k.d. lang & the Siss Boom Bang
Sing it Loud
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
When kd lang headed to Nashville to begin tracking new tunes with former Guster member Joe Pisapia, she didn't plan on ending up with a brand-new band. But once Pisapia assembled musicians for the recording dates, and lang stepped up to the mic to run through the tunes in preproduction, something clicked, and Siss Boom Bang was born. We should all be thankful -- "Sing it Loud," the album resulting from this new alchemy, is among lang's finest. It also manages to take what the singer does so well -- marry country, ethereal crooning and gloriously ornate pop -- and make it sound both familiar and brand-new.
That's probably due to the fact that the Siss Boom Bang is, at least by lang's standards, a bit of an edgy outfit. There is a touch of alt-country to their precise but organic interplay, and there's also a bit of T Bone Burnett's work with the likes of Robert Plant and Steve Earle in evidence -- mellow but billowing drum sounds and slightly eerie guitar tones abound.
When lang sings over this, the effect is spine-tingling -- like one imagines it might sound if Patsy Cline was fronting Wilco.
None of this is to suggest that lang has dropped the grandiloquence of her best past work in favor of some sort of folksy, rustic charm. No way. The ghost of Roy Orbison was clearly in the vocal booth with lang when she tracked opener "I Confess," a breathy, beautiful piece that moves with the mildly ominous pace of the late singer's "It's Over" or "A Love So Beautiful." Similarly, "A Sleep With No Dreaming" could have been tracked for lang's career-defining 1992 album "Ingenue," but without then-producer Ben Mink's strings and glittery production, the song is stripped to its essential sinew and skeleton. (This is no dis on Mink -- his work with lang is powerful and enduring.)
There is about "Sing It Loud" that fresh, forgiving air and that enthusiastic light endemic to the blossoming of a new relationship. The listener can sense the palpable joy the musicians and lang are finding in playing together, and that's certainly part of what makes the album work so well. But it would be remiss to fail to acknowledge the strength of the songwriting itself. With the exception of an inspired rendering of the Talking Heads' "Heaven," all of the songs were penned by the band members and lang, in various combinations. There is solid craftsmanship at work here, and because of this, lang is able to soar, to caress her melodies as if she's spinning the finest silk.
It's true that no one is rewriting the rule book here. lang's music is not radical in any traditional sense of the word. But it's beautiful, and sometimes that's more than enough.
-- Jeff Miers
3 1/2 stars
Assume nothing about this new co-op quartet.
Its name -- as yet unexplained -- leads you to expect some sort of smirky irony given the players involved: tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland (who recently came to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in the stellar quartet of Charles Lloyd with Jason Moran).
The music is anything but smirky or ironic. There's nothing country about it either. It tends to be dark and modal, full of ominous energy alternating with tender beauty, no small dramatic drive, and simple two-chord ostinati. This is not exactly music erupting in sunlight even on the rare occasions when it's plainly pastoral. It's as if great young veteran jazz players steeped in Coltrane and, yes, Charles Lloyd, grew up in rainy Seattle hanging around grunge palaces with Kurt Cobain and other brooding rockers across the aisle. Think The Bad Plus or E.S.T. with a great saxophone soloist.
Pianist Parks is indeed from overcast Seattle, where lightsome moods and abandoned merriment don't seem to spring up naturally from the local musical mood.
"This is about being a band," says Redman in the group's publicity. "Certainly everyone's personality and individual voice comes through and everyone gets to make a compelling individual statement. But the real meaning and value of the group lies in the interplay, in the way we as a band have been able to craft these songs and find a group sound and a group chemistry within them that serves these songs." And, to their ensemble credit, you'll hear all of that. Yes, it's true that Parks, Penman and Harland have been playing together as a trio for a while. but as a quartet, they're almost brand-new, even though they don't begin to sound it.
May they, as a group, stay this good as they get old.
-- Jeff Simon
Piano Sonatas Op. 10, Nos. 1, 2, 3
Performed by pianist Mari Kodama
3 1/2 stars
I like Mari Kodama's Beethoven. It's not grandstanding like too many other pianists', and it shows refreshingly little tendency to shine the spotlight on herself. Kodama captures the music's frequent quiet wit. She was a sometimes student of Alfred Brendel, and she has a lot of his quiet intellectual approach. The slow movements are beautifully expressive. Maybe she gets this also from Brendel, but the music could use more raw excitement. The robust, Haydn-esque finale to Op. 10 No. 2 sometimes sounds a little weak-fingered. Overall, though, her playing is lovely and this set of early Beethoven sonatas is a great addition to what appears is going to be a complete cycle.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Man in Motion
3 1/2 stars
We already know that Warren Haynes is one of the finest electric guitar soloists going. His work with the Allman Brothers Band, the Dead and his own Gov't Mule has assured Haynes a slot in the hall of six-string legends. Haynes can blow with the best of them.
But "Man in Motion," his new solo album, reveals a side of Haynes that may surprise some. It's an album of killer R&B and Stax-style soul songs that is centered on his eminently soulful singing. No overtly lengthy jams, no Cream-style power-trio workouts -- just serious Memphis sounds, tracked with the help of such luminaries as George Porter Jr., Ian McLagan, Ruthie Foster and Ivan Neville, among others.
Don't fret, jam-lovers -- it's not like Haynes doesn't solo here. He does, often and well, opener "Man in Motion" being only the first example of many. It's just that the groove is never sacrificed in the process. Haynes and Co. tracked the album live, inside Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studios, and that in-the-room vibe is certainly a plus. It's Haynes' songwriting and singing, though, that carry the day for the most part -- even if the ensemble playing is often downright exquisite.
The man who penned "Soulshine" for the Allman Brothers Band has delivered a handful of emotion-soaked soul burners in that mode here. "A Friend To You" is a shining example of this ballad-based aspect of Haynes' writing.
Haynes has also proven himself to have a more supple, funkier side to his musicianship than one might have imagined. Spontaneous, sometimes playful, and always soulful, "Man in Motion" is a welcome addition to the already considerable Haynes oeuvre.