Share this article

print logo



A Perfect Circle



Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

Balm, perhaps, for those left distraught by the results of Nov. 2, A Perfect Circle's "eMotive" is the strongest, most visceral musical attack on the the Bush years yet. It's precise, nonvitriolic, equal parts infuriating and tear-inducing, and most importantly, unquestionably sophisticated and incisive in its execution.

Led by Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame, and co-anchored by guitarist/producer Billy Howerdell, A Perfect Circle has released two albums' worth of intelligent, far-reaching hard rock over the past five years, but "eMotive" ups the ante on what the band has done to date. Comprised mostly of covers, it's a concept album fueled by a delicate blend of rage, remorse, bitterness and compassion. Musically, subtlety is as significant here as bombastic aggression, and it's the way that the two are butted up against each other that makes "eMotive" so unquestionably powerful. It nails the dichotomy between anger and sadness that will be the new American subculture's lot for the next four years, at least.

No one should attempt to cover John Lennon's "Imagine," naturally, because it's both pointless and stupid to do so. But here, Keenan and his Circle mates turn it into a heartbreaking slice of ambient mood rock that sounds more like Pink Floyd circa "The Wall" than a peacenik rallying call.

The original tunes are equally impressive, particularly "Passive," a Tool-like tune that finds Keenan directing a withering glance at the electorate. "You (expletive) disappoint me/But maybe you're better off this way," he snarls. "Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums" is terrifying, a glimpse into hell disguised as a soothing reassurance to a frightened child.

This album hit the streets on election day. That wasn't an accident.

-- Jeff Miers


John Lennon

Rock 'n' Roll

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)



Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

What can we say about John Lennon today? For so many of us, writing about him is like writing about our own heartbeats; he's always been with us, providing the context within which rock music is understood. Lennon is the greatest songwriter in popular music, at least in the time since Elvis Presley ripped off the black man's sound and introduced it to a world of white folks with an itch to break on through to the other side.

So the reissue of Lennon's homage to his roots, the all-covers "Rock 'n' Roll," and the compiling of acoustic demos, called obviously enough "Acoustic," doesn't exactly invite purple prose from the reviewer. "Rock 'n' Roll" has been out for decades, though it sounds significantly better in this remastered form, and the four bonus tracks -- particularly the lilting "To Know Her Is to Love Her" -- are all keepers. Most of "Acoustic" has been available for a while too, as part of the massive "Lennon" box set.

It's not like any of this is new, really, and as the contemporary pop culture media makes clear any time it runs out of anything worthwhile to say, we're all tired of hearing about how great thes old timers were. Out with the old, and in with the new, soldier! Trouble with that is, this music is still profoundly engaging, and yes, I'll go out on a limb and call it a darn sight stronger, more compelling and more actualized than, say, the Strokes, or Jimmy Eat World, or whatever. We still need Lennon.

"Acoustic" reeks of cash-in, true, but the music is so moving that only a hardened cynic would be able to resist its charms. Here are Lennon tunes stripped naked, and it's to their creator's endless credit that they are no less riveting in this form. "Rock'n'Roll," however, is brilliant, a necessary inclusion in the Lennon canon. Lennon here remembers why he became a songwriter in the first place, and the joy in his delivery is palpable.

-- Jeff Miers


The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions


Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

Jimmy Smith


Blue Note]

Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

"Fairgrounding" is what Lester Young called it -- the kind of honking, wailing, screaming, jet-tempoed showboating jazz musicians do when they're playing for their least sophisticated audiences (a county fair, say.) It's the show business precinct of jazz, one of the greatest of American arts. Whatever its deficiencies as a mode of artistic presentation, there is enough adrenaline in it at its best fo fire up a Rose Bowl contender -- not to mention enough heart-on-sleeve balladeering to sustain the party afterward. Among living jazz masters, no one has ever pumped more audience adrenaline than Jimmy Smith, the man who single-handedly made the Hammond B-3 organ an instrumental dialect of jazz.

Here, among a welter of lavish holiday box sets, are two of the greatest collections of adrenaline basics you will ever find. Norman Granz, for 15 years, filled concert halls with his peculiarly and adolescently competitive idea of all-star jazz jam sessions in his Jazz at the Philharmonic conerts. You'd have to be dead not to appreciate the excitement of great musicians swinging hard and playing at their outer limits of their techniques (or maybe just their breath control.)

When he transferred those jam sessions from concert hall to recording studio, they took on an added virtue -- musicians could play to impress each other more than the audience. The paradoxical result 30 years later is glorious. There are truly classic jazz performances on these five metal-enclosed discs -- in particular the first "Charlie Parker" Jam's "Funky Blues.") And, my God, the musicians -- Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Flip Philips, Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson.

The four discs of the Jimmy Smith retrospective give us the best concentration of Jimmy Smith's career we're going to get until Verve packages in a box all the phenomenal Smith and Big Band discs. This is the gospel and blues saturated music that made Smith a mind-boggling jazz star; it was also music that was ubiquitous on jukeboxes in the last era in which there were authentic jazz "hits." His interaction with guitarist Kenny Burrell and Stanley Turrentine during this era has become one of the eternal jazz verities.

-- Jeff Simon



Piano Concertos 9 and 18

Performed by Leif Ove Andsnes, piano and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra

EMI Classics]

Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

That Mozart, what a card. His 9th piano concerto has always been called the "Jeunehomme," after the French pianist who premiered it. Now it turns out that the woman's name wasn't Jeunehomme (or "young man") at all -- but something that could have translated to "old man."

Mozart, who loved horsing around with words, apparently switched it. And lo, the concerto came down through the centuries with a mythical name.

Trivia aside, these are two gorgeous concertos. No other composer could combine piano and orchestra as seamlessly and enchantingly as Mozart. The 9th could be called his first great concerto, and both these works balance brooding, minor-key slow movements with moments of sheer bravado. Andsnes, an amazing and tireless pianist, gives them a low-key, courteous approach and directs the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and exquisite, delicate performances.

Is there nothing this man can't do?

-- Mary Kunz