Microscopic Septet History of the Micros, Volume One: Seven Men in Neckties

Two decades after the Microscopic Septet’s heyday, their carnival-esque take on jazz — upside-down Monk and Dixieland Sun Ra, gutbucket R&B and oompah Latin — still turns heads. Back in the ’80s, when Wynton Marsalis was turning back the clock and John Zorn was just "that guy who plays duck calls,” the Micros were completely out-of-step with what anyone expected "jazz” to sound like. Cuneiform’s two-part (four-CD) reissue of the Micros’ albums is a timely reminder of their inventiveness and fire. The solos are sometimes rough-hewn, the rhythm section a bit uneven, but two things make every track worth hearing: Joel Forrester’s sparkling piano, which is equally comfortable with Monkish angularity or Latin-jazz dazzle, and Forrester and Philip Johnston’s compositions — labyrinthine jazz fantasias that turn corner after corner without succumbing to ADD jumpiness. Volume two, Surrealistic Swing, has more polished playing and some of the group’s best charts but volume one gets the nod for the live date Let’s Flip!, especially Johnston’s devastating take on Billy Strayhorn’s noir swinger "Johnny Come Lately.” (Cuneiform)