt)

The tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin has a sound and approach all his own, sinewy and off-kilter. He’s been part of New York’s downtown scene but is steeped in history, too. (He’s done the Great American Songbook, for instance.) Call him an abstract traditionalist. Along with Christian Weber on bass and Michael Griener on drums, the trio goes from early standards like Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp” to its own group improvisations. Disorientating, and totally delightful.

10. Dayna Stephens: Gratitude (Contagious Music)

Stephens, another tenor sax player, is a musicians’ musician, thoughtful and brainy, with a wonderful tone. On this understated but complex effort (released on his own label he just started) he’s backed by the esteemed rhythm section of pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Eric Harland. As gorgeous as he is on tenor, Stephens’ finest moment may be on baritone saxophone in the Strayhorn-Ellington tune “Isfahan.”

11. William Parker: Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity)

The East Village bassist and composer has been a beacon in the downtown and international scenes for more than 40 years. He’s making some of his most adventurous and engaging music now. On this double album, he leads two quartets, one that includes the underdocumented pianist Cooper-Moore. Parker also appears on another AUM Fidelity find, the unreleased David S. Ware Trio Live in New York, 2010, when Parker and his late colleague lit up the Blue Note, an atypical venue for them.

12. Linda May Han Oh: Walk Against Wind (Biophilia Records)

The workmanlike Australian has been one of the most sought-after bassists in New York the last ten years. In her new album as a leader, she eschews bass solo pyrotechnics and instead focuses on her composing and the group dynamic. And what a group: Ben Wendel, Justin Brown, and Matt Stevens, young stars all. It was released on the new label started by the fine keyboardist Fabian Almazan, who marries new jazz talent with an environmental mission. The Village Voice was with her in the studio in Brooklyn when she recorded it.

13. Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings)

It was a big year for the 37-year-old drummer: He received his doctorate of musical arts from Columbia University; started an assistant professorship at Wesleyan University (where he replaced Anthony Braxton); and won the big one, a MacArthur Fellowship. On his sixth album as a leader, a quiet but transfixing one, he leads a trio with the exceptional Cory Smythe on piano and Chris Tordini on bass. Sorey, like so many musicians young and old, doesn’t like the word “jazz.” Who can blame him; it feels, as Miles Davis might say, “corny.” He plays, he said in a recent tweet, MUSIC (the caps his). As Miles might also say, “Call it anything.”

14. Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (International Anthem)

This debut by the 33-year-old Chicagoan now living in Brooklyn mixes live recordings and studio-enhanced work with startling results. Her trumpet playing is influenced by Booker Little and the technical experiments of Axel Dörner. Her former Chicago colleagues Tomeka Reid (again), drummer Chad Taylor, and bassist Jason Ajemian only enhance her compositions.

15. Cécile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue)

The 28-year-old singer is mature beyond her years and enjoys mining jazz and its environs from the early 20th century, like Josephine Baker’s “Si J’étais Blanche” (“If I Were White”). On Dreams and Daggers, she leads her stellar (and dapper) trio of Aaron Diehl (piano), Lawrence Leathers (drums), and Paul Sikivie (bass) through a (mostly) live set at the Village Vanguard. She’s affecting on “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” a piece from Street Scene, the underappreciated opera by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes.

And if, like me, you treasure and pore over reissues (and newly discovered unreleased material), so many gems were put back into circulation in 2017.

Thelonious Monk’s full soundtrack to the Roger Vadim film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, never released in full until this year, was beautifully presented by Saga and Sam Records. If you really want to geek out on vinyl (and Monk), Craft Records has just put out The Complete Prestige 10-Inch Collection, a limited-edition box set of LPs Monk recorded for the label from 1952 to 1954.

Bass god Jaco Pastorius is in top form leading a cracking big band at Avery Fisher Hall in Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in NYC: The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording (Resonance Records).

Hard-bop pianist Sonny Clark lived fast and died tragically at just 31. Long associated with Blue Note in its heyday, his trio date on another label, The 1960 Time Sessions with George Duvivier and Max Roach, has just been reissued on double vinyl by Tompkins Square.

Ornette Coleman’s Crisis and Ornette at 12 were out of print for decades and have been released for the first time on CD from Real Gone Music.

Pharoah Sanders’ greatest phase, you could argue, were the series of albums he did for the Impulse! label in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Three of those—Tauhid (1967), Jewels of Thought (’69), and Deaf Dumb Blind Summun Bukmun Umyun (’70)—were reissued by Anthology Records on vinyl, which somehow feels right.

The Jazz Dispensary, meanwhile, reissued some fertile 1970s work with Joe Henderson & Alice Coltrane’s The Elements, Gary Bartz NTU Troop’s Harlem Bush Music—Uhuru, and Azar Lawrence’s Bridge Into the New Age. What a year.


Grass Roots

For 16 years, Brooklyn’s AUM Fidelity label has unleashed glorious throngs of otherworldly music, presenting New York’s avant-garde jazz royalty like David S. Ware, William Parker, and Matthew Shipp. Now, Grass Roots can be added to its paramount stable, and tonight, the Herculean quartet—featuring dueling sax masters Darius Jones and Alex Harding, bassist Sean Conley, and drummer Chad Taylor—celebrate the release of their self-titled debut. Like the gurus they are, Grass Roots effortlessly bounce from epic blues-‘n’-soul throb, swinging bebop, improvisational wizardry and chaotic skronking, sometimes all within the same composition.

Thu., Dec. 13, 7 & 8:30 p.m., 2012


Free at Last

I didn’t disband the group,” says saxophonist David S. Ware by phone from his home in Plainfield, N.J. “We came off tour in Europe two months ago.” There’s been some confusion of late, see, because a recent live album, Renunciation (AUM Fidelity), documents last year’s final U.S. performance by the David S. Ware Quartet, one of the longest-running groups in New York free jazz. He says the group will reconvene for European festivals or one-offs if the money’s right, but his bandmates seem comfortable with the idea of moving on to the next step in their individual musical journeys. And as far as American audiences are concerned, the David S. Ware Quartet is no more, period.

Ware claims not to see what the big deal is. “We don’t work in America anyway,” he says. “I coulda said that a long time ago. We almost never work in America—America’s such a superficial place, full of superficial people. It doesn’t even matter.”

