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Graham Connah: Because of Wayne/ The Only Song We Know (Evander Music). The pianist/composer has been an underground force on the Bay Area jazz scene for more than a decade. But it was during his regular Tuesday-night gig leading his seven- and eight-piece bands, Sour Note Seven and Jettison Slinky, that Connah honed his dense, kinetic, and often wildly witty tunes. The first disc of this three-CD set, packaged in hand-painted boxes, features Sour Note Seven's Because of Wayne, recorded live at Bruno's by Jeff Cressman, and a two-disc album by Jettison Slinky, The Only Song We Know, recorded last year in a San Francisco studio. Between the two bands, Connah is drawing on many of the region's most creative players, including clarinetist Ben Goldberg, saxophonist Rob Sudduth, trombonist Marty Wehner, guitarist Alex Candelaria, bassists Trevor Dunn and Dan Seamans, drummers Scott Amendola and Smith Dobson Jr., and vocalists Nancy Clarke and Jewlia Eisenberg, among others. What makes Graham's music so rewarding is that he's melded these superb improvisers into ensembles that embrace his compositional sensibility. His melodies swerve and slide, and he often stacks the horns so that they're playing lines slightly askew of each other. Nothing else sounds quite like Connah's heady concoctions. You're unlikely to find this in stores, so check out www.evandermusic.com or contact Connah at connah@earthlink.net.

Mimi Fox: Standards (Origin). Though her busy touring schedule keeps her out of town for much of each year, Fox is no stranger to Bay Area fretophiles. A prodigious guitarist with a fertile improvisational imagination, she combines jaw-dropping technique with a commanding sense of swing. As the title implies, Fox is exploring a repertoire of the usual suspects, including tunes by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Wayne Shorter, and Charlie Parker. Which isn't to say this is a standard standards session. Following in the footsteps of her former mentor Joe Pass, who pioneered the solo guitar recital with his classic Virtuoso sessions on Pablo, Fox tackles the tunes on her own, alternating between electric and steel-string guitars. While she made her reputation as a burning bebopper, here she's more concerned with exploring melodies and digging into the harmonic meat of each piece. Highlights include her graceful version of Coltrane's "Naima," a dazzling take on Shorter's "Footprints," and juxtaposed renditions of two Victor Young/Ned Washington gems, "Stella by Starlight" and "My Foolish Heart."

Mark Levine & The Latin Tinge: Serengeti (Mark Levine). This quartet has quickly developed into the gold standard of small Latin jazz combos. Following up last year's superb debut, Hey, It's Me, Levine returns with his superlative bandmates Peter Barshay (bass), Michael Spiro (percussion), and Paul Van Wageningen (drums) for another long drink of clave. Besides the Brazilian groove of "Assum Branco" and the lovely interpretation of Osvalde Farres' classic bolero "Tres Palabras," the group mostly focuses on interpreting material not usually part of the Latin jazz repertoire. Levine has a gift for finding great jazz tunes that fit naturally in clave, like McCoy Tyner's "Effendi," Wayne Shorter's "Angola," Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar," and Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge." The combination of sizzling Afro-Caribbean rhythms and Levine's savory keyboard work makes this album an important addition to the Latin jazz genre.

The Lost Trio: Live at Avalon and the Graves (Evander Music). Strictly speaking, the quartet on this two-CD set should have been called Lost Putanesca, since it combines the Lost Trio -- featuring the remarkable saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, bassist Dan Seamans, and drummer Tom Hassett -- with Trio Putanesca, featuring Greenlief, Seamans, and guitarist Adam Levy. Names aside, this is one beautiful album, a two-disc set recorded in Eureka during one of the band's regular sojourns up north. Always looking to reimagine familiar material, the band has developed a book that ranges from the music of Hank Williams and Nino Rota to Irving Berlin and Billy Strayhorn. With his reflective solos and warm accompanying chords, Levy has never sounded better. And Greenlief's pleasingly gruff, gusty tone is particularly effective on tenor. This is loose-limbed music, full of earthy humor, soaring lyricism, and an off-the-cuff poetic sensibility.

Bobby Matos & John Santos: Mambo Jazz (Cubop). A meeting of two Latin jazz giants, this album finds LA-based bandleader and timbalero Matos joining forces with the Bay Area's great conguero and groove-guru Santos. The two bands first met in the studio and shared their books, leading to a cross-pollination that infuses the entire session. Many of the album's high points center on the great percussionist Orestes Vilato, but it's the surging horns that keep grabbing the spotlight, like the potent six-part arrangement on Matos' churning son montuno "Oye Mi Querida."

Los Mocosos: Shades of Brown (Six Degrees). Straight outta the Mission, Mocosos provided the soundtrack for the summer with the surging soulsa of their sophomore release. Whether celebrating "El Rey" Tito Puente in the eponymous tribute, revisiting vintage pop with a delicious cover of "Spill the Wine," commenting on the impact of gentrification in "Mi Barrio Loco," or calling attention to the serial murder of young women in Ciudad Juarez in "The Border," Mocosos comes up with catchy melodies that insinuate a song's message before the lyrics have fully registered. New lead vocalist Manny Martinez brings a big-bellied swagger to the table, and after a couple years on the road, the band sounds tight as a drum.

Mary Stallings: Live at the Village Vanguard (MaxJazz). In a meeting of soul on soul, Stallings sets sparks flying with Eric Reed, one of the most resourceful young pianists in jazz. For a while it seemed that this San Francisco treasure was once again destined for low visibility. It had been four years since she released the last of three superb Concord Jazz albums when she hooked up with MaxJazz, a label that established itself by recording excellent jazz vocalists. A little recognition is more than due Stallings, a veteran of the Basie band. Strongly influenced by Dinah Washington, she's an old-school jazz singer with a voice that can transform just about any song into a treatise in soul. The album's numerous highlights include her chill-inducing version of "You're My Thrill," a triumphant "Gypsy in My Soul," and an extended rendition of "Lullaby of the Leaves."

Claudia Villela & Ricardo Peixoto: Inverse Universe (Inside Out Music). The extraordinary vocalist Villela and guitarist Peixoto, her longtime collaborator, grew up within blocks of each other in Rio, but didn't meet until 1984, on Villela's second day in the US. Their partnership has continued along that serendipitous path, but this is the first album documenting their visionary approach to Brazilian jazz. What sets Villela apart from other Brazilian singers is her expansive conception of the country's music. She uses many familiar elements, such as samba and bossa nova, but she also draws on older forms, including partido alto, a carnival beat, and baião, a highly syncopated 2/4 blues-like song form popularized by Luiz Gonzaga in the mid-'40s. Peixoto's gorgeous arrangements provide lithe acoustic settings for Villela's soaring voice. As the music draws freely from various Brazilian folkloric styles, the lyrics invoke the rich mythic world that surrounds everyday life. The potent combination makes this an album that draws you in deeper with each play.

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