The Jackets’ aptly named latest effort—their 21st album released during their 30th Anniversary—summons all the musical cross-pollinating qualities that have kept them at the forefront of electric jazz for three decades. The opener, “Why Is it,” is a unison 6-string-and-bass clarinet burner befitting a bass hero like Jimmy Haslip, punctuated by his cascading, 16th-driven solo. “Tenacity” and “Like Elvin,” delivered by saxophonist Bob Mintzer and guest trumpeter John Daversa, are post-bop excursions that highlight the band’s considerable straightahead chops. The fretless-led title track and “A Single Step” add to the group’s rich tradition of memorable melodic ballads with challenging twists. Most fun of all, “Magnolia” recalls the Jackets’ funky early days, with original guitarist Robben Ford guesting for a wahinfused solo gem.
Richard Bona: The Ten Shades of Blues [Decca]
The blues in the title of Richard Bona’s sixth solo effort refers more to the key notes in the folk music of all cultures that reach people’s hearts than to 12-bar progressions or lamenting lyrics. In his pursuit of this ethic, Bona undertakes his most ambitious merger of world music elements, yet the rewarding result is his most cohesive disc to date. Credit this to the Cameroon native’s ability to harness his considerable skills as a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, orchestrator, and storyteller in service of the song. While on the surface this means neither bass solos nor big-name jazz guests, the quality is layers deep if the ears are willing. “Shiva Mantra,” recorded in Bombay, combines Indian instrumentation and incantation with powerful vocal hooks blanketed in warm fretless support. “African Cowboy” is an astute alliance of afrobeat and a bright country two-feel with prominent banjo and fiddle. A pair of elegant ballads, “M’Bemba Mam