So, Jazz, the much-ballyhooed PBS documentary series by Ken Burns chronicling America's premiere art form, has, happily, sent sales of the music skyrocketing. The buzz about jazz and interest in pioneers such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington is strong, as strong as some of the criticism of the series.
Some jazz aficionados are concerned that Burns focused mainly on the genre's more mainstream musicians and artists from the past, and on too few of the music's mavericks or contemporary talents.
Granted, jazz is a huge art form with a rich, wonderful, complicated history. Wouldn't it be daunting for anyone to try to put it into 10 easy-to-understand segments? Credit Burns for trying.
But, one thing's for sure: Jazz music should not be relegated to museums and documentaries. Many artists today are making passionate, exciting, innovative music. Yes, jazz in the year 2001 is very much alive.
_ GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic
IRVIN MAYFIELD, HOW PASSION FALLS (BASIN STREET RECORDS) So you made it through that exhaustive PBS documentary and you're wondering, has New Orleans done much with the music it invented since Louis Armstrong left town?
Why yes, as a matter of fact, and this album by young trumpeter Irvin Mayfield is a good place to explore modern jazz, Crescent City style.
Mayfield, leader of the Latin-inspired collective Los Hombres Calientes, has pulled together a solid outfit of New Orleans modern jazzers to showcase his talent as a composer of clean, simple grooves.
Miles Davis showed how inspiring simplicity can be. But Mayfield, who also seems to be emulating Davis' penchant for glamor (bling, he calls it), has constructed these melodies within a much more complex context: How Passion Falls explores the beginning, middle and end of love.
You can take it that way if you like, or you can just sit back and enjoy one of the most promising (at 23 years of age) jazz trumpeters around.
This is Mayfield's second album for the tiny Basin Street Records label, and it is a more satisfying accomplishment than the first. A New Orleans native, Mayfield has absorbed the rich stew of sounds he has grown up with _ blues, gospel, bebop, Afro-Cuban, swing.
Ellis Marsalis returns for another duet with Mayfield, a deep meditative piece. Ellis' son Delfeyo, who produced the album, works a little trombone magic on a couple of pieces, while New Orleans alto sax whiz Donald Harrison Jr. joins in on David & Bathsheba. Bill Summers, the Headhunters percussionist and a member of Los Hombres Calientes, adds a Cuban flavor to Adam & Eve. Grade: B+
_ TOM SCHERBERGER, Times staff writer
MARK ELF, SWINGIN' (JEN BAY JAZZ) Mark Elf over the years has demonstrated the talent and ingenuity necessary to succeed as an indie artist. His last five CDs, released on his own Jen Bay Jazz label, have hit No.
1 on the Gavin jazz-airplay chart, no mean feat in a recording landscape dominated by conglomerate-owned labels with fat advertising budgets and much deeper pockets.
Swingin', the guitarist's ninth album, may well take a similar route to the top. It's yet another fine showcase for his bebop-bred chops, this time heard over the pliable rhythm section support of bassist Robert Hurst (Tonight Show orchestra; Wynton and Branford Marsalis) and drummer Winard Harper (the Harper Brothers, Betty Carter, Jimmy Heath). The three, from the subdued opener, Jerome Kern's I Won't Dance to Elf's gentle ballad Middle of the Night, demonstrate a particularly intimate, personal brand of small-group jazz.
John Coltrane's Lazy Bird may be the pick hit here: Elf swings, relaxed but ripping on a piece that's too often played with a manic edge, and Harper is a fountain of invention during the trading-eights section. Hurst gets some well-taken solo space on Elf's bluesy Gambinie's Bambinies, its melody spiced with a reference to Take the A Train.
The trio becomes a quartet, with the addition of pianist Aaron Goldberg (Joshua Redman), on the heady Blowins' For the Cohen's and the scrambling, minor-to-major HOV Lane. And the leader closes the long, satisfying set with two pleasing solo pieces, both chestnuts: He walks a bass line under the melody and improvisation of Manhattan and goes for something slower and more lush on It Might As Well Be Spring. Overall, it's nice work from a guy who probably wouldn't argue with this title: Call Elf the hardest-working guitarist in jazz business. Grade B+
_ PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondent
SONNY ROLLINS, THIS IS WHAT I DO (MILESTONE) Sonny Rollins, best known for the breakthrough Saxophone Colossus (1956), is now 70 and still one to watch. Rollins' robust tone makes the beautifully titled This Is What I Do sound irresistibly bright. It's a happy record, finding Rollins playful and warm. Even when he dips into kitsch, on calypso grooves and sentimental favorites, Rollins knows how to redeem it with his powerful blast. Did You See Harold Vick? is signature Rollins, filled with improvisation, gorgeous, loopy, tangles of sax. Also delicious: Rollin's self-penned homage to Mingus, Charlie M., a stellar cut, simple, elegant. Grade: A.
JAFAR BARRON, THE FREE-BOP MOVEMENT (Q) Jafar Barron is an exciting young trumpet player from Philadelphia. Some tout him as the 21st century bridge between the hip-hop and jazz worlds. But don't let that scare you. On The Free-Bop Movement, Barron, 28, fuses 1970s soul and R&B with spoken word and beautiful, bouncy bop. The mix is delightful, not perfect, but always engaging. A daring, whimsical player, Barron oozes youthful vitality. (He also sports long dreads, wears funky clothes and appears on albums by popular R&B singers Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.) Barron also has friends in the right places: that's brother Faris Barron, of Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, on Fender Rhodes piano. Grade: B+.