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Listening Post: Elvis Costello and the Roots, Kenny Garrett, Halie Loren


Elvis Costello & the Roots, “Wise Up Ghost” (Blue Note). It’s been clear from the beginning that “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” was going to seriously shake up our preconceptions regarding how music might work on late-night TV. Simply employing the Roots as the show’s house band should have made everyone sit up and take notice. Add to that the consistent high quality level of musical guests, the unusual pairings of artists, the “theme weeks”, and the fact that the Roots can apparently play any style of music better than just about anyone else – well, the game has been raised, and significantly. Now we’ve been gifted with the first tangible product of the show’s brave attitude toward musical programming. Elvis Costello and the Roots met and bonded while Costello was a guest on the Fallon show, deepened their mutual appreciation society during subsequent appearances, and ultimately, hatched a plan to make a record together. It might seem like a strange pairing at first, but think about it – Costello, Irish by birth, English by upbringing, has always been funky in his own way. (Think “Radio Radio,” “Every Day I Write the Book,” most of “Punch the Clock,” large portions of “Spike.”) The Roots are one of the funkiest American bands extant, but the band has such a deep love for so many different styles of music, and such abundant facility within so many of them, that the fact that Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is a hardcore Costello fan becomes less surprising. “Wise Up Ghost” sounds like exactly what it is – a labor of love undertaken in a relaxed manner by artists who love and respect each other. Lyrically, “Wise Up Ghost” offers snapshots of a world consumed by chaos, as if Costello aimed to keep a scrapbook of the end times to share with his grandkids on some lazy Sunday afternoon in a future that isn’t likely to ever come. It’s heavy subject matter, but the images are so vivid and delivered in such a playful manner that the album never feels weighed down by self-importance. This is that rarest of rare occurrences - a meeting of musical superstars that comes off as organic, inspired and necessary. ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)


Kenny Garrett, “Pushing the World Away” (Mack Avenue). Kenny Garrett is, without question, the great jazz alto saxophonist of his generation (he is 52) – a player so formidable on his instrument that he’s unafraid to perform in the kind of pianoless trio that is more customarily the home of big-toned tenor players (Sonny Rollins being the legendary example). The weird title of this disc doesn’t mean that Garrett has decided against being the ferocious, earthy and passionate player he’s always been, only that to get to make the disc in the first place he had to “push away” a lot of outside distractions. The disc is a beauty, with his pianist Benito Gonzalez doing his McCoy Tyner best to join Garrett in the opening Coltranesque “A Side Order of Hikiki.” “Hey, Chick” is a beautiful tune in the Corea mode, “Chucho’s Mambo” pays tribute to the great Cuban piano master Chucho Valdes (who shares a birthday with Garrett) and “Brother Brown” is a salute with strings to Garrett’s co-producer Donald Brown. “I Say a Little Prayer” is a gift from Garrett showing us how to darken, deepen and slow down Burt Bacharach to be something very different from Dionne Warwick. There is chanting in the title tune, a la Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” He plays soprano on it with, as with the rest, no dishonor to John Coltrane’s example. Superb. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Simon)


Halie Loren, “Simply Love” (Justin Time). Seattle singer Halie Loren’s disc has a nice appeal from the first track, “For Sentimental Reasons.” Loren, who has played Yoshi’s and other prominent venues, has assembled a fine combo. Leading it, and coming up with string arrangements, is pianist Matt Treder, who has a clear, straightforward tone. Sometimes, as on this song, he plays the Rhodes, a nostalgic instrument you do not hear nearly enough. Treder lends sweet simplicity to “Moon River.” In “L-O-V-E,” he and bassist Mark Schneider lay down a Latin jazz groove that sounds like Vince Guaraldi. Guitarist William Seiji Marsh stars in the creative accompaniment to “The Sunny Side of the Street.” A funky bass gives a ’70s ambience to Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move.” On the minus side, I have heard too much of “My Funny Valentine.” I deduct one star for its presence. About Loren herself, she has a growing reputation, but I sense an immaturity. She sings all her songs pretty much alike and she fudges some melodies that should not be messed with. “Moon River,” for instance – you’re not going to do better than Henry Mancini, and everyone likes the song the way it is, so sing it that way, you know? And enough with the singing in French. On the bright side, her concluding original, “Simply Love,” is surprisingly good and set off nicely by a quiet, brooding cafe accompaniment. ΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)