Listening Post: Mastodon, Olivier Messiaen, Brahms, Larry Golding’s jazz trio and others - The Buffalo News
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Listening Post: Mastodon, Olivier Messiaen, Brahms, Larry Golding’s jazz trio and others

Heavy Metal

Mastodon, “Once More ’Round the Sun” (Reprise). The Atlanta-born behemoth that is Mastodon continues to exhibit true growth with the release of its sixth studio effort, “Once More ’Round the Sun.” Produced by Nick Raskulinecz, who has worked incredibly well with Rush, the album is beautifully produced and mixed, with the bludgeoning rhythm section of drummer Brann Dailor and bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders providing a relentless bottom-end slam, while the twin guitars of Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds combine to form a wall of sound that does not sacrifice clarity for power. As a result, “Once More…” sounds incredibly good at high volumes, due to the uncluttered and detailed mix. Which would mean nothing if the songs themselves weren’t strong. Oh, but they are. By this point, Mastodon has largely abandoned the thrash-based screaming that informed its earliest (and heaviest) records, favoring instead a multilayered approach that values melody over pure might, more often than not. First single “High Road” offers a perfect case in point – here, a simply filthy guitar riff develops into a classic head-banger groove, but the song marries memorable melodies to the metallic strut, finally exploding into an indelible chorus hook. There are also plenty of elements of the prog-rock complexity that made Mastodon stand apart from the herd when the band first started making noise in the early 2000s. “The Motherload,” “Aunt Lisa,” “Asleep in the Deep” – all are mini-epics that suggest a continuation of the prog-influenced “The Hunter” album, with the addition of more mature and concise arranging. “Once More ’Round the Sun” is a fat-free affair; there’s no filler here, and every song moves with a decidedly purposeful gait. Sonically crushing and compositionally precise, the album is a modern metal masterwork. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Miers)


Rio Paris, Natalie Dessay, Agnes Jaoui, Helena Noguerra, singers and Liat Cohen, guitar (Erato). This elegant, hip record features thin, beautiful people: opera singer Natalie Dessay along with actresses Agnes Jaoui and Helena Noguerra, and the Franco-Israeli guitarist Liat Cohen. (You could occupy yourself on Wikipedia for hours, trying to get straight everyone’s nationalities and mother tongues.) It’s pretentious, but it’s also likable. There’s a lot of Jobim, songs a lot of people will recognize. And some elegant classical guitar solos by Villa Lobos and a composer with the classic name of Roberto Baden Powell de Aquino, referred to for short just as Baden Powell, as in the founder of the Boy Scouts. “Chega de Saudade,” known in English as “No More Blues,” gets a sympathetic crooning that made me remember years ago when a classical guitarist used to play the patio of the Left Bank. I requested “Once I Loved,” and he played it, and afterward he shook his head. “Beautiful music,” he said. And this is. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Brahms, German Requiem, The London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Valery Gergiev, conductor (LSO Live). “Incredibly dear, incredibly enriching and for your heart and for your soul and your intellectual curiosity,” Valery Gergiev said, discussing this recording on YouTube in his brooding accent. “I think Brahms looked for the content and depth in expression, and it’s a very wonderful composition.” After that he wisely turns it over to that opening chorus, which says all you need to hear. Brahms’ German Requiem – originally, he titled it a “human requiem” – is one of those vast pieces you have to get to know. Heard once or twice, it’s heavy. After a few listens, though, it begins to grow luminous. Germans always have loved choral singing, and nobody loved it more than Brahms. Deep as it is, this piece can remind you of his sunnier songs for chorus. Gergiev’s epic, dark Russian approach presents the music’s glorious harmonies and rich jewel tones. He gives the piece space and the choruses pack amazing punch. The trumpets are sharp and bright and the pace of it has the kind of drama that makes you feel as if you are hearing an opera, no surprise considering Gergiev’s background. The soloists are baritone Christopher Maltman and soprano Sally Matthews. ΩΩΩ½ (M.K.G.)


Messiaen, Turangalila Symphony performed by pianist Angela Hewitt, Valerie Hartmann-Claverie on ondes Martenot and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu conductor (Ondine). Messiaen’s lunatic masterwork from 1946-48 is, under any hands whatsoever, an extremely special recording occasion. Put it this way – there are NO minor recordings of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony. To have one with the piano part, which Messiaen originally wrote for his wife, Yvonne Loriod, (heard often on disc) performed by Angela Hewitt, is very special indeed. She is remarkable here. What is otherwise so brilliant about this disc is that the recorded sound is classical, almost clinical in presenting one of the wildest and most exotic jungles created for an orchestra in the 20th century (with the ecstatic electronics of the ondes Martenot becoming a kind of spiritually comic accent.) In other words, Lintu and his troops from Finland and elsewhere are determined here to present Messiaen’s huge sonic tapestry as the epitome of post-modern logic rather than musical ecstasy meant to blow 12-tone music and Stravinskyan neo-classicism out of the water. Always incredible music and one of the great musical adventures of its time – very well played this time. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Simon)


