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All That Jazz

CD roundup with releases from Bill, Billie and more


Bill Frisell
The Willies

Each new release by Frisell transcends expectations, frequently in mysterious and engaging ways that make the label "jazz guitarist" tough to attach to this fretboard genius. On The Willies Frisell fronts a trio with Danny Barnes on banjo and bassist Keith Lowe, and the disc dances between bluegrass/folk influences and Frisell's ever-wily and always intriguing guitar playing. It's a richly layered ensemble work where group dynamics are more important than solos, and serves as another example of Frisell's constantly widening vision of American music, a place where jazz, rock, folk, and the whole "roots" shebang are reflected and recast into something new and original.

Steve Tibbetts
A Man About A Horse

Like Frisell, Minnesota guitarist Tibbetts has his own unique take on jazz guitar. He fronts a quartet that features tabla, assorted drums and percussion, and bass. The tabla adds an Indian flair, and Tibbetts creates layers of guitars to form a richly textured sound. His playing ranges from densely packed, effects drenched chords to quietly picked melodic lines, with synth-like effects adding sounds that range from Eno-like ambient atmospherics to an edginess that evokes Robert Fripp. The whole package is well conceived and played, and constitutes an exotic sonic journey that brings in the best of ambient music and improvisational jazz.

Joe Zawinul
Columbia Legacy

Faces & Places
ESC Records

Austrian born composer/keyboardist Joe Zawinul has led a colorful musical life since the demise of Weather Report, the band he co-founded with saxophonist Wayne Shorter. As he frequently demonstrated with Weather Report, Zawinul has a passion for all kinds of World Music, and these two recordings reflect that interest. Dialects, originally released in 1986, features Zawinul as a one-man, multi-tracked band who draws heavily on African and Brazilian styles. Featuring lots of synthesized grooves and supporting vocals from Bobby McFerrin and others, Dialects is a brightly rhythmic disc that evokes Weather Report standards like "Nubian Sundance." Faces & Places is Zawinul's latest release, and thickens the musical melting pot with an international band of musicians and vocalists hailing from six continents. The music finds inspiration in Indian spirituality, American gospel music, Tunisian cafes, Austrian rooftops, Zawinul's former employer Cannonball Adderley, and the tango. At age 70, Zawinul has not lost his touch at creating diverse and satisfying music.

Billie Holiday & Lester Young
A Musical Romance
Columbia Legacy

The most widely-celebrated vocal/instrumental pairing in jazz, Billie Holiday and Lester Young earned their laurels with an elegant, understated approach to what were largely popular and show tunes, transforming them into jazz classics. Holiday's laconic phrasing and Young's succinct tenor sax solos merged as one, distilling jazz's blues essence unlike any music before or since. Culling material from Columbia's meticulously remastered box set Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia (1933-1944), this collection is essential for any jazz collection.

Frank Kimbrough & Joe Locke
The Willow

Pianist Kimbrough and vibraphonist Locke's 1999 duet Saturn's Child is one of the loveliest jazz recordings of the last few years. A beautiful and reflective disc, it managed to pair a soft serenity with inspired improvisational interplay, inviting comparisons to Chick Corea and Gary Burton's ECM recording Crystal Silence. Locke and Kimbrough's follow-up, The Willow, continues in the same tradition, and is equally reflective and instrumentally refreshing. The pair adds sax and percussion to a few tunes, but the real draw is the melodic framework and improvisational balance that these two seem to work in with little effort.

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