But to some of us, it does. Throughout the 1990s, the Ware quartet was one of the highest-profile and most admired groups in the jazz avant-garde. Releasing two albums on Columbia Jazz and 16 others on labels like AUM Fidelity, Silkheart, Homestead, and Thirsty Ear, they played the festival circuit and indie-rock venues alike, opening for Sonic Youth as easily as for Cecil Taylor.

Their music carried the innovations of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, and Pharoah Sanders into the future, with extended, ecstatic solos atop jagged, singsong melodies and subtle, ever-shifting rhythms. Ware is a total master of his instrument, able to make the tenor saxophone scream like a raging bull elephant, or play tender, resonant ballads like a bear singing lullabies to its cubs. He’s also surrounded himself with equally accomplished cohorts. Each of the group’s members—pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker, and a string of drummers including Marc Edwards, Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra, and finally Guillermo Brown—built solo careers at least in part because of the quartet’s sterling reputation. And when they would all reconvene, particularly at the annual Vision Festival downtown, they were an all-star team without peer. For a while, it seemed like they were the group that could bring free jazz to a public prominence it hadn’t enjoyed since the 1960s—and that without them, the scene might shrivel into total insularity, the same dozen groups playing to the same few dozen diehards every year.

But Ware shrugs off such matters. “I don’t even think about that,” he says of his importance to New York’s avant-garde. “You guys figure that out. It’s not for me to ponder. I don’t follow the scene anyway. I didn’t hang out in New York even when I was living in New York [in the 1970s]. It’s just not me.”

Matthew Shipp agrees. “[David’s] a staunch individualist and resents being seen as part of a scene,” he says. “To me, people you think of as stereotypical Vision Fest acts are people like [drummer] Milford Graves.” He doesn’t attach much significance to last year’s farewell show, either. “Patricia [Nicholson-Parker, wife of Ware Quartet bassist William Parker and driving force behind the Vision Festival] said if you’re going to do a last American performance, why not do it at the Vision Fest? And [retiring the band] was just loose talk before that, but the gig came about and got defined that way, and then that’s what ended up happening.”

Ware has tried to be very clear about his intentions. Renunciation‘s liner notes, by the saxophonist himself, begin, “First of all, I would like it to be clearly understood that I am in no way renouncing the work of the David S. Ware Quartet.” Renunciation, to Ware, is a spiritual condition—he’s referring to renouncing the world and allowing the power of music to take him over and use him as a channel. The performance documented on the CD surely reflects that, while dramatizing the end of this stage of Ware’s journey. The group revisits old compositions (“Mikuro’s Blues,” “Ganesh Sound,” and “Saturnian”) to begin and end the set, but the middle half-hour is an improvised, three-part “Renunciation Suite” that offers as much unaccompanied solo space for each member as it does fiery four-part interaction, fracturing the group into its component parts and symbolically leaving each member onstage alone, though surrounded by former compatriots.

Shipp seems to believe the group might have overstayed its welcome. “I really enjoy playing David’s music,” he says. “I’ve been a huge part of his universe, a universe that we have together. The synergy has been really good for both of us. But when you look at the John Coltrane group, they did all that music in a four- to five-year period. I just don’t know if a small jazz group is meant to be together [for 17 years]— obviously, there are no rules in this universe, but on a certain level maybe it is time for everybody to move on.”

The undeniable merits of 21st-century albums like BalladWare (recorded in 1999, released in 2006), Freedom Suite, and the strings-augmented
Threads notwithstanding, it’s easy to argue the quartet peaked with their two Columbia releases, 1999’s
Go See the World and 2000’s Surrendered, and the attendant flurry of pretty much universally favorable press. “Despite the fact that people like Gary Giddins and Francis Davis were really into that band, the mainstream of jazz fans never got into it,” says Shipp. “The people that would go out and see the Wayne Shorter quartet, which I think our quartet is infinitely superior to, would not come out to hear the David S. Ware Quartet. There was a certain type of mainstream success that David was never able to get.”

Guillermo Brown, the group’s fourth and final drummer (and a composer in his own right, combining avant-jazz with laptop electronics), feels that moving beyond the quartet is ultimately a positive thing. “It’s like Broken Social Scene or Wu-Tang, man—the pieces break out,” he says. “Every member of the group has their own strategies for the music and the scene and for jazz in general. I don’t have any fears about the state of the music. We’re out here doing stuff, and there’s people outside the group who may have a chance now, because of the absence of the group, to say something and add to the discussion, the cacophony, the multitude of voices.”

Ware performs at Iridium July 13–14 in a new quartet featuring guitarist Joe Morris, bassist Keith Whitty, and Guillermo Brown on drums,


Largehearted Music From Massive Tenor Provides Transcendent Perspectives

The elephant on the cover of tenor saxophonist David S. Ware’s three-disc Live in the World is the Hindu god Ganesh, often referred to as the “Remover of Obstacles.” It’s as if the legacies of tenor titans such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane had swelled into baggage, obstacles as much as inspirations. Ware—who studied briefly with Rollins as a teen—relieves burdens without misplacing valuables: Rollins’s streaming ideas and bristling low end, Coltrane’s questing sound and pealing highs, not to mention Ben Webster’s free-swinging swagger and Albert Ayler’s gritty tone, are all in his playing. But Ware’s massive sound is anything but derivative. And despite drum-chair changes, the quartet he’s led since the late 1980s is the most resilient, least heralded, best-sounding supergroup in modern jazz.

The proof is in these three discs, drawn from a 1998 Swiss concert and two 2003 Italian dates. Bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, who’ve ranged widely to great acclaim as leaders, do their most complete work with Ware. Never reliant on standard basslines or chord movement, the two weave webs shaped to Ware’s succinct melodies and ever shifting flow. That plays to Ware’s strength. Like Cecil Taylor, he isn’t a truly free player: He teases possibilities from distinct statements, each stamped by a different drummer. Hamid Drake’s snare rolls and cymbal crashes are finely attuned to the individual improvisations. Guillermo E. Brown’s aggressive attack lends spark. Susie Ibarra’s painterly polyrhythms, devoid of cliché, reach for the sublime.

