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JEFF HOLMES QUARTET/Of One's Own: So when a guy you've never heard of who's pushing 60 comes at you out of nowhere with a record that grabs you within the first 16 bars, you have to wonder if it's too good to be true. Then you read the hype sheet with praise from Paul Winter, Arturo O'Farrill and Ernie Watts among others, and he's played with a lot of others, and a picture starts to emerge. The kind of set that wouldn't have been on an indie in earlier times, this is some of the most first rate piano jazz you are going to come across. Loaded with playing for the sheer joy of it, Holmes and his pals play with that abandon that comes with feeling like they would do this for free because they have to (even though people would pay them). Sprightly and delightful throughout, this is purely music for enjoyment that adds color where there is none or brighten colors already there. A winner throughout.

ROBERT SOKO/BalkanBeats Soundlab: A mischievous post Commie electronica dj has a simple method to know if something works or not. Do the ladies get up and dance in automaton fashion? That's all that matters as he mixmasters everything he can think of to get things to work. Obviously loaded with Balkan ethnicity at the core, major urban areas have become such melting pots that this set could serve as the screening process to get you that Russian bride you were looking for. At least it's something other than oontz oontz music.

ANDY HUNTER/Think Like a Mountain: The trombone jazzbo came from Michigan, conquered New York and is now off to play with WDR Big Band. With such a mobile resume, that might explain why you never heard of him if you don't read liner notes or aren't a New York hipster. A well decorated player, here we find him in solo mode, leading and stretching his wings with only himself as a restraint. A very creative work with a pushing edge that wants to cut without letting blood, this is where ECM would have wound up if it embraced fusion in a big way. Certainly cerebral, it takes effort but it isn't work to listen to. You don't even have to wear black clothes to get it. This cat has a lot to offer and a lot on the ball.

JULIAN BLISS SEPTET/A Tribute to Benny Goodman: The jazz police of my younger days said Benny Goodman sucked. And that was that. There's so much to listen to that you can't process it all, and when your tastes aren't fully formed yet, you can be swayed by the (genre) police. But, still, who didn't like stuff like "Stompin' at the Savoy", "Avalon" and all the rest. A lot of it might have been too corny or dated for the times, but legends are legends, right? Sometimes it takes another generation to pass to get the point across. Bliss is a member of the new breed that was smitten by Goodman and has crafted a loving tribute that's both respectful and organic. Falling under Goodman's spell as a kid, this clarinet man will be taking center stage by storm in due course even without this set as a springboard. Delightfully classic jazzbo tooting by a cat who loves his work, this is just a wonderful record from any angle no matter where you jump in. This is a sterling example of how to make the past come alive. Well done.

AL BASILE/At Home Next Door: You have to call things something. This twofer is divided into a set that looks at Basile's back pages and a set that finds him bopping it Memphis style, his way. A 40 year pal and running mate of Duke Robillard, even when their lives took different paths, they always came back to meet in the middle when it was time for Basile to record. A white boy that finds blues as a feeling, white boys will get this when their Otis Day moments pass. With a divergent enough life that he didn't have to rely on music for a living, Basile comes in with an at ease feeling that gives him the comfort zone to never come across as a jive ass. A hard core must for the perennial frat boy that never paid the black tax but always dug the music and the vibe. Check it out.

WILL SCRUGGS JAZZ FELLOWSHIP/Song of Simeon-A Christmas Journey: And here's the other side of an Atlanta first call sax cat that has recorded with Cee-Lo, Wood Brothers, Jermaine Dupri and Dallas Austin. A very different kind of Christmas record that finds him showcasing an original work based on scripture rather than fantasy and merchandising. Leading a crew that tackles this as a serious jazz cantata, it's a cinematic musical look at the lead up to the birth of Christ. Anyone can obviously throw down a bunch of music and say that but one listen lets you know Scruggs really feels it. There's some familiar stuff abounding, but there's no Mel Torme around, even as a bonus track. Seriously, and now for something completely different.... Check it out for a new holiday kick.

FRANK ZAPPA/You Are What You Is: An early 80s entry on the Zappa canon, this was FZ taking his 60s spirit and applying it to the new normal (yep, we were in a ball buster recession then, too ya young whippersnappers). Even coming off a run of late 70s re-energized sets, Zappa was skewering everything in sight that needed deflating. Some call it his best record in years. He certainly was going through a period of reinvention and liberation and the appreciation of the freedom shows. If you're the kind of cat that threw in with Zappa for the long haul, this can rest nicely next to the original Mothers, the Flo & Eddie Mothers, et al. FZ turns down the musical flash with no quality diminution and a good time is had by all. No matter the period, this is one of the FZ essentials.

FRANK ZAPPA/Tinseltown Rebellion: Originally a mostly double live album from Zappa's fertile early 80s run, there's a nice mix of new and old and a killer band of players well on their way to being hitters in their own right, like one of Miles' bands on the way up and out. One of Zappa's caustic albums in a less playfully caustic mode, he was reflecting the era of tight money , AIDS (when it was still called GRID) and other things that pretty much ended life as we knew it. The road blocks didn't stop him or even slow him down. Absorbing prog, punk and world beat into his sonic attack, the world might not have known what it wanted but Zappa was enthusiastically clearing his own path. Don't believe the naysayers that say this album is lacking. Whether it's perfect or not is a matter of opinion but if you pass it by---it's your loss. Check it out.

Volume 35/Number 359
October 14, 2012
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record

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