Pop: Jazz Round-UP

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THE NEW album by Michel Petrucciani, Steve Gadd and Anthony Jackson, Trio In Tokyo (Dreyfus), is something quite special. As part of The Independent's review of 1998, I picked out a Brecon Jazz Festival concert by this trio as the highlight of the year. The performance was so inspired that people left the gig shaking their heads in disbelief. Petrucciani didn't just make the piano talk, he seemed to invent several completely new languages for it. It was as if the genius of recalcitrant individualists like Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson had at last been integrated into a trio format where the accompanists were near-equals rather than stooges.

A few days after the piece appeared, Petrucciani died.

The new album was recorded live at the Blue Note club in Tokyo in November 1997, and if Petrucciani doesn't quite let himself go as he did at Brecon, he's so hot that it doesn't really matter. The storming "Cantabile" shows off the same, endlessly repeated, blues figure that so astonished the audience in Wales and overall it's a more democratic display of the trio's gifts. A sustained Latin vamp on the third track, "Home', builds to the point where Petrucciani's right hand begins to demonstrate the impossible.

The finale, "So What" (the only non-original), starts out as a rather academic exercise before Petrucciani fastens on a modal riff and proceeds to push it up the keyboard as far as it can go. At the end, all you can say is: "Wow!" After that, everything else sounds a bit insipid, but Sequel by the Yuri Honing Trio (Jazz In Motion Records) at least has bare-faced cheek to commend it. The Dutch saxophonist's trio has made a name for itself by doing jazz versions of pop songs normally considered to be beyond the pale. This time round, the victims include Blondie's "Denis", Diana Ross's "Do You Know Where You're Going To?", Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly", The Police's "Message in a Bottle" and - best of all - "Nothing Rhymes" by Gilbert O'Sullivan.

The treatment is typically Dutch: part po-faced homage, part surrealist piss-take, but Honing, on tenor sax, plays with great elan, and bassist Tony Overwater's solo version of "Killing Me Softly" is a delight.

The charms of two other albums have taken a while to permeate. Dark Grooves, Mystical Rhythms (Blue Note), by the young American pianist James Hurt is rather puzzling initially, but a real grower.

The cosmic cover and astrologically inclined titles conceal a rootsy set of grooves that reference Sun Ra, Randy Weston and Cecil Taylor, yet still sound funky enough for the disc jockey Gilles Peterson to play them. And if you've despaired of ever again hearing a decent contemporary jazz vocal album without Cassandra Wilson's name on it, take heart in Modern Cool by Patricia Barber (Blue Note), which was released originally on the US independent label, Premonition.

Barber not only sings and plays piano very effectively, she also writes witty, literate, lyrics and has the good taste to employ trumpeter Dave Douglas in her band. As if that wasn't enough, her cover version of the Doors' "Light My Fire" is so good that it could be a hit, if jazz was ever played on the radio.

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