Reinecke Cello Concerto, and music by Schumann, Bloch, Tavener and Golijov performed by cellist Michael Samis, The Gateway Chamber Orchestra, Gregory Wolynec, conductor (Delos). The piece on this disc by Osvaldo Golijov, “Mariel,” might be of special interest to Buffalo. Last September, at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s opening gala, cello superstar Yo-Yo Ma played Golijov’s “Azul,” a few nights before he played the piece with the New York Philharmonic. “Azul” featured the marimba and so does “Mariel.” I recall “Azul” as abstract but kind of fun thanks to Yo-Yo Ma, who with his energy and charm could sell you on anything. On a CD, Golijov’s music is not nearly as alluring. He makes clever use of percussion, but that can’t be that difficult, and he chooses convenient themes (for “Azul,” he conveyed frogs and insects and other Jurassic things). Though Samis seems a fine cellist, “Mariel” offers little to engage the listener. Please keep in mind that other people apparently hear things in this music I do not: The Metropolitan Opera has commissioned a Golijov opera, “Iphigenia in Aulis.” The rest of the disc is a mixed bag. The centerpiece is the Cello Concerto in D Minor by the underappreciated Romantic composer Carl Reinecke. I like Reinecke and I liked this concerto’s lush, mournful themes. There is also the Suite No. 1 for cello solo by Ernest Bloch, well played, and Sir John Tavener’s “Threnos” for solo cello, which like most music for solo stringed instruments is tough going. Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro Op. 70, orchestrated by Ernest Ansermet, quotes from Schumann songs and is utterly lovely. ΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)


Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart, “Ramshackle Serenade” (Pirouet). Jimmy Smith was nothing if not a showboat. When he gave us an organ trio disc with guitar, he made sure there was a good share of Hammond B-3 screaming on it, not to mention at least one tune with a rhythmic groove that could hook anyone anytime anywhere (his version of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” with Wes Montgomery will do for an eternal example). This is an organ-guitar-drum trio of a couple decades-plus duration that feels no need whatsoever to do such things. You can’t even say that Larry Goldings is a jazz organist in the Larry Young tradition either. He’s more like a jazz organist as Bill Evans might have imagined him – or, sometimes on this disc, the kind of Wes Montgomery disc he might have made if his organist Melvin Rhyne had had the kind of sensivity a post-Evans pianist might have had. Goldings, in other words, is a brilliantly enabling musician ,which is why when this trio of longtime cohorts plays it’s usually called the Larry Goldings Trio. But guitarist Peter Bernstein is a great guitar soloist, and the title here, “Ramshackle Serenade,” is a superb indication of how modest – and, at the same time free and appealing – this organ trio is. It’s a good bet that drummer Bill Stewart is finding his subtlety here as fulfilling as his work with Phil Woods if not more so. ∆∆∆ (J.S.)


Jim Stranhan Little Big Band, Migration to Higher Ground, (Tapestry) Q: How do you keep a jazz big band in the 21st century from playing empty, oversized bombast and cliches heard 10,000 times? A: Make the big band a small band, no more than 12 players – and sometimes even a sextet. Make sure the soloists never bore. And preserve, as much as possible, the contrapuntal freedom and solo expressiveness of a small combo. Saxophonist Jim Stranahan is a Denver musician who’s been around long enough to play in bands for such showbiz luminaries as Rosemary Clooney and Bob Hope. That’s a musical veteran by any possible definition. And yet there is nothing the slightest bit hackneyed or old-fashioned about the music here. Even the classic jazz tunes that a Stranahan band performs – sextet versions of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” and Charlie Parker’s classic on “Indiana” changes “Donna Lee” – are done with distinct differences that will remind you of absolutey no one else. That linear and rhythmic miracle, “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins, turns into a free-form Latin fantasy with contrapuntal lines and Stranahan’s drummer son Colin giving it New Orleans R&B rhythms by the bushel. It’s a completely fresh version of a jazz classic.“Donna Lee” isn’t taken at usual speed-of-light tempo but is constructed carefully for still more saxophone counterpoint. And, on “Paul and Dave,” Stranahan’s 12-member “Little Big Band” gives us his tribute to the “symbiotic” relationship of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, with more clean-lined counterpoint in place of screaming section bombast. It’s too bad at this stage that Stanahan and his bunch may be Denver-bound a good part of the time. This is a fresh jazz band with a great sound and an abhorrence of cliché that might even match your own. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Wolfgang Muthspiel, Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade, “Driftwood” (ECM). German guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel even admits that in this guitar-bass-and-drums disc, he covets the kind of instrumental interaction that Bill Evans’ incredible trios first brought into the world with his equal trio partners Scott LeFaro and Paul Motian. For a few opening cuts, in fact, you’ll wonder if the leader of this trio is the German guitarist or his great bassist Larry Grenadier. (The great New Orleans master Brian Blade is their incredibly sensitive drummer.) There are times when the German guitarist has some of the incredible guitar sound of ECM’s astonishing sonic magician from Terje Rypdal. But he also plays a great deal of acoustic guitar here, which is far from commonplace with any sort of guitar-bass-drums trio in jazz these days. A great jazz guitar trio, very much in the neighborhood of the kind of trio playing you’d hear in another group Grenadier inhabits, the Brad Mehldau Trio. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)

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