Surrender: Voices of Persephone
Ilona Domnich, soprano
Leo Nucci, baritone
Southbank Sinfonia, Simon Over, conductor
Rising opera star Ilona Domnich has a beguiling light soprano that is often described as “silky.” It does have that smooth edge. It’s a pleasure. She has designed this CD of opera excerpts around the legend of Persephone, the queen of the underworld. The rationale as revealed in the liner notes is convoluted and sort of pretentious, although it’s nice that Domnich thinks deeply about the characters she plays. The best thing to do is simply listen and enjoy. Domnich sings her way through a number of centuries and styles. She sings Poulenc (“La voix humaine”), Puccini (“La rondine”), Mozart (“Dove Sono” from “The Marriage of Figaro”) and Rossini (a marvelous, sly take on “Una voce poco fa” from “The Barber of Seville”).
But the best parts of the disc are the scenes from “Rigoletto,” in which she sings duets with the great Verdi master Leo Nucci. He has such spirit, pulling you into the drama. And even in his 70s, that beautiful baritone voice of his packs such power. She was lucky to get him. It renders “Surrender” that much sweeter.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet
[Three Faces Records]
Here’s a jazz education story impossible to resist: Bassist John Patitucci’s grandfather – who had heard records by Eubie Blake and Earl Hines during prohibition – encountered a treasure trove of ’60s jazz records left for the garbage on the street, Ray Charles’ “Genius+ Soul=Jazz,” Jimmy Smith’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” the first LP by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ “Mosaic.”
He shared them with his music-loving grandsons. For Patitucci and his guitarist brother Tommy, cream of the crop were the Wes Montgomery LP’s. “The Wes Montgomery albums drew us in because they were bluesy and the tempos were easier to deal with.” And years later, Patitucci became one of the most in-demand go-to musicians in jazz, for the likes of Chick Corea, John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Wayne Shorter (who’d been one of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers on “Mosaic.”)
Just because Patitucci spent a couple of decades as a kingpin of jazz in Los Angeles is no reason for him to ever forsake his identification with his native Brooklyn, he says in the publicity for “Brooklyn.” “People would say I was from California and I’d say ‘No, I’m from Brooklyn. And I was in my heart and soul. It wasn’t just a place to me.”
So here’s Patitucci’s double-guitar quartet with Adam Rogers and Steve Cardenas on guitars and his Shorter-group mate Brian Blade on drums. It’s a beauty by almost any standards, especially when the two guitarists are coiling improvisational lines around each other at blistering tempo. Part of Patitucci’s Brooklyn jazz education stands out here in two Monk tunes – “Ugly Beauty” and “Trinkle Tinkle” – and Patitucci’s duo with Blade playing brushes on Montgomery’s “The Blade.”
Patitucci says that when you’ve played with as many “high-powered piano players” as he has, you want to “change the orchestration up a little.” Hence, Rogers and Cardenas in his double guitar quartet. They are usually each treated as soloists with roles in tandem rather than soloists with rhythm accompaniment. And when that’s what they are, it’s so Patitucci can be a major soloist on the tune on his semi-hollow electric bass – as in their treatment of the spiritual “Go Down Moses.”
It’s Patitucci’s first disc in seven years and, without question, it’s good enough when it’s contrapuntal to deserve at least one return engagement on disc by the same group.
– Jeff Simon
Choose Your Weapon
[Flying Buddha/Sony Masterworks]
In the generation of bands whose members were born in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, there’s Hiatus Kaiyote, and then there’s everyone else. While so many of the musicians within that age bracket are content to allow computer programs to do the heavy lifting for them, this Australia-born quartet has been busy crafting the music of the future in real-time, taking most of what’s good about EDM and techno-based forms and marrying it to neo-soul, R&B, and the ability to maneuver through rich harmonic terrain that only comes through the study of jazz.
What Prince, Questlove, Erykah Badu and Pharrell have been saying ever since the release of the band’s 2013 crusher “Tawk Tomahawk” will soon become part of the common vernacular among adventurous listeners, and the short version goes something like this – this band is radicalizing popular music by marrying complex rhythms to undeniable grooves, reuniting electronic music with flesh and blood, and making it clear that boasting both serious chops and an understanding of nuanced musical complexity is sexy.
“Choose Your Weapon” is only the band’s second full-length effort, but it boasts maturity and playfulness in equal measure, and at 70 minutes and 18 tracks, might justifiably be considered a double album. With vocalist/guitarist Nai Palm acting as master of ceremonies, the group employs Stevie Wonder’s ‘70s masterworks as a leaping-off point, and then heads off into uncharted territory, a land where jarring time signature shifts, agile polyrhythms, elegant extended chord voicings, soulful scat vocalise, and fat funk grooves coexist peacefully. Freakish and decidedly at ease with a sense of the musically surreal, Hiatus makes the weird and out-of-left-field sound hauntingly familiar.
You would expect a band this young to be a hit-and-miss affair, particularly when album No. 2 is an effort that clocks in around the same length as the fully mature Beatles’ twin-vinyl “White Album,” but you would be wrong – there’s no dead air here, no clunkers and nothing to suggest that judicious editing would have made “Choose Your Weapon” any stronger than it already is. You might want to start with “Breathing Underwater” or “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” as friendly access points, but you really don’t have to. Just hit play, turn the ringer on your phone off, and luxuriate in the fact that the future has arrived, and it’s a lot more exciting than we might have reasonably expected.
– Jeff Miers
A Knight’s Progress
The Temple Church Choir
Greg Morris, organ; Roger Sayer, director
The Temple Church in London was built by the Knights Templar in the 1100s, and like virtually all other Catholic property, was confiscated by the Anglican Church. Dan Brown got his hands on it, too, in “The Da Vinci Code.” This disc spotlights the church’s famous organ as well as its virtuosic choir. The music is interesting. You will thrill, however secretly, to “I Was Glad,” the anthem by the wealthy English composer Sir Hubert Parry, written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, and heard most recently at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Nico Muhly’s “Our present charter” is a modern pretentious bore. But John Tavener’s “Mother of God, Here I Stand” is transcendent and lovely, and one line quotes from Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Valiant-For-Truth” and Edward Bairstow’s “Blessed City, heavenly Salem” are well-known in church circles and evoke that 19th century Anglican spirit.
The disc comes to a Catholic close with Haydn’s triumphant “Te Deum.” Perhaps they wanted to appease the dead Knights Templar, entombed in the church. This is first-rate Haydn, hurtling along like a bobsled. It is in shining C major (a “Te Deum” by Mozart is also in C), and there is a riveting moment when the chorus sings how God is going to come back and judge us, and there is a sustained, ominous organ blast, and then a silence. The Temple Church forces know how to play up such moments, and deserve praise for giving this music their all.
– Mary Kunz Goldman