Listening Post: John McLaughlin & 4th Dimension, Johnny Cash, Doris Day, Zuill Bailey and Lara Downes - The Buffalo News
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Listening Post: John McLaughlin & 4th Dimension, Johnny Cash, Doris Day, Zuill Bailey and Lara Downes


Various Artists, Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life (Rhino). Ronnie James Dio’s reputation as heavy metal’s greatest singer is well-deserved. The late native of Cortland brought a penchant for strong melodies, effortless harmonies and high drama to hard rock during the early ’70s, through his work with Elf and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. When he replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath at the beginning of the ’80s, Dio brought those same gifts to heavy metal, in the process, crafting some of the most memorable metal recordings of the decade in the form of Sabbath’s “Heaven & Hell” and “Mob Rules” albums. Dio had nothing to do with the cheese-pop underpinnings of what came to be known as “hair metal” – his talent was firmly located in his ability to blend bluesy phrasing with melodies more common to classical music, and his lyrics dealt in metaphor, often employing mythology as a springboard for universal meditations on good and evil. Dio died in 2010, losing a strongly fought battle with stomach cancer. His influence remains vast, and is celebrated with surprising clarity on “This Is Your Life,” which finds a host of marquee metal names gathering to pay the diminutive man with the massive voice his due respect. There are no real dogs on the album, but there are several clear highlights. The most prominent is Metallica’s brilliantly arranged medley of Dio’s seminal moments with Rainbow, which were always much closer to Led Zeppelin in construction and tonality than they were to the more streamlined attack of later heavy metal. (I count this period as being the high point of Dio’s career, with the Sabbath era coming in a close second.) Metallica simply crushes it here, melding “Tarot Woman” to “A Light In the Black,” “Stargazer” and a skull-melting “Kill the King.” Singer James Hetfield is, quite obviously, far from the vocal virtuoso that Dio was from first to last, but he accords himself very well here, never letting his reach exceed his grasp. Metallica fans should buy “This Is Your Life” for the “Ronnie Rising” medley alone, but Glenn Hughes’ take on “Catch the Rainbow,” the Scorpions’ understated “Temple of the King,” the Anthrax version of Sabbath’s “Neon Knights,” and the Lemmy of Motorhead/Biff Byford of Saxon double-teaming on “Starstruck” also are inspired. Tribute albums don’t get much better than this. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Miers)

Electric Jazz

John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension (Abstract Logix). John McLaughlin’s 2013 tour with the 4th Dimension – keyboardist Gary Husband, bassist Etienne Mbappe, drummer Ranjit Barot – concluded with a show at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. It’s that gig that is documented on “The Boston Record,” and the resulting recording packs everything that is great about the finest electric jazz into nine fire-breathing songs. McLaughlin is not just one of the finest jazz guitarists going – he is one of the most consistently daring guitarists of the past 40-plus years in any genre, and throughout “The Boston Record,” we hear him at his peak. The ensemble interplay is remarkably sophisticated throughout, and everyone plays beautifully, but McLaughlin’s solos form jaw-dropping, dynamic and sophisticated improvisations, particularly during the set-opening “Raju” and “Little Miss Valley,” futuristic pieces that blend modal jazz, Indian music and blues. Most of the program is drawn from McLaughlin’s two studio recordings with the 4th Dimension, “To the One” and “Now Here This,” but an encore of the Mahavishnu Orchestra gem “You Know, You Know” seals the deal. This is as good as electric jazz gets. ∆∆∆∆ (J.M.)


