Novices usually come to jazz via geniuses or crossovers. Geniuses
are great, of course, and if crossovers help you get to the other
side, more power to them. But less extreme paths are available, and
there's never been a better introduction to the vast middle ground
between the feverishly virtuosic and the slavishly corny than Roots
of Jazz Funk: Volume One (MVP). After the bebop revolution of
the Forties and before the New Thing uprising of the late Sixties,
bebop's solider and more accessible hard bop or soul jazz offshoot
produced a rich small-group scene dominated by Art Blakey, Horace
Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard. Each
is represented here by a justly renowned tune, as are geniuses John
Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Charles Mingus and crossover kings
Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, and Jimmy Smith. Collectors own a
lot of this stuff. Novices could have their lives changed.
Like the blues, punk is a template that helps unschooled talents shape their feelings and ideas. No one's done more with it recently than Corin Tucker, first with the duo Heavens to Betsy and now with the trio Sleater-Kinney. On their third CD, Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars), the young leader's enormous voice, powered by riffs that seem unstoppable even though they're not very fast and undercut by Carrie Brownstein's equally passionate high harmonies, makes Tucker's struggles with identity and the world outside seem new and meaningful--which they are, for her and for every human being who becomes an adult.
My vote for catchiest young pros yet to pretend they're "alternative": Fountains of Wayne, who on their self-titled Atlantic/Tag Recordings debut sing the kind of words every shy guy who didn't get the girl thinks of after she's left with someone else.
Playboy, Feb. 1997