Brief reviews of music from Floor, Sonny Rollins, John Adams and Dowland - The Buffalo News
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Brief reviews of music from Floor, Sonny Rollins, John Adams and Dowland




[Season of Mist]


Florida’s Floor is a bit like the stoner-metal version of Big Star, the revered 1970s power-pop band that couldn’t get arrested despite releasing three impeccable albums prior to breaking up, only to see its reputation grow long after it had disbanded. Perhaps due to the fact that Floor’s sound – a doom-laden but eminently groove-centric wall of detuned riffage played at gloriously glacial tempos – was at odds with its immediate milieu of barely post-hair metal buffoonery and grunge bandwagon-jumping in the early ’90s, the band never got the major label nod, and broke up in 1997. Interestingly, the band’s reputation as one of the most inventive stoner-metal acts of its time grew after Floor was no more, and leader Steve Brooks had gone on to found the much more commercially successful Torche.

Now a few years into its reunion, Floor finally has released a new studio album – only its third across the span of 20 years – “Oblation.” And man, is this thing ever a beast.

Marrying Black Sabbath-like tempos to disturbingly detuned riffs and the sort of ambitious arrangements more common to prog rock than to metal, Floor has made its most definitive statement to date with “Oblation.” From the psychedelic-tinged sturm und drang of “Rocinante,” to the slack-stringed sludge of “Love Comes Crushing,” and the bleary-eyed doom of “Sign of Aeth,” the album offers a resilient and assured statement of Floor’s purpose. It’s both beautiful and bludgeoning.

It’s nice to see Floor get its due after all this time. The “Oblation” tour finds Floor performing at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Tralf Music Hall (622 Main St.).

– Jeff Miers


Sonny Rollins

Road Shows, Volume Three



Tenor saxophonists know. Certainly about other tenor players they do.

When Bill Clinton, the most famous of all presidential tenor players, toasted Sonny Rollins at a State Department dinner before the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors, he said about “Road Shows Volume 2”: “I was aghast at how good he still is. His music can still bend your mind, it can break your heart and it can make you laugh out loud.”

All of which are distinctly possible in the newest installment of the live concert “Road Show” series that Rollins began on his own Doxy label in 2008.

Rollins is legendarily less than perfectly comfortable in a recording studio – and just as legendarily happier to be recorded live in concert. It’s his contention that “you can’t think and play at the same time.” That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that every live performance by Rollins is superior to the recording studio gigs where he was, against his truest desires, required to play and think at the same time.

Our former president couldn’t be more accurate about Rollins’ powers as a performer in his 80s. These performances come from Rollins’ world-touring band from 2001 to 2012. While his tenor playing is extraordinary, it’s obvious that his enormous comfort with these bands – which all include his trombonist nephew Clifton Anderson and his bassist for 50 years Bob Cranshaw – doesn’t result in anything nearly as challenging or as powerful as his pianoless trio with Roy Haynes and Christian McBride on the first “Road Shows” or the historic meeting with Ornette Coleman on Vol. 2 that took place during his 80th birthday concert.

The best of this, by far, is the eight-minute “Solo Sonny,” an unaccompanied cadenza of the sort that Rollins has been blowing minds with for more than 50 years. There are those who would argue, no doubt, that the farrago of tunes quoted therein is one of the more dated devices of bebop except that when the player doing it is Rollins, the wit and brilliance of it is formidable. He almost is equally formidable on “Why Was I Born?”

What is unavoidable about this set, though, is that as comfortable as the band is for Rollins to play with, they aren’t the musicians on equally Olympian levels who always have seemed to bring out his best.

– Jeff Simon


John Adams

City Noir and Saxophone Concerto

Performed by saxophonist Timothy McCallister and the St. Louis Symphony conducted by David Robertson



Without even hearing it, you would guess that John Adams’ “City Noir” was, as Adams describes it, “a symphony inspired by the peculiar ambience and mood of Los Angeles’ noir films, especially those produced in the late ’40s and early ’50s.”

When you actually hear it, though, Adams is very clear why you won’t hear specific echoes of the great film noir scores of Adolph Deutsch, Max Steiner, Miklos Rosza and the like. “My music is an homage but not necessarily to the film music of that period but rather the overall aesthetic of the era.”

This, to Adams, is an aesthetic from the “dystopian mood of postwar urban America with its psychological uncertainties and unpredictable often jagged shifts between emotional highs and lows” music of “trashy glamour and random violence.”

He calls it “jazz-influenced orchestral music” rather than a combination of jazz and classical music.

Obviously, one of the most familiar sounds in all of film noir movies is the overlay of alto saxophonist and strings, which is where Adams’ Saxophone Concerto gives an entirely different neurotic and tense cast to the sultry, languid, erotic feel of the alto saxophone music in the great noir movie soundtracks.

This is one of the most interesting of all contemporary composers taking the incredibly familiar noir atmosphere of so much American art in the 1940s and ’50s and recasting it completely in a powerfully different way. “American Noir,” he said, is an “imagined film noir score” in the same way that Schoenberg’s “Begleitmuik” was brilliant for entirely imaginary film scenes. The difference in Adams’ case is the symphonic structure.

Both conjure up fascinating films of their own – films that exist only in sound.

– J.S.



My Favorite Dowland

Performed by lutenist Paul O’Dette

[Harmonia Mundi]


What a welcome disc this is. The musician who is our foremost lutenist since Julian Bream selects and plays the music of the composer who, he says, “has been a constant source of inspiration and wonderment for me ever since I first picked up the lute more than four decades ago.” – John Dowland (1563-1626).

O’Dette recorded Dowland’s complete music for lute 20 years ago. This selection, he said, is not “the greatest” Dowland but, in the virtuoso’s hands, the music he has most enjoyed playing by Dowland, “representing a cross-section of his output from the most profound to the most witty and unpretentious.”

If it seems odd that the rich, wonderful chromaticism and melancholic nostalgia of Dowland’s “Farewell” is played in the middle of this recorded program, it isn’t so when you realize that, as O’Dette said, Dowland lived 30 more years and wrote prolifically.

An irresistibly personal program.

– J.S.

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