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Listening Post

Jazz/Cabaret

Marcus Goldhaber,A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” (Fall Apple Records). Marcus Goldhaber, a Western New York native, appeared in Shea’s Performing Arts Center in spring 2013 in a Harold Arlen show. He’s a straightforward singer, with a light, flexible voice that could remind you of John Pizzarelli. Here he presents 12 songs. He throws in things you don’t hear every day, like “Old Cape Cod,” Andre Previn’s “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” and “No Moon At All,” with words by fellow Western New Yorker Ray Evans. (Funny words. “Don’t make a sound, it’s so dark/Even Fido is afraid to bark.”) It’s also fun to hear “Lulu’s Back in Town,” complete with the verse, and even Goldhaber’s weirdly sleepy approach to “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” is charming in its way. Goldhaber throws in four songs he wrote or co-wrote. The lyrics are original and the tunes are light and clever. Though a couple grow grating, the easygoing “As Long As I Am Falling in Love” is cute. These 12 tracks were recorded at various points over the last eight years. The best are the cabaret tracks set off by the graceful bluesy piano of Jon Davis, who co-wrote three of the originals. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Jazz

Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble with guest vocalist Shira Lissek, “Mosaica” (ME II Enterprises). Let’s freely admit that “Jazz for Hannukah” is not a category of major musical need in consumerland at this time of year. But for anyone who might be at all interested, I can’t think of anything that better suits that need than this, the newest disc by one of the most interesting musicians to adapt Hebrew melodies into extremely sophisticated and rather superb jazz. His name is Eugene Marlow and his group is called the Heritage Ensemble. Start right out with the most familiar Hebrew melody of them all – “Hava Nagila” (“Let us Rejoice”) – which is for a Jewish folk dance called the Hora. You’ve never heard a Hava Nagila as artful, but weirdly moving, as this. Then listen to Marlow’s original “Zikkaron Kristallnacht” written for the 76th anniversary of the 1938 Nazi atrocity long known as Kristallnacht followed by vocalist Shira Lissek (in her day job, a cantor) singing the Passover song to Elijah called “Eliyahu Hanavi.” With drummer Bobby Sanabria along with pianist Marlow and tenor and alto saxophinist Michael Hashim, this is nothing if not convincing forward-thinking jazz even though its melodic sources are often ancient. It is jazz simultaneously at its purest and most multicultural whose title is an amalgam of the word for “music” with the word “mosaic.” Marlow’s saxophonist Michael Hashim is of Lebanese descent, bassist Frank Wagner’s family is from Eastern Europe and both Sanabria and percussionist Matthew Gonzalez are “Nuyoricans” i.e. solid New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. Marvelous stuff. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Simon)

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Outhead, “Send This Sound to the King” (Chahatatadra Music). The publicity for the pianoless quartet Outhead rather nicely characterizes the aesthetic of the group on its second disc as “low-slung, rough-hewn” and “equal parts free-jazz and art-punk brimming over with vim and vigor.” You can trust that to be rather accurately descriptive and not the hype of hopeful avant-salesmanship. The band’s first disc was 2008’s “Quiet Sounds for Comfortable People” whose ironic title tells you that they’re more or less in the same exceedingly independent new jazz neighborhood of the brilliant ensemble Mostly Other People Do The Killing. This is jazz for people who weren’t scared by Ornette Coleman or the amazing Chicago trio called Air and who might have wanted John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards to have more substance and more courage and less profile. The band began in the Bay Area and the disc is produced by his alto and tenor saxophonist Alex Weiss, now of Brooklyn and a former protege of the venerable avant-garde alto saxophonist John Tchicai. Says Weiss: “John Tchicai had a level of playing and feeling music that was very high, but he had this great open-mindedness about playing with all kinds of people, valuing real connection between musicians.” Expect, then, some splendid guest guitar noise by Peter Galub and a good deal more compositional interest than you’ll find on young jazz ensembles of far less punk complexion. (Would you believe a tune called “Trotsky?” Of course, you would.) ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Simon)

Classical

Mendelssohn, “Lieder Ohne Worte (Songs Without Words)” performed by pianist Javier Perianes (Harmonia Mundi). Whatever it is, precisely, that begins with Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words,” it is assuredly exquisite and SOMETHING that, eventually, turned into one of the greatest lyrical traditions in all of the classical piano repertoire. A good argument could be made that some of Satie is rooted here, as well as Mompou’s “Musica Callada” and all manner of extraordinary music whose melodic essence is pared down to a radical degree. What Mendelssohn was doing in avoiding words, he told his publisher, was because words “seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so equivocal, in comparison with real music, which fills one’s soul with a thousand things better than words do. For me a piece of music that I love does not express thoughts too indefinite to be expressed in words, but, on the contrary too definite ... because only the melody can say the same thing, awaken the same feeling, in one person as in another – though that feeling may not be expressed in the same words.” As with so much of the simplest music by composers of genius, this presents the pianist with the challenge of performing the music with both rarefied purity and unequivocal musical substance. Spanish pianist Perianes previously recorded Mompou’s sublime “Musica Callada” for Harmonia Mundi and he is superb in this music, so much Mompou’s ancestor. ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)

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Deanna Witkowski, “Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin” (Tilapia). I don’t know if I would name a record label Tilapia. It’s a pretty word, but the fish is kind of bland. This music, too, is pretty but kind of bland. I like it in a way. Working with a number of well-known Nocturnes, Preludes and Etudes, Witkowski lands somewhere between New Age and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” She does a good job of fusing the Prelude in C Minor with Jobim’s “How Insensitive” (which took its structure from the piece). I also like Witkowski for daring to improvise, something few classical pianists attempt. But it doesn’t have a lot of guts or backbone. Also any Chopin fan will have a problem in that some of the pieces become sacred cows to you – you don’t want anyone messing with them. It’s hard to add anything to what Chopin did. That’s why jazz musicians have traditionally gone for the Tin Pan Alley standard. Witkowski includes a few originals – again, they’re pretty, but they’re not at all like Chopin. All in all, the disc is accomplished but sleepy. ΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Jazz/Folk

Nels Cline & Julian Lage, “Room” (Mack Avenue). Inhabiting a musical world where genre classifications have become somewhat beside the point takes fortitude. You know you’re making music primarily for yourself and, if you’re lucky, a small audience of brave listeners who might manage to sift through the digital detritus cluttering the culture and happen upon your little “art for art’s sake” nugget. There’s something profoundly moving about artists who follow the inner imperatives of the questing musician, commercial fate be damned. If at times such projects drift too far toward the self-indulgent, just as often, undertakings with a wholly musical impetus can yield inspiring and inspired results. Such is the case with “Room,” an album’s worth of instrumental duets performed and composed by erstwhile Wilco/Nels Cline Singers guitarist Nels Cline and NYC jazz/folk wunderkind Julian Lage. The twin guitars setting immediately provides a disarming intimacy here, one that the Cline and Lage indulge in through the majesty of their melodic and harmonic constructions and joint improvisations, taken together in real time. Both are distinct players with incredibly broad areas of interest ranging from folk to classical and jazz to country, and both bring plenty of those influences to bear on “Room’s” 10 tracks. At times, the listener feels as if he’s eavesdropping on a deep conversation between old friends; At others, as if he’s party to stunning alchemical creation. Stylistically, the music Cline and Lage create runs the gamut from stately John Fahey-like compositions to free-form sparring matches between high-level musicians eager to surrender themselves to the joys of spontaneous interaction. Most of this music defies description, so “beautiful” will have to suffice. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Miers)

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