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Disc reviews: Kenny G, Jamie Cullum, Anonymous 4

Contemporary jazz

Kenny G

Brazilian Nights



Back in the day when everyone more or less heard the same music, Kenny G was in the air. Everyone heard “Songbird,” and that laid-back Kenny G sound, everyone knew it. Now, he sounds the same, and pretty much looks the same too, as far as I can tell. Here he honks his way through 10 numbers with bossa nova beats, beginning with “Bossa Antigua” and including “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Corcovado” (“Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars”) as well as originals, all of them pleasant.

Kenny G writes in the liner notes that he was inspired by Cannonball Adderley and Stan Getz’s “Getz For Lovers,” which he astonishingly claims to have listened to daily for the last five years. “Brazilian Nights” is especially retro, with its introduction, played by strings, and piano introduction, like movie music. If this were 20 years ago, and everyone – willingly or not – heard the same songs, this would probably be the hit. Either that or “Clouds,” with its pretty piano intro. It is fun to play the game of “What would be the hit?” Try it. Then do what Kenny G wants you to do, and sit back and relax.

– Mary Kunz Goldman


Jamie Cullum


[Blue Note]


Your choice: Jamie Cullum is 1) the British Harry Connick Jr., B) the British Michael Buble or C) the 21st century Mel Torme. Or maybe all of the above – my choice frankly.

He’s a terrific pop jazz singer who, as does Connick, also plays the piano. (And, as does Buble, has the reputation of a man who entertains the bejabbers out of fans at concerts.)

His voice doesn’t begin to have the virtuoso command of Torme’s, but when he sings things like Cannonball Adderly’s “Sack O’Woe” or Harold Arlen’s “Out of This World” with a tenor solo by James Alsopp that obviously pays tribute to Coltrane’s classic version, you’ll know that Cullum is a jazz singer who’s got his greatest forebears in his head. Which is to say that, like Torme, he can charm you to death at the same time that he takes the pop jazz singer’s profession very seriously even though he’s not singing in arenas or appearing on TV reality shows. He’s a first-rate promoter of the jazz singer’s cause, as Torme always was (and Connick and Buble are often distracted from).

You can hear his willfully eclectic taste on his radio show weekends on Toronto’s CJRT-FM (91.1).

This new Cullum disc is a surprisingly strong one. His voice is somewhere near Buble mixed with Johnny Mercer. He sings a duet with Laura Mvula on Billie Holiday’s classic “Good Morning, Heartache” and with Gregory Porter on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” And there are some rare but juicy standards – “Lullaby of the Leaves,” for instance. For basics, he’ll give you Richard Carpenter’s “Walkin’.” which is definitely not Miles Davis.’

Broadway gave him “Make Someone Happy,” Mark Murphy gave him his song “Come and Get Me” and he sings Randy Newman’s “Losin’ You” in a way Newman would have to love. The title tune is merely the vocal version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.”

When it’s time to wrap it up and go home, Cullum knows how to do it. “Come Rain or Come Shine” is how it’s done – really done.

A near-terrific and unexpected piece of work from this singer. Any popularity it achieves will be good for everyone.

– Jeff Simon



Never Odd or Even

[Dopapod, L.L.C.]


Eight years into its existence, Boston-born Dopapod has finally captured the power of its live show across the expanse of a studio album.

Though 2013’s “Redivider” most certainly had its moments, and made overtures toward reconciling the quartet’s instrumental prowess with its songwriting abilities, it is the new “Never Odd or Even” that truly cashes the check. The appropriate balance of vocal hooks against dazzlingly funky displays of virtuosity has clearly been achieved.

Which is not to suggest that Dopapod, playing the Tralf Music Hall Feb. 26, is somehow “selling out,” or taming its more wild impulses in some sort of bid for commercial rewards. In fact, what we’re treated to here is decidedly in keeping with the band’s penchant for throwing funk, electronic dance music, progressive rock and pop in a blender, and splashing the results all over a broad canvas. But the difference this time around can be narrowed down to the cohesion between the disparate elements. Dopapod is a band that built much of its reputation by rapidly changing gears without the benefit of a clutch, before the disbelieving eyes and ears and dangling jaws of concert audiences. That delightful irreverence remains, but by this point, the band members have become more skilled in their ability to employ it.

Recorded under the auspices of producer Jason “Jocko” Randall in Syracuse, “Never Odd or Even” is bristling with energy and, sonically speaking, comes through the speakers with the force of a slap to the face. Principal soloists and songwriting sparring partners Eli Winderman (keys/vocals) and Rob Compa (guitars/vocals) do much of the heavy lifting here, but the rhythm section (drummer Scotty Zwang and bassist Charles William Power Jones) is essential in music that moves on a fulcrum of funk, and these two knock it out of the park in that department.

Whether it’s the airy, light-on-its-feet prog-rock of “Present Ghosts,” the Beatle-ish psychedelia-meets- “Story of the Ghost”-era Phish-funk of “Faba,” or the dizzying indie-rock/prog mash-up that is “Psycho Nature,” Dopapod has never offered more fully actualized representations of its own peculiar genius. Oustanding.

- Jeff Miers



Jason Vieaux, guitar

Yolanda Kondonassis, harp



Harp virtuoso Yolanda Kondonassis, who is coming to the Buffalo Philharmonic Saturday and Sunday to play Mozart, does some off-roading here teamed with Jason Vieaux, the Depew-born guitarist who is now the head of guitar studies at the Cleveland Conservatory. Together, they play the introspective Sonata for Harp and Guitar of Alan Hovhaness, subtitled “Spirit of Trees.” The harmonies of the Hovhaness can be lovely. So can the melodies, which have an arabesque feel. And the instruments go together better than you might imagine. The harp’s soft arpeggios gain depth from the guitar. And Hovhaness has them playing in precise counterpoint. It’s sleepy, but a pleasure to hear.

Two world premieres were commissioned by Kondonassis and Vieaux. Keith Fitch’s “Knock on Wood” is a waste of time but Gary Schocker’s “Hypnotized” lives up to its name with its quiet rhythms. Schocker makes good use of the two instruments’ subtleties. This exploration of exotica begins with Spanish-tinged music by Maximo Diego Pujol and Xavier Montsalvatge: Pujol’s “Suite magica,” parts of which might ring a bell, and Montsalvatge’s “Fantasia.”

– M.K.G.

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