Ware’s studio take on Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” (1998’s Go See the World) began as a quartet deconstruction. Here, Ware enters alone, wrestles a phrase or two, buzzes through overtones, and veers into “My One and Only Love” and “Misty,” among other tunes, until the quartet joins him for a recognizable read. At the bridge, the song shatters into beautiful shards, for later reassembly. Disc three is devoted to Rollins’s 1958 Freedom Suite, its themes dissolved into Ware’s improvisations even more fluidly than on his 2003 recording.

Mostly, Ware refines his own compositions. “Sentient Compassion” (from 1993’s Third Ear Recitation) expands into a tender ballad, with Parker’s bass thumping like a Moroccan sintir and Shipp’s broken chords evoking a thumb piano as Ware’s high end softly flutters. And Ware strips “Aquarian Sound” (1992’s Flight of I) to its core, staked to Parker’s sturdy five-note theme and Shipp’s chiming clusters. A mountain of music—worth the climb for its glimpses of Ware’s unencumbered bliss.


Harmonies and Abysses

Pick Hits


The Milk-Eyed Mender

(Drag City)

Not only does she sing in a fey little voice and fingerpick a damn harp, she hangs out with the wrong crowd—hippie folkies, basically. So snub her on principle if you like, but note this quatrain (yes, quatrain): “And the signifieds butt heads with the signifiers/and we all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words/while across the sky sheet the impossible birds/in a steady illiterate movement homewards.” Sorry, folks, that’s s-m-a-r-t whether you like its drift or not, and there’s plenty more where it came from. Right, she’s chronically whimsical—the final song adduces dragons. But her whimsy is genuinely funny, and though the melodies fade on the second half, which damages the poetry, there at the end of the faintest one comes the wise warning: “Never get so attached to a poem/you forget truth that lacks lyricism.” So I won’t. A MINUS

  • View “Sprout and the Bean” (Quicktime)





First you notice that the opener really is kinda gorgeous, with its twin-xylophone-echoed piano flourish and all. Then you isolate Win Butler’s sob and fantasize about throttling the twit, an immature impulse unmitigated by the lyrics, which are histrionic even for a guy who’s just lost a grandparent (or whoever). But if you keep at it till the next song, which tells the story of his runaway older brother getting bitten by a vampire, you begin to admire his resilience—he’s retained a sense of the ridiculous, which is more than you can say of most young twits who sing about losing a grandparent (or whoever). And that’s how the album goes—too fond of drama, but aware of its small place in the big world, and usually beautiful. N.B.: if you’re considering Montreal, which is certainly my favorite Canadian place, the ex-Texans and -Haitian here want to make clear that it’s horribly cold. A MINUS

  • Stream “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” (MP3)
  • Stream “Rebellion (Lies)” (MP3)
  • Stream “Wake Up” (MP3)


This Right Here Is Buck 65


Since four standout tracks come from one of my favorite albums of the millennium, the Canada-only Talkin’ Honky Blues, I have my doubts about the best-of route taken by Richard Terfry’s long-delayed U.S.-major debut. Only it’s not a best-of. Listening back to such worthy alt-rap cult items as Square, Vertex, and Man Overboard, I was amazed at how willowy he once sounded—a mere stripling, with a voice macho chauvinists could call nerdy even if he was a hell of a shortstop. Everything here projects his new gruff ‘n’ gravelly persona, including a remake of the best song in hip-hop history about a big dick (which utilizes a John Fahey-type sample rather than the electronics he has a knack for). Three are from two 2004 Canada-only EPs; another, the striking if overwrought “Cries a Girl,” is now a live staple. The collection doesn’t cohere the way it should, and I still say seek out Talkin’ Honky Blues. But wherever you start, he’s a major rhymer, performer, storyteller, humanist visionary, and student of the DJ arts. A MINUS

  • Preview AlbumTHE ROUGH GUIDE TO BRAZILIAN HIP-HOP (World Music Network import)

    As with most foreign-language rapping, you may wonder what the point is, especially given liner notes so devoid of lyrical clues I assume the compiler’s Portuguese is mucho shaky. But if like me you’re prey to the vulgar prejudice that most carioca rhythms run a little lite, the straightforward beats here are intensely pleasurable whether indigenous or r&b—imbued with the rhythmic sophistication of their culture, the vocalists just naturally provide enough variety to keep a North American clod like me going. Often the rappers work chorally, augmenting the r&b feel. One of the soupiest tracks, a love letter recited over Rammelzee’s “Bon Bon Vie” variation, is by two guys who were doing 10 years for armed assault when it was recorded. A MINUS

  • Sample Track (MP3)
  • SEPTETO RODRIGUEZBaila! Gitano Baila!


    Longer on violins this time, Rodriguez’s Cuban klezmer packs less thrill, with David Krakauer and Craig Taborn missed. But it’s smoother too, and with international mix-and-match feeling so crucial these days, that’s educational. The pomo aesthete in us craves disruptive kicks as inoculation against an undoing world. The weary traveler will settle gratefully for some social harmony. A MINUS

  • “Wolfie’s Corner” (MP3)
  • “Paseo Del Prado” (MP3)
  • “Hadida” (MP3)
  • “Baila! Gitano! Baila!” (MP3)
  • “Para Peru” (MP3)
  • “Turkish-Bulgarish” (MP3)
  • MATTHEW SHIPPHarmony and Abyss

    (Thirsty Ear)

    My tastes in piano run to five-fingered banging, my tastes in ambience to rhythm massage. So although I’ve admired several of Shipp’s many albums, Nu Bop especially, this one I identify with. The hard-driving “Galaxy 105” tinkles jazzily at times, and “Invisible Light” contributes a free interlude, but mostly Shipp and his certified-jazzbo drums-and-bass—plus, crucially, programmer FLAM—explore pulses and textures: all distinct, some quite jazzlike but most on the trip-hop side. Remember “acid jazz”? This is what it wasn’t tough enough for. A MINUS

  • “Ion” (MP3)
  • “Virgin Complex” (MP3)
  • “Blood 2 the Brain” (MP3)VIKTOR VAUGHN

    (VV:2): Venomous Villain

    (Insomniac, Inc.)

