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Fourth-quarter earnings

Haden, Hunter, Rollins, Mela, Bley, and e.s.t.
By JON GARELICK  |  December 17, 2008

CLAVE! Francisco Mela’s previous CD was one of the best of 2006, and his latest is a frontrunner for 2008.

WFNX Jazz Brunch Top 5
1. Lake Street Dive, Promises, Promises [Fyo]
2. Wave Mechanics Union, Second Season [HX Music]
3. Gilfema, Gilfema + 2 [Obliqsound]
4. Danilo Pérez/Claus Ogerman, Across the Crystal Sea [Emarcy]
5. Buena Vista Social Club, Live at Carnegie Hall [World Circuit]
Times a-wastin' on 2008, so before it's too late, here's a handful of discs that have caught my ear over the past few months.

CHARLIE HADEN: FAMILY AND FRIENDS | RAMBLING BOY | Decca | Reading the jacket copy, you couldn't be blamed for thinking that jazz great Haden — born into country music as a member of the Haden Family and performing with them on the radio at the age of two — got bamboozled by a bunch of major-label suits and buried alive in guest stars for a gussied-up O Brother, Where Art Thou? But damned if this album doesn't carry through from beginning to end, honest and unsullied. Haden stays true to the music he heard in the Ozarks and performed professionally through his teens before running off to LA and reinventing jazz with Ornette Coleman. From the easy three-part-harmony swing of Haden's daughters on A.P. Carter's "Single Girl, Married Girl" — with its huffing harp and its tossed-off parable about single versus married life — through son Josh's "Spiritual," Haden & Pat Metheny's "He's Gone Away," and the darn-fool ditty "Old Joe Clark," this is an album that hews close to country-music truths about life, love, and death. Bluegrass and the church are always here, even when Haden breaks down for a duet with fellow Missourian Metheny. Dyed-in-the-wool country virtuosos like Vince Gill, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, and Rosanne Cash provide ballast, but everyone here is with the program — it took me a couple of spins before I noticed that was Elvis Costello singing "You Win Again" and Jack Black singing about Old Joe Cook shootin' him through the arm with a .45.

CHARLIE HUNTER | BABOON STRENGTH | Spire Artist Media | Hunter has both lightened and weighted his attack since he emerged in the early '90s with his eight-string guitar, playing simultaneous bass and lead and conjuring a curious organ timbre as a shadow to his smooth grooves. These days he's back to seven-string, and favoring hard-blues licks and a heavy backbeat from his drummer, Tony Moss. That's okay. At a Bennett Alliance show at the Cambridge YMCA on December 7, he showed off the trio from this CD — lean and mean — with Moss and keyboardist Erik Deutsch. Hunter has no problem straddling the line between jazz and instrumental pop. In fact, his love of the well-crafted pop song has never been more apparent — the new disc includes a slow-groove tribute to Squeeze pop-rock songwriters Difford and Tilbrook as well as the straight-up "Heart of Glass" Eurodisco "Welcome to Frankfurt." Live and on disc, what impresses is the tightness of the band but also Hunter's playing — his deployment of wah-wah, distortion, and clean blues bite makes for deathless phrasing, downbeat oomph. By focusing his approach, he's opened new worlds.

SONNY ROLLINS | ROAD SHOWS VOL. 1 | Doxy/Emarcy | For years the rap on Rollins has been that he shows his best stuff not in the studio but on the concert stage, and even there inconsistently, revving himself up, trying to find something he's never played before, hammering riffs to make them yield gold. Here the problem is solved: working with Rollins fan Carl Smith's collection of tapes and his own soundboard recordings, Clifton Anderson (Sonny's nephew and trombonist) culled live performances from 1980 to 2007 and then submitted them to the saxophonist's exacting standards. The result is one of the best live Rollins albums, and therefore one of the best albums in his career. The pieces are sequenced for pacing rather than chronology, so part of the fun is in jumping from the up-tempo original "Best Wishes" to the medium-tempo ballad standard "More Than You Know" with no diminution in energy or imagination — and then realizing that they were recorded 20 years apart. His tone throughout is generally big and wet, and on pieces like the Afro-Latin "Blossom" you can hear how his fierce rhythmic articulation is inseparable from his melodic invention. More reflective on "Some Enchanted Evening," from a 2007 Carnegie Hall show, Sonny takes a few moments to comp quietly along with Christian McBride's bass solo, as if from across a crowded room.

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  Topics: Music Features , Carla Bley , Carla Bley , Charlie Haden ,  More more >
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