* * * * RAN BLAKE TRIO "Sonic Temples" GM Recordings
Original voices are so hard to come by in jazz pianism that a two-CD set such as this amounts to a signal event. Although this independent release is unlikely to make a splash in the marketplace, "Sonic Temples" has nothing to do with commerce and everything to do with art. Playing mostly standards, Blake does nothing less than radically reinvent tunes such as "Tangerine," "Nature Boy" and "I Can't Get Started." To say that he alters the harmonies of "Black Coffee" or brings interesting colors to "Stormy Weather" would be like contending that Michelangelo did a nice touch-up job on the Sistine Chapel. These are major reexaminations of tunes that rarely have been redefined to this extent. Yet because Blake unfolds this work in a jazz trio setting, with brothers Ed and George Schuller as his nimble bassist and percussionist, even his most outlandish experiments prove disarming. Ultimately, "Sonic Temples" stands as a major achievement from a singular pianist and his adroit partners.
* * * * THE CONGA KINGS "Jazz Descargas" Chesky
Any recording that features congueros Carlos "Patato" Valdes, Candido Camero and Giovanni Hidalgo has a great deal going for it. Add trombonist Jimmy Bosch, baritone saxophonist Mario Rivera and several comparably accomplished reed and brass players in the Afro-Caribbean tradition, and you have the makings of an unusually dynamic recording. Although this glorious CD draws deeply on the conventions of the descarga , or Afro-Cuban jam session, it also exudes a refreshingly contemporary spirit and style. By merging past and present, the Conga Kings underscore the perpetual vitality of works such as "Un Poco Loco" with conga beats punctuating reed and brass riffs; "Tin Tin Deo," featuring a searing trumpet solo by "Chocolate" Armenteros and pulsating accompaniment from the congueros; and "A Night in Tunisia," with reedist Rivera spinning an alternative melody almost as appealing as the original. When all of these players are going full tilt, they create a viscerally exciting sound that has few equals in acoustic jazz.