    Stuffed-up flow. Championship scratching. A lid on the C-movie dialogue. “Titty fat”/”kitty cat”/”pretty hat”/”pitty-pat”/”kiddies, brats”/”shitty gats”/”where they at”/ “city rats”/”gritty stats”/”chicks be at”/ “chitty-chat”/”pity that.” “Instincts”/”pink drinks.” Any questions? A MINUS

  • Stream “Back End” (MP3)
  • Stream “Dope Skiller” (MP3)

    (Thirsty Ear)

    Where the debut emulated drum’n’bass, this time their avant-funk puts its sonics across by spacing out four compelling vocals: Chuck D stand-in Traz’s “More From Life” (“economic equality”), Flavor Flav stand-in Bos Omega’s “TV” (“and a big old chair”), Rubén Blades stand-in Ricky Quinones’s “No Pistolas” (“Si tu quieres bailar/Si tu quieres gozar/Es bien, pero . . . “), and Bobby McFerrin stand-in Taylor McFerrin’s “Words They Choose” (he’s worried, unhappy). In the new millennium, you see, we use liberal politics to sell music. It has that aura of the forbidden. A MINUS

  • “Shine For Me” (MP3)
  • “TV” (MP3)
  • “Thirty Spokes” (MP3)
  • ZAMBUSH VOL. 1 (SWP import)

    “Zambian Hits from the 80s”—hence, geographically and musically midway between Congolese rhumba and Zimbabwean chimurenga, which contained rhumba to begin with. Population under 6 million then, close to 10 million now—though the great preponderance of these musicians died in between, AIDS and the local kachasu homebrew having taken their occupational toll and then some. Cheerful in affect, moralistic in content—the brightest warns against kachasu itself. But though I’m glad its creator survived, I wish there was more evidence that these musical homilies made a difference in the lives of those who created or heard them—after the musical moment itself, when they clearly did what they were supposed to. B PLUS

  • Stream The Five Revolutions’ “Kachasu”

  • Dud of the Month


    American Idiot


    If you’re wondering what this concept album means, don’t labor over the lyric booklet. As Billie Joe knows even if he doesn’t come out and say it—he doesn’t come out and say lots of obvious stuff—this is a visual culture. So examine the cover. That red grenade in the upraised fist? It’s also a heart—a bleeding heart. Which he heaves as if it’ll explode, only it won’t, because he doesn’t have what it takes to pull the pin. The emotional travails of two clueless punks—one passive, one aggressive, both projections of the auteur—stand in for the sociopolitical content that the vague references to Bush, Schwarzenegger, and war (not any special war, just war) are thought to indicate. There’s no economics, no race, hardly any compassion. Joe name-checks America as if his hometown of Berkeley was in the middle of it, then name-checks Jesus as if he’s never met anyone who’s attended church. And to lend his maunderings rock grandeur, he ties them together with devices that sunk under their own weight back when the Who invented them. Sole rhetorical coup: makes being called a “faggot” something to aspire to, which in this terrible time it is. C PLUS

    Additional Consumer News

    Honorable Mention


    Real Gone


    Shtick fights funk to the death, yielding both a circus spiel with some laughs in it and a battlefield habanera worthy of Motörhead (“Hoist That Rag,” “Top of the Hill”).

  • Stream “Hoist That Rag” (MP3)
  • Stream “Shake” (MP3)
  • THIS MOMENT IN BLACK HISTORYMidwesterncuttalistick

    (Version City)

    Seventeen songs in 33 minutes by Cleveland Voidoids/Fugazi fans who still read the newspaper (“Beans and Rice,” “Art Project,” “Paint Me a Picture”).

  • “Beans and Rice” (MP3)
  • “Progress for Real” (MP3)
  • “Electric Grandlover” (MP3)

    Worldly Christians meet secular Muslims, often in joints swank enough to feature a piano (Maurice El Médioni, “Bienvenue —Abiadi”; Eda Zari, “Ra Faja”).

  • Sample Track (MP3)
  • MF DOOMMm . . Food?

    (Rhymesayers Entertainment)

    Eat the theme up with your mouth Doom (“Hoecakes,” “Kon Queso”).

  • Stream “Hoecakes” (Real)
  • Stream “Potholderz” (Real)

    Carlinhos Brown and associates do their drum-and-chant thing (Carlinhos Brown, “Canto Pro Mar”; Carlinhos Brown/Cicero Menenez, “Margarida Perfumada”).

  • “Canto Pro Mar” (WMA)
  • “Margarida Perfumada” (WMA)CRAIG TABORN

    Junk Magic

    (Thirsty Ear)

    In a noisy way (“Mystero,” “The Golden Age”).

  • “Stalagmite” (MP3)
  • “Prismatica” (MP3)

    In Brazil as anywhere else, the sound of poverty can be a stark thing (Bonde do Tiagro, “O Baile Todo”; Furacao 2000, “Mengao 2000”).

  • Bonde Do Tiagro’s “O Baile Todo” (MP3)
  • Furacao 2000’s “Mengao 2000” (MP3)
  • U2How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb


    Pop music as spiritual balm—there are worse ideas (“Miracle Drug,” “Vertigo”).

  • Stream “Vertigo”
  • Stream “Miracle Drug”
  • MANNIE FRESHThe Mind of Mannie Fresh

    (Cash Money/Universal)

    “From Mexico to China/All I want is vagina” (“Not Tonight,” “We Fresh”).

  • Stream “Real Big” (Real)
  • DARRYL WORLEY(DreamWorks)

    Has good enough values as long as he doesn’t apply them too far from home (“I Love Her, She Hates Me,” “Work and Worry”).

  • Preview Album


    If only A Flock of Seagulls could do their hair (“Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” “Somebody Told Me”).

  • Preview Album (Real and WMA)
  • RANDY TRAVISPassing Through

    (Word/Curb/Warner Bros.)

    Decency is its own reward (“My Daddy Never Was,” “That Was Us”).

  • That Was Us” (MP3)
  • Right On Time” (MP3)
  • U.S.The Necessary Evil

    (Reality Check)

    Rapper dresses Unabomber, name-checks Che (“Brooklyn,” “Rome Too Burned”).

