Pop/Jazz: Jazz & blues

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The Independent Culture
With venues still largely quiet, what better way to shake yourself out of a post-New Year's Eve torpor than with some blistering blues? One of the genre's most vibrant albums of recent years was First Blood (Dead Reckoning) by The Bluebloods, an intense bar band led by the searing guitar of Mike Henderson and featuring the driving keyboards of former Stevie Ray Vaughan mainman Reese Wynans. Now the same outfit - minus Wynans - is back with an equally propulsive new album, Thicker Than Water (Dead Reckoning, via Delta). With the likes of Warren Smith's "Uranium Rock" lined up alongside Howlin Wolf's "My Country Sugar Mama", this is a band with its heart in the Sun Studios of the 1950s, and none the worse for that.

Another Bluebloods' cover is "Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down" by Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, who also has a new album in the racks. Cool Blues Walk (Bullseye Blues & Jazz) features the highly versatile guitarist Duke Robillard and is very classy fare. Those who've overdone it this festive season should particularly enjoy "Very Good Condition", which is about this great showman's 1997 heart attack.

The reputation of Chick Corea, the highly talented pianist whose career seemed headed for a dead-end, has experienced a significant revival in recent months, largely through the creation of his current band, Origin. But even more impressive is his work on Like Minds (Concord), ostensibly an album by the vibes player Gary Burton, but really a superstar project that, besides a wonderfully fluent Corea, also features Pat Metheny, Roy Haynes and Dave Holland. This is thoughtful and satisfying jazz of the highest order.

Also worthy of a closer look is the recent Banned in New York (Blue Note) from the exciting alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Having seemingly abandoned his inclination to throw too many rap and street funk styles into his playing, Osby is - as last year's Zero CD demonstrates - emerging as a musician with lots of ideas and a distinctive voice.

Less demanding, but none the less enjoyable, is the two-volume Best of the North Sea Jazz Festival, released by Galaxy via the German label ZYX Records. Though the absence of sleevenotes leaves the listener guessing at the support players, there's much satisfaction to be had from listening to live recordings from such stars as Stan Getz, McCoy Tyner and Sonny Rollins and anticipating this year's events.