Disc reviews: The War on Drugs, Norma Winstone, Omar Hakim, Diana Damrau - The Buffalo News
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Disc reviews: The War on Drugs, Norma Winstone, Omar Hakim, Diana Damrau


The War on Drugs

Lost In the Dream

[Secretly Canadian]

4 stars

Adam Granduciel is a name familiar to anyone immersed in the world of contemporary indie rock. Granduciel’s The War on Drugs emerged into the indie spotlight largely on the strength of its second effort, 2011’s “Slave Ambient,” though by that time, Granduciel had already established underground credibility by working with Kurt Vile. Critics freaked, and we should be forgiven, for Granduciel seemed in full possession of that “it” factor, the intangible but obvious character trait that separates great rock songwriters from mere run-of-the-mill ones.

With his third War on Drugs release, Granduciel ups the ante even more. If “Slave Ambient” brimmed with promise, “Lost in the Dream” takes that check, runs to the corner store, cashes it, and picks up a 12-pack on the way out the door. It’s a masterpiece of moodiness, a record brimming with deflated optimism and slightly battered resilience. And it sounds simply fantastic – warm, dynamic, earthy, but trippy and dreamy too, in all the right places. It’s that rare record where the production and the songwriting/performance content are perfectly matched.

Already, critics are throwing around comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits, but that seems a bit much. It’s just as easy to hear echoes of Mercury Rev’s “Deserter’s Songs” in these grooves, and maybe even a dash of the Pernice Brothers. Whatever – “Lost in the Dream” opens with an epic, in the form of “Under the Pressure,” a song that builds with abundant mastery through a sort of rock minimalism, until it finally blossoms into a cello-laden coda, Granduciel’s haunted vocal intonations woven between ambient electric guitars and warm analog synths, by which point all comparisons already seem silly. Granduciel is plowing his own furrow here.

Following an eight-minute album opener that shoots for the stars and scores a bull’s-eye is tough going, but “Lost in the Dream” pulls it off. There are more than a few stone-cold classics here. “Eyes To the Wind” is one of them, its moaning volume swells in the intro giving way to a strident acoustic guitar, and Granduciel easing through an eloquent vocal melody that takes its sweet time unfolding; “An Ocean Between the Waves” skips along to a “Krautrock” pulse, as gorgeous reverb-laden sounds float through the mix; “In Reverse” concludes the album almost as if it regrets having to do so, and would rather fade slowly away into the twilight like a question left dangling in the air.

It’s to Granduceil’s credit that “Lost in the Dream” sounds like an album we’ll be listening to in 10 or 20 years, and still be learning something from. Unlike so many in his peer group, he’s an artist who places substance above style, battle-scarred humanism above narcissism, and the small truth above the grand gesture. War on Drugs performs April 13 in the Town Ballroom.

– Jeff Miers


Norma Winstone

Dance Without Answer


3 stars

Let me confess that I could have done without German and Italian untranslated lyrics in two songs here. But it’s to be expected with the great English vocalist in a trio disc accompanied only by Italian pianist Giauco Venier and exceptional German soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing. We’re talking about an ECM disc after all, perhaps the most trans-Atlantic of all record labels.

But what I love about this disc is that Norma Winstone – a fixture with ECM practically from the beginning – otherwise has such exultant taste in what songs are ideal for her vocal purity. Here, the repertoire is gorgeous – Nick Drake’s “Time of No Reply,” Madonna and Patrick Leonard’s still-underrated “Live to Tell,” Tom Waits’ “San Diego Serenade,” Joe Raposo’s “Being Green,” Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” (from the Harry Nilsson songbook). And so, too, are what these three musicians do with it in such intimately responsive performance.

Exalted and uncommonly beautiful vocal chamber jazz.

– Jeff Simon

Jazz fusion

The Omar Hakim Experience

We Are One


3 stars

Weather Report lives.

Well, sort of.

Omar Hakim was the drummer on some of the more poetic records that Weather Report ever made. No one would claim on this disc he says was eight years in the making that there are any musicians on it who are the equal of Joe Zawinul or Wayne Shorter – or even close. But there’s no question that if you add two guitarists and Hakim’s wife (Buffalo-born Rachel Z) on keyboards, the disc has a kind of large-spirited Weather Report feel so lacking in bad jazz-rock fusion.

Hakim, as composer, is hardly the equal of Zawinul or Shorter either (who is?), but these are genuine fusion compositions other musicians might well want to play rather than the kind of empty and meaningless composer credits that fill up so many jazz and fusion discs.

No small amount of the unusual flavor is the sound provided by the great harmonica player Gregoire Maret (who has performed at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Hunt Real Estate Art of Jazz series), which is hardly a commonplace in the world of jazz-rock fusion. And too, says Hakim, “I used to get a lot of criticism and flak from the fans because they would always say ‘you don’t play enough drums on your solo records.’ So this time around I wanted to make sure I play some serious drums.” And that he does, on the opening “Transmigration,” “Walk the Walk” and “Listen Up!” With Hakim playing this much drums, no one really needs an Airto Moreíra. His two guitarists are Jimi Tunnell and Chieli Minucci. His pianist and arranger is Scott Tibbs. There are roles for vocalist Angel Rogers and tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini as well.

Hakim, after Weather Report, went all over the map musically, playing with Madonna, Sting, Dire Straits, David Bowie and Daft Punk, among others. “My career has been about doing a little bit of everything. That was very much intentional for me. I wanted to get myself in a position where people would call me to contribute and hopefully enhance their musical experience.”

– J.S.


Diana Damrau


The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

David Charles Abell, conductor

4 stars


The coloratura soprano Diana Damrau has quite a mix here. She starts her 21 songs with a half dozen arias from Viennese operetta – “Merry Widow,” “Countess Mariza,” “Die Fledermaus.”

Then she moves on to Broadway, with “My Fair Lady” and “South Pacific” and “Sweeney Todd” (a musical whose charm escapes me, but it has its fans). “Over the Rainbow” and “Summertime” are kind of overdone, but I love that she includes Disney songs, the beautiful jazz standard “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and “Feed the Birds.” In her notes she makes the point that great singers did not differentiate between opera and operetta, and it is nice to see her following in that tradition. The accompaniment has a retro flair.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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