  • Stream “Brooklyn”
  • Stream “Rome Too Burned”

  • Choice Cuts


    “The Lyre of Orpheus”

    “There She Goes, My Beautiful World”

    “Hiding All Away”

    (Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Mute)


    “Losing My Edge”

    (LCD Soundsystem, DFA)


    “Triumph of a Heart”

    (Medulla, Elektra)


    “The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues” “To Do What I Do”

    (What I Do, Arista)


    “Next Exit”

    (Antics, Matador)





    The Lost Riots



    You Do Your Thing






    Still Not Getting Any . . .



    From a Basement on the Hill


    SUM 41

    Chuck (Island)




    Pawn Shoppe Heart



Updates, Not Throwbacks

Pick Hits


Harmony and Abyss

Thirsty Ear

Shipp’s early records were minimal affairs, often duos where he would project long melodic lines like Bud Powell swept into the avant ’90s. Until he hooked up with Thirsty Ear he never showed much interest in rhythm, but working for a rock label brought out his inner David Bowie as he veiled his increasingly percussive play behind horn leads. This one is the breakthrough he advertised on Nu Bop and promoted on Equilibrium, because finally the masks are gone: no horns, no vibes, just a piano trio plus programmer Chris Flam. Shipp’s piano (or synth) is always up-front, the pieces are all differentiated by rhythm, and the rhythms are as diverse as Shipp’s melodic lines once were. A


Mosaic Select [1986-90]


Pullen had a gimmick: he would turn his hands over and smash out huge clusters of notes with his knuckles. It was an astonishing sound, and he could produce it long enough to take your breath away. But it was less a gimmick than the ultimate example of his unprecedentedly physical attack on the piano. He built up harmonies with explosions of dissonant color and rhythmic complexity, as fast as Art Tatum with his curlicues. But he died in 1995, at 51 neither a shooting star nor a living legend, and his records have vanished—especially the eight he cut for Blue Note from 1986 until his death. This limited edition squeezes the first four onto three CDs. The first two are quartet albums with r&b-flavored saxophonist George Adams. Both are rousing, especially the first. The next two were trios, where the focus is even more squarely on his piano. He was also the most interesting organist to emerge since Larry Young, and his later Ode to Life is poignant and moving. But this was the pinnacle of his pianistic power. A


Morton’s Foot

(Enja/Justin Time)

The Lebanese oud master’s albums shift as jazz collaborators come and go. Tarab features Selim Kusur’s nay flute and is in the improvisational tradition of Arab music, while Charlie Mariano’s alto sax turns Blue Camel into his most cosmopolitan showcase. This mostly Italian band showcases a new mix: with accordion, tuba, and clarinet it sounds gypsy (meaning a genre, not the ethnic Rom), while Gavino Murgia’s traditional Sardinian vocal style can be taken for doo-wop. A MINUS


The Life of a Song


The achievement here is sonic as well as musical. Holland’s bass line has rarely been rendered so clearly. It is the center of the universe, the pulse all heavenly bodies orbit around—even the Detroit horn players who crash the trio on the last cut, a serenade for Mal Waldron. A MINUS


Diaspora Hollywood


What if the Jews who scored ’40s Hollywood movies and the Jews who chilled West Coast jazz in the ’50s had reached deeper into their ethnic legacy? That’s the concept here: traditional pieces played soundtrack-style not as social music but for atmospheric effect. Special treat: X drummer D.J. Bonebrake on vibes. A MINUS


Souls Saved Hear

(Thirsty Ear)

Tom Rainey’s perpetually broken time gives this trio a lurching stutter step that Tim Berne’s abstract sax only renders more cartoonish. Marc Ducret’s guitar provides the sinew that keeps the works from flying apart, and fills in stretches of relative calm when his cohorts take a breather. Berne’s albums always hew close to the edge. It’s a pleasure to hear one that doesn’t crash. A MINUS



(Thrill Jockey)

The first cut is acoustic, with Rob Mazurek’s cornet racing over a fast beat. The second is electronic, a fractured beat with the cornet providing a bare wash of color. The rest work between those poles, with the electronics more prevalent, but the real kick coming from the cornet soaring over Chad Taylor’s drums. Synthesis isn’t the point; why be “underground” if not to experiment? A MINUS


Something in Common


An update, not a throwback to the black power jazz of the early ’70s. The trio is French; the instruments are bass clarinet, cello, and zarb; the lead song is Wyclef Jean’s “Diallo.” But black power is the spirit. Most songs have vocals: rappers, soul sisters, gospel group. They play Hendrix ugly, Stevie Wonder sweet and sour; they channel Coltrane, Rollins, Shepp, John Gilmore; they go Pan-African to Beaver Harris. If the years haven’t blunted anger at injustice, that’s because they haven’t blunted injustice. A MINUS




Her crashing entrance shows why she gets compared to Cecil Taylor. Then she backs off and lets the band do some work. Propelled by Takeharu Hayakawa’s electric bass, the rhythm section was built for speed. But husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura prefers to wax lyrical even when surrounded by chaos—which gives this music a touching voice on top of the finely drawn manga violence of Fujii’s piano. A MINUS



Jerry Gonzalez y los Piratas del Flamenco


In the flamenco that Gonzalez encountered when he moved from New York to Madrid he found a third ingredient to add to his fusion of rumba and Monk. The old world is evident in Nino Josele’s guitar and Diego El Cigala’s vocals, but the beats sound Afro-Cuban. This record came from a rehearsal tape, with most tracks limited to two or three musicians. One is just conga and cajon; others muted trumpet, guitar, and percussion. And, of course, Monk goes flamenco, with hand claps. A MINUS



(Blue Note)

The title translates as “stroll”: a leisurely walk through pleasant surroundings, but with a contemplative distance. For Rubalcaba this means back in time to his Cuban roots, and sideways through the maze of modern jazz. With his New Cuban Quartet the dominant voice is saxophonist Luis Felipe Lamoglia, who owes more to Coltrane than to the Caribbean. But the pace and variety come from the rugged Afro-Cuban terrain that keeps the stroll interesting. A MINUS


Baila! Gitano Baila!


