JAZZ & BLUES

In jazz - as in other musical forms - theme albums are all the rage at the moment. So inevitably one comes to the latest album by the Ray Bryant Trio, Ray's Tribute to his Jazz Piano Friends (JVC) with a certain wariness. However, there is a pleasing freshness about this disc as Bryant, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Winard Harper appear to have a whale of a time bouncing around tunes associated with the likes of Ramsey Lewis, Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk as well as Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Great fun to listen to, as well.

The roasting Bryant has attracted at various times for daring to be popular will no doubt be familiar to Courtney Pine, who - while certainly an innovative jazz musician - has kept a foot in the popular camp as well. As his well- regarded recent album, Underground, shows, saxophonist Pine is a British musician who can take risks by encompassing such sounds as hip-hop. And it really is difficult to predict what this entertaining performer will come up with when he appears at the Blackheath Concert Halls tonight.

Equally difficult to pin down are the curiously named Squirrel Nut Zippers. Though not exactly jazz or blues, their sound has enough of both - in particular, Twenties and Thirties-style jazz - to pique the interest of fans of either idiom as well as more open-minded rock fans. After all, their second album - appropriately titled Hot - being released in the UK by Polydor on 23 March has gone platinum in the normally rather staid US market, where a third disc is due in the late summer. They appear at the Jazz Cafe, Camden on Monday night, with another visit planned for later in the month.

Anybody looking for a little more certainty could do worse than check out the latest in Blue Note's Connoisseur Series reissues. Ike Quebec does his marvellous sensuous swinging thing on It Might As Well Be Spring, while Horace Parlan gives a consummate display of the "Blue Note sound" on his On The Spur of the Moment. But do not ignore the unjustly undervalued Tina Brooks and her previously unreleased Back To The Tracks album. On this evidence, Brooks, who died young, was a player with a clear sense of direction and plenty of improvisational ideas.

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