Bruce Hornsby/Christian McBride/Jack DeJohnette, “Camp Meeting” (Legacy). Naturally one thirsts to punish Bruce Hornsby for making money at music (Grateful Dead, The Range) and because he seems (nearly as bad) like a nice guy. But listen to him work jazz, and the whip must be withheld. Dude has huge piano chops without sounding chopsmanlike -- his constant counterpoint is totally relaxed, and his flair for melody carries none of the wilted-gardenia aroma that wafts from so many keyboard sentimentalists. Plus, he taps tops bandmates in drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Christian McBride, who totally rock out, elbowing each other aside in a contest for who can hog the most fun. Hornsby’s couple of originals challenge without straining, but he gets extra points for his selection of covers: beyond his standard Miles, Trane and Monk selections, he essays a joyfully intense Ornette Coleman obscurity, an Ives adaptation, and two (count ‘em) runs at the criminally underacknowledged Bud Powell. Sorry I missed him at the Hollywood Bowl this week.
James Carney Group, “Greenwood” (Songlines). From New York to L.A. and back to New York, James Carney has never stopped pulling in at least two directions at once, geographically and musicially. Always an original composer and a sensitive pianist, he has a chance here to explore his other main talent, as an arranger: His onetime job as a film editor has taught him how to examine a situation from several angles in rapid succession, so you get a sense of constant motion. It helps that he’s got some of his favorite musicians -- saxists Peter Epstein and Tony Malaby, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, trombonist Josh Roseman, drummer Mark Ferber and bassist Chris Lightcap -- blowing clean yet sensual lines and grappling with overlapped rhythms. Carney’s main influences, New Orleans and Hollywood, are all over his generous landscape, and he waxes both nostalgic and avant as he spatters funky acoustic jaunts and electronic spurts hither and yon. Visit soon, Jim.
David Witham, “Spinning the Circle” (Cryptogramophone). This album just tumbles you down and licks you all over. Hollywood cocaine rush, French Quarter morning julep, Mexican beach party, Nairobi nightclub bump, interstellar mescaline trip, cradling balladry -- you’ll feel like you went on a sybaritic cruise for half a year. Details really make it -- the evanescent smear of Greg Leisz’s steel, the subtle rush of Nels Cline’s electric-guitar effects, and the little inspirations of synth, accordion and what-all from keyboardist-writer Witham, who’s got just enough pop sensibility to make him a good time, but not enough to make him a whore. The active yet fully shaded drumming of Scott Amendola is amazing, as always.
Avishai Cohen, “After the Big Rain” (Anzic). This is the trumpeter Avishai Cohen, not the bassist-keysman of the same name, teamed with Beninian guitarist-singer Lionel Loueke in an Afropop context. Cohen cuts loose with orgiastic grooves, shroomy effects and postcoital idylls; Loueke has one of those earthy voices that sounds like a bubbling mud bath; the percussion of Daniel Freedman and Yosvany Terry thwacks and shakes with bristly energy. I'm getting sweaty just thinking about it.