Roberto Juan Rodriguez learned klezmer as a Cuban expatriate in Miami, working bar mitzvahs and Yiddish theaters. His synthesis of Jewish melody and Cuban percussion dreams of roots that never were, yet it is convincing enough that one can imagine generations of conversos gathering in private to keep the ancient secrets of their culture alive. This sequel to El Danzon de Moises is less surprising but broader and happier, with touches of tango and gypsy dance. A MINUS



(Clean Feed)

The delta from Spaceways Inc. to Tripleplay is the replacement of Hamid Drake with Curt Newton, but switching bassist Nate McBride from electric to acoustic shifts the feel from funk to blues. Both moves make the band more intimate, and Ken Vandermark responds with some of his most thoughtful chamber jazz. Even if it was made up on the fly, which it largely was. A MINUS


Dream Dancing


The difference between this and 2Gether, the duo Vaché and Bill Charlap cut for Nagel Heyer in 2000, is the difference between a fine Danish modernist antique and an overstuffed easy chair. With bass and drums, Charlap eases back, and Vaché settles into his comfort zone. Now that he’s too old to be called a young fogey anymore, maybe the notion that his genteel swing is retro should also be retired. A MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention




Free jazz as postmodern cool, an ether of saxes, bass, cello, beats, and voice where all that is solid melts into air.


Live at Glenn Miller Café


Jon Lindblom’s punk-jazz guitar, with horns piled on because they’re loud.


Hidros 3 (to Patti Smith)

Smalltown Supersound

A real-time mix of guitar noise and Mats’s bull elephant contrabass sax, with Kim Gordon confessing her lack of fashion sense.


Dual Pleasure 2

Smalltown Supersound

Leftovers from last year’s Dual Pleasure—abstract clarinet, avant-honk, drums.



Smalltown Superjazz

Mats Gustafsson’s heavier metal power trio undoes your new wave faves, then plays Brötzmann to relax.


In Praise of Dreams


Sax with strings, only Garbarek’s such an ascetic he allows himself just one viola and a dash of percussion.


Shifting Times

Nagel Heyer

Less a throwback to the organ-guitar soul jazz of the ’60s than an update, ready to cross over but not to beg.


Illusion Suite


With Mark Dresser and Jim Black, one long and three short pieces full of texture that escalates into energy.



Black Beauty

Black rhythm’s still happening, but these days Sun Ra gets filtered through Afrika Bambaataa.


Someday My Prince Will Come


Last chance to hear something new from Elvin Jones.



Lilac Wine



Live at MCG With Special Guest Kurt Elling

MCG Jazz


L’Histoire du Clochard: The Bum’s Tale



In the Name of Love



Dud of the Month


To the Stars


The problem with fusion wasn’t that good jazz was cheapened by crass rock and roll. The problem was that so many fusioneers were suckers for bad rock. Here Corea reconvenes his 1986-93 Elektric Band to power through a suite of pieces based on the L. Ron Hubbard sci-fi novel, and you can guess the rest: vintage space opera that Pink Floyd or Hawkwind wouldn’t have played on acid, soundtrack melodramatics without visual cues, and a fresh coat of Jelly Roll’s Famous Latin Tinge. C


Matthew Shipp Charges Ahead With Two Rather Different Rhythm Sections

Regardless of what I or Wynton Marsalis might want, we’re going to be hearing more and more collaborations between jazz improvisers and beat doctors. I just hope most turn out to be half as satisfying as Matthew Shipp’s Harmony and Abyss, where (as on the equally fine Equilibrium) the beats are supplied by co-producer FLAM. Especially augmented by a drummer as resourceful as Gerald Cleaver, Shipp’s compositions and attack are so polyrhythmically charged and percussive to begin with that the extra beats just ratchet up the intensity. With FLAM slyly altering the decay of Shipp’s pinging, Morse-code piano, “New ID” is as much about pitch variation as it is about rhythm; it could be something by James Tenney, but with urgency and humor. My other current favorite is “Virgin Complex,” where FLAM’s mechanical whoosh blends handsomely with William Parker’s regal bowing. Heady stuff, though admittedly more conducive to nervous pacing than dancing (more my style anyway). Those who prefer their Shipp straight up will want to search for The Trio Plays Ware, an Italian import featuring David S. Ware’s rhythm section (Shipp, Parker, and drummer Guillermo E. Brown) having a go at his tunes without him. The most immediately appealing of these are “Dinosauria” (bluesy) and “Godspelized” (rollicking), but the one that stays with you the longest is “Doa Forms”—a handful of Asian-sounding scales that elicit from Shipp probing and reflective lines that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Kind of Blue.


Blue Shift

In name and spirit, Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series was conceived as a millennial answer to the Blue Note of the mid ’60s. Ballsy move, given that pre-Norah Blue Note had the same idea. With Matthew Shipp renouncing early retirement to serve as house curator, an initial run of distinguished outside-in meditations such as his own New Orbit, Mat Maneri’s Blue Deco, and William Parker’s Painter’s Spring showed promise. Then Thirsty Ear chief Peter Gordon roped in non-jazz acts, beginning with his label’s own jungle-dub-classical duo Spring Heel Jack. The ensuing body of jazz-electronica composites, featuring the likes of DJ Spooky, FLAM, and GoodandEvil crossed with Shipp’s stable of improvisers, became the series’ signature sound. In Blue Note terms, Thirsty Ear had shifted emphasis from Sam Rivers and Andrew Hill to Lee Morgan and Jackie McLean.

Although hardly alone in electro-jazz, Thirsty Ear has worked to develop the hybrid into a brand. Verve and Blue Note raid their own vaults too. But their remixes rarely re-enact the jazz process of musicians playing together in real time. On the flip side, Pro Tools–savvy jazz musicians adopt the palette but not the aesthetic of electronic music. In this regard, the Blue Series has gradually outgrown its gangly precociousness. Early efforts couldn’t help but feel superimposed, as Spring Heel Jack and others convened what Gordon calls “sample sessions” featuring Shipp, Parker, and their peers. The label has overcome a lot since then: logistical riddles, Shipp’s skepticism, the basic at-oddsness of the jazz and electronica disciplines. And that last part is a work in progress, judging by Shipp’s Equilibrium, El-P’s High Water, and Guillermo Brown’s Soul at the Hands of the Machine—three bravely imperfect albums fusing abstruse atmospherics with hooky beats.

