Listening Post: A Gregg Allman party, the new “Now!” pop hit anthology, a Deluxe edition of a Cassandra Wilson landmark, Javon Jackson, John Cage, Oral Moses - The Buffalo News

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Listening Post: A Gregg Allman party, the new “Now!” pop hit anthology, a Deluxe edition of a Cassandra Wilson landmark, Javon Jackson, John Cage, Oral Moses


Various Artists, “All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman” (two CDs, one DVD, Rounder). In January of this year, a whole slew of Gregg Allman’s friends threw the 66-year-old founding member of the Allman Brothers Band a party. Clearly, it pays to choose your friends wisely. The Fox Theatre in Atlanta was the site for the Allman fete, and the list of performers who joined an all-star house band was more than impressive, counting among its numbers the likes of Allman Brothers Band past and present members Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Chuck Leavell, Oteil Burbridge and Jack Pearson, as well as rock and R&B icons such as Sam Moore, Jackson Browne, Dr. John and Taj Mahal, and country stars Vince Gill, Eric Church, Martina McBride and Trace Adkins. Completely unsurprisingly, the standout tracks here come courtesy of those who have danced closest to the fiery furnace that is the AB Band – Haynes’ set-opening “Come and Go Blues,” Haynes and Trucks teaming on “End Of the Line,” Susan Tedeschi and Trucks paired up for a steaming “Stand Back.” The man of the hour is also at the top of his game throughout, whether joining with old friend Jackson Browne for tender, acoustic takes on “These Days” and “Melissa,” exulting in the raunchy elegance of “Midnight Rider” with the help of Vince Gill, or commingling with the current AB Brothers lineup for torrid takes on “Dreams” and the evergreen “Whipping Post.” Gregg Allman is certainly one of the most soulful singers and gifted writers in the history of rock music. It’s nice that his friends did him right. This is a must-have for Allman heads. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Miers)


“Now That’s What I Call Music 50,” double disc deluxe edition (Universal/Sony, two discs). If you have somehow made it through the contemporary Media World without Pharrell Wlliams’ ubiquitous “Happy” boring into your head through one of the most stubborn and insidious earworms of the decade, the new 50th edition of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” leads off with the omnivorous charmer originally written for the sequel to the film “Despicable Me.” Let’s admit that it does something pop music ought to do and does it awfully well. As for the rest, it’s another matter. This anthology series began in 1998 and ever since it has been an exemplary single disc anthology of whoever’s momentarily scoring big in pop music. In the 50th edition, you’ve got Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse,” Lorde’s “Team,” Jason Derulo and 2 Chainz’s “Talk Dirty,” the Chainsmokers’ “Selfie,” Bruno Mars’ “Young Girls,” Miley Cyrus’ “Adore You,” John Legend’s “All of Me” and many more. The percentage of decent pop music to rubbish isn’t quite as high as it’s been on previous “Now” anthologies, but for anyone who notices that, you’ve also got on the deluxe edition a disc of “Now’s” greatest hits – in another words a greatest hits of greatest hits disc. On that one you’ll find Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never (Ever) Getting Back Together” and other songs that have pleased some and baffled others on Grammy shows past. As always, a first-rate crash course for anyone who needs one in modern pop mediocrity spiced by occasional detours into pop excellence. (It is, after all, quite literally supermarket “product.”) ΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)


Javon Jackson, “Expression” (Smoke Sessions). A pretty good live disc from New York’s Smoke Jazz Club from last July. Expect, then, that unerring and mechanical perfection of pitch is not always to be present from tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson (who’ll be 50 next year). Nor is pianist Orrin Evans never to be found misfiring the occasional finger in an ambitious cascade of runs or the kind of chordal hammer he supplies on the opener, Wayne Shorter’s “One By One.” The first saxophone player Jackson heard live in Denver was Sonny Stitt when Jackson was 13. The first one his father asked him to copy was his father’s favorite (and Stitt’s frequent partner), Gene Ammons. By the time he was 21, he was playing in convincing Sonny Rollins’ mode and enrolled in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger University. “You can’t pay for anything like that,” he says now. “If I got one thing from him, I got fifty.” To his liner annotater, he says about Blakey, “He’s the reason we’re talking right now.” Jackson’s quartet is solid blue-collar jazz communication and hard-edged jazz by Jackson and Evans, both clearly doing it with jubiliation. ΩΩΩ (J.S.)


