Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Jazz classics live on in reissues and vault finds; classicists live till they die. Proof is the late Budd Johnson's swinging tenor-alto swan song with Phil Woods, The Old Dude and the Fundance Kid (Uptown). Or the way recently emerged over-50 altoist Frank Morgan turns Buffy Sainte-Marie and Wayne Shorter into bebop on Lament (Contemporary).

Chief among the younger players who eschew expressionistic excess in favor of technical command and respect for history is Wynton Marsalis. Although his immaculately stylish grooming sums up his aesthetic, his J Mood (Columbia) isn't as staid as you might think, holding subtle pleasures to spare for those with time to spare. It's more enjoyable in the long run than, for instance, his brother Branford's engaging Royal Garden Blues, or even Chico Freeman's generously conceived Pied Piper (Blackhawk).

But for real history, I prefer to range from New Orleans polyphony to new-thing noisemaking. Maybe the all-star Leaders, whose Mudfoot (Blackhawk) provides the kind of fun the Art Ensemble of Chicago never delivers. Or exiled South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who buts Ellingtonian wisdom in the service of cultural autonomy on Water from an Ancient Well (Blackhawk). Or, best of all, the quartet headed by keyboard virtuoso Don Pullen and blues-rooted sax man George Adams. The solid tunes, breakneck swing and astonishing improvisations of Live at the Village Vangaurd, Volume 2 (Soul Note) and Breakthrough (Blue Note) exemplify jazz's hottest working band--abrasive enough to make you like it.

Playboy, Feb. 1987


Jan. 1987 Mar. 1987