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Drawn In

By Mike Hotter

White Magic

Dat Rosa Mel Apibus (Drag City)

The most one can ask from any music is to be transported to someplace rare, and at that the full-length debut from Brooklyn neo-folkies White Magic succeeds admirably. Album opener “The Light” sets up a mood for mind alteration, all nimble drums and snaky vocals, and by the final “Song of Solomon,” one may have grown antennae and a fondness for hookahs. The songs are built predominantly upon band leader Mira Billotte’s sturdy and strident piano riffs, upon which are layered guitar, violin and (on two tracks) sitar arabesques. Billotte has a strong and supple alto that is all her own, but finds some comparison with early Sinead O’Connor and Chan Marshall. There are two songs that forego the somewhat ornate instrumentation elsewhere for a bare-bones acoustic approach, a cover of Karen Dalton’s “Katie Cruel” and the standout original “What I See.” While the songs start to blend into each other by the album’s midway point, this also tends to add thematic heft to a song cycle which has a visionary and almost pagan world view. From its Rosicrucian-inspired title and cover art to the glimpses of mystical union trapped within the tunes, Dat Rosa Mel Apibus can draw you, like the titular bees to the honey, to these light-filled songs as if cast under their spell.

Norah Jones

Not Too Late (Blue Note)

Norah Jones is nice, and it’s nice to hear new Norah. Mellow of voice, kindly and just kittenish enough to titillate the jazzbos she affects to represent, she’s a craftsperson (political correctness comes so damn dear) who perfects small forms. Her songs are wistful, yearning and very occasionally upbeat. Her delivery is so assured, yet modest, she seems to let the listener in on deep secrets. On her third album, she’s comfortably ambiguous (is “Wish I Could” about Iraq or war in general?), reportorially acute (“Until the End” approximates a rich character study), and passive-aggressive enough to not offend anyone, intimates likely included. Beautifully produced by boyfriend-bassist Lee Alexander, Not Too Late glides by like a summer afternoon and, like its two predecessors, rarely ruffles the feathers. There’s some politics, in “My Dear Country,” one of Jones’ more expressive tunes. There’s plenty of rue, and there’s affection. Cellos spell emotion, horns shadow rhythm and blues, and the rare drums suggest, more than lay down, a backbeat. Tempo, as usual, is resolutely mid, but this time out, Jones varies texture every so often: “Sinkin’ Soon” (is this about Katrina?) has a New Orleans feel, complete with mandolin and “guitjo.” Just about everything is nice about Jones’ subdued world, it seems, even when she tackles gnarly topics like war, insanity and homelessness. To her credit, she sings so pretty and her friends play so sweet, sharing her space can be comfy.

—Carlo Wolff

Dizzy Gillespie

Verve/Philips Dizzy Gillespie Small Group Sessions (Mosaic)

Dizzy Gillespie’s legacy has been undermined by circumstances that shouldn’t affect our enjoyment of his magnificent music making. Unlike Charlie Parker, alongside whom he worked to develop bebop, Gillespie didn’t romantically die young. Dizzy’s chops, like Louis Armstrong’s, changed as he aged, and he gets unfairly compared with his younger self.

And there’s also the difficulty of appreciating the recorded legacy of an artist whose recordings are many and varied and often hard to find. Mosaic Records has taken care of a chunk of that by issuing a seven-CD set of small group sets Gillespie recorded between 1954 and 1964—132 sides in all.

It bears repeating that Dizzy not only established the look and sound of bebop during the 1940s, but also simultaneously ushered in the Afro-Cuban sound. His early hits included “A Night in Tunisia,” “Anthropology,” “Groovin’ High” and the wacky “Salt Peanuts,” all of which are included in this set, along with standards like “Moonglow” and “St. Louis Blues” and even a collection of movie themes, legacy of a 1963 concept album that’s more about arranging than improvising but still lets Gillespie group of the moment swing out.

Gillespie was a superb bandleader, and eventually put together several excellent groups, but in 1954 he was newly returned from Paris and seeking a measure of the success he’d won in Europe but was eluding him here.

It made economic sense to take a small group into the studio, but it also made artistic sense. As one of a quintet, Dizzy is relaxed without sacrificing any of his antic creativity, as the first sides, cut in May 1954, attest. With Hank Mobley on tenor and drummer Charlie Persip laying out a boppish beat, he takes a doo-wop hit, “Money Honey,” and gives it a Calypso beat; he also revives one of his own numbers, “Hey Pete! Let’s Eat More Meat.”

Quintet sessions in February 1959 include more standards, including several takes of an Isham Jones tune, “There Is No Greater Love,” that show how seriously he pursued his solos, while “Willow Weep for Me” is a study in skilled balladry.

Variously configured quintets are the dominant ensemble on this set, putting Dizzy alongside such key players as James Moody, Kenny Barron and Bud Powell.

A couple of larger ensembles intrude, small enough still to stay within Mosaic’s theme. Eight players, including sax-playing arrangers Gigi Gryce and Benny Golson, put together eight more formally plotted numbers in 1957 for an album titled The Greatest Trumpet of Them All. Heard in the context of the smaller groups, it’s an impressive reminder of Dizzy’s skill as a more featured soloist, helped by tight, lively charts.

Five years later, Gillespie recorded with another octet, Charlie Ventura and Lalo Schifrin among the players along with a trio of percussionists to flesh out the rhythms for Dizzy’s latest craze, the bossa nova. “Desafinado,” “Manha de Carnival” and “No More Blues” (“Chega de Saudade”) were among the titles, but, thanks to some bad career advice, Dizzy held on to the tapes while Stan Getz scored a big hit with his first bossa nova release.

The late ’50s and early ’60s were an arid period for jazz, as vocalists took the limelight and dorky Ray Conniff arrangements actually charted. While not the most innovative material, this set offers a valuable look at what one particularly worthy artist was playing during that time. It’s pleasant, virtuosic stuff, skillfully remastered for excellent sound, intelligently annotated and great fun to listen to.

(Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111;

—B.A. Nilsson

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