All You Need Is Now
Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)
In the "marriage made in heaven" category, the teaming of glam-pop-disco mainstays Duran Duran with producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Robbie Williams) surely places near the top of the list. Ronson is peaking as we speak, his place as the current "it boy" of pop production secure enough to afford him some personal indulgences. A self-proclaimed Duran Duran fanatic since his teen years -- which would be right around the time the British band was peaking with "Rio" and "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" and its poster on the wall of every self-respecting, mildly hip teen girl on both sides of the pond -- Ronson is fulfilling a long-held fantasy with "All You Need Is Now," the Duran lads' 13th studio album. Happily, this is not some mere vanity project. Duran Duran hasn't sounded this vital and contemporary since the release of the white soul/pop masterpiece "Notorious" in 1986.
Why? Principally because the band has stopped trying to sound hip and contemporary, which may sound paradoxical, but is no less true for that fact. Ever since "Notorious," Duran Duran has been chasing trends and trying to retain the veneer of being a group that matters. Now that it has seemingly given up on that idea, out pops a record that genuinely belongs on the contemporary pop landscape.
The best Duran Duran songs have been danceable bits of pop with heavy undertones of the far more ambitious and consequential British band Japan -- a group that only a small cult audience is aware of outside of the United Kingdom. Duran ripped everything it could from Japan, from David Sylvian's androgynous glam look to the white-funk bass lines and post-modern synth sounds, but didn't delve into that band's experimentalism, instead favoring a "pure pop for now people" acumen. It worked, and well. So it makes sense that, a quarter century on, a hipster like Ronson could reintroduce the band to itself -- his fandom surely flattered Simon LeBon, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes and Co., and simultaneously urged them to produce work that measured up to the smashing succes of, say, "Rio."
From the ominous synth burbles and blend of electronic and acoustic drums that herald "Being Followed," through to the well-orchestrated outer-space pop of "The Man Who Stole A Leopard," the sound of Duran Duran coming to terms with what it has always done best is more than evident. Several of the album's tracks stack up nicely against the finest bits of Duran-squared's past.
No weak links, no shameless pandering to current trends, and happily, no Timbaland or Justin Timberlake, both of whom helped make 2007's "Red Carpet Massacre" sound and feel a bit desperate. Just killer hooks strutting above eminently danceable rhythms. Both hard-core, longtime fans and newcomers who dig, say, Scissor Sisters or Daft Punk, should rejoice in this musical candy.
-- Jeff Miers
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
Review: 3 1/2 stars
It has been two years since Ryan Adams and the Cardinals released "Easy Tiger," a strong record that seemed to get lost in the shuffle, as Adams' insistence on being prolific to a fault crawled up and bit him in the leg. There was just way too much Adams music, it seemed, and he kept dropping new records a few times a year. Most of them could have been whittled into one totally killer album, but Adams was moving at a brisk artistic clip, as if he was afraid to stop for fear of being able to start again. Too much of a good thing, then, and a good time for Adams to take a break.
He and the Cardinals are back with a double album, recorded, interestingly, at the same time as "Easy Tiger." So its new-old stuff, in a sense, but whatever -- what matters is that it's some of the best music Adams has released.
Fans looking for "Heartbreaker Part II," don't bother -- this ain't it. More like "Rock and Roll Part II," a reprise of the glorious, glistening post-alternative wall-of-guitars that populated gems like "On Your Side." There is not much in the way of "alt-country" here. Rather, this is the sound of a killer rock band fully embracing muscular guitar rock in service of memorable melodies and those undeniable Adams chorus hooks.
There are no dogs here among the 20-plus songs, which is a minor miracle. Things get scruffy in spots, and sure, a single album would have probably sufficed. But that's Adams. Too much is never enough. Taken one disc at a time, "III/IV" is incredibly strong.
Review: 3 1/2 stars
The piano is where women -- the ones who don't sing anyway -- have always found it easiest to make their stand in jazz. You don't find too many major female jazz trombonist/arrangers besides Melba Liston. Nor, for that matter, do you find a huge abundance of female jazz guitarists of Emily Remler's stature either. And Esperanza Spalding -- singer, bassist, composer, leader -- is unique to the point of astonishment.
Go to the keyboard, though, and jazz has always been rich, from Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland and Barbara Carroll to Joanne Brackeen and Jessica Williams. Leader, composer and pianist Lynne Arriale, at 53, has been around since the early '90s, but her profile in jazz seems to keep steadily expanding with each passing year and each disc. This is a beautiful disc.
It's also very far from the trios she's best known for. Her own originals are fascinating, but then so too is her taste in rock classics to play (and how to play them) -- the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," Blondie's "Call Me," the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," Sting's "Sister Moon," Nine Inch Nails' "Something I Can Never Have," all of them naturals for a jazz quartet featuring aptly rapt tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry.
It might have been nice if the notes has been as assiduous about telling us the name of the oud player on the Flamencoish original "Dance of the Rain" (presumably it's bassist Omer Avital) as it is about telling us the name of the fellow in charge of the beauteous Arriale's hair and makeup. But then just because musicians and critics have long since been perfectly assimilated with one another, that doesn't necessarily mean that those in the business of presenting music are equally egalitarian in outlook.
-- Jeff Simon
Missa Brevis, Harmoniemesse, Trinity Choir, REBEL Baroque Orchestra, J. Owen Burdick, Jane Glover, conductors
Review: 4 stars
Haydn took his Catholic religion seriously but he was not gloomy about it, as the notes to this CD make clear. His cheerful faith shows in these two Masses, his first and his last.
"Missa brevis" means "short Mass," and it whips past in under 12 minutes. Haydn wrote it at 17, and you can hear the master's touch, in the wreath of Amens that wrap up the Gloria, in the reverent Agnus Dei that bursts into the ebullient Dona Nobis Pacem. You also hear his youth.
The majestic "Harmoniemesse," named for the wind band it incorporates into its orchestration, is deep in comparison. It's the work of a man who has lived, who knows what the Kyrie is really about. The liner notes have the grace to point out that although Haydn wrote he was "laboring wearily" at it -- liner notes can never wait to break bad news like that to you -- listening to the music, you would never know.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman