Brazilians and other nutters

Jazz can be about many things. Even post-coital regret. Phil Johnson rounds up recent releases
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If Spanish is the loving tongue, Portuguese - at least in its Brazilian dialects - must rank as the first language of post-coital recrimination. In Brazilian songs, a declaration of undying lust leads typically into a passionate open-throated snog, only to be followed by several years of melancholic regret. And, of course, when it comes to the mixture of Brazilian music with American jazz, it's the samba of regret that gets all the attention. From Stan Getz with Jobim or Joao and Astrud Gilberto to the laments of Flora Purim accompanied by the butterfly kisses of Joe Henderson's tenor sax on "Butterfly Dreams", and on to Henderson's own recent tribute to Jobim, the governing mood is deliciously bitter- sweet, the love largely forlorn and the lover definitely, albeit sensuously, shafted.

The latest contribution to this most specialist of genres is The Heart Speaks by the trumpeter Terence Blanchard (Sony), a collaboration with the Brazilian singer and pianist Ivan Lins, who writes all the songs and emotes tearfully on the vocals. While Blanchard's big tone and bravura flourishes occasionally lend him the air of Eddie Calvert blasting out "Oh My Papa", and with the bad-taste meter hovering alarmingly close to danger level at times, it's a great big soppy album that can truly touch the heart, although it's perhaps best saved for moments of extreme self- pity.

Though the Brazilian guitarist, pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti records for the German ECM label and its chilly house-aesthetic pervades most of his work, his latest album, Zigzag (recorded at that temple of gloom, the Rainbow Studio in Oslo) chimes with a melancholy sense of loss, though it's still a world away from Blanchard's fat teardrops of sound. A trio set full of rolling seas of nylon strings, clustered repetitions and dense soundscapes of delicate harmonic effects, it is quietly beautiful and perhaps best listened to as ambient noise - just perfect for that moment of contemplation before suicide or a late-night bath.

Don Pullen, who died last year, was the most exciting pianist of the post-bop years, his open-handed pummelling of the keys sounding like a case of knives cascading to the floor, while somehow staying miraculously in tune. His African-Brazilian Connection band was also the best exemplar of world-music rhythms in jazz, drumming up a furious beat for Pullen and the saxophonist Carlos Ward to decorate with dreamy lines and fragments of ballads or the blues. Their last album, Sacred Common Ground (Blue Note), is the result of a collaboration (originally for a dance project) with a group of Native American singers and drummers and, sad to say, the chanting makes most of it pretty hard going, although there are some lovely ballad pieces along the way. Better to settle for any of Pullen's previous sets, especially the ones featuring versions of his masterpiece "Ode to Life".

For solid, hard-blowing, real jazz albums with no Brazilian connections whatsoever, both the bassist Dave Holland's Dream of the Elders (ECM) and the saxophonist Joe Lovano's Quartets (Blue Note) can be safely recommended. The Holland set is his first for the label for six years and presents a new group (in residency at Ronnie Scott's next week) with thesaxophonist Eric Nelson living up marvellously to the group's previous incumbents, Steve Coleman and Anthony Braxton. The vibraphonist Steve Nelson also excels, creating an echo of Bobby Hutcherson on Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, one of the greatest of all jazz albums. Lovano's double CD is pretty much state-of-the-art small-group jazz, featuring two different line-ups recorded live at the Village Vanguard, with the trumpeter Tom Harrell on the first set and the pianist Mulgrew Miller on the second. The tunes are long, there are proper solos, four-bar breaks and everything you'd expect from such a setting, and you can listen to it more or less anytime while snapping your fingers and muttering to yourself. As the Jazz Club presenter on The Fast Show would say: "Nice!"

Neo-beatniks have no greater avatar than the New York avant-garde eminence noir, John Lurie, whose work with the cool jazz combo, the Lounge Lizards, in the early Eighties won extravagant praise and critical opprobrium in equal measures. "Just look at that bone structure," said the fans. "Ah, but can he play?" replied the spoilsports. The re-release in the UK of Lurie's soundtracks to the Jim Jarmusch films, Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law (both on Crammed Discs, distributed by New Note), should help to settle the arguments, for they are both great, in quite different ways. Stranger Than Paradise is a series of sparsely orchestrated string quartets accompanied by music for the dance-piece "The Resurrection of Albert Ayler", in which the strings are joined by Lurie's sax and the sound of breaking glass. The New Orleans down-home sleaze of Down By Law is similarly joined by the music for Betty Gordon's film Variety, which is more or less a Lounge Lizards gig, with track titles such as "Porno Booth" and "Garter Belt". They may not equal the jazz expertise of Lovano, but as mood-enhancers, they sound even better than when new.

Late-night listening - the genre for when you can no longer co-ordinate finger-snaps precisely - is superbly provided for by a further two albums. The impeccably old-school LA tenorist Teddy Edwards on Tango in Harlem (Verve) delivers a solo version of the theme from Alfie that must be the ultimate fumbling-for-the-brandy tune. The criminally neglected Shirley Horn's The Main Ingredient (Verve) may have a naff cover and concept but has a version of "You Go To My Head" simply demanding to be swooned to.