The label’s most compelling synthesis so far is Craig Taborn’s Junk Magic, which makes sense given the keyboardist’s résumé. Cutting his teeth in Minneapolis in the ’80s, Taborn split the difference between Detroit techno and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He started “messing with electronics” at the same time he began playing piano, and has done duty not only with Roscoe Mitchell and James Carter, but also with Bill Laswell and Carl Craig. Taborn made his Blue Series debut in 2001 with an alluringly off-kilter acoustic trio record called Light Made Lighter, and in the same year took a dazzling digital turn on Tim Berne’s The Shell Game. Reflecting on his latest, he claims to have been driven not by genre, but form: “I was engaging in different processes, rather than hybridizing styles.”

Junk Magic opens like a microtonal music box, with Maneri’s viola and Aaron Stewart’s tenor saxophone slowly twirling a figure over keyboard filigree. Percussion arrives in programmed layers—first a sputtering hint of rhythm, then a high-contrast loop that finally bursts into polyrhythmic clangor. Unusually for jazz, it employs texture as a plot device, abiding electronica’s art of crescendo by accretion. By the time “Junk Magic” morphs into “Mystero,” the arrival of David King’s choppy breakbeats is surprising but reasonable, like an unexpected guest from down the block. A similar intervention animates “Bodies at Rest and in Motion,” as piano, viola, and tenor engage in a group free-improv spacious enough to accommodate the arrhythmic patter of overlaid synth-drums. Pulse is paramount in Taborn’s sound world, where even the formless masses have forward pull.

The acoustic core of Junk Magic was recorded live in studio, which accounts for its organic disposition. But Taborn splices with a jazz sensibility as well, as seen in his resourceful use of King, whose tracks were cut separately. At the Bowery Ballroom in March, the keyboardist absorbed collage into his improvising process with unselfconscious adroitness, presiding over his blinking consoles with the fluidity of tai chi and the focus of an air traffic controller. The result was prickly but malleable. By contrast, Thirsty Ear’s 12-inch remix—composed of two Junk Magic tracks reconstituted by “Afro-Electronica” sound sculptor Val-Inc.—maroons the music in a middle distance. Taborn avoids this kind of dislocation because technology doesn’t trigger his antibodies, and his Blue Series labelmates can learn from his example. They could start with a new slogan: machine at the hands of soul.


Loud-Blowing Free Jazz Gives in to Subtle String Pleasures

From 1990’s Great Bliss through 2000’s Surrendered, David S. Ware established himself as the most erudite of ’60s-rooted free saxophonists. But since then he’s felt the need to diversify; as he admits in his liner notes to the just released Threads, “there are enough records with me blowing my brains out.” After all, even his most unreconstructed peer, Charles Gayle, has felt the need to take an occasional breather on piano or violin. And Ware’s quartetmates have been networking like mad: While Ware has appeared on 16 records since 1990, pianist Matthew Shipp has 50, and bass maestro William Parker 150. Ware’s own recent records have been his most atypical: Corridors & Parallels rides on the electronics Shipp and drummer Guillermo E. Brown dabble in, while Freedom Suite remakes Sonny Rollins. But those albums were still dominated by the loud guy blowing.

Threads is something very different. The quartet mushroomed into the String Ensemble by adding Mat Maneri on viola and third-stream hip-hopper Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin, while Shipp diddles the strings patches on his synth. But this isn’t a sax-over-strings thing. Ware plays on only the three shortest cuts: two brief duets with drums that would be side-ending codas on an LP, and the dense opener, “Ananda Rotation.” The other three are stretched out on minimal skeletons: the delicate “Carousel of Lightness,” the gentle roll of the title cut, and the exotic vamp of the Parker-propelled “Sufic Passages.” The pleasures here are awfully subtle for free jazz, not to say inscrutable, but for all Ware’s devotion to meditation, this isn’t New Age either. Rather, it suggests another one of Eno’s green worlds, lushly overgrown and just a bit ominous.

But what Threads really lacks is one of the main reasons for listening to jazz: virtuosity. Ware’s duets give you a taste of that, but his fiddlers should check out Billy Bang on Parker’s Violin Trio record, Scrapbook. Bang’s acidic tone cuts more grease than any fiddle’s since John Cale was in the Velvet Underground, while Parker and drummer Hamid Drake astonish. Parker and Drake have been quite an item recently: Two of their best are Piercing the Veil (Aum Fidelity), much more than a bass-drums duo, and . . . And William Danced (Ayler), a quickie blowing session with Swedish alto saxophonist Anders Gahnold. But Bang steals the show with the articulation and dexterity you hope for in a great saxophonist—like for instance David S. Ware, when he speaks with his own voice.


Money Jungle Music

Take the A train rumbling through Matthew Shipp’s piano: repeated fistfuls of Johnny Staccato chords, gunmetal black-and-white flesh tones, Weegee-board edges jutting out at ramrod left angles, no 52nd Street exit in sight but out the window maybe a ruminative Siberian death march or two through “Summertime” or “Autumn Leaves,” grand 19th-century storm clusters crashing into 20th-century seawalls of silence, systematic fingers besieging sleek architecture like carpenter ants on a wood binge. Let’s call this Money Jungle Music—full of static runs, urbane claustrophobia, and weird repose, issuing from an all-night lounge where the ivory tinkler makes the distance between Erroll Garner and Cecil Taylor seem as short as the fuse on the man who keeps requesting melancholy-baby selections from the Anatomy of a Murder soundtrack.

