Earl Klugh, “HandPicked” (Heads Up). It’s hard not to like Earl Klugh. The fact that no less than Vince Gill and Bill Frisell serve as guest stars on one cut apiece of this disc (as does, yes, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukoro) shouldn’t lead anyone to expect too much more here than very pretty acoustic guitar music of the sort that makes a nice background for an intimate dinner for two people who don’t care about music all that much. The stellar guitar company is, more than anything, an indication that guitarists, in general, seem far more open to members of their own fraternity, no matter what style they play in, than performers on any other instruments. The music Klugh plays on this disc is high-level pop jazz repertoire – everything from his Frisell duet on “Blue Moon,” to “Alfie” (Bacharach, not Sonny Rollins’ actual theme music to the film), “Lullaby of Birdland,” “Round Midnight” and his Gill duet on the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” The idea of the disc grew out of a Klugh special on PBS also called “Handpicked” in which his company included Chet Atkins, George Benson and Russell Malone, as well as Frisell. ∆∆½ (Jeff Simon)


Christian McBride Trio, “Out Here” (Mack Avenue). Whether McBride, as jazz bass virtuoso, is the absolute equivalent for his era of the Parnassian Ray Brown in his, he’s certainly awfully close. And there’s no question here on his fifth (and, perhaps, most enjoyable) Mack Avenue disc, that McBride’s regular working jazz trio is very much in the model of Brown’s groups with pianists Gene Harris and Monty Alexander. And both of those, in their way, were modeled on Brown’s greatest early stardom with Oscar Peterson. In other words, it’s McBride’s rather wonderfully fluent – even glib – young pianist Christian Sands who is the focal point here. Things like “Hallelujah Time,” and that favorite rocket ride into virtuosic chop display “Cherokee” are irresistible pieces of jazz piano trio show business of a sort that Brown always favored with Harris, Alexander and the inimitable Peterson. At the same time, there is a lot of piano poetry here – a fresh and lovely reminder by Sands of how beautiful a tune “My Favorite Things” really is. McBride, who played with Chick Corea Friday night, takes the melody a lot, of course, on his own disc – notably on the last tune you’d expect to be articulated by the bass, “East of the Sun.” Ulysses Owens Jr. is the trio’s working drummer. Unaffected piano trio delight. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)


Mark Dresser Quintet, “Nourishments” (Clean Feed). The diametric opposite of McBride’s disc by another jazz bass player, Mark Dresser. In this, it’s a quintet so devoted to dissonance and tonal rough edges that it presents the listener with a diet of pure fiber that doesn’t begin to have the appeal of the food on the disc’s cover (which show us a couple of good-looking cheeses, some very juicy apples and grapes). Pianist Denman Maroney is called a “hyperpianist” here because he uses the Cage “prepared piano” technique of altering the instrument’s sound with things placed on the strings. It’s of little consequence here. Of even less consequence is trombonist Michael Dessen who isn’t even interesting in counterpoint. The sole musician of interest here is the great alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose presence here is more mystifying than satisfying. ∆∆ (J.S.)


Volto, “Incitare” (Fantasy). For the past 10 years, Danny Carey, revered drummer with prog-metal maestros Tool, has been jamming with friends John Ziegler and Lance Morrison in a small Los Angeles club whenever the musicians’ schedules allowed the opportunity. The trio started out covering classic jazz fusion from the likes of Weather Report, Jeff Beck and Tony Williams – a daunting task even for musicians of this caliber. Eventually, the guys decided it was time to come up with some original material in the classic fusion vein, and thus, Volto was born. Fans of Tool’s metallic prog-rock might find it a bit puzzling that Carey’s new project is far more Return to Forever than it is Black Sabbath, but for anyone who adores classic fusion as much as the men in Volto clearly do, the just-released “Incitare” arrives like a winning lottery ticket. Imagine Jean Luc Ponty’s “Enigmatic Ocean” with a much more prominent rock guitar presence, and you’ve got the general gist of this stunningly virtuosic album. That the original trio of Carey, Zeigler and Morrison has been augmented on “Incitare” by the keyboards of Jeff Babko lends a grandiose scope to these prog-fusion epics. Babko favors classic Moog-like synth sounds, and he solos like the Chick Corea acolyte he almost certainly is throughout the collection. Stunning stuff for fans of daring instrumental music. And the good news keeps coming – Volto’s tour includes a stop at the Waiting Room at 7 p.m. Tuesday. See ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)


