Reviews for the easily distracted

Jaki Byard
A Matter of Black and White: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 2

3 1/2 Stars

Riffing: Byard was post-mod when it was just called eclectic; solo selections culled from '78-'79 club dates; subtract half-star for poor recording quality.

Reference points: Monk and Ellington, both of whom are covered here. Byard was a brilliant Mingus sideman, but you need to hear him solo. Selections dig back as far as the 1920s ("Alexander's Ragtime Band") and go to '60s pop ("I Know a Place").

If you like: The aforementioned antecedents, or such descendants as Jason Moran.


Eartha Kitt
The Essential Eartha Kitt
RCA Legacy

4 1/2 Stars

Riffing: The Queen of Tease, the Gold-Digging Goddess; the original Material Girl as Michael Hill's liner notes anoint her; two discs of '50s material.

Reference points: An upside to our need for Xmas classics is Kitt's 1953 hit "Santa Baby," which doesn't show off her vocal prowess, but gets to the essence of her persona. You should hear the rest of her.

If you like: Camp, Marilyn Monroe (the singer as well as the actress), Diana Ross (imagine her with a sense of humor), Madonna (the Material Girl conceit).


Nguyên Lê
Songs of Freedom

3 Stars

Riffing: Pan-global, jazzoid-fusion takes on 1970s Anglo-American pop classics (Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Led Zep ...); often inventive, too often heavy-handed.

Reference points: Guitarist Lê has chops (allusions to Hendrix, Steve Vai, etc.) and ideas (a Chinese one-stringed erhu on "Eleanor Rigby"? Middle Eastern prayer-call vocals on Zep's "Black Dog"?) and lots of like-minded friends from around the world.

If you like: Sting, jazz's new standards movement, over-the-top screaming geeetar, global music mash-ups.


Sir Roland Hanna
Colors from a Giant's Kit

4 1/2 Stars

Riffing: Of the great Detroit out-of-bebop pianists, Hanna arguably had the most elegant, Euro-classics-influenced touch.

Reference points: Expertly recorded over a number of years, the selections have no grand theme, unlike his other well-received discs for the IPO label. Doesn't mean the songs are any less cohesive; Hanna holds the collection together, whether playing his own "20th Century Rag" or evergreens from Strayhorn to Coltrane.

If you like: Solo piano, Dave Brubeck, Tommy Flanagan and other Detroit piano legends.


Orchestre National de Jazz
Shut Up and Dance
Bee Jazz

4 1/2 Stars

Riffing: Tentet now under Daniel Yvinec last covered Robert Wyatt, now commissions drummer-composer John Hollenbeck.

Reference points: Reich-Glass-Riley minimalism meets post-Gil Evans arranging, with what sounds like a dose of instrumental Zappa. Re the title: more dance troupe than dance floor.

If you like: The aforementioned, Love of Life Orchestra, Maria Schneider, Penquin Café Orchestra.