Shipp’s tightly wound jazz is abstract the same way any good late-Fuller/early-Godard gangster-reporter-director comes across as the distillation of uncounted tough-guy postures, profiles, gimmicks: a walking, ticking confrontation between melodrama and incredulity. Tersely didactic, his brand-spanking Nu Bop goes for a shock-corridor effect that condenses jazz vamping as monomaniacally as the first Ramones album stripped the British Invasion down to barest obsessive essentials. Nu Bop‘s subway-tunnel clattershot is achieved without recourse to guitars, machine-gun horns, or a massive attack of synthesized beats’n’loops. The electronic treatments dabbed on by Shipp’s co-producer-programmer Chris Flam amount to a light impasto of computer-generated landscaping and a touch of subliminal cosmic slop, no more pronounced or obtrusive than the pianist’s deep fondness for his sustain pedal. “Space Shipp” and “Rocket Shipp”—the same riff/rhythm/conception given the once-over twice—mostly arrive at their power-trio force by acoustic means: hyperpercussive keystrokes, William Parker’s hard-nosed monster bass, Guillermo E. Brown’s harshly syncopated, chain-gang-on-parade drum routines. Elsewhere there are short injections of Daniel Carter’s sax and flute, which (except for a dream-interlude duet with Parker on “X-Ray”) only pour a little localized color/anesthetic into the mix. Everything here is dedicated to getting the texture of things just so—and binding it to a clanging pulse that isn’t techtronica-derived so much as techtronica-friendly: a sonic palette folks raised on the Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, and Fatboy Slim can dig without compromising Shipp’s native-son audacity.

Nu Bop‘s intent is to reclaim a place for jazz in the hipster underground, plugging into some motherboard of Cool that would serve as the ne-plus-ultra-modern equivalent of the moment circa 1947 or so when Bud Powell and Raw Deal film noir and the pre-beatniks and post-cubists were all loosely fellow travelers on the road to a darker, destabilized tomorrow. If the album nonetheless feels boxed-in, that’s because there is no comparably New-ish Wave to hook up with these days—it’s every artist for him- or herself, and let history bury its own friggin’ dead. Once “Select Mode 1” and “Select Mode 2” rework the main theme for the third and fourth time around on a disc that clocks in under 40 minutes, the shortest attention spans have had the whole repetition-compulsion drill driven home, to the point where Nu Bop starts to feel less like a slam-gambit of an album and more an extended single featuring multiple versions interspersed with a batch of crafty, throwaway B-side miniatures. (Even the Ramones were able to vary a one-note thesis with more subtlety.) In all fairness, Cecil and Ornette have spent the last 30-odd years recapitulating the same adorable pet licks ad infinitum, so if Shipp wants to dance on your head with one of his own, it’s hard to begrudge the guy. And maybe tossing us a brilliantly warped demolition-cum-renovation of a standard would be just too easy, old-fashioned: on this air raid, no prisoners, no interrogations.

Shipp has been David S. Ware’s right-hand man in the tenor saxophonist’s indomitable quartet for more than a decade, fastidiously gathering intelligence on free-jazz purism and classicism. Last year Ware’s Corridors & Parallels (Aum Fidelity), with Shipp moving to synthesizer, laid a fair amount of Nu Bop‘s tonal groundwork. But for all those gamelan-orchestral, atomic organ-grinder squiggles and bits, the ever combustible Ware’s avant-romantic flights placed the album squarely on the doorstep of Throwback City: abounding echoes of Coltrane going agape-crazy or Gato Barbieri completely communing with the cries of sweaty wide-screen lovers. Ware’s furiously rhapsodic elegy—nostalgia for a golden age that never came—has an open-ended beauty while Shipp’s futurism-is-now project goes for a microscopically calibrated functionality. His music’s clean lines and rigorous designs suggest something of a good Bauhaus-keeping aesthetic: sturdy and/or delicate pieces of finely tapered furniture, indicated by past prescriptive titles like “Algebraic Boogie,” “Syntax,” “Inner Order,” “Self-Regulated Motion,” and 14 separate layers of “Strata.”

Few, however, manage to put their ideas into practice the way Shipp, as artistic director of Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series, has been able to stamp the label’s jazz arm with his own sensibility. The releases he’s produced or shepherded there since launching the series in 2000 have carved a niche for themselves as instantly recognizable as ’60s Blue Note or ’70s ECM. (In fact, it amounts to a rapprochement between Afro-modern and Nordic chamber modes.) He’s even collaborated on the ingenious calligraphic-geometric cover-art graphics that set apart the Blue Series—no artist photos or liner notes, a minimum of credits, a flat, handsome laser-printout look that packs all the identifying details of a highbrow bar code. In marked contrast to the old free-school approach of Aum Fidelity, where along with Shipp many of the Thirsty Ear crew (William Parker, Roy Campbell, Matt Maneri) cut their teeth, an almost military discipline predominates. The twin poles of Shipp’s quartet releases, the relatively straight-ahead Pastoral Composure (with trumpeter Campbell) and the more abstruse New Orbit (Waddada Leo Smith doing valve honors), are models of shrewd, efficient introspection. But shying away from sprawling, emotive gesticulation makes Campbell’s It’s Krunch Time feel slightly attenuated, dampened—like cramming Kevin Garnett into a compact car. Craig Taborn’s Light Made Lighter is too beholden to Shipp’s schematic approach, but that seems to work fine as sweetener on the Webern-baby-burn violinist Maneri, whose Blue Decco sounds about as close to carefree as brooding gets. Tim Berne’s The Shell Game departs from the formula to make its own prog-rock/art-funk gravy, consisting of drawn-out saxophonic crop circles, quaint-as-a-ring-modulator electric piano, and plate-scraping continental drift. Wild card of the bunch has got to be Spring Heel Jack’s oddball collaboration Masses: Instead of the expected dance-mix samplings culled from your favorite Thirsty Ear releases, this is a hardcore dose of atonal impressionism featuring a lineup of Squeak-King All-Stars.

Funnily enough, it’s Aum Fidelity that has jumped into the remix-crossover scene with Black Cherry by Organic Grooves, an engaging rewiring of a William Parker/Hamid Drake bass/drum Piercing the Veil as ambient techno (be-blip?). But dance beats or not, it looks like Shipp’s Nu Bop signals a new round in the great snipe hunt for that creature called fusion: Already in the Thirsty Ear pipeline is a Guillermo Brown groove-thing called Soul at the Hands of the Machine, which strives mightily to update electrified Miles for the Rave Age. And further down the road (and off the beaten track), there is the William Parker Quartet’s amazing, goofy-sublime Raining on the Moon: a different kind of symbiosis with singer Leena Conquest, going back to the future in search of a missing jazz link to the soul-poetry of Van Morrison. Like Laura Bush said recently about Dostoyevsky’s novels: “All one summer when I was a schoolteacher in Houston, I read ’em around the swimming pool, so even though they’re set in very cold Russia, they have this sort of bio-humidity about them that I remember.”