Share this article

print logo

Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

> Country/roots

Tracy Nelson, "Victim of the Blues" (Delta Groove). Tracy Nelson's 1964 debut was titled "Deep Are the Roots," and the singer who once led Mother Earth has been plumbing those roots ever since, excelling at both country and blues. Nelson comes by the title of her new album honestly. The tapes for it were one of the few things saved when her Tennessee farmhouse burned down. What they reveal is that she still possesses magnificent skills as an interpreter: With her distinctive touch of vibrato, she combines roof-raising power with deep-soul expressiveness, putting her own stamp on this vintage material. She romps through Jimmy Reed's "Shoot My Baby" (with Marcia Ball) and Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for My Baby" (with Angela Strehli). She slows it down for a pungent acoustic take on the Ma Rainey title track, indulges in some gospel-flavored sermonizing with Joe Tex's "The Love You Save (May Be Your Own)," and concludes with a soaring, bring-down-the-house rendition of Irma Thomas' "Without Love (There Is Nothing)" that puts a fitting exclamation point on this tour de force. Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of 4) (Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer)

> Jazz

Ben Allison, "Action -- Refraction" (Palmetto). Thelonious Monk's "Jackie-Ing?" Well, sure. Any 44-year-old jazz bassist might open his 10th new disc with that. Well, not like this, they wouldn't. Ben Allison describes his version this way: "I began with the intention of writing an intro that was reminiscent of early 1960s sci-fi thriller music (think 'Twilight Zone') but ended up sounding more Zappa-esque." Wait. Then we go into a large, malevolently impressive version of PJ Harvey's "Missed," Donny Hathaway's "Some Day We'll All Be Free" chanted by tenor saxophonist Michael Blake with electronic static overlay from Jason Lindner, guitarist Steve Cardenas on a "slowed down" and "stripped bare" version of Neil Young's "Philadelphia," a rendering of "We've Only Just Begun" that begins in three different tempos and finally falls together and, are you ready, an excerpt from a song cycle by Samuel Barber. This is gutsy jazz eclecticism squared -- jazz where the arrangement idea comes first no matter how wild or outlandish. All of it to answer Allison's question to himself "how would it sound to reflect some of my favorite songs through the prism of an electro-acoustic orchestra featuring two electric guitars, bass clarinet/saxophone, analog synthesizer/piano, acoustic bass and drums?" Bold and splendid is the answer. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)

Bann, "As You Like" (Jazz Eyes). The name of the group comes from the first letter in the last names of its members: tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Jay Anderson, guitarist Oz Noy and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Nothing in the music is even remotely as cryptographic as that. This is one of the most formidable straight-ahead jazz quartets to come along in a while. Blake is one of the more powerful tenor saxophonists around these days, but the making of this disc is Israeli guitarist Noy, who isn't much like any other current jazz guitarist I know, not even Terje Rypdal. He's been in New York since 1996 -- long enough to hang out with a good part of David Letterman's TV band (Will Lee and Anton Fig). But just listen to his sonorities accompanying Blake on the opening version of "All Things You Are" (no kidding). Then listen to Noy's barking chordal accompaniment to Bann's version of Monk's "Played Twice" and, especially, his solo on Anderson's composition "At Sundown." You're hearing a guitarist whose sound world from tune to tune seems as vast as Les Paul's but whose solos boil and bubble their own way, from roots funk to ecstatic screams, as if Charlie Hunter had somehow swallowed Duane Eddy and Link Wray. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

Ralph Peterson's Unity Project, "Outer Reaches" (Onyx). What on earth is hugely swinging drummer Ralph Peterson doing giving himself a trumpet on this earth-moving mainstream jazz quintet disc? Isn't it enough for him to be a Blakey-esque monster on his instrument that he has to join trumpet player Josh Evans on his disc? Somewhere back in this disc's past it began as a tribute to trumpet player Woody Shaw and organist Larry Young and as impressive as Evans can be, it's this disc's tenor saxophonist Jovan Alexandre and especially Hammond B-3 organist Pat Bianchi that lift this record into roaring territory of its own, with Peterson's stellar drum accompaniment. Bianchi is that rare organ soloist whose solos begin someplace elementary and end some place else entirely with a kind of impeccable narrative musical logic in between. Listen to Bianchi slalom his way through "Monk's Dream." Review: 3 stars (J.S.)

> World Music

Kronos Quartet, Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen, "Uniko" (Ondine). I love this disc. Now that the world has long since come to terms with the hitherto unimagined fact that some of the most interesting contemporary composers come from Finland (Rautavaara, Sallinen), here is that indefatigable world-beating (literally) string quartet, the Kronos, to play a gorgeous piece of music by Finnish composers/musicians Kimmo Pohjonen (the "Hendrix of the accordion" they call him!) and Samuli Kosminen. It combines accordion, sound effects, vocalists, and the Kronos' adventurous string quartet virtuosity in a seven-movement work that is part classical minimalist and part World Pop with musical references going in every geographical direction (nothing could be more apt in music from the Kronos). It premiered in America in 2007 and is still so clearly one of a kind that it's as head-clearing as it is approachable, even lovable. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)

> Classical

Karina Gauvin, soprano, Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano "Fete Galante" (Atma Classique). Hamelin is known for tackling some of the thorniest repertoire, including musty, virtuosic pieces from the late 19th century. This disc shows a different side of him. It stands out for its sheer loveliness. He and Gauvin perform four songs by Faure that are so lovely they could make you shiver. Ravel's "Cinq melodies popularies grecques," shot through with sunlight, made me think of Canteloube's "Songs of the Auvergne." Emile Vuillermoz's "Chansons popularies francaises et canadiennes," which I never heard before, are delightful. The songs have few moments of overt virtuosity -- requiring, instead, subtlety and delicacy. Gauvin, described as "Canada's superstar soprano" adopts a tone of pure prettiness. Hamelin is so low-key as to be, at times, almost invisible. Review: 4 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Tao Lin, "Live in Concert" (Artek). Chinese-American Tao Lin is an adept pianist -- two Scarlatti sonatas sound as if played by a well-oiled little machine. He does not seem to "get" the depth of Mozart's C Minor Fantasia, but he does a good job with the sonata, especially in the gorgeous slow movement. The disc ends with a lively take on Chopin's Third Sonata. Lin writes his own liner notes, and presents his recital unedited. Review: 3 stars (M.K.G.)

There are no comments - be the first to comment