It's About Music.com: Jazz Sampler Albums 1 and 2

Mark Sabbatini By

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Two clicks, two free albums. That's good marketing.

Some labels charge for sample collections, others provide free excerpts and a few of the most generous offer full songs as free downloads. It's About Music.com stands out even among the latter category by posting several albums in various genres, including the two jazz collections, as single-file downloads and thus saving users the tedium of saving them song by song.

The music, incidentally, is pretty good, too.

Even if the names are unfamiliar, chances are many listeners have heard some of the performers elsewhere. Among them: Dave Hoffman is a trumpeter featured by Ray Charles, Keith Howland a guitarist for Chicago and Avery Sharpe a bassist for McCoy Tyner.

The first sampler of 12 songs focuses on straight-ahead for the first half, somewhere between the extremes of strict tradition and cutting-edge modernism. Keyboardist Charlie Elgart does a fine job of introducing the label, playing straight-ahead trio chops on "In My Dreamlight" with more authority than one would expect from someone whose background includes producing and performing for Najee. Another highlight is Ahmed Alaadeen playing old-school soprano sax straight from the '50s and '60s, with a quintet just modern enough to make it all fresh, on "Doin The Dean."

There are the expected rough spots. An enticing pitch is made on the label's front page for a track by 18-year-old "jazz violin prodigy" Jordan Hall, for instance, but the file is missing. Once his interpretation of "Round Midnight" is found (song five of the first sampler), listeners get something a bit short of the hype - Hall's straighahead tone capably navigates a series of apprego runs, but without enough sense of direction.

Also, things get a little less steady as contemporary grooves take over the second half of the sampler. Ben Vinci's smooth jazz sax on "Grover's Tune" is syrupy and draped in too much ear candy, sort of like Spyro Gyra on a sleepy day. "Durango 95" by 60 Were Enough, an Italian avant-garde trio, is plenty adventurous, but the guitar-crunching clashes may throw off listeners coasting along until now on a more mainstream set.

The second sampler of 13 songs is mostly contemporary and takes a few songs to get to the better material. Violinist John Blake instantly engages with a complex Latin-tinged fusion romp on "New Beginning," playing with a dominant voice drenched in jazz history and a band able to funk it up with the best. Wasa Express is among a few modern groups tastefully true to their claim of reviving 1970s fusion in the spirit of Return To Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Ray's Music Exchange performs a live avant/funk piece blending all sorts of madness - Dixie, electronic, rock - into a horn-heavy jam.

Ken Hatfield stands out playing a Charlie Byrd-like classical guitar and getting a nice solo contribution from bassist Hans Glawischnig on "The Surrealist Table." Chris Burnett gives the modern soprano sax some jazz authority with his quartet, playfully aided by pianist Jeff Stewart, on "Circles." But Scott Bradoka's "Killer Jones" is a lukewarm pop-beat instrumental vehicle built for radio and the rock-fusion "On The Never" by Hidden Symmetry - a group that collaborates over the Internet - is more gimmick than substance.

A third sampler featuring some jazz material, "Rainy Day Lovers," is also part of the label's other free offerings, but mostly lightweight pop and mood music. A couple of songs are worth downloading individually: Hatfield's Latin ballad "Tableau de Souvenir" and vocalist Jan Garrett's pleasing if not overly challenging "Feel Like I Wanna Go Home."

Finally, it's worth noting the label's online presence is well done. Summaries and samples from all of their musicians and their albums are generally well-written and easy to navigate, and albums can be purchased online directly or through services such as eMusic.com. The diversity of performers means some careful hunting to find those suited to individual tastes, but a great many are solid artists deserving of wider recognition and at least an audition of their free works.

Track listing:

Jazz Sampler #1
In My Dreamlight (Charlie Elgart); Past Present Tense (Avery Sharpe); Doin the Dean (Alaadeen); North Pole Cha Cha (Dave Hoffman); Round Midnight (Jordan Hall); Civil Savant (In The No); Idle Moments (Barbara Montgomery); Talkin to Mom (Gary Harris); Grover's Tune (Ben Vinci); Subterranean Dream (Sumi Tonooka); Groove DeVille (James Hollihan); Durango 95 (60 Were Enough)

Jazz Sampler #2
The Wizard (Daryl Johnson); Killer Jones (Scott Bradoka); Stoner Girl (Machine Love); The Surrealist Table (Ken Hatfield); Psychedelic Jazz Trance (Wasa Express); The Scrambler (Ray's Music Exchange); New Beginning (John Blake); Your Old Thingy (Howland-Imboden Project); Dreamer (Erica Lindsay); Circles (Chris Burnett Quartet); Cross Country (Trio Nova); On The Never (Hidden Symmetry); LOL (Big Swing Face)

Visit It's About Music.com on the web.

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