Johnny Cash, “Out Among the Stars” (Sony Legacy). Here is an excerpt from John Carter Cash’s notes to this: “Dad relapsed into pain pill addiction around 1980. It was a few years later in the last half of 1983 that he found recovery. Though his creativity at this time is not as highly regarded by some fans as other times, he was of perfect voice, content and of hopeful heart during this recovery. When I heard these recordings for the first time in so many years what I immediately noticed was the joy in his voice – his spirit was soaring.” You won’t have trouble hearing exactly what Johnny Cash’s son is talking about in this music from the early ’80s, nor will you have any difficulty discerning this is not the greatest disc of Johnny Cash repertoire you’ve ever heard. But let’s be real here: these are 13 songs never before heard or released on disc including a decent duet on Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” with Waylon Jennings, duets with wife June Carter Cash on “Baby Ride Easy” and “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time,” a jolly novelty version of “If I Told You Who It Was” and, are you ready, two different versions of “She Used to Love Me a Lot,” a song credited to Rhonda Fleming and Dennis Morgan. One of Cash’s versions was produced by Elvis Costello. Great Johnny Cash, it’s not but it was worth issuing for the first time. ∆∆∆ (Jeff Simon)


Bach/Mozart, Adagios and Fugues performed by Akademie Fuer Alte Musik, Berlin (Harmonia Mundi). One of the most beautiful stories about Mozart involves how he flipped out over a sheaf of scores by Johann Sebastian Bach, who at the time was eclipsed by his more famous son, Johann Christian Bach. Mozart said something to the effect of, here is someone you can learn from. And he proved it with the tributes on this disc. Mozart arranged a set of fugues from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” for strings and added his own brooding preludes. (His tastes show in the fugues he chose, including the one in E flat, which has a magnificent theme.) The disc also includes the Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546. The only trouble with this disc is it sounds too scholarly, too labored. I had this old recording of the preludes and fugues played by a string quartet and they were passionate. Expecting that, I found this disc kind of cold and clinical. Maybe the Academy of Ancient Music can’t help making things sound antiquated. In any case you can still admire the music’s architecture, and the thought of one master paying homage to another. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Zuill Bailey, cello and Lara Downes, piano, “Some Other Time: Music of Barber, Copland, Bernstein and Foss” (Steinway and Sons). Here, performed by a notable young cellist and pianist, is a burgeoning mutual admiration society in American classical music. Foss wrote a piece called “For Lenny,” Bernstein wrote pieces called “For Lukas Foss” and “For Aaron Copland” and they’re all played here along with Samuel Barber’s Cello Sonata Op. 6, Bernstein’s clarinet sonata (adapted for cello) and Foss’ “Capriccio for Cello and Piano.” The cello/piano version of Bernstein’s gorgeous “Some Other Time” from “On the Town” is, along with a few others, a bit out of place with the ambition of some of the other music, but you have to appreciate what pianist Downes says: “The music that Bernstein, Barber, Copland and Foss wrote in the 1920s to ’40s, with its post-romantic grandeur, big-city bluster, and vernacular ease references the shape-shifting changes of those action-packed decades.… It opened the ears, minds and hearts of the nation and the world to new possibilities to an American sound.” Lovingly and superbly performed here. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Doris Day, “The Essential Doris Day” (Columbia/Legacy, two discs). Just a few days after her 90th birthday, this two-disc set will function quite nicely as a sterling corrective to anyone who might have thought that the only “essential” Doris Day were those huge ’50s hits from her movies – “Secret Love,” “Que Sera Sera” and “Love Me Or Leave Me.” They’re all on the second disc, along with “I Got the Sun in the Morning,“ “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” her John Raitt duet on “There Once Was a Man” and the forgettable themes for “Pillow Talk” and “Move Over Darling.” But the biggest charm of the disc is its liner notes by Nancy Sinatra, who remembers “when I was 12, when my girlfriends and I would bring our Doris Day 45s – carefully nestled in their album-style binders – to sleepovers where we’d lug out a portable record player and play them all night long.” She distinctly remembers “being captivated by Doris’ recording of Oscar Brand’s ‘A Guy is a Guy’ – and all of us girls in our PJs singing along with her. I was hooked from the moment I heard that song and have been an unabashed devotee ever since. I’m proud to say that Doris is, in every way, my idol.” A lot of cutesy ’50s pop here but it’s amazing how many in Sinatra’s generation felt that way. ΩΩΩ (J.S.)

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