PICTURE saxophonist Hank Crawford and New Orleans pianist Dr. John getting together with some other musicians at a juke joint late one night in the Deep South.
Dr. John begins pumping away at an upright, tossing off tricky rhythmic figures, and Crawford, moved by the music, picks up his alto and wails. Add a few more horns, a guitar, bass and drums and you have an idea of the mood evoked by "Roadhouse Symphony," a relaxed, raunchy and refreshingly old-fashioned helping of rhythm and blues.
Crawford and Dr. John are an ideal pair, each clearly inspired by the other's ability to charge his music with emotion, but nearly as important to the album's overall late-night atmosphere are the swaggering horns (saxophonists Houston Person and David "Fathead" Newman in guest appearances) and Melvin Sparks' tasteful blues licks.
Highlights include the album's rollicking title tune, "Tragick Magick" (one of the best songs Dr. John has recorded in years), and Crawford's soulful rendition of Irving Berlin's "Say It Isn't So."
A somewhat less accessible album is "da-da," new from altosaxophonist Arthur Blythe. That's not to say that "da-da" (the title was inspired by Blythe's young son) isn't easily appreciated. It's just that the music Blythe has to offer -- with the exception of the funk-derived tunes "Splain Thang" and "Break Time" and the synth-swept pop ballad "Esquinas" -- has little in common with the uncomplicated joys of R&B.
In addition to tunes by John Coltrane (a bold, rhapsodic version of "Crescent") and Sir Roland Hanna (the lovely interpretation of the ballad "After Paris," warmly enhanced by pianist John Hicks), Blythe performs a couple of his own pieces, including a new, intriguing arrangement of "Odessa," which makes wonderful use of cornetist Olu Dara.
Dividing the performances as Blythe does between acoustic jazz performances and more pop-oriented electric arrangements ultimately makes "da-da" a mixed bag, but the best tracks more than compensate for the less memorable ones.
HANK CRAWFORD -- "Roadhouse Symphony" (Milestone M 9140); appearing Friday and Saturday at Woodies Hilltop Pub.
ARTHUR BLYTHE -- "da-da" (Columbia FC 40237); appearing Friday night with Chico Freeman at D.C. Space.