“Ave Maria,” Gregorian Chant performed by Seraphic Fire (Seraphic Fire Media). The Grammy-nominated Florida ensemble Seraphic Fire, led by Patrick Dupre Quigley, sings Gregorian chant as well as anyone I have ever heard. Their voices are seamless, which is how chant should be. Individual voices shouldn’t stand out – you are aiming for a sense of peace and timelessness. This is a disc of ancient prayers to Blessed Virgin Mary. There are settings of the “Salve Regina,” the “Ave Maria,” and the Easter chant “Regina Caeli Laetare,” among others. The most modern settings are by Renaissance composers. If you know Palestrina’s music at all, his “Ave Regina caelorum” will jump right out at you – no one else could have written it. Tomas Luis de Victoria’s “Regina caeli” is a delight, with its bursts of alleluias. And it’s hard to put your finger on why, but a “Quam pulcra est” by John Dunstaple (sometimes spelled Dunstable), born in 1385, has an English sound, like a Christmas carol. Older Catholics and fans of the Tridentine Mass will recognize the haunting Gregorian “Ave Maria.” Less familiar numbers include Ambrosian chants and also Iberian chant, which is more rhythmic and has a different feel. These 18 tracks were recorded at an Episcopal church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the acoustics are pure and bright. There also is a nice booklet of texts and translations. ΩΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Delights & Dances, performed by Harlem Quartet and Chicago Sinfonietta, Mei-Ann Chen, conductor (Cedille Records). There are a couple of goodies in this modern-themed grab bag. The first two pieces, by Benjamin Lees and Michael Abels, can be tough to take. The rest is a lot of fun. The “Saibei Dance” of An-Lun Huang, born in 1949, is a winner, with a fluttery Asian melody bursting into four minutes of brassy razzle dazzle. Orchestras should pick this up. It would bring the house down at outdoor concerts. The other winner is Randall Craig Fleischer’s “West Side Story” Concerto For String Quartet and Orchestra. The Bernstein melodies never get boring, but just in case, Fleischer varies the textures wildly. “Mambo” snaps and pops with aggressive percussion and vocals, “Cha Cha” gets its delicacy from the string quartet solo, and “Tonight,” which has the quartet playing against the orchestra, has a silver-screen romance. The Harlem Quartet gives the piece a wonderful, sensual charm. ΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)


The Dowland Project, performed by John Potter (ECM New Series). The Elizabethan composer John Dowland seems to be a creative springboard for a lot of musicians across the board. Sting sings his songs, and on this disc, a nebulous group of classical and jazz and world musicians led by tenor John Potter decided to stay up late and – well, I will quote Potter’s liner notes: “As it happened, I had some medieval poems with me, so we decided to see what we could do with those.” That sounds unappetizing, as cookbooks do when they say: “This was born out of necessity. We had nothing in the cupboard but rice and a jar of salsa …” But it turns out better than you expect. The free improvisation on poetry sounds like the New Age stuff you hear in yoga class. The better tracks use scores as a starting point. Guitarist Stephen Stubbs’ solo tracks are the highlight, but the more robust tracks, like “Theoleptus 22,” have an appealing neo-Renaissance sound. It’s too bad that most of the booklet is squandered on opaque musings and pictures of the band. The project sounds like an interesting concept but should have been better explained. ΩΩ (M.K.G.)