Few can match drummer Daniel Freedman when it comes to pan-stylistic jazz presentations that cut across cultural lines. This lifelong New Yorker has found a way to bridge sonic worlds, erase boundary lines, and merge various musical languages in masterful fashion in his own work and in support of others. It's no wonder why the best of the best—the one and only Sting, West African superstar Angelique Kidjo, and Israeli clarinet queen Anat Cohen, to mention three—have called on Freedman. He isn't nearly as well-known as he should be at this point, due in no small part to the fact that his sideman duties take up much of his time, but with each successive release under his own name he furthers his reputation as one of the most open-minded drummer-leaders on record.
As she has become both indie icon and industry force, Ani DiFranco has grown more unpredictable, savvy, and restless with every release. On this sumptuously packaged double set, DiFranco often pours her brutally personal and political images into summery, horn-based jazz arrangements–Maceo Parker even takes one gorgeously funky sax solo–and yet somehow still keeps the focus on her own minimalist guitar and vulnerable, emotionally strung-out voice. Her jittery, jazzy phrasing deconstructs the pleasure and poison of her lyrics, so that even vicious lines like "our culture is just a roughneck / teenage jerk / with a bottle of pills / and a bottle of booze" resonate beyond easy condemnation. This is a dark, brooding, but ultimately cathartic work of confessional art. On nearly every track, DiFranco pursues the kind of defenseless honesty and personal vision that few other performers today would dare.
Upon first listening to this album, it's hard to imagine that many if any listeners would think that it was a premiere recording for the artist, or that the artist in question was all of 17 years of age when it was made. Argentinean pianist Adriel Gomez-Mansur's choice of repertoire does not focus on the flashy, the ostentatious, or the bravura as one might expect. Rather, many of his selections, such as the Liszt Consolation No. 3 and Schumann Traumerei, are from the more introspective and serene portion of the repertoire. In these works, Gomez-Mansur demonstrates a musical maturity and depth well beyond his young years at the time of recording.
One LP of classic material by the Daredevils, 12 songs drawn from their first five A&M albums, showing the different sides of the group to very good advantage, from the hard-rocking "If You Wanna Get to Heaven" to the soaring, upbeat, mandolin- and electric-guitar-driven "Homemade Wine."