Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)
Paris Hilton poses with her cell phone, men flex bulging muscles, and alluring models cradle guitars. The collection of Vogue-ish photos inside the cover flap of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Zeitgeist" seems more suitable for a tabloid than a rock band's liner notes. But then it's a good thing the Pumpkins have never cared much about being suitable.
The bizarre and entertaining pictorial collage is only the first of many indications that the band is back.
From Billy Corgan's wailing vocals, guitar riffs and occasionally twisted lyrics, to Jimmy Chamberlin's impressive drum skills, "Zeitgeist" contains all of the musical elements (and oddities) the band is known for -- but it features the talent of only two of its original members: Corgan on all the instruments in overdub, except for Chamberlin on drums. In fact, many of the tracks on "Zeitgeist" sound familiar, which might cause some to label it a predictable and careful studio move by the band. Yet, for fans, this expected sound is exactly what they are looking for.
The radio-friendly, fluid "That's the Way (My Love Is)" is a classic Pumpkins piece, with Corgan's smooth voice dominating the melodic simplicity of his guitar as well as Chamberlin's steady, hypnotic drumming. Corgan's recognizable whine may be one of the Pumpkins' signature traits, but surprisingly his vocals aren't the main star on "Zeitgeist." Tracks like "Tarantula" and "Doomsday Clock" truly crank up the jamming, as Corgan gives listeners jam after jam worth rocking out to.
Also notable is the nearly 10-minute epic "United States," on which Corgan demands something like revolution: "Let me prove something real like I should/let me embrace every single living thing/let me be every single moment I ever misunderstood." Heavy guitar solos follow for reinforcement.
"Zeitgeist" is worthwhile. After all, it's probably the best work of art Ms. Hilton's pout will be found on all year.
-- Molly Hirschbeck
Review: 3 1/2 stars
Monk's Music Trio
Monk on Mondays
Review: 3 stars
I love Joan Stiles' "Hurly-Burly."
Here is not only the best mature female jazz musician since her fellow pianist/composers Joanne Brackeen and the sublime Jessica Williams, but also a fresh wit rare in jazz at any time (not, in truth, seen with as much purity and surprise as this since the heydays of the late and much-lamented Jaki Byard and Jimmy Rowles). Listen to Stiles' opening "The Brilliant Corners of Thelonious' Jumpin' Jeep," which is an antic collage of Monk's tunes "Brilliant Corners" and "Thelonious" mated to Duke Ellington's "The Jeep is Jumpin'." Then listen to her jittery, downright eccentric accompaniment to alto saxophonist Steve Wilson on Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" (not to mention her solo), and tell me that Waller himself might not have gotten a chortle or two out of it.
The title of the disc (to be released Tuesday), "Hurly Burly," refers to Burly, the maiden name of a favorite of Stiles and her greatest forebear, Mary Lou Williams, but it's Thelonious Monk who seems to occupy her thoughts most -- three tunes' worth (including a truly gorgeous "Pannonica" with trumpet player Jeremy Pelt) as well as Monkish chords sprinkled throughout. She sings, too, and when it comes time to bow down low to Jimmy Rowles and Stan Getz in tenorsaxophonist Joel Fraham's version of Rowles' "The Peacocks," you're in a region of purity and beauty most jazz musicians couldn't find, much less inhabit so easily for five minutes.
And all this from a pianist/composer/leader who has raised two kids, overcome wrist injuries and teaches as well as plays. Here is a musician who delights and surprises you, virtually measure to measure. And a top-level group of Manhattan musicians knows it. It's her second disc and proves conclusively, I think, that she's a bit of a jazz treasure. If only some of the selections were a bit more generous.
The Monk's Music Trio of San Francisco is nowhere close to Stiles' level of freshness, but these guys -- who've been performing Monk tunes two to three Mondays a month since 1999 -- are wonderful. Forget "Round Midnight." You get joyous out-of-the-way Monk repertoire here -- "Let's Call This," "Hornin' In," "Brake's Sake," "Locomotive," "Green Chimneys." And pianist Si Perkoff, in particular, has about as much feel for Monk's pianist manner as you can have without quoting him verbatim. Perkoff is no generator of ideas as Monk was (and Stiles can be), but his disc is good fun of a rare sort.
-- Jeff Simon
Masters and Commanders: Music from Seafaring Film Classics
Erich Kunzel, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Review: 4 stars
Here's a disc for your kid. Wait, here's a disc for anyone!
The "Pirates of the Carribean" movies gave us more than a long-overdue return to swashbuckling, seafaring movies. They took us back to the time when movies were accompanied by epic orchestral scores. What else could imply vast seas, storming passions and endless horizons? This disc puts the excellent "Pirates" music, by Hans Zimmer, in the midst of kindred scores by the old Hollywood masters. Among them are the fanfares from the Errol Flynn movie "Captain Blood" (why don't they resurrect that and use it for the Olympics?) and another classic by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the suite from "The Sea Hawk."
There's also Miklos Rosza's music from "Plymouth Adventure" -- though, OK, that's slightly less swashbuckling -- and Bronislau Kaper's famous Main Theme from "Mutiny on the Bounty." "Pirates of the Caribbean" fans, ahoy: There's more where that came from. The world is wide.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Performed by the Newstead Trio
Review: 3 stars
What a wonderful little grassroots CD.
Three teachers from the Pennsylvania Academy of Music have banded together and, thanks in part to a variety of grants, have turned out a tender recording of three late Mozart piano trios: K. 496, 502 and 548. Like late Beethoven, late Mozart tends toward the spare and searching, making you wonder if the composer somehow suspected he might not have much time left.
This music, though it sounds relatively easy to play, is tremendously rich in soul. The musicians -- pianist Xun Pan, violinist Michael Jamanis and cellist Sara Male -- put their hearts into it. Pan, a native of China who formerly taught at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, anchors the performances with his beautifully articulated melodies.