Discs: Jennifer Lopez, Duke Ellington, Joshua Redman, Jenny Linn - The Buffalo News
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Discs: Jennifer Lopez, Duke Ellington, Joshua Redman, Jenny Linn


Jennifer Lopez




Desperately seeking a musical identity, Jennifer Lopez continues her decade-long habit of trend-grabbing, and delivers an album that sounds, at times, almost embarrassingly self-conscious.

Lyrically, “AKA” delivers mixed messages. Is Lopez still a regular old girl from the block, or is she a femme fatale with a bottomless bank account? Is she a mature female pop artist, or is she still capable of delivering tunes stuffed with teen-themed puns like “expertease” and “bootyful”?

On the musical front, the mix is even murkie. Is Lopez an artist with a vision, or simply someone who can afford to hire songwriters and producers du jour? The answer seems to be simply that Lopez is a mega-famous star who happens to make the occasional record, just as she happens to act in films, and happens to fill a seat at the judges’ table on “American Idol.” None of it smacks of necessity. It simply is what it is.

“AKA” gets off to a rough start with the title track, a bouncy affair peppered with a guest appearance from T.I., who contributes nothing to the party. In fact, that’s one symptom of “AKA’s” sickness – the star cameos seem wholly arbitrary, like unnecessary name-dropping at a Hollywood cocktail party. Iggy Azalea, Rick Ross, Pitbull – all of them fail to spice up the gumbo when they show up. Even the best song here – the already-a-hit “I Luh Ya Papi,” featuring French Montana – is not likely to be remembered beyond the summer of its release.

Max Martin, who offers up the maudlin “First Love,” gives Lopez the proper setting for her thin, heavily processed vocals. The track offers an innocuous blend of club beats, buzzy synths and a pure pop chorus, and Lopez sounds comfortable in this territory. Conversely, “Booty” is Euro-dance, and Lopez sounds out of place in this world, as if hoping to be accepted in a new clique. It’s moments like these that suggest that Lopez, as beautiful as she remains, is aware of aging, and desperately hoping to deny this reality.

“AKA” is by-the-numbers contemporary dance pop. Generic to the point of annoyance, it boasts neither bark nor bite.

– Jeff Miers


Joshua Redman

Trios Live



So total and historic is the supremacy of tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins in the pianoless trio format that it also helps to remember how brilliant saxophonists Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were in the same format. And it is Coleman and Coltrane in free elaboration who are as much the ancestry of these live performances from 2013 and 2009 as Rollins’ majestic pianoless trio constructions for all time.

What that means is that along with the tenor saxophone heirs of Sonny Rollins’ constructivism, you’ll hear plenty of continuations of Coleman’s and Coltrane’s free flights into multphonics, etc. Redman, then, is a tenor and soprano saxophonist whose music – if it were abstract art – would suggest De Kooning and Pollock as much as Malevitch and Kandinsky.

The 2013 recordings were recorded live at Washington, D.C.’s Blues Alley and the 2009 recordings were recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York. Gregory Hutchinson is the drummer on both, Matt Penman the bassist from 2009, Reuben Rogers from 2013. The spirit in these live performances – often punctuated vocally by the audience and members of the group – is steadfast and superb.

– Jeff Simon


Duke Ellington

After Midnight: The Original Recordings That Inspired the Broadway Hit

[SONY Legacy]


Quibbling would be unseemly here. So let’s not argue about what’s a Broadway “hit” and what isn’t. If a Broadway musical as successful as “After Midnight” needs to be hyped by a record label as a “hit,” it’s loutish to dispute it when the whole thing is dedicated to the music of Duke Ellington’s first era, the poetry of Langston Hughes and involved the likes of Wynton Marsalis in its Broadway babyhood.

Seven Tony nominations isn’t chopped liver either.

Here is Ellington’s original music from 1927-1940 that is used in the musical. Some of this remains simply astounding – the chattering saxophone railroad sonorities of “Daybreak Express” from 1933, its 1938 muted brass brother “Braggin’ in Brass.” This is Ellington in his world-shaking 30s, proud of the magnificently creative and accomplished eccentrics in his band and ready to let the world in on the information that they were inimitable. It’s all in context though with Ivie Anderson singing with the band (yes, on “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”), the Mills Brothers on 1932’s “Diga Diga Doo” (with Johnny Hodges’ priceless playing on soprano saxophone) and Ethel Waters near-sublime on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

You don’t have to be a genius to hear the beginning of “East St. Louis Toodle Ooo” as proto-Mingus and “Creole Love Call” and “The Mooch” as masterpieces that never stop being masterpieces even in ever-newer versions. (Hear the monster version of “The Mooch” from the 1950s on “Ellington Uptown.”

Here, then, is the way a young genius with one of the most prodigious bands in jazz history first told the world how much of a genius he was.

– J.S.


Jenny Lin, piano

Night Stories: Nocturnes

[Hanssler Classic]


Young pianist Jenny Lin sticks in my mind because her projects are so unusual. One of her CDs was “Insomnimania,” all about sleepless nights, and another was of virtuoso pianists’ arrangements of Broadway tunes. A recent Stravinsky disc of hers drew praise from The News’ Jeff Simon.

She has put together an attractive set here of Nocturnes, sensual pieces that reflect the night. Considering Lin has the goods and imagination, it’s puzzling that in some of the pieces – Chopin’s sensual B flat minor Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1, for instance – she misses the music’s magic.

I think her heart lies more with the curiosities, and I don’t mind that. Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ evocative “The Night Winds” unfolds in shades of dark romance, and Paderewski’s Nocturne Op. 16 No. 4 is utterly lovely. Especially intriguing, in a restless rather than peaceful nocturnal sense, is “A Phoenix Park Nocturne” by former Soviet composer Arthur Vincent Lourie (1892-1966). As the notes say, “it uses a strange mixture of nostalgic and almost mechanical kinetic elements.”

There also are brooding nocturnes by Edvard Grieg, Joaquin Turina and Mikhail Glinka, and famous pieces by Debussy, Liszt and Schumann. The beautiful “La Nuit” by Glazunov, smooth but never muddy, spotlights Lin’s clean technique.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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