Discs: Kings of Leon, Jeremy Denk and Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations,’ Tim Berne’s Snake Oil - The Buffalo News

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Discs: Kings of Leon, Jeremy Denk and Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations,’ Tim Berne’s Snake Oil


Kings of Leon

Mechanical Bull


2 stars

Watching Kings of Leon grow up in public has been akin to observing Pearl Jam’s career in reverse. The latter band started big and bold with the arena-friendly choruses of its debut, “Ten,” and then proceeded to become increasingly idiosyncratic, multifaceted and unique with each album that followed. Kings of Leon started a bit edgy, crunchy, with a touch of potential danger in their sound, an inspired blend of youthful energy and considerable talent suggesting what might be in the band’s future. In the time since, each subsequent Kings release has whittled away the band’s unique quirks, and revealed the three brothers Fallowill (and their cousin) to be basically an arena rock band with a slight alternative edge. The change has not been to the band’s benefit.

“Mechanical Bull” is release No. 6 for the Followills and has been presaged with press that suggested the album would represent a return to form for the band after some difficult years of personal and communal excess. It doesn’t really turn out to be any such thing. Instead, it represents a continuation of the whittling away of the band’s Southern rock-meets-New York City alt-punk beginnings in favor of an increasingly mainstream and classic rock approach.

This is not a wholly negative occurrence, for “Mechanical Bull” boasts a handful of excellent songs, all of which find vocalist/guitarist Caleb Fallowill leading the charge toward arena-rock glory with his mildly drawling interpretation of assorted Bono-isms and grandiose, fist-pumping chorus hooks.

“Temple” begins with a Strokes-like garage-y new wave pulse before building into a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on a Coldplay album. The opening guitar-fueled textures of “Supersoaker” and “Rock City” set things up nicely, but ultimately they offer the promise of something the rest of the album fails to deliver – genuine danger, excitement and the sound of a band finding the promise of renewal in the simple fact that it has endured turmoil and come through to the other side.

That feeling of rebirth is absent here. As a result, “Mechanical Bull” is an album that exists as a home for a few good songs that share space with some far less inspired ones. The Followills sound a little bit bored with themselves and each other here. The listener is likely to find this ennui contagious.

– Jeff Miers



Goldberg Variations


3½ stars

Here is Jeremy Denk, tongue firmly in cheek, in NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog writing about Bach’s “Goldberg Variations:”

“The best reason to hate the ‘Goldberg Variations’ – aside from the obvious reason that everyone asks you all the time which of the two [Glenn Gould] recordings you prefer – is that everybody loves them. Yes, I’m suspicious of the ‘Goldbergs’ popularity. Classical music is not really supposed to be that popular. I worried for years that I would be seduced into playing them, and would become like all the others – besotted, cultish – and that is exactly what happened. I have been assimilated into the Goldberg Borg.”

“A fool’s errand attempted by the greatest genius of all time,” Denk called the Goldbergs in that blog, which is merrily titled “Why I Hate the Goldberg Variations.”

So let’s consider their history in the past 60 years: Until Gould’s career-announcing piano version in the 1950s, the best known recording was Wanda Landowska’s recording on the harpsichord. Then, Gould recorded them on piano in one of the most exciting and radically influential Bach recordings of all time. It wasn’t long before Gould was performing repertoire other pianists wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. He also established himself as one of the most idiosyncratic pianists and brilliant writers on music of his or any other time.

So now we have young Denk, wit, captivating blogger and pianist known to combine the piano music of Gyorgi Ligeti on disc with that of Beethoven. I promise not to think too hard about Gould if you do, too.

And here’s Denk’s “Goldberg Variations” disc that couldn’t possibly be from a more loving pianist in his own time, no matter how much of a jolly fight he put up in his blog. No other pianist’s Goldbergs were quite like Gould’s first one – certainly not Gould’s – but Denk is not only a wonderful pianist, his demonstrations of the music in a separate disc of liner notes are clearly an idea whose time has long since come.

– Jeff Simon


Tim Berne

Snake Oil


3 stars

One thing that too-often jazz-deprived Buffalo knows is that the jazz vanguard is alive and well. And then some.

Courtesy of the music at Hallwalls, some of the least compromised music in jazz is frequently heard here.

On Jan. 26, it will come to another place entirely, as saxophonist Tim Berne’s new quartet Snakeoil is heard in the continuing wonderment of the Albright-Knox Hunt Real Estate Art of Jazz Series.

Here is the group’s first disc, which is Berne’s first as a leader for Manfred Eicher’s ECM. Anyone expecting any sort of compromise from Berne (one of his discs was cheerfully titled “Caos Totale”) hasn’t heard much music from Berne.

His new quartet has Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and Chris Smith on drums (that’s right, no bass).

No one would claim this is easy listening music by any possible definition, but Berne – whose major early influence was the great Julius Hemphill – is one of the most lucid and commanding players in all of jazz’s avant-garde.

– J.S.


Opera Breve

Philippe Quint, violin, and Lily Maisky, piano

[Avanti Classic]

3½ stars

Philippe Quint emigrated to America from the Soviet Union, but he also has associations with Buffalo. For a few years he had on loan one of the priceless violins owned by Clement and Karen Arrison, the “Ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivarius. He performed here several times, including as a soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. I’ve interviewed him and I like him a lot for his ego-free attitude and his relaxed sense of humor.

You can sense his personality in this album. Quint explains in the liner notes that all the music here figures somehow in his life. Four songs from “Porgy and Bess,” arranged by Jascha Heifetz, remind him of his early days in America when he was studying with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard. The most personal song to him is the breathtaking “Evening Prayer,” from Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Thank you, Philippe, for pointing out what a first-rate opera this is. He did the arrangement himself, and it’s tremendously touching.

Maisky sounds like a fine pianist, but her role is as an accompanist. These pieces are designed to show off a violinist’s virtuosity. Quint is the master of relaxed virtuosity. He plays a florid arrangement of Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” from “The Barber of Seville” and Fritz Kreisler’s urbane treatment of the Melodie from Gluck’s “Orpheus and Euridice.” Quint also plays Leopold Auer’s arrangement of Lensky’s haunting aria from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” Auer’s violin, by the way, is coming to Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend, in the hands of violinist Vadim Gluzman. And just to update you on Quint’s violin situation, the Arrisons’ “Ex-Kiesewetter” is now on loan to Augustin Hadelich, who played it at Kleinhans last spring, and Quint currently plays another Strad, the 1708 “Ruby.”

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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