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Wayne Wallace: Echoes in Blue (Spirit Nectar). As a trombonist, arranger, composer, producer, and educator, Wallace is an essential part of the Bay Area music scene. Echoes is his generous offer of payback to all the musicians and sounds that influenced him over the years. Opening with the Afro-Cuban invocation "Koriomale," the gathering is sanctified, and the elders are called in to be honored. In jazz you show respect by reinterpreting a piece with your own sound, so Wallace has applied various Latin grooves to a number of jazz standards, while also focusing on his own excellent compositions. He turns Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" into a sleek rumba, and transforms Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train" into a vehicle for some serious Cuban funk. Throughout the session Wallace solos with power and tremendous feeling, while also putting the spotlight on such fine musicians as trumpeter John Worley, saxophonists Ron Stallings and Melecio Magdaluyo, and pianists Frank Martin and Murray Low.

Paula West: Come What May (Hi Horse). When it comes to exploring the Great American Songbook, West is simply the best young singer working on the Left Coast. Unfortunately, being based out West often means getting left out when it comes to national recognition, so for her third self-produced album West recruited a host of top jazz players, including wily old veteran saxophonists Frank Wess and Joe Temperley, clarinetists Don Byron and Ken Peplowski, vibes master Bobby Hutcherson, and drummer Victor Lewis. The results are consistently succulent. Opening with her impossibly dexterous intertwining of "Caravan" and "Night in Tunisia," she just keeps setting the bar higher, from the cautionary tale of Oscar Brown Jr.'s "The Snake" to the haunting melody of the David Raksin/ Johnny Mercer theme "Laura" to the extended version of the Harold Arlen/Mercer classic "Blues in the Night." An incisive interpreter of lyrics, West combines deft phrasing and a nimble sense of swing with a sultry contralto that's as rich and plush as purple velvet.
--By Andrew Gilbert

Ready or Not

Raise your hand if you think that the Strokes album is this year's answer to Get the Knack.

Bottles and Skulls: Never Kiss the Wasp (Cheetah's). Let's hear it for a total lack of planning and half-assed production! This SF band's is raw and real, with a nod (though unintentional, apparently) to '80s hardcore. The words are kinda stoop, but in the throat of singer Alpha Boozer they sound inspired. This may make the feminists twitch by calling a girl a straight-up bitch, but Boozer's voice is so dirty and powerful that the listener is left, well, hating that goddamn bitch too. Unlike a lot of Bay Area punk, which bends away from the hardcore branch, Wasp is more Black Flag than Pink Flag, and it's a welcome surprise.

The Faint: Danse Macabre (Saddle Creek). Finally, that new-wave goth record fused with Kraftwerk that you've always wanted (you know, the one you told yourself would help you finish priming your sailboat and begin that commercial fishing enterprise). It's heavy on the creepy keyboards but with a fast punk sensibility and Duran Duran vocals, all held together with interesting time changes (no, not like Rush!). The coolest thing is that this band is from Omaha, not exactly a hotbed of gothic doom. The album does get a bit draggy in parts, but dang if you don't find yourself singing those same draggy bits in the shower a few hours later. Really, the only downside to Danse Macabre is the image of black-lipsticked people carrying lunch pails that might dance through your head.

The Moore Brothers: Colossal Small (Amazing Grease). Perhaps the world is not ready for the Moore Brothers: tripped-out folk and rock with harmonies to shame the Everlys, combined with unpredictable song structures that luckily don't veer too far off the map. It sounds corny, but these two really have a sweet give and take with one another, each writing his own piece before the two come together. Seeing them live is really magic; they can transform cynical folk-haters into tear-stained sissyboys. Scott Kannberg from Pavement saw them and licensed this album to his Amazing Grease label, gaining them access to a wider audience that still hasn't really caught on ... but it will.

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