Gato Barbieri may be one of those saxophonists whose sound is so closely associated with smooth jazz – and has been since the late '70s – that it's hard to imagine he was once the progenitor of a singular kind of jazz fusion: and that's world fusion, not jazz-rock fusion. Barbieri recorded four albums for Impulse! between 1973 and 1975 that should have changed jazz forever, in that he provided an entirely new direction when it was desperately needed. That it didn't catch certainly isn't his fault, but spoke more to the dearth of new ideas that followed after the discoveries of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Miles Davis. Barbieri, a Coltrane disciple, hailed from Argentina and sought to bring the music of Latin America, most specifically its folk forms, into the jazz arena.
Tab Benoit's funky, ragged blend of Louisiana swamp blues and East Texas guitar, with hints of funk, soul, and country thrown in to give the gumbo just the right spice, has served him well since he burst on the scene in the early '90s. Since Benoit hasn't essentially changed his sound since, this collection of sides made up largely from his early releases for Houston-based Justice Records (all of Benoit's Justice albums have been reissued by Vanguard Records in recent years) makes an ideal introduction to what this guy is all about, and although Best of the Bayou Blues covers a five-year span from 1992 to 1997, the tracks all fall together in a completely coherent sequence. Opening with the Benoit original "Voodoo on the Bayou" from 1992's Nice & Warm and running through several originals and some interesting covers (including country-funk takes on Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" and Willie Nelson's "Rainy Day Blues"), this set spotlights Benoit's southern Louisiana take on contemporary blues.
Beethoven's String Quartets are well known for their inventiveness. The mold of the string quartet form, established by Haydn, was shattered by Beethoven's profound expression and expansion of the "rules." Between 1999 and 2003, the renowned Pražák Quartet recorded all of the Beethoven string quartets, and this match of program and performers is one made in heaven.