Discs: Manchester Orchestra, Ellen Rowe Quintet, Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, Poulenc - The Buffalo News

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Discs: Manchester Orchestra, Ellen Rowe Quintet, Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, Poulenc


Manchester Orchestra


[Loma Vista/Republic]

3 stars

Andy Hull started Manchester Orchestra nearly 10 years ago, when he was fresh out of high school and banging around Atlanta wondering what he was going to do with his life. Listening to “Cope,” the band’s fourth album, out this week, it’s hard to imagine the proper course of action was ever in doubt for Hull. This new record simply smacks of clear-eyed volition and persistence of vision.

The vision this time around, as Hull has said in the press repeatedly in the weeks leading up to “Cope’s” release, demanded a record that was short, sharp, shocking and hypercharged. Well, then. Mission accomplished. “Cope” is a clenched fist of an album with an unflinchingly consistent deep, dark guitar sound that is somehow redolent of a lush, mildly creepy backwoods somewhere. It’s a guitar album, in many ways, and it smacks of Southern alternative rock – a touch of My Morning Jacket’s red-eyed stoner soul is apparent – as much as it adheres to Manchester Orchestra’s prior tendency toward power-pop and a polite take on screamo.

Though tempos remain consistently bright, it is in fact the mildly sludgy strut of “The Mansion” that grabs the listener first. Here, palm-muted guitars give way to a Pixies-like explosion that packs sonic oomph come chorus time, and Hull sounds at once a little bit bummed out – the album title suggests that the themes explored throughout “Cope” have to do with endurance and perseverance – and determined to get by.

“Every Stone” presents itself as skittish, nervous and jittery, its 16th note pulse pushing it forward with significant attitude, and again, that Pixies/Nirvana-inspired marriage of light and shade is employed to winning effect. “Indentions” benefits from a synth harmonizing with the guitar melody, and here, Hull employs his somewhat limited technical palette to a positive end – he knows how to use what he’s got to express emotional range, even if at times, his tone bears a timbral resemblance to the more annoying tendencies favored by forgettable emo singers.

At its best, “Cope” recalls one of the great emo/post-rock albums of the early 2000s, Austin, Texas, band the Gloria Record’s “Start Here.” (That one is worth looking up.) An unwavering commitment to the creation of an in-your-face rock record is always evident, but there is enough nuance and craft here to maintain the listener’s interest for the duration of the roughly 40-minute ride.

– Jeff Miers


Ellen Rowe Quintet featuring Ingrid Jensen

Courage Music

[PKO Records]

2½ stars

Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra


[Justin Time]

3½ stars

Pianist, arranger and composer Ellen Rowe met Canadian composer, arranger and trumpet player Ingrid Jensen back in 1990.

Says Rowe now “there was even less opportunity for woman jazz musicians back then. We bonded … as players and friends, and over the years she has come to give classes at the University of Michigan. … With ‘Courage Music’ I’ve tried to investigate longer forms and to make use of my growing harmonic palate. I love the sound that the group, with Ingrid, lends to my compositions. I can put the music in their hands and let it go.”

It stands to reason that any female minority in jazz would be happy as can be to come together in a mutual admiration society (always common in jazz, in any case, going back to New Orleans).

What we have here – especially in the case of the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra’s superb “Habitat” – is evidence that the appalling rarity of ambitious female jazz musicians (Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Melba Liston, Carla Bley, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Maria Schneider) has left jazz so much poorer than it should the past 50 years.

Rowe’s “Courage Music,” with Ingrid Jensen playing trumpet and Andrew Bishop playing tenor saxophone and clarinet, is capable modern jazz and sometimes much more than that but also redolent sometimes of Rowe’s academic status as a jazz professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Another matter entirely, is the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra’s “Habitat” which now makes abundantly clear that jazz has evolved, over its history, two entirely different large band traditions: The Ellington Band tradition full of orchestral color and compositional ambition (the best of Stan Kenton, Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Carla Bley, Eddie Sauter, Gary McFarland, Oliver Nelson, Maria Schneider) and the Goodman/Basie Band tradition of massed sections and “16 men swinging” (Woody Herman, the lesser Kenton, Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center orchestra much of the time).

It is the former, Ellingtonian tradition that is, by far, the most interesting and creative now. Jensen is a 48-year-old Canadian saxophonist and the sister of trumpet player Ingrid. Her compositions and arrangements are excitingly well-put together and artfully presented on “Habitat.”

Imagine the best implications of early “third stream music” of the ’50’s in the brass orchestra compositions of John Lewis and J.J. Johnson that went by the wayside for decades and have now been picked up again by orchestras all over Europe and now, obviously, by Jensen’s orchestra in Canada.

There is gorgeous music here inspired by everything from Native American culture to Peruvian music festivals, Montreal street festivals and the earthquake in Haiti. Jensen is a citizen of the world, clearly, and so is her band and the music she’s written for it.

–Jeff Simon



“Les anges musiciens”

Sophie Karthauser, soprano and Eugene Asti pianist

[Harmonia Mundi]

3½ stars

The craftsmanship of these songs is something to marvel at, the way you would marvel at a beautiful little stained glass window. I was especially charmed by the simpler numbers, such as the first of the “Deux Poemes de Louis Aragon,” or “Bleuet” or the witty “Voyage a Paris.”

Sophie Karthauser is a wonderful clear-voiced soprano and pianist Eugene Asti pays loving attention to the ingenious accompaniments. There is a lot of fun in these songs. I love the lazy song “Hotel,” and the concluding line “I don’t want to work, I want to smoke.” I don’t smoke, but you have to love that French sentiment, and how the voice goes, “Sssssss,” and piano suggests lazy smoke rings. That song will stick with me.

A few songs are too flighty, with silly touches that get on my nerves – that’s a recurring danger with me and French songs. But I found a lot here that I loved: the simple take on a Shakespeare poem from “The Merchant of Venice”; the wandering “Sleep”; and a beautiful little song about how the angels always play Mozart. The lovely cabaret waltz that ends the disc was apparently a hit in its day.

Please don’t listen to this music in the background – it helps to follow along with the words.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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