Kermit Driscoll, "Reveille" (1 9/8 ). The pleasures of hearing guitarist Bill Frisell as the featured soloist on someone else's quartet record are rare and splendid.
Bassist Driscoll is in charge here and except for the spacey and semi-slapstick version of the traditional "Chicken Reel" and Joe Zawinul's "Great Expectations," Driscoll wrote the tunes. What that means is that Frisell, however dominant his sound, is contributing as much eccentric creativity to the proceedings as pianist Kris Davis and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. On his own, Frisell's discs have tended toward the programmatic, at the very least, and are sometimes hugely ambitious -- if not always successful -- in the most conceptual way. Here, it's sometimes just Frisell's sustained rockish keenings or sonic melts that keep things here as commanding as they are ever-fresh. Frisell should do this a lot more often. 3 1/2 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)
Percy Sledge, "The King Of Country Soul: The Atlantic Recordings (Rhino, four discs). In honor of Percy Sledge's 70th birthday, Rhino has offered up a four-disc comprehensive set packaged in a gorgeous hardback book, graced by a thoughtful new essay by Mojo's Barney Hoskyns, and boasting some 100-plus songs spanning the man's most productive period -- 1966-74.
What makes this much more than an "oldies" package is that Sledge crafted groundbreaking work, the echoes of which linger today in everything from the rowdy Southern-fried soul of the Black Crowes and the Black Keys, to the more sanitized mainstream pop of many an "American Idol" also-ran. Sledge became a star in '66 with "When a Man Loves a Woman," and spent the better part of the next 10 years recording for Atlantic in the company's studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. What the singer managed to do was bring the rural influence of country and folk music to bear on the urban sound of the then-burgeoning soul movement. His fusion endures and is still resonant in a present-day manner. "The King of Country Soul" will put you out around $80, but if you care about this perfect marriage of North and South, it's worth the investment. 4 stars (Jeff Miers)
Purcell, O Solitude and Other Songs and Arias performed by counter-tenor Andreas Scholl and the Academia Bizantina led by Stefano Montanari (Decca). Decades ago, when the incomparable and justly legendary Alfred Deller was just about the only widely known counter-tenor, it would have been virtually inconceivable that in a new millennium counter-tenors would become almost populous. The falsetto purity of the counter-tenor eschews, perforce, the dramatic power of the contralto and mezzo-soprano which perennially makes the sound of it off-putting to some but also makes you understand composers' partiality to it. Purcell's "Sound the Trumpet" from his 1694 "Birthday Ode to Queen Mary" and, especially, his sublime "Music for a While," sound exceptional from Scholl (and, in the case of "Trumpet" in duet with French counter-tenor Christophe Dumaux).
"There are still the most stupid prejudices," writes Scholl in the notes about the high male voice. "I even had the headline 15 years ago, 'Man Who Sings Like a Woman' -- as if I were a circus attraction A counter-tenor looks like a guy when he walks out on stage but when he starts singing, he's not a cliche male voice but something we cannot put in a drawer ... The high male voice surprises the audience and transcends classification and reminds people we are primarily human." Especially singing music as beautiful as this and singing it as beautifully as this. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)
Gabriela Montero, "So Latino" (EMI Classics). Kudos to Venezuelan-born pianist Gabriela Montero, taking a stand against Hugo Chavez and his tyranny. She rails against him in the liner notes and even ditched the red color in the EMI logo on the cover because red is the color of communism. Montero brings this same fire to her piano playing.
This disc has her playing her own improvisations as well as pieces, both showy and pensive, by South American composers including Ernesto Lecuona, Antonio Estevez, Ernesto Nazareth and Alberto Ginastera. It's all fiery and fun -- Montero, who likes to improvise at her concerts on tunes called out by the audience, strikes a tone that is part classical, part South American dance. The centerpiece is the virtuosic Ginastera Sonata, a showpiece she played on her recital with the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series. 4 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)
Shai Wosner, Brahms and Schoenberg, Shai Wosner, piano (Onyx). The Israeli-born Wosner is a dream of a pianist who appeared in Buffalo this past spring partnering with violinist Jennifer Koh in the Ramsi P. Tick Concert Series. He was dazzling. His recording is bright, brilliant and bombastic.
Though it sounds radical to draw parallels between Schoenberg and Brahms -- wasn't Brahms backward-looking, while Schoenberg wanted to turn everything upside down? -- Wosner plays an interesting game. He presents Brahms and Schoenberg side by side, showing how Brahms inspired Schoenberg (who even wrote an essay called "Brahms the Progressive," pointing out Brahms' revolutionary qualities). Wosner plays the Brahms pieces, which culminate in the magnificent "Variations on a Theme by Handel," in a more out-there style than most pianists. Some are spiky and percussive, emphasizing lines usually not emphasized. Others are dreamlike, almost hallucinatory. I wonder if Wosner, bent on proving his point, makes the music sound occasionally too angry and unlovely.
Still I admire his purpose and scholarship, not to mention his chops. The disc did not make me hear Schoenberg differently. But it did make me see new things in Brahms. 3 stars (M.K.G.)
Deadmau5, "4 X 4 (equals) 12" (Ultra). You're familiar with the oversize head and the big mouse ears of progressive house music maven Deadmau5. Sports fans saw the Canadian-born DJ perform at Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Kids caught Mau5 as a character in Activision's "DJ Hero 2" video game. Yet with the exception of singles compilations such as "It Sounds Like" and the mix-mastered likes of "For Lack of a Better Name," he has not released a full-length artist CD of his own until now. While massive electro epics such as "Some Chords" and the nasty "Animal Rights" (both previously released) fill this Daft Punk-y CD, there are, happily, dastardly surprises at every turn. While "One Trick Pony" and "Raise Your Weapon" find the Mau5 hotly interpreting the clutter of dubstep, the rich electro classicism of "Right This Second" and the crepuscular moodiness of "Cthulhu Sleeps" are lustrously ripe with eerie yet catchy melodies, as through-lines to their pulsing, beating heart. 3 stars (A.D. Amorosi, the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Andrew Bird, "Useless Creatures" (Fat Possum). Andrew Bird's albums crackle with eclectic wordplay, esoteric themes, impressive whistling and even more impressive violin-playing. "Useless Creatures," however, is an animal of a slightly different stripe: It's a set of instrumentals (give or take a few sighs and whistles), originally released as a bonus CD with 2009's "Noble Beast," that highlights Bird's wide-ranging interests and experimental spirit.
Recorded quickly with Ani DiFranco's bassist Todd Sickafoose and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, "Useless Creatures" favors extended pieces built on cyclical patterns or loops but anchored in a wide range of styles: classical chamber pieces ("You Woke Me Up!"), ambient drones (the Eno-esque "The Barn Tapes"), African vibes (the Konono No. 1-inspired "Hot Math"), and sometimes a hodgepodge ("Carrion Suite"). As background music, "Useless Creatures" is useful; in the foreground, it's a diversion. 2 1/2 stars (Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer)