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CD reviews: Jazz that rocks

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times
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Following are reviews of recent CDs that blur the lines between jazz and rock.Marco Benevento, Invisible Baby produced by Benevento (Hyena)Marco Benevento established himself as keyboardist of the streamlined New York City rock outfit, the Benevento/Russo Duo. Last year, Benevento expanded his reach greatly with Live at Tonic, which was expansive in duration (three CDs), instrumentation (he played piano, organ, Glockenspiel and Wurlitzer), and material (including Pink Floyd, Thelonious Monk, and James Bond movie music.)Invisible Baby, the 30-year-olds solo studio debut, further blurs lines between genres. There are electronica sounds, rock beats, and Benevento once again is all over the place in his sonic range (Mellotron, and circuit bent toys, whatever that might mean). But the all-original material (save for the quote of Mott the Hooples All the Way to Memphis that opens You Must Be a Lion) reveals serious composing skills. Plus, Benevento with bassist Reed Mathis, of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, which works in a similar fusion vein, and drummer Matt Chamberlain is working out of an improvisatory foundation.Reverend Organdrum, Reverend Organdrum (Yep Roc)Its one thing for an avant-rock New York keyboardist to move toward jazz; thats barely even a step away. But for a Texas guitarist who plays retro-rockabilly?Actually, the way Jim Heath best known as the Rev. Horton Heat does it here, 50s-style rockabilly and jazz dont seem all that distant from one another. It helps that the particular jazz niche favored by Heath groove-style organ also has roots in the 50s, and is known for playfulness and soul, rather than brainy precision. Heaths co-star is organist Tim Alexander. (The combo is rounded out by drummer Todd Soesbe.) The trio tears into tunes that lean toward soul (the Rascals Groovin and Booker T & the MGs Cant Be Still), but also Duke Ellingtons C Jam Blues, which they burn through. The Reverend even tries crooning, with a rough but decent take on the standard Aint That a Kick in the Head. For fun, they also toss in some bits of New Orleans and movie and TV themes. Cyrus Chestnut, Cyrus Plays Elvis produced by Chesnut (Koch)No, there werent any jazz notes in what Elvis Presley sang. Still, the King, notes pianist Cyrus Chestnut, was influenced greatly by country and gospel in helping to invent rock n roll. And Chestnut, a jazz man through and through, honors Presley in that spirit here the idea that you can take one thing and make something else of it. Chestnut sticks to jazz here, playing piano and Fender Rhodes keyboard in a bass-drums-keys combo (with saxophonist Mark Gross on two tracks). But the material they begin with is signature Presley Dont Be Cruel, Heartbreak Hotel, Love Me Tender before Chestnut and his mates start messing with tempos and harmonies. Chestnut adds the original Graceland, which runs through several Presley riffs. The CD ends with a solo piano version of How Great Thou Art, an indication that what most unites Presley and Chestnut is their love for gospel.Bruford Borstlap, In Two Minds produced by Bill Bruford (Summerfold)So what is drummer Bill Bruford late of Yes and King Crimson doing now that prog-rock has faded away? Mostly playing various types of prog-jazz, in many different settings. For parts of 2006 and 2007, he played European festivals with Dutch keyboardist Michiel Borstlap, the two creating the tunes on the spot (save for the album-closing All Blues, which Miles Davis had already made up). The result is music that is not only cohesive, but can also be surprisingly dense, structured, swinging and versatile. Theres something to be said for a lack of preparation.Stanley Clarke, The Toys of Men produced by Clarke (Heads Up)Bassist Stanley Clarke, known best from the seminal 70s fusion group Return to Forever, takes aim at the folly of war here by focusing on the toys men have used to maim one another. The Toys of Men, then, can almost seem like a bad joke, as Clarke and his fusion crew use their own toys synthesizers, overheated bass thumping to create an assault that is more technique than taste. Every time they crank down the complexity as on the tender All Over Again, with vocals by Esperanza Spalding it invariably gets better. But Clarke cant seem to lay off the showiness for long.Still, it must be said: infinitely better to go over the top with music than with bombs.The Bad Plus, Prog produced by the Bad Plus and Tony Platt (Heads Up)The current poster boys of jazz-rock are the members of this New York trio: bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King. The group has taken some hits from the more staid corners of the jazz world for they way they occasionally thrash their instruments; presumably John Coltrane heard worse when he was coming up. But there really is no way to argue with the collective technique, energy or ideas of The Bad Plus. Here, they do their customary thing of reinterpreting a wide range of well-selected, previously untapped material instrumental versions of David Bowies Life on Mars, Rushs Tom Sawyer to go with the original compositions. The version of Tears for Fears Everybody Wants to Rule the World that opens Prog amply demonstrates that The Bad Plus have more up their sleeves than just being aggressive; the take is dynamic, introspective and beautiful.stewart@aspentimes.com

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