Listening Post: The Black Keys, Jackie Allen, Felipe Salles, Viktoria Mullova - The Buffalo News

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Listening Post: The Black Keys, Jackie Allen, Felipe Salles, Viktoria Mullova


The Black Keys, “Turn Blue” (Nonesuch). This, the eighth studio effort from the Black Keys, and third since the duo broke through from indie-rock celebrity to the mainstream, was always going to be the make or break record. 2010’s “Brothers” was the Keys’ breakthrough album and introduced Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney to a broad audience that fell hard for its blend of white boy Howlin’ Wolf impressions, T. Rex-style hippie blues, and minimalist Led Zeppelin-isms. The following year’s “El Camino” was the first Keys record made while everyone was watching, and it sounded like it – forced, self-conscious, lacking the proper swing in its hips, for the most part. “Turn Blue,” if it came cross as “El Camino Part II” - meaning a more commercial Black Keys with the gritty edges sanded down for easier swallowing – would’ve been a major letdown. Happily, this is the spot where the going gets weird, and the weird turn pro. Auerbach and Carney – and let’s not forget Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, because he’s all over this record, as producer, keyboardist and co-writer – have crafted a modern psychedelic blues masterpiece with serious soul overtones and smartly employed pop sensibilities. Auerbach’s singing is sublime here, a masterfully turned blend of throaty soul and keening falsetto that elevates the band’s core garage blues sound at every turn. But the Keys have gotten better at writing songs, too, so that now, not every piece is simply a revamped blues trope with killer vintage guitar tones as window dressing. This is apparent from the beginning, as “Turn Blue” opens in a surprising fashion, with Auerbach layering acoustic and electric guitars in a slow-burn fashion, while “Weight of Love” makes its way toward the epic and elegiac. There are signs of the influence of the Rolling Stones at their faux-soul best as well- side two of “Tattoo You” gems like “Tops” and “Heaven” come to mind during “Fever” and “In Time.” But really, what it comes down to is this – the Black Keys have matured and found a way to make mainstream music that doesn’t make a mockery of their garage/indie roots. “Turn Blue” is their most accomplished effort to date. ∆∆∆∆ (Jeff Miers)


Jackie Allen, “My Favorite Color” (Avant Bass). The first studio disc by the veteran jazz singer since “Tangled” (Blue Note) from 2004. You’ve got to love Ben Lewis’ wittily Jimmy Rowlesish piano on “A Sleepin’ Bee.” If words never improved Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” the solos are good and the very next version of “My Man’s Gone Now” is completely fresh. Would you believe, then, that the same veteran jazz singer does Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” and a shuffle-beat version of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” (don’t tell Quentin Tarantino. He’d never have used this version in “Reservoir Dogs.”) There are so very many jazz singers these days, it’s always good to pay attention to the few who always do things just a wee bit differently. ∆∆∆ (Jeff Simon)


Felipe Salles, “Ugandan Suite” with David Liebman and Others (Tapestry). The very best kind of jazz fusion, i.e. the result of Brazilian saxophonist and composer Salles studying music in Africa and determined to make a transcontinental music combining classical music, jazz, East African music, the music of his native Brazil as well as the Caribbean. No one has striven before to use Ugandan musical sources the way Salles does here. Salles is much-traveled with playing time with Randy Brecker, Lionel Loueke, George Russell, Gunther Schuller and Dave Liebman, whose saxophone is heard along with Salles to terrific effect here. All of the musicians here know where they each are coming from while, at the same time, reaching across every musical boundary they can. It’s the music’s bursting from African rhythm, though, that makes it so good. This is jazz that knows that the music is never better than when it is finding things never quite found the exact same way before (the “Sound of Surprise” as Whitney Balliett so majestically and memorably put it.) ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Viktoria Mullova, “Stradivarius in Rio” performed by Viktoria Mullova, violin (Onyx). Ukrainian classical violinist Viktoria Mullova writes in the liner notes here: “I was nervous before the recording, as I had never done anything like this before.” But she did turn out an album in 2011 of gypsy jazz, and listening to these airy, carefree tracks, you could find yourself thinking it isn’t that far from that. This album, featuring Brazilian song, is – like the earlier disc – light and perfect for summer. Anyone who would include “Tico Tico” doesn’t care if she is taken seriously, and Mullova is happy throughout the disc fiddling with cheery virtuosity over a strumming guitar. The mood doesn’t vary much through much of the disc, but it doesn’t have to. Carioca Freitas plays guitar and Matthew Barley, who played on her gypsy jazz album, plays cello and Carioca Freitas plays guitar. I like Antonio Carlos Jobim’s brooding “Por Toda Minha Vida,” which closes the album. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Hibla Gerzmaya, National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, Vladimir Spivakov, conductor. Russian soprano Gerzmaya has a dramatic Russian look, complete with beehive hairdo, beauty mark and huge voluptuous gowns. The Russians seem proprietary about her, judging from the emotional applause that greets her in this live recording from 2013 in a venue impressively entitled the Svetlanov Hall of the Moscow International House of Music. Dramatic appearance aside, Gerzmaya has an endearing ease of approach, taking these arias – mostly by Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti – with a conversational grace. Sometimes she’s too casual. In Mozart’s famous “Laudate Dominum” she doesn’t make the most of that stunningly beautiful ending. But her light, flexible voice is a joy. Conductor Spivakov also plays the violin solo, beautifully, in Richard Strauss’ song “Morgan.” ΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)


Myung Whun Chung, Piano, Works of Debussy, Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Schumann and Mozart performed by Myung Whun Chung (ECM). If one were to just look at the repertoire of this disc, you’d be likely to think that surely this is one way of compiling a Greatest Hits of Classical Piano – Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” Debussy’s “Claire De Lune,” Schumann’s “Arabeske,” Mozart’s “Variations on ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman” (otherwise known as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) etc. Something a good deal more personal seems to be going on here. This is the first solo piano recording of the 50-year-old Korean musician best known as a conductor of opera and compositions by Olivier Messiaen (for whom he was the composer’s chosen conductor. He recently conducted Messiaen’s massive “Turangalila” Symphony.) The repertoire chosen here is completely personal, he tells us – “Claire de Lune” a gift “for my second granddaughter whose name is Lua (moon), The Schubert ‘Impromptu’ in G-Flat major I played for my first son’s marriage … (Tchaikovsky’s) ‘Autumn Song is one of the works that I played at the Tchaikovsky competition in 1974.” The playing, then, of these, some of the most familiar pieces in the entire world of classical piano, is beyond charming and, indeed, imbued with personal conviction so rare as to be almost singular. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)


James Cotton, “Cotton Mouth Man” (Alligator). If you somehow missed the great James Cotten back in early April when he played in Buffalo, you can’t help but celebrate this by the great blues harp master in his 78th year. The world is full of blues harmonica players who can sound convincing enough in the short run, but to carry off a disc this good you need someone who spent a dozen years with Muddy Waters before going off on his own and blowing the bejabbers out of the heritage of Sonny Terry and Little Walter Jacobs. Guest stars here include – get this – Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Delbert McClinton and Keb Mo. It’s a consistent delight and requires no condescension from any direction to rejoice in. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)

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