Roswell Rudd, Trombone For Lovers (Sunnyside)
The legendary trombonist has always adored gutbucket r&b and the Bristol Stomp like the self-respecting avant-gardist he is, and don’t overlook his tenure with Alan Lomax in the global jukebox field, a far more important association than his admittedly awesome one-off gig with Sonic Youth. But Rudd’s reputation will always be defined by his sessions with the New York Art Quartet, the many times he blew alongside Shepp and Lacey, his ensemble work with such giants old and new as Carla Bley and Allen Lowe. So consider this a great experimentalist’s populist opportunity to lovingly prance all over the Great American Songbook, defined liberally enough to include not only Duke Ellington but Santo & Johnny, Booker T. Jones and “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” plus Lennon/McCartney via Bob Dorough wiggling through “Here, There And Everywhere” like it was some lecherous Hoagy Carmichael obscurity. Cemented by the drum/bass duties of Aaron Comess and Richard Hammonds, Rudd bows to former Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas, re-imagines holiday chestnut “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as molasses-slow gospel blues, and reminds us via gypsy-jazz fiddle that “Autumn Leaves” first saw life as “Les feuilles mortes”. A concluding multi-part “Joe Hill” featuring The NYC Labor Chorus proves a bit more wobbly than most will prefer. But only reactionaries would argue that Rudd’s political head and heart weren’t in the right place.
Sun Ra and His Band From Outer Space, Space Aura EP (Art Yard Records)
Herman Blount’s discography is deep enough that even bleary-eyed disciples can start worrying aloud about how many excavations from the vaults they need acquire. But this vault excavation is something special - a brief excerpt from a 1966 concert recording from the University of Buffalo, offering pristine, studio-worthy sound quality from the Slug’s Saloon / “Strange Strings” era of one of the finest jazz ensembles to ever stalk the land. John Gilmore as always plays Paul Gonsalves to Ra’s Duke, the great Ronnie Boykins digs into a bass solo worth every second, and Marshall Allen supplies majestic oboe. Usual suspects Clifford Jarvis and Teddy Nance do their thing. And the leader opens with solo piano only to shuffle over to the horror-porn croak of his beloved clavioline. Plus, you get this great chant, offered collectively to the bemused audience moments before the hard-swinging freebop of the title track takes off: “Sun Ra! And his band! From outer space! Will entertain you now!” The whole thing is over in less than twenty minutes. You’ll wish there was ever so much more.
Rokia Traoré, Beautiful Africa (Nonesuch)
I get why some have anointed this offering the Malian songwriter’s “rock” album - recorded in the UK, Scottish drummer, Italian guitarist, producer did some time with PJ Harvey. But Traoré’s tangled with the non-traditional since she first double-tracked her vocals alongside ngoni and balafon on her 1998 debut, she’s been plugged into an electric Gretsch for years, and her vocals have always favored a Western-pleasing mellifluous timbre rather than the piercing cry of the griot. And despite a few crunchy grooves (“Tuit Tuit”) and grungy moments (“Kouma”), this is West African to the core, from the lovely “Ka Moun Kè” to the slow and steady pace of “N’Téri”. And it’s also fairly dull, right down to the vagaries of the wah-wah-graced title track, which summarizes an entire continent’s worth of women via such homilies as “every day / they face their destiny”. Even inside worldbeat circles, those sorts of things tend to get called out as banalities.