JAZZ2K: CD Picks of the Month

Reviews by J Hunter

Okay, the holidays are over, so it’s time to get back on the horse. “Jazz2K: The Radio Show” returns to the airwaves & computer streaming on 91.1 WSPN from 6-9pm tonight (Tuesday, January 7), and here are five pieces of goodness you’re going to hear as we wind our way through the first weeks of 2014:

John ScofieldJOHN SCOFIELD
Uberjam Deux (Decca/emArcy)
Forget the rules about sequels that we got from “Scream II”: The real first rule about sequels is that they usually suck – lookin’ at you, “Die Hard (insert Roman numeral here).” Happily, Scofield follows the lead of “Aliens” and “The Two Towers,” making this sequel to the guitarist’s 2002 Verve release Uberjam both a logical extension from the original and a kickass good time! True, Scofield’s never really been away from this style, what with his presence on the Jam Band festival scene and his brilliant collaborations with Medeski Martin & Wood. Even so, having crunchy morsels like “Boogie Stupid” and “Al Green Song” definitely warms things up on a really cold day.

Archie Shepp & The Attica Blues Orchestra: I Hear The SoundARCHIE SHEPP & THE ATTICA BLUES ORCHESTRA
I Hear the Sound (Archieball)
This isn’t a sequel as much as it is a visit to hallowed, blood-soaked ground Shepp dug out in 1972. The saxman’s original Attica Blues was both a searing indictment of the prison system’s inherent brutality and a celebration of the rebellion launched by inmates who’d finally reached their boiling point. Although Shepp revived his opus with a full orchestra (complete with Cecile McLorin Savant on background vocals), the power of Shepp’s compositions still shines through on this live date. Ambrose Akinmusire’s laser-guided trumpet solo on “The Cry Of My People” aims right for the heart, and the pain is as strong as the swing in “Goodbye Sweet Pops.”

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The Pedrito Martinez GroupTHE PEDRITO MARTINEZ GROUP
The Pedrito Martinez Group (Motema)
For those of us who’ve been clutching the Martinez Group’s galvanizing homemade disc Live at Guantanamera to our breasts, I implore my fellow PMG fanatics: Check this out! Trust me, it will grow on you! The Group’s eponymous big-label debut may not have Guantanamera’s rampant spark, but it amply showcases PMG’s outstanding range. The harmonies are sharp as a tack, and the studio reveals the immeasurable depth of Ariacne Trujillo’s piano skills. The band leaves a real mark on Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” and the Jackson 5 classic “I’ll Be There,” and cameos by Wynton Marsalis and John Scofield open the band’s sound even wider.

Ben Allison: The Stars Look Very Different TodayBEN ALLISON
The Stars Look Very Different Today (Sonic Camera)
Although the title comes from the ’70s hit “Space Oddity,” the World’s Most Dangerous Bassist has not come up with his own David Bowie tribute. Instead, Allison explores his interests in space travel, film & technology with most of the band that won hearts & blew minds at the College of St. Rose’s Massry Center in 2012. As with that show, the X Factor here is mad string theorist Brandon Seabrook, whose extraterrestrial banjo is also featured on Mostly Other People Do The Killing’s ragtime send-up Red Hot. Pairing Seabrook with longtime Allison guitarist Steve Cardenas is like mixing nitric acid with glycerin, and whip-smart drummer Allison Miller uses every accent in the book to make everything she touches just a little bit better.

Myra Melford: Life Carries Me This WayMYRA MELFORD
Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12)
The problem with solo-piano dates is that Keith Jarrett set the bar way high nearly 40 years ago: If you’re not doing something outside the box, you’re wasting your time and the engineer’s. Fortunately, avant-garde mainstay Myra Melford never got in the box, let alone tried to find a way out of it. Inspired by the work of artist Don Reich, Life Carries Me This Way displays Melford’s stellar talent for painting startling, vivid pictures: “Attic” makes its way through the chaotic remnants of a long life; “Moonless Night” sheds light on a dark time in its protagonist’s soul; and “Red Beach” is a mournful visit to someplace where fun was had so long ago.

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