It's Not Me, It's You
Review: 1 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
Here's the danger in allowing yourself to be lulled by the whole cultural mess of text/download/MySpace/Facebook/garage band computer recording/everyone's a blogger so everyone's opinion means exactly the same thing (nothing): You go soft in the head. The great democratization of information might be fun for a while, but ultimately, we're going to end up thinking someone like Lilly Allen is great.
With her second album, the British queen of the snarky one-liner has assembled a laundry list of cliches that read like attitude-heavy text messages between snotty rich girls in a glitzy nightclub. She has set them to the tune of cutesy melodies that aren't really too different from the sort that Miley Cyrus favors, and then enlisted a hipster record producer (Greg Kurstin) to turn them into songs, via the currently favored post-hip-hop cut-and-paste methodology. Listening to "It's Not Me, It's You" is like channel-surfing, except every channel is running a reality show where women in their 20s snipe at each other when they aren't busy bemoaning how lousy their men are in bed.
If that sort of thing appeals to you, dig in. Allen is sprightly enough to make you think you're having fun while you indulge in the oversize slice of ice cream cake that is "It's Not Me." The sugar hangover will be a doozie, but don't worry, it will only hurt when you think.
The songs are fun, especially when Allen drops the pretension and comes clean on her own vacuous materialism. Opener "Everyone's At It" wins points because it points out the fact that so many people are on drugs of one sort or another, legal or otherwise. The song bounces along nicely, and it leads without a hiccup into the more melodically interesting "The Fear," which is '80s disco in a late '90s dress.
"Not Fair" tears down an otherwise perfect paramour who is lousy in the sack, over a synthesized country shuffle with faux banjo licks popping in and out of the mix, forming a jarring counterpoint to Allen's racy lyrics. (Maybe someone really needed to write this song, and maybe it will do someone, somewhere, some good. To be fair. Of course, maybe Allen could've just tried talking to the lousy lover one on one, instead of telling the world about his shortcomings. I'm just sayin'.)
In the plus column, "It's Not Me" is filled with instantly catchy pop ditties, and some of Kurstin's production flourishes are quite clever -- though I'm doubting many listeners care about the production too much. Allen is feisty and confident, cooler-than-thou, and frank about sex, which we are all supposed to accept as a pop-culture version of revolutionary feminism.
I'm not buying it, but maybe you will. Text me later, and let me know! OMG! LOL!
-- Jeff Miers
Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can't Give You Anything But Love
Review: 3 1/2 stars
He is, at 81, assuredly one of the giants and totems of jazz piano. And yet, on our side of the pond we have usually had to content ourselves with just the Algerian/French pianist's dazzlingly mercurial records, some of which are authentically immortal jazz classics (his collaboration with Sidney Bechet four decades ago, for instance, is a near-unanimous choice for the greatest record Bechet made in his senior years). His American performances have been very few and far between.
To hear this Solal solo recital, at age 80 in the Village Vanguard from October 2007, is to hear a magnificent musician who is -- still -- just about the most unpredictable pianist in all of jazz.
The disc begins with a version of "On Green Dolphin Street" impossible to imagine until you hear it; it continues with a wild, swirling stop-and-start soliloquy on "Lover Man," which turns briefly into stride piano as it might have been re-invented by Milhaud and then a pianistic stream-of-unconsciousness full of key changes, rhythmic inversions and subversions and lord only knows what.
The title tune, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," is the same kind of wild and witty dissonant performance with, quite literally, a sudden brand new idea for every new phrase of the song. When you listen to Martial Solal, alone, play a jazz "standard," you're hearing more absolutely fresh ideas in one piece than you might hear from a string of six solos in the Ellington or Basie band. It all ends with such blatant comedy that the audience chortles.
The next tune, "Center of Gravity," is his own, and it's a dark, eventually loquacious little passacaglia built on top of a bracing ostinato.
It goes on for five more selections (including the freshest "Round Midnight" you've heard in decades). It was only Solal's third gig in New York in the past 44 years, and you can only imagine what jazz might have been like if American musicians could hear him play on a regular basis.
A classic triumph of musical imagination over geography.
-- Jeff Simon
Testimony: Vol. 2 (Love & Politics)
Review: 3 stars
Idealism is easy to make fun of. It's wholly necessary, though, an important element of the ongoing cultural, social and political dialogue. It's the idealist, after all, who points to the mountaintop and insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that we can indeed get there. We can't, of course. But trying is what brings out the best in us.
India.Arie is a defiant idealist. Thankfully, she is also an eminently soulful singer and a true musician capable of crafting songs that blend soul, pop, folk and R&B in a manner that comes across as effortless. "Testimony Vol. 2: Love & Politics" does just what an album with such a title should do -- it channels romantic idealism through melodic invention. Unless your heart is constructed of mortar, you should feel the optimism Arie imparts so viscerally and soulfully throughout the record.
Like the best topical soul singers before her -- Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder -- Arie makes the impossible seem wholly attainable, at least while the listener is immersed in her musical world. That makes "Testimony: Vol. 2" feel like a gift.
Milestones: 30 Years of Chandos
Review: 3 stars
No one could possibly deny the frequently spectacular excellence of this immense, 30-disc box commemorating the 30th anniversary of the classical record label Brian Couzens created in 1979 after working as a producer and sound engineer for EMI and RCA.
Nor is there anything other than glorious variety in music featured on these 30 discs, whether it's an obsure opera by Nadia Boulanger's tragically short-lived composer sister Lili or the debut album by the King's Singers, two discs of Hummel, no less, as well as two discs of Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams (including the seldom-heard film music for "Scott of the Antarctic" more commonly known for Vaughan Williams' re-casting of it in his "Sinfonia Antarctica").
Some of us could complain, no doubt, that Chandos' amazing explorations into Prokofiev obscurities demanded some attention here (rather than, say Hummel), but the music here is mostly formidable -- as are artists like Sir Charles Mackerras, Nigel Kennedy, Bryan Terfel and Richard Hickox.
What is completely deficient about the box, though, is the almost total absence of notes on these works and performances. Surely someone could have been found to do this mammoth presentation written justice.