Puscifer, “What Is...” (CD/DVD - Puscifer Entertainment). Maynard James Keenan is an enigma. Not exactly breaking news, this fact, but one that bears repeating. As singer and frontman with prog-metal legends Tool, Keenan comes across as a Peter Gabriel-esque performance artist with a dark streak that makes “Downward Spiral”-era Trent Reznor look like Howdy Doody. He’d proved himself to be one of the finest singers in heavy music by the end of the ’90s, but the coming years suggested Keenan was just getting warmed up, as he launched the neo-psychedelic A Perfect Circle and, soon after, the impenetrably named Puscifer.
It is with this particular “side project” that the Keenan mystery deepens, for no other band has ever exploited the chasm between the surface appearance and the emotional tenor of what lies beneath that appearance more effectively than Puscifer. The just-released “What Is...” documents the band’s 2012 “Conditions of my Parole” tour, a jaunt which included a memorable stop at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. For this tour, Keenan took on several personas, employing a variety of wigs, faux mustaches, leisure suits and the like, parodying “redneck” tendencies, and generally denying audiences the sort of soul-baring honesty many have come to expect from songwriters. Keenan always seemed to be pulling our leg, but then there was the music itself – an often brilliant blend of minimalism, techno-rock and progressive tendencies circling around gorgeous vocal melodies and stirring harmonies.
So many of those hauntingly beautiful songs are captured on “What Is...,” among them epics like “The Green Valley,” “Tiny Monsters,” “Oceans,” “Monsoons,” “Horizons” and “Tumbleweed.” The disc comes with a DVD of the full show, plus a documentary that sheds some light on the method behind Keenan’s costumed madness. Taken as a whole, “What Is...” represents a high-water mark for the marriage of performance art and far-reaching, intelligent rock music. It’s also sidesplittingly hilarious. Go figure. ∆∆∆∆(Jeff Miers)
Keith Jarrett, Concerts in Bregenz and Munchen (ECM, three discs). The advent of Keith Jarrett’s solo piano performances on ECM (the most famous, of course, was the “Koln Concerts”) was one of the truly epochal events in the history of jazz piano. They were like nothing else anyone had ever quite heard before. And they became hugely popular, especially among people who otherwise had little interest in jazz. What you’ve got here in this brilliant three disc set are newly released Jarrett solo piano concerts from 1982, from Munich and Bregenz. In his notes, Peter Ruedl says, rather obviously, of Keith Jarrett’s solo piano filibusters “Jarrett’s art is an art of the moment. It happens in the here and now and is not repeatable.
What he finds in the mines of music history is valid only for a single moment, it comes alive again for this moment alone.” Of his “endless ostinatos of fluttering planes of sound,” he also writes smartly “by now Jarrett … has been imitated so frequently that it has come time to defend him from his own followers.” All of these performances do just that by being inimitable. Their journey from those “endless ostinatos” to freely improvised tone clusters and Cecil Taylorish splatter piano is, in the case of every performance, parallel but, at the same time, profoundly different. Jarrett once told him, “I keep myself strictly under control but I don’t control my music. I let the music come out on its own. I just try to shut doors – easy ways out.” Great performances, then, from a now familiar Jarrett mode but completely fresh in details. ∆∆∆½ (Jeff Simon)
Zoot Sims, “Down Home” and Bobby Troupe “The Songs of Bobby Troupe” (Bethlehem/Naxos). Sing Hallelujah. The Bethlehem label, one of the truly great treasure houses of the mid-’50s and after (Mel Torme and Frances Faye’s “Porgy and Bess”, Nina Simone’s classic versions of “I Loves You Porgy,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me”) is being reintroduced in terrific reissues from Naxos. Zoot Sims wasn’t much different 20 years later than he was in 1955, but what is a little unusual here is his pianist Dave McKenna, who later became famous as the solo jazz pianist with the most house-rocking left-hand mainstream piano ever heard (later so influential for Buffalo’s Mike Jones). Dannie Richmond, no less, who was soon to be so famous with Charles Mingus, is their drummer. Lean-back on the heels swinging of the most timeless sort. “The Songs of Bobby Troupe” are a bit of a misnomer. Don’t, for instance, look here for his most famous song “Route 66.” Most of these come with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. This is Bobby Troupe as a singer from the period when he was, among other things, also on the road to being Mr. Julie London. Nice West Coast hipsterism just waiting for Bob Dorough to come along and turn it into a fine art. ΩΩΩ½ for Sims ΩΩΩ for Troupe. (J.S.)
Once Upon a December performed by Community Music School (Community Music School of Buffalo). Here’s something with sparkle: a Christmas CD that sells for $10 and benefits Buffalo’s historic Community Music School. Students and faculty perform 16 numbers, from “A Marshmallow World” to Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
At least one performance seems destined to become a Buffalo classic – “White Christmas,” sung by the octogenarian alumnus Andy Anselmo, the teacher of Mandy Patinkin and Liza Minnelli. Michael McNeill is on piano, and it’s sweet and bittersweet. The disc is like a stocking full of surprises. Student Jenna Rich sings “Silver Bells” (it has a Buffalo connection with its lyrics by Ray Evans, and it’s nice that the performance includes the little-heard verse). Julie Costa, accompanied by McNeill’s capable boogie piano, sings a shy, pretty “Jingle Bell Rock.” A young singer named Jennifer Fitzery does a crystal-clear “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and Madeleine HusVar hits bell-like high notes in “Once Upon a December.”
There’s a solo jazz piano performance of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” by Keturah Stevens, a student of the excellent Buffalo jazz pianist Joe Brancato, and Brancato and flutist Carol McLaughlin team up for “Body and Soul”/”In a Sentimental Mood.” Jeff Paterson, the new head of the Community Music School, wrote a lovely waltz called “Mary’s Lullaby,” and the small-fry Joy of Singing Together Class warbles hilariously through “My Favorite Things.” The collection concludes with a sweet “We Three Kings/Silent Night” with guitar and hand bells. The disc is often cheerily amateurish, with iffy sound here and there, and I wished there had been more budding classical singers represented.
It’s so cute, though, and a nice deal for $10. I hope it becomes an annual offering. The CD is for sale at the school, 415 Elmwood Ave., and at www.communitymusicbuffalo.org. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)