Jazz albums round-up

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The Independent Culture

There have been many attempts to marry British jazz with elements of traditional folk music (if British folk music is indeed traditional, and not just made up in the 1950s, as it sometimes seems), but with varying degrees of success. Although the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek has become the exemplar of this kind of approach, adapting his keening, late-Coltrane wails to runic tunes that summon up the ancient past (that is, pre-1950), his methods have not always worked here, probably because they're so inimitably his own. Maybe there's also something just too forcedly jolly about English jigs and reels, and too unregenerately glum about those lugubrious, finger-in-the-ear, laments.

But if it has worked anywhere, it has worked in Scotland, where the drummer John Rae's band, Celtic Feet, has been doing something similar since the 1980s. Rae is also the drummer on Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele's The Journey Home (Caber, *****), which may well be the best amalgam of bop and folk yet. A follow-up to last year's acclaimed Twilight Dreams, The Journey Home is a deeper and richer album. The accomplished members of the quintet are always in the service of a tight ensemble style, although the remarkable English saxophonist Julian Arguelles can't help but stand out, evoking misty Celtic vistas as if to the manner born. Steele writes all of the nine tunes on the album, and if there's thankfully nothing too obviously redolent of shortbread-tin tartanry, there's an ever-present springing rhythm, and the influence of gentle Scots airs leads to some wonderfully dreamy ballads.

An album by the Art Ensemble of Chicago without the trumpeter Lester Bowie, who died in 1999, might be an album too far, even if it is dedicated to him. Tribute to Lester (ECM, *****) is amiable enough - and you can't say that about all the revolutionary group's releases - but it sometimes seems chronically lazy and underpowered. There are some nice touches here and there, and Roscoe Mitchell does a powerful spell of circular breathing, but for a band who have more than milked their audience over the years, the absence of their most compelling and charismatic voice feels terminal.

The intensity that Tribute to Lester lacks can be found on the track "The Happy People' by Cannonball Adderley, collected on the otherwise merely serviceable compilation Carnival (Blue Note, *****). It's an edited version of a longer track from a live club-date and features Cannon's Brazilian band with Airto and Flora. The leader's solo is one of the greatest moments in all jazz, as is a steaming keyboard and bass vamp by George Duke (when he was good) and Walter Booker. Now that's what I call folk music.