Listening Post: Panic! at the Disco, The Wang-Rodgers Piano Duo and the Modern Jazz Quartet - The Buffalo News

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Listening Post: Panic! at the Disco, The Wang-Rodgers Piano Duo and the Modern Jazz Quartet


Panic! At the Disco, “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!” (Fueled by Ramen). Hipsters who probably would’ve cringed at Thompson Twins, Thomas Dolby and Howard Jones back in the ’80s are now free to purge the catalogs of those bands and others like them for inspiration, quite possibly with the knowledge that many among their fan bases will hear this music as refreshingly unique. For Panic! At the Disco’s latest, plundering ’80s synth-pop for ideas and inspiration certainly seems to have paid off. The songwriting duo of singer Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith leads Panic! through emo-soaked bits of heavily processed melody atop sonic beds that sound at times like EDM as interpreted by Depeche Mode (“Vegas Lights,” “Girl That You Love”) and at others not unlike the soaring, majestic techno-anthems of Midge Ure and Ultravox (“This Is Gospel,” “Nicotine”). The heavily processed vocals and clearly computer-generated arrangements get a bit cloying after a while. But on balance, “Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!” – while not truly living up to its title – offers an interesting take on emo/EDM fusion. ΩΩ½ (Jeff Miers)


The Wang-Rodgers Piano Duo, American Masterpieces (Albany Records). The Wang-Rodgers Piano Duo, a husband-and-wife team, have chosen some marvelous stuff for this enjoyable exploration of music you seldom hear. William Bolcom’s “Recuerdos: Three Traditional Latin-American Dances” are sultry, occasionally wistful and beautifully coordinated. Aaron Copland’s “El Salon Mexico” is vigorous, evocative music. If it has an air of authenticity there is a reason why: Copland wrote it under the influence of Mexico, where he attended a “Harlem-type nightclub” where he admired a sign reading, “Please don’t throw lighted cigarettes on the floor so the ladies don’t burn their feet.” Dave Brubeck’s percussive, complex “Points of Jazz” are interesting. It’s based on a Polish theme and was designed as a tribute to Poland, where Brubeck went on a state-sponsored trip. You’ll recognize bits of Brubeck you’ve heard, like the “Take Five” rhythm, but the music often grows overbearing. Bernstein’s “Arias and Barcarolles,” which involve vocals as well as piano, are a mixed bag. I think I’ve heard the tender “Greeting,” a meditation on the birth of a child, and it’s sweet. But not all the songs are that appealing. You know Bernstein was capable of better melodies, and the music never quite shakes its air of pretentiousness. The singers – soprano Jennifer Robinson and baritone Bradley Robinson, another husband-and-wife team – do a good job, though, and on the whole I enjoyed this disc of offbeat explorations. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


The Modern Jazz Quartet, Germany 1956-1958: Lost Tapes (Jazzhaus). A truly great disc out of nowhere. What is very easy to forget – especially for Americans – is that the great breakthrough of the Modern Jazz Quartet was in Europe in 1957. These newly heard performances from 1956 to 1958 are stunning. Not only is Milt Jackson on fire but so sometimes is pianist John Lewis, who, at the time, spent far more time being decorous on the American discs coming out at the time. Not only that, there is an early run-through of Lewis’ gorgeous “Midsommer” played with string orchestra and quartet, before it turned into a string orchestra and European soloist piece on one of Lewis’ finest records of all time, the often hard-to-find “European Windows.” You can hear them too with a German big band. “Tenderly” is a rare solo Jackson piece recorded at the behest of German jazz critic Joachim Berendt, the dedicatee of Lewis’ “J.B. Blues.” If this seems like one of the best MJQ discs from its era, it may be because the band was in the process of being truly and profoundly understood for the first time. Terrific. ∆∆∆∆ (Jeff Simon)

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