It's easy to forget that between experimental jazz's avant-garde fringe and crossover jazz's tendency toward sophisticated muzak there exists a happy medium, where the virtuosity of the inwardly inclined is turned outward by the awareness of a crowd deserving of more than being patronized or pandered to. When the results are as exuberant as this album's 13 songs-of which the instrumental take on the B-52s' "Love Shack" and Quincy Jones' "Sanford & Son" are the ringers-they erase the line between high art and low.
Like the paintings of Jackson Pollock, there's something-well, actually quite a bit-about the music of the free-jazz quintet Led Bib that might have dilettantes thinking they too could make such a mess (or racket), given the opportunity. They'd be wrong, of course, but at times these pieces do sound like solo auditions (say, for Sun Ra's Arkestra) spliced together into various and sundry maelstroms. Boring it isn't, not with two alto saxes dueling atop an electric-piano-frenzied rhythm section and song titles such as "Squirrel Carnage."
Because John Scofield is a jazz guitarist, this album risks getting passed over by fans of New Orleans funk (the Meters' George Porter plays bass), crossover blues-rock (Ricky Fataar and Jon Cleary, both of Bonnie Raitt's band, play drums and sing, respectively), traditional gospel (the genre to which most of these 13 songs belong), and Hank Williams, whose "The Angel of Death," slowed down and stretched out to seven genre-defying minutes of late-night dread, could put the fear of God into all but the most recalcitrant hearts.
Subtitled Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein, this album is almost certainly the most nimble acoustic-guitar jazz tribute to the music of a klezmer clarinetist ever. Shown on the cover, Naftule Brandwein, who passed away in 1963, and his once very popular music have been undergoing a renaissance among performers and fans alike. By "rethink[ing]" Brandwein in a "flamenco key" and enlisting the help of an equally nimble bassist (Greg Cohen) and percussionist (Cyro Baptista), Sparks has practically come up with a new and uniquely enjoyable genre altogether.
By the time Keith Jarrett began dazzling jazz audiences with his completely improvised solo-piano concerts in the early 1970s, he'd already studied classical music, accompanied Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians, taught himself drums and saxophone, and performed with Art Blakey and Miles Davis. In short, he'd learned enough musical languages for his fingers to speak fluently both in tongues and in his own ever-evolving musical Esperanto.
Testament: Paris/London (ECM) contains two 2008 solo-piano concerts, the first (Paris) clocking in at 69 minutes, the second (London) at 93. And, as is usually the case, if you didn't know Jarrett was making every piece up as he went along, you'd never guess. The tension between his left hand's repetitive rhythms and his right hand's melodic virtuosity still provides the suspense, a suspense made all the more gripping because it holds within its grip its own creator. And most of what results is as impressive as the occasional slow, simple changes of pace are lovely.