Duncan Sheik, "White Limousine" (Zoe/Rounder). Forget the Duncan Sheik you might recall from the 1996 hit "Barely Breathing," a fairly lame folk-pop, sensitive-guy hit. Today, Sheik is the preeminent architect of American orchestral bummer-pop, and "White Limousine" is his finest hour. Don't waste your time with Coldplay, if beautiful ballads are your thing -- Sheik knows how to write and arrange subtle, gauzy but beautifully fleshed-out pop songs with hip chord changes and killer melodies. Hear aspects of David Sylvian, Nick Drake and British chamber-pop throughout this lovingly crafted record. Sheik stands alone in this field as a songwriter who doesn't sound like he's selling himself short in order to appear sensitive. Fans of Elliott Smith, Drake and Sylvian will find plenty to love here. It's music that earns the right to be somber and reflective, for musical construction and lyric are perfectly paired on all 12 songs.
Review: Three stars (out of four) (Jeff Miers)
Paul Shapiro, "It's In the Twilight" (Tzadik). Talmudic soul jazz has arrived. Are you ready for a jazz band with klezmer in its bloodstream? How about boogie down horas or music for Hebrew prayers based on the simplest montuno rhythms of salsa bands everywhere? No? Well, how about 16th century Kabbalist poetry inspiring downtown New York City music with a groove that's reminiscent of nothing so much as the African jazz of the great Abdullah Ibrahim? Would you believe that the most melodic and sheerly enjoyable jazz record to come along in many months from jazz's younger generation is this monster delight from Shapiro, a fat-toned tenor power player, composer and bandleader who is a one-man jazz diversity movement? For anyone who has forgotten how much passionate fun jazz can be, Paul Shapiro and this bunch are a gift from on high, brought to us by John Zorn's record label. When publicists say you don't have to be Jewish to love Shapiro's "Ribs and Brisket" bunch, they're not kidding.
Review: Four stars (Jeff Simon)
Mimi Fox, "Perpetually Hip" (Favored Nations Cool). From guitarist Steve Vai's label comes this fine two-disc set by an exciting San Francisco jazz guitarist -- a Joe Pass disciple, no less -- who desperately needs a bigger rep. One disc presents her with a band any guitarist would relish (drummer Billy Hart and bassist Harvie S., for instance), the second presents her solo, a perilous enterprise that only the best jazz guitarists (her mentor Pass, for instance) can completely justify. Fox not only justifies it, she flourishes, just as she does with her quartet. She can swing like mad and play a ton.
Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)
The Mary Lou Williams Collective, "Zodiac Suite Revisited" (Mary Records). "Soul on soul," Duke Ellington immortally called Mary Lou Williams, without question the greatest female instrumentalist in the history of jazz (in her lifetime, she played with everyone from the greatest swing players to Cecil Taylor.) That she remains a remarkable jazz force years after her death is confirmed by this kaleidoscopic re-setting of one of her suites -- not one of her most impressive, maybe, but sturdy and worthy. The Mary Lou Williams Collective is no less than pianist Geri Allen and bassist Buster Williams with either Andrew Cyrille or Billy Hart on drums. There is absolutely no slavish obeisance to the original Mary Lou Williams disc of this -- just wonderful jazz musicians feasting anew on the music and spirit of one of jazz's most remarkable figures.
Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)
Mott the Hoople, "Mott" and "All the Young Dudes" (both Columbia/Legacy). Overshadowed by loyal supporter David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" success, and the blockbuster sales of Bad Company, the band guitarist Mick Ralphs went on to co-found following its demise, Mott the Hoople is one of the unsung heroes of the "glam rock" age. In songwriter/vocalist Ian Hunter, Mott boasted a hard rock Lou Reed, a man with a keen intelligence, rapier wit, and cocksure sense of rock 'n' roll drama. The band made two masterpieces in its relatively short lifespan, and Columbia/Legacy remasters and reissues both of them here. "Mott" is brilliant -- a swarthy, swank set of interstellar rockers and left-of-center production values. This is thinking-man's early '70s rock; how else to explain the perfect balancing of a D.H. Lawrence poem ("A Sane Revolution," printed in the liner notes) against songs that blend boogie and lyrics that mythologize rock itself? "Mott" stands proudly alongside Bowie and Marc Bolan's best works of the period. "All the Young Dudes" is another corker, a full-on, Bowie-produced slab of glam pitting gutter chic (the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane") against pub anthems (the title tune, "One of the Boys") and epic balladry ("Sea Diver"). Remarkably, this music has aged gracefully. The quality of both recordings is incredibly high, and the songwriting is timeless. Replace your old vinyl with these delicious remasters, or introduce your Franz Ferdinand-loving kids to the real deal.
Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)