JAZZ AND BLUES

January is traditionally a quiet time for both records and pigs, but the increasingly prominent label JVC has chosen to do its bit to fill the void by releasing an album that "no-one thought would happen". The career of Japanese pianist Mikio Masuda has seemingly been ended twice - first, by a serious car accident which smashed his wrist and tore four tendons in his hand and, then, a decade later, by the onset of Multiple Sclerosis. Yet - though the record Black Daffodils begins with the Ellington classic "In a Sentimental Mood" - it is no mere attempt at garnering sympathy. With stellar bassist Ron Carter and impressive drummer Lewis Nash providing plenty of swing, Masuda uses an approach that combines great technique with a strong lyrical sense. A remarkable effort, it is much more engaging than Canvas in Vigor, which his better-known compatriot, Yosuke Yamashita, released on Verve late last year.

For those stuck in a hangover mood, this is a good time to catch up on the blues. Rounder, the hyperactive independent roots label, has lately added new titles to its budget-priced Easy Disc range. Mostly culled from its own Bullseye Blues imprint, recordings by former associates at Black Top and releases by Britain's own JSP, albums such as Lone Star Blues, Blues Guitar Duels and Blues Cruise - featuring artists as varied as Buddy Guy, Phillip Walker and Smokey Wilson - offer an economical glimpse of the modern scene.

Much of the material is rather slick fare that would not go amiss on the playlist at Jazz FM. But practitioners of a more earthy style are still active and recent weeks have brought new releases from Mississippi's Fat Possum label as well as re-releases of material in the same vein by MC Records (via Direct Distribution). Off Yonder Wall is one of the best releases by the Jelly Roll Kings - the on-off juke joint trio comprising Big Jack Johnson, Frank Fost and Sam Carr. Such a sound is kept alive at the shack operated by fellow Fat Possum artist Junior Kimbrough, whose own new release, Most Things Haven't Worked Out, will enthral anybody with a penchant for the mesmerising feedback-laden guitar solos and hard- to-decipher vocals that have brought a rock following to the door of kindred spirit RL Burnside. Acoustic Stories (just out on MC Records) is - as its title suggests - a more restrained affair recorded by Burnside nearly a decade ago and demonstrating a clear link with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Son House.

Roger Trapp

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