CD Reviews

Improvisational Arts Quintet
No Compromise!
(Danjor Productions)

The second recent archival CD reissue featuring live material from local free-jazz saxophonist Kidd Jordan in his prime, No Compromise contains a series of analog recordings from live concerts in New Orleans and Mississippi in 1978 and '80. Released in 1983 on LP by the local Prescription Records label, the original No Compromise contained the first five tracks here. The final three are a series of duets recorded in 1976, added at the request of drummer/percussionist Alvin Fielder.

It's no exaggeration to say that Jordan, the Improvisational Arts Council, and its players were at the vanguard of free jazz at the time of these recordings. Fittingly, the opening track, "Ettenro Ocelamn" is an anagram tribute to free-jazz giant Ornette Coleman. Probably the least out-there of all the tracks, it features all players exploring dissonant melodies and harmonies over a rubbery-funk bass line in 4/4 time. Then, things get wonderfully crazy with the extended epics "Three Pastels" and "Last Trip to Jackson," which rail on in squeaky emotion, sometimes with all players in parallel, other times in tandem, usually in scrambled urgency.

In addition to incredible extremes of dynamics and tone color, Jordan is most remarkable for his clever utilization of the entire range of his instrument. On the duet "Alto and Drums," his lilting high-pitched sax runs sound more like a canary, until low-down, surprise duck-quack squawks shock the listener into realization. -- Cristina Diettinger


Ani DiFranco
Educated Guess
(Righteous Babe)

Frequent New Orleans visitor Ani DiFranco's latest album takes her trademark D.I.Y. ethic to new heights; she not only wrote all the music and lyrics, she played all the instruments, sang all the parts, and did all the recording and the mixing in a Bywater shotgun studio on a vintage reel-to-reel. The bizarre and stunning upshot is DiFranco's most personal album to date, and for an artist who has always treated her music like a soul-baring shrink, that's saying something.

Like always, DiFranco's voice has multiple personalities, ranging from thin and folky to deep and soulful -- and on some songs, like the opening gem "Swim," she takes on a high-pitched baby voice that sounds like a really good Erykah Badu impression. It works well for much of the material, which is more akin to bluesy cabaret jazz than DiFranco's signature punky folk. In fact, her solo singing is barely recognizable dressed up in overdubs of her own eerie, filtered backup vocals. Defiantly lacking proper intonation, these demented Sweet Adelines chase her through the songs like ghosts of her former selves. Another vintage doppelganger chimes in on the spoken-word, protest-as-patriotism poem "Grand Canyon," where DiFranco declares, "People, we are standing at ground zero of the feminist revolution!"

Images of highs and lows are all over the lyrics. "Do you remember when our love had so much grace?" she asks a former lover on "Bubble." "We were floating above this whole place." -- Diettinger

Various Artists
Wonderland: Cool December (A Warm and Fuzzy Winter), Under the Mistletoe (Reindeer & Romance), Yulesville (The Other Tinseltown)
(Shout! Factory/Sony)
Was it only five years ago we were scrambling to pick up the next release in the trendy (and Grammy winning) Ultra Lounge series to further serve our hipster-doofus agenda? Were we so lost in Retroland that anything emanating from the Space Age, Bachelor Pad, Exotica (stop me if you've had enough) eras seemed too cool we didn't know if it was kitsch or sincerely good?

Well, with a tight rotation of already annoying holiday tunes blaring through the stereos to numbing effect, this new series from the creators of the Ultra Lounge series shows that you can define "classic" in a ton of different ways. These three inaugural discs blend legends with newcomers who fit right in. The series has a gratefully secular air about it -- no "O Come All Ye Faithful" here -- but instead there are myriad jazz- and blues-inspired takes.

It's a veritable honor roll, and here are just a few names and titles: Ella Fitzgerald ("Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"), Rosemary Clooney ("White Christmas"), Sarah Vaughan ("Goodnight My Love"), Dean Martin ("Winter Wonderland") and Bobby Darin ("Christmas Auld Lang Syne"). There are repeated tunes: Al Hirt gruffly duets with Anne-Margret on "Baby It's Cold Outside," as do Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page, but they're all worth it. Locals will also love Louis Prima (barely) dueting with Keely Smith on "Shake Hands With Santa Claus." -- David Lee Simmons


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