Cassandra Wilson, “Blue Light ’Til Dawn” (Blue Note). An expanded 20th anniversary edition of one of the greatest jazz vocal discs of the past few decades – Cassandra Wilson’s “Blue Light ’Til Dawn,” in which her deep eiderdown contralto and her band’s avant-folk/jazz ideas combined to rather nicely blow the jazz world’s minds. She’d always been good, but on that disc two decades ago she was serving serious notice that she was. Added to this deluxe edition are some stellar stretched out previously unreleased bonus tracks recorded live from her subsequent European tour – “Black Crow,” “Skylark” and “Tupelo Honey.” Close to a “must” for any jazz collection, if you don’t have it. ΩΩΩΩ (J.S.)


John Cage, Works for Two Keyboards-2 performed by Pestova/Myer Piano Duo (Naxos). It was pure hard-headed practicality and a genius for “Yankee tinkering” that enabled John Cage to make one of the greatest inventions in all of 20th century New Music. In 1940, Cage was working at the Seattle Cornish School. His music at the time was for small percussion ensembles. When he wanted to write music for a dance piece at the school, he realized that neither the budget nor the space available in the venue would allow him to write a percussion ensemble piece. His piano music wasn’t right either. So he changed the sound of the piano by “preparing it” between the strings in its innards with “screws, pennies, rubber, plastic, weather stripping and various bolts and nuts,” as notater Samuel Vriezen tells us here. He had a kind of mini-percussion ensemble under the control of one performer. Voila. That’s the kind of work heard here in “Three Dances for Prepared Pianos” from 1945. The larger piece here is the introductory “Music for Two” from 1984-87, a piece from his period experimenting with flexible time brackets. (Translation: It’s far less interesting than the prepared piano music, which is brilliant.) ΩΩΩ (J.S.)


Come Down Angels and Trouble the Water, performed by Oral Moses, bass baritone, Rosalyn Floyd, piano (Albany). The magnificently named bass baritone Oral Moses has been featured in “Porgy and Bess” and the Duke Ellington show “Come Sunday,” and his voice has all the richness such accolades suggest. I liked his 2008 disc of spirituals called “Songs of America, and this collection of spirituals is a worthy follow-up. “I love to shout – I love to sing,” Moses sings in “Come Down Angels and Trouble the Water.” He does sound as if he revels in his own strength. His no-nonsense approach, changing little from song to song, emphasizes not the comfort but the confrontational strength of these songs. He makes a line like “I want to know, do you love my Lord,” sound frightening. He has a wonderful way of handling words and syllables to make you feel them. Highlights of this gritty disc include the rocking “Good News” of Uzee Brown Jr., William Grant Still’s declarative “Here’s One,” the invigorating “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit” and Moses Hogan’s treatment of “Deep River.” ΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)


Stephen Hough, “Into the Night,” works of Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Hough performed by pianist Stephen Hough (Hyperion). Let’s not be cynical here. Let’s not, then, say that the only reason the superb pianist/writer in the great tradition of Charles Rosen, Alfred Brendel (and these days, Jonathan Biss and Angela Hewitt) made this superb disc of nocturnes is to put his own “Piano Sonata No. 2 ‘notturno luminoso’ ” in between gorgeous recordings of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata and Schumann’s “Carnival” (with Schumann’s “In der Nachht” from Fantasiestucke leading off the whole thing). Nevertheless, what he says of his own piece applies nicely to this whole portrait of the nocturnal classical piano Romanticism: that it suggests “the reflection of the moon on a calm lake perhaps or stars across a restful sky. But (also) a different kind of night and a different kind of light: the brightness of a brash city in the hours of darkness; the loneliness of pre-morning sleeplessness and the dull glow of the alarm clock’s unmoving hours.” It isn’t every pianist who’s a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, after all – or who records Rachmaninoff concerti and the pieces of Mompou’s “Musica Callada” with equal brilliance. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)

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