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Ted Nash: Sidewalk Meeting (Arabesque Jazz). Ellingtonia, French impressionism, and klezmer traditions connect as Wycliffe Gordon's Tricky Sam plunger-muted trombone and the cafe sounds of Miri Ben-Ari's violin and William Schimmel's accordion set the stage for Nash's barking, big-toned tenor saxophone flight on Debussy's "Première Rhapsodie," the disc opener. Nash also plays clarinet and bass clarinet, and Gordon doubles on tuba, working in tandem with alternating drummers Jeff Ballard and Matt Wilson to give the music a nice bounce, particularly when second-line detours down Bourbon Street are taken. The concept, Nash articulates, "is about chance encounters in the street -- people previously unknown to each other as well as old friends." The result is a tango of kindred souls.

Kid Ramos: Greasy Kid Stuff (Evidence). Blues guitar players who don't sing have always had a tough time of it in the record world. SoCal hotshot Ramos solved the problem by recruiting a bunch of singing harmonica blowers, including Charlie Musselwhite, James Harman, Rick Estrin, and Johnny Dyner. All are good singers, but none great, thus allowing the spotlight to focus on Ramos' torrid guitar as he cuts through the old-time shuffles with incisive authority. The results, Ramos accurately explains in the booklet notes, are "like what Howlin' Wolf was doing in Memphis or the early Chicago blues, when it was electric but you could still hear the dirt roads and pine tar in it."

Jimmy Scott: Over the Rainbow (Milestone). The 76-year-old singer's life story is filled with heartbreak and hope, qualities he expresses in highly personalized readings of material from the Great American Songbook. Over the Rainbow, his second CD for Berkeley-based Milestone, follows the pattern of last year's Mood Indigo; producer Todd Barkan surrounds Scott with world-class jazz instrumentalists -- this time including guitarist Joe Beck, bassist George Mraz, drummer Grady Tate, vibraharpist Joe Locke, and saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman -- in a program of songs with which the singer has long been intimate. They include "Pennies from Heaven," "P.S. I Love You," and a reprise of his 1950 hit "Everybody's Somebody's Fool." Age may have taken a toll on Scott's intonation, but he more than makes up for it with the profound soulfulness of his delivery.

Tierney Sutton: Blue in Green (Telarc Jazz). The definition of "jazz singer" has long been open to debate, though it's generally agreed that it's any vocalist who applies the type of spontaneous phrasing associated with jazz instrumentalists to tunes from the Tin Pan Alley and Broadway traditions. Sutton does some of those, but the bulk of her repertoire is drawn from the jazz tradition itself. Blue in Green consists entirely of songs composed by or associated with pianist Bill Evans, including "Waltz for Debby," "We Will Meet Again," "Just Squeeze Me," and "Autumn Leaves." The Milwaukee-bred vocalist approaches the imaginatively arranged material in a subtle, sustain-rich manner, recalling Ella Fitzgerald when she scats, and functions more as a member of a quartet (featuring the rhapsodic piano of Christian Jacob) than as a vocalist with instrumental trio accompaniment.
--By Lee Hildebrand

Fiddles and More

This year's roundup includes the usual mix of traditional music and a few jazz entries. Some of this year's artists made my list in previous Top Tens, and though I debated giving preference to others, I decided that my choices should reflect the records with which I've spent the most time. If Roswell Rudd, Mat Maneri, and the Herbie Nichols Project keep making great CDs, they'll probably get votes from me again. So will the newcomers here. Some of these small labels may be hard to find, but our great East Bay stores will be glad to be tested.

Mick Conneely: Selkie (Clo lar-Channchta). It's been a great year for Irish music, with veterans like Tony MacMahon and Seamus Creagh producing stunning discs rivaled by such newer faces as John Wynne, John Carty, and Johnny Connolly. I could argue for any of the above against my choice of Mick Conneely's Selkie, but it would be hard going because this younger fiddler has done so many things right. He's firmly rooted in the music, having learned from his father, who is heard here on a great set of duos. Conneely plays with an almost fierce attack but great melodic subtlety; while his style defies regional categorization, it still has a very old-fashioned feel. A good place to find this and other excellent small-label Irish recordings is

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