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JAZZ | Jazz Spotlight

Four Young Players Impress in Their Innovative Growth

*** CHARLIE HUNTER AND LEON PARKER; "Duo"; Blue Note Records

*** AVISHAI COHEN; "Devotion"; Stretch/Concord Records

** 1/2 JASON MORAN; "Soundtrack to Human Emotion"; Blue Note Records

April 04, 1999|DON HECKMAN | Don Heckman is The Times' jazz writer

With the neoclassic fascination--in some cases obsession--with jazz of the '40s and '50s beginning to wane, emerging young artists of the late '90s are finally beginning to seek their own pathways. And, lacking the presence of a major influential voice such as a John Coltrane or a Miles Davis, they are moving forward in an intrepid array of musical quests.

At 31, with several albums already under his belt, Charlie Hunter is not exactly a new arrival. But the determined individuality of the route he has chosen makes his music an impressive example of the new directions surfacing at the close of the century. Hunter plays an eight-string guitar, easily and fluently using the bottom two strings to produce independent bass lines to the single lines and clustered chords he generates on the remaining strings. To further expand his musical palette, he feeds his playing through a synthesizer that allows him to produce an uncanny array of sounds, often simulating, with startling effectiveness, the sound of a jazz organ.

In this outing, he has found the perfect partner in drummer Leon Parker, who is every bit as innovative as Hunter. In Parker's case, however, the direction is toward minimization, and he frequently works with little more than a snare drum and a cymbal. Here, he obviously chooses whatever he feels will work for the individual tunes.

The result is a set of music that ranges from the rock-oriented vamp and funk rhythms of Hunter's originals to atmospheric renderings of tunes such as the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is" and Brian Wilson's "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)." Aside from his multi-dexterity, Hunter is a solid improviser, and Parker's accompaniments redefine the essence of jazz drumming. Together, they produce some irresistibly appealing music. (Hunter finishes a week's run at Catalina Bar & Grill tonight, working with another talented drummer, Adam Cruz.)

Bassist Avishai Cohen's second album continues at the high compositional level of his debut release, "Adama" (also on Stretch/Concord). The Israel-born bassist, 28, brings to his music an unusual combination of credentials. A reliable jazz artist, he has been touring for the past year or so as a member of Chick Corea's much-praised acoustic ensemble, Origin. In addition, he has a comfortable familiarity with Middle Eastern music, and some practical classical music skills as well.

All those elements are brought to bear in a program of 14 original works that touch upon straight-ahead mainstream ("El Capitan & the Ship at Sea"), traditional melodies ("Angels of Peace," on which Cohen plays piano, and "Linda De Mi Corazon"), African grooves ("Negril") and Middle Eastern timbre ("Musa"). Cohen manages the stylistic diversity with ease. Even more important, he brings to each of the various works--including a brief episode for string quartet in the oddly titled "Ti Da Doo Di Da"--a strong sense of melodic continuity that makes every piece an appealing musical adventure.

Jason Moran is a strikingly gifted young pianist. Just turned 24, he plays with the technical agility and musical poise of a veteran artist. But, perhaps understandably, he is far more developed as a player than a composer; the skills of improvisation generally emerge earlier than the more demanding rigors of composition. And Blue Note, with producer Greg Osby, has placed a difficult demand upon Moran by introducing him as a solo artist with a recording almost completely dominated by his own compositions. (The sole exception is a passage from Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," which is included in a medley with Moran's "States of Art.")

The pieces are well-crafted, in a kind of academic fashion, filled with the sort of disjunct, interval-leaping melodies and casual dissonances that attract young composers. Moran's soloing, on the other hand, is far less predictable, filled with energy and imagination, clearly the work of a jazz artist with a bright future. The juxtaposition of his not particularly memorable compositions against his visceral improvising produces uneven results, sometimes compelling, sometimes not, musical mood swings that fail to properly display Moran's unquestioned abilities.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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