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Listening Post: Brief reviews of select releases

Folk Rock

Rickie Lee Jones, “The Other Side of Desire” (Tosod). Not many remember the Grammy moment but among those who do, it’s immortal. They gave Bob Dylan a Grammy and Dylan, in “you’re gonna have to serve somebody” mood, thanked, among others Jesus Christ. The next Grammy to be passed out went to Rickie Lee Jones, who thanked her lawyer and her accountant. Many decades later on this superb new disc, she is thanking “Pledge Music Supporters who offered their money to help me pay for the cost of the recording.” She’s looking for “a new lease on life” now and judging from the disc, she’s got one. It’s no accident that Jones, like Ani diFranco, is living in New Orleans now. (Remember looking at the title that Desire is a street name in New Orleans, as Tennessee Williams was happy to first inform the world.) The refugee from former scuffling L.A. sings in “Jimmy Choos,” the first song here: ”I’ll go with you anywhere/can’t we leave that demon behind?/yeah/I know about the Motel 6/I know about the truckstop stations/I know about giving up on yourself/you don’t have to tell me about giving up/ but don’t tarry in the street Pauline/because the cops down here/they’re cold and mean/ if they see you go up there on your hot tin roof/throwing pop bottles at them/with your gold cap tooth/you chipped in for your vampire smile/can we leave all this beauty for a while/just show them the Halston/they’re gonna love that/,,,and those Jimmy Choos.” That I submit, is a polarity of American experience unique to Rickie Lee Jones in current American music. If you still don’t believe it, try “J’Ai Connais Pas”: “it’s a long sad tale/ we’re glad to see you’re finally out of jail/there’s not much left to say/let that guitar player play.” Or “Infinity”: “and now I go wrong/I always do go wrong/and someone had to help me now/Marsha pulling off my shirt/it’s caught around my neck/ it hurts/and I can’t breathe/you’re killing me with kindness.” It’s a long way from the hard-drinker who once complaned to “Chuck E.” in love, that he wouldn’t PLP (Public Leaning Post) with her anymore. There’s an irony here. Rickie Lee Jones, now in New Orleans, and James Taylor, on his first disc of new songs in more than a decade, came out with records at the same time. Both reveal them to be lyrically stronger than they’ve ever been. But here, on this disc, Rickie Lee Jones is much more on her own than James Taylor, a pillar of sorts for his kind of music. And she’s even stronger than he is. It’s amazing what you can do when, as she sings in “Haunted” you “hold on to your heartache/yeah.” ½ (Jeff Simon)

Country

The Deslondes, (New West). Sam Doores and Riley Downing found each other at a festival honoring Woody Guthrie. Here is yet more music from modern New Orleans, where a whole lot of American roots music seems to be happening at the same time and it’s all fresh. In this case on Doores’ “Heavenly Home,” it’s a bluegrass stomp proclaiming “there’s a town/through which I travel/and in that town/a girl I know/and in that girl/a heart of gravel/and in that heart/my only home.” More juicy paradox with the pedal steel guitar and Downing’s highway lament that “all I could hear was/honk honk honk/hot darn/I need some tonk, tonk, tonk/Hey buddy/what’s wrong with you?/I got them/Less honking more tonkin’ blues.” It’s various different flavors of raw country, all of them savory.  (Jeff Simon)

Classical

John Potter, “Amores Pasados” (ECM). For years, John Potter was a tenor with the sublime Hilliard Ensemble. He’s got an idea here and he runs with it impressively if not completely convincingly. The idea, inarguable, is that “ a hundred years ago, a song was just a song – it belonged to whoever sang it while they were singing it. Any music could be popular music, with barrow boys whistling Verdi arias in the street.” All right then, why not team with singer and hardanger fiddler Anna Maria Friman of Trio Medieval, and a couple lutenists, and ask “John Paul Jones, Tony Banks and Sting to write us lute songs?” That’s John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Tony Banks from Genesis and Sting from The Police. Writes Potter “asking a rock-music composer to set existing poetry within a genre we knew well meant that we singers wouldn’t need to pretend to be pop singers – we were still ‘interpreting’ a text in a way we’re familiar with...None of these songs found their final form until we reached the studio.” And there, ECM’s habitual genre-mingler and majordomo Manfred Eicher took over. So we’re talking about Jones, Banks and Sting mixing in the classic realm with Thomas Campion and 20th century British composers Peter Warlock and E. J. Moeran. The result is voice and lute music of beauty and charm. Whether it “bridges the gap between art song and pop song” as fully and easily as Potter intended, it is music that proves abundantly it has every right to exist on its own, as an irresistable kind of classical music.  (Jeff Simon)

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Grieg, Piano Concerto, Saint-Saens, Piano Concerto No. 2, Vadym Kholodenko. piano, The Norwegian Radio Orchestra Miguel Harth-Bedoya (Harmonia Mundi). These are two of the great warhorses of the piano concerto repertoire, and both have seem their fortunes rise and fall. The Grieg, once upon a time, was the most-often performed piano concerto by anyone, and yet now you don’t hear it all that much. (It is coming back, though. I’ve seen it a bit more recently.) The Saint-Saens was neglected for a while in the 1950s because it was seen as gauche. Kholodenko plays both pieces with fine articulation and an almost Classical tenderness. The slow movement of the Grieg was so caressing that it made me think of a slow movement of a Chopin concerto. The pianist’s style is matched exquisitely by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. The Norwegians’ hearts are clearly in the music of their countryman. The strings are silky and everyone is supremely unhurried. The Saint-Saens is witty and free. The Scherzo shines, with exhilarating, galloping rhythms, and the barn-burner finale is a crisp, bright delight. There’s not a lot new about this disc but it’s fine in my book to celebrate the old. It’s also nice that pianists are free again to be virtuosos. ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Jazz

Terell Stafford, “Brotherlee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan” (Capri). On Feb. 19, 1972, the great jazz trumpet player Lee Morgan was playing a gig with his band at Slug’s in the East Village. He had a fight with his common-law wife, went outside into the fresh air and was followed and shot by her. What happened after that has always been the subject of some controversy. He didn’t die immediately. There had been a heavy snowfall recently and one interpretation of events was that it was so bad it caused an unusually long time for the ambulance to arrive. The result was Morgan bled to death, an ending to the story whose inevitability is much-disputed. He was not only one of the greatest of all post-bop trumpet players but he’d developed into a hugely popular jazz composer whose compositions in the style of Horace Silver were favorites in an era when jazz had some trouble maintaining its popularity. They had names like “Sidewinder,” “Rumproller” and “Cornbread,” which gives you some idea of their soul jazz propensities. Somewhat incredibly, on this superb tribute to Morgan by a terrific group led by trumpet player Terell Stafford, you won’t find any of those. Instead, you’ll hear much more difficult Morgan compositions like “Hocus Pocus” which, in their ensembles, reveal just how difficult they are to play. The only Morgan hit here is “Speedball.” Says Stafford about Morgan now: “The trumpet was merely a vehicle to express who he was. There was rasp, there was grit, there was personality, there was sass, exactly who he was as a person was inside of his sound that’s what I loved about it.” He admits this disc was difficult. “It was very intimidating, because when you hear these songs you hear one way to play them. But when you start playing these songs where a bar has been set so high, you just better be yourself.” Which Stafford does quite brilliantly on his own, along with a powerhouse post-bop band of current high-power veterans – tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall. ½ (Jeff Simon)