Robert Glasper Experiment
3 stars (out of 4)
For a disc embedded in such a sulfurous program of cultural dissatisfaction, you might well expect more fire and brimstone than there is on this oversweetened commercial eclecticism, despite an all-star cast.
Robert Glasper is a fine straight-ahead jazz pianist and genre-juggler who is in Mos Def's band and is as comfortable with R&B and hip-hop as he is in jazz. He and his band were recorded at one point here and it seems that all members of the Robert Glasper Experiment are sick of being "pigeonholed" by Music Inc. and all of whom seem to be in agreement that "people are so brainwashed they don't know what's good and what's bad anymore." To which another replies "98 percent of what you hear on radio is whack." Because "people don't think anymore," the "best thing you can do for people is be honest."
So Glasper gives us a vision our culture would hear in the words of his employer Mos Def (whose real name is Yasiin Bey) if our culture were in an airplane crash and "Big Bird falling down on a mountain pass/ Only thing to survive after the crash/ Black Radio/ You wanna fly free go far and fast/Build to last/We made this craft/From black radio."
All of which is precisely what couldn't be proved by most of the album in which Glasper and his other musicians are reduced to sonic distortion, gimmickry and decorative prettification for vocals by Meshell Ndegeocello, King, Ledisi, Lupe Fiasco and Bilal, Stokley Williams and Shafiq Husayn.
The old Coltrane classic (out of Mongo Santamaria) "Afro Blue" comes with a vocal by Erykah Badu and the disc ends with an extremely inventive and surprisingly affecting version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
But except for that and Glasper's solo on Williams' "Why Do We Try" it all seems to convert cultural anger and revulsion at "dumbing down" into a good deal less than meets the ear.
Angelika Beener writes in the notes "for centuries, music from the souls of Black People has been not only the narrative of our experiences, but it has remained the American blueprint for most everything that has followed. Emulated, envied and countlessly reimagined by the rest of the world, our music is the pinnacle of inventiveness and the highest artistic form of ourselves."
But what most of this confirms in its endless outlay of aural carbohydrates is what Musiq Soulchild sings during a tune on the disc called "Ah Yeah": "I think beauty is overrated."
-- Jeff Simon
American Classics, with Rieko Aizawa, piano
The fascinating fiddler/violin virtuoso Mark O'Connor, who is coming to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra this weekend, soars with this gracious, poignant trip through American history. It made me think of "Ragtime" in that it is a panoramic look at all the immigrant pieces that made up the American mosaic from, oh, 1860 through the 1920s. There are spirituals and hymns ("Deep River," "Simple Gifts") and rags, including "The Entertainer."
There's also early jazz, like "Daphne," a swingy song famously played by Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. German and Polish polkas are here, and Irish reels -- and, to complete the picture, a klezmer "Hava Nagila."
The piano accompaniments are minimal, almost not there -- very 19th century, in other words. A few pieces are especially poignant, given O'Connor's lovely, sincere presentation. One is Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home" and another is "Over the Waves," which, trust me, you will recognize as a bittersweet circus waltz.
The disc is almost guaranteed to make you misty at some point, especially coming at a time when a lot of people are worried about the future of our country. It's no accident that it ends with a solo "America the Beautiful," taken from "A Prairie Home Companion."
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
3 1/2 stars
Lots of young country singers invoke the old greats of the genre, as if that gives them instant credibility. Kellie Pickler boldly gets right to it with the first song of her third album, "Where's Tammy Wynette." In this case, however, Pickler earns the right to make such references: From start to finish, she thoroughly lives up to the best of the music's traditions.
"100 Proof" is 100-proof country, even if the title track is a love song and not a drinking song. Pickler, the former "American Idol" contestant, can be as feisty as Miranda Lambert with numbers such as the aforementioned "Tammy Wynette," "Unlock That Honky Tonk" and "Tough" -- as in, "I ain't never been nothin' but tough."
Pickler is just as effective when she lets her guard down, as she does on the aching ballad "Stop Cheatin' on Me" (although even that plea comes with a warning: "Or I'll start cheatin' on you"). Also in that vein are songs about her mother and father that reflect her own less-than-apple-pie experience growing up. They are deeply felt and true-to-life numbers (among six that she co-wrote), and underscore just how much Pickler has come into her own as an artist.
--Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
Adam Kromelow Trio
A sensational young jazz pianist who will be coming to Buffalo with fellow pianist Angelo DiLoreto at 7:30 p.m. March 7 to do two-piano improvisations on the music of Genesis at Denton, Cottier and Daniels.
A young pianist presenting a new trio could hardly have better bloodlines than Kromelow. His first trio disc was produced by Arturo O'Farrill and at the Manhattan School of Music, he studied under Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer. And if that isn't credential enough, Brad Mehldau has had Kromelow play for his Carnegie Hall jazz piano master class.
What is typical of twentysomething Kromelow's jazz generation is his bristling at anyone attempting to define or confine him by orthodox jazz pieties. His young trio, he says (with bassist Raviv Markovitz and drummer Jason Burger), doesn't see itself as a "jazz trio." "We also share an equal admiration for many other genres. Personally, I have a very special place in my heart for classical music and rock music."
When you hear Kromelow's gorgeous version of the Beatles' "Across the Universe," you'll understand what he means when he says "there is a noticeable thinning of the lines between contemporary jazz, classical and rock genres and in this band we really don't see these lines at all."
Which doesn't mean that as a more conventional jazz trio playing "free, collective improvisation" on the likes of Monk's "Brilliant Corners" and Kromelow's own new composition "Black Mamba," they aren't already as exciting in their way as some of the best of Kromelow's masters Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer. "Brilliant Corners" is atomized in "whichever of" the song's themes "we are in the mood to tamper with" until the final "original melody as Monk conceived it."
A preview of the Denton concert of music by Genesis is the trio's superb version of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street."
A brilliant young musician by any possible reckoning with the right trio-mates to introduce him.