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Listening Post


Halestorm, “Into the Wild Life” (Atlantic). Hard rock and heavy metal have been predominantly male-centric idioms for what feels like forever. There have been exceptions, of course – Heart, Girlschool, Pat Benatar, the Runaways, Lita Ford among them. Still, metal is generally considered a man’s terrain, rightly or wrongly, and spending any amount of time at festivals like Ozzfest or the various Rockstar Energy Drinks day-longers backs up such a supposition. That Halestorm’s Lizzy Hale has managed to earn some serious respect in this often cloistered world is a testament to her prowess as siren-lunged belter and front-woman supreme. Seeing Hale steer her band, hair swinging, Gibson Explorer strapped to her hip, one gets the feeling that succumbing to the allure of the heaviness has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with talent and the ability to harness raw power and big riffs. With album No. 3, “Into the Wild Life,” Halestorm drags its substantial fan base – one earned through a ferocious, but polished marriage of classic metal and arena rock – into a future of its own design. Far less slick than its predecessors, and doubly eclectic, the album is the work of a young band eager to stoke the creative fires and shake off anything resembling stylistic atrophy. Touches of electro pulse through a few of the heaviest tracks, while the noir-balladry of the past is supplanted by a much more alternative bend on the mellower tunes. Throughout, the band is lean, muscular and able to turn on a dime, while Hale flexes her considerable vocal cords in service of the strongest and most interesting melodies she’s yet summoned. The result is music that can be both pulverizingly heavy and relatively subtle in equal measure.  (Jeff Miers)


Bruckner, Symphony No. 3 performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewsju (LPO); Symphony No. 7 performed by Hamburg Philharmonic conducted by Simone Young (Oehms Classics). Among the greater imponderables in the world of classical music is the sine wave of popularity that great composers seem to ride without much rhyme or reason. The 200th birthday of Anton Bruckner won’t be celebrated until 2024 and yet here we have live recordings of two major European orchestras playing Bruckner symphonies – the seventh, which, except for the fourth, is the most popular, and the third, whose premiere was disastrous and wound up being his most revised work. The seventh is performed by the Hamburg Philharmonic conducted by Australian conductor Simone Young, a Wagner specialist obviously at home with Bruckner, and the third is performed by the London Philharmonic under Stanislaw Skrowaczewski who is now sometimes considered the world’s oldest working major conductor. Skrowaczewski was 90 when this disc was recorded. He’s been around long enough to have studied with Nadia Boulanger and, get this now, conducted the Paris premiere of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Despite the opening trumpet theme that Wagner liked when Bruckner first showed him the score, Bruckner’s Third is an unjustly overlooked symphony in the Brucknerian canon – due, no doubt, to its early bad reputation and all those revisions. It isn’t the best place for a Bruckner novice to start listening but it’s one of the composer’s great “cathedrals in sound” and it’s played capably here, if without fervor or thunder. The seventh, on the other hand, is the Bruckner Symphony to go to after the fourth (and before the unfinished ninth and first). “This will make your fortune” is what he wrote on the score, and in his lifetime he wasn’t all that far wrong. It was performed more than 30 times in his lifetime. His hero Wagner died before Bruckener finished writing the work but his decline was on Bruckner’s mind, clearly, in the symphony’s second movement. Conductor Young is a specialist in the most German of the Germans (Wagner, Mahler, Hindemith, Bruckner), and the disc of the seventh is superb.  for the third symphony by Skrowaczewski and ½ for the seventh by Young. (Jeff Simon)


Gloria Reuben, “Perchance to Dream” (McGJazz). We’ve been seeing Gloria Reuben all over the tube since 1995 when she began playing unhappily married Jeanie Boulet on “ER.” That most of us don’t know that she was a musical performer long before she was an actress may be remedied in part by this disc, about which she says, “It’s a rare and beautiful thing to experience a dream come true.” It’s a disc of some “standards,” semi-“standards,” jazz tunes and exotica. Trombonist Jay Ashby produced and plays on the disc in an accompanying quartet (with an extra conga drummer on two tracks.) The songs are nothing if not idiosyncratically chosen – “Change Partners,” to begin with “Save Your Love for Me,” and, would you believe, “Pure Imagination” (from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”). An oddity of her voice is that her vibrato is ordinarily sizable enough to drive a Prius through except when she is singing a sustained note where it virtually disappears. It’s nothing but a happy event, in any case, to discover the other side of the talent of a beautiful and soulful actress. ½ (Jeff Simon)


Steve Wilson and Wilsonian’s Grain, “Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions” (Random Act). Steve Wilson is a well-traveled and veteran alto and soprano saxophonist in jazz who, as the jocks sometimes like to put it, always comes prepared to play. But then so does the rest of this quartet which was recorded in May of 2014 in Greenwich Village’s fabled Village Vanguard: pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Bill Stewart. This is a group that likes to burn and burn hot at that. Listen to the way they kick into the opener, Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t.” Most of the tunes are Wilson’s, which would be less than ideal news on the discs of a lot of jazz saxophone players (whose compositional talents don’t begin to match their improvisational talents). But listen to Wilson’s “Sphereosophically” which is both a tribute to Thelonious Sphere Monk and a remembrance of some of his own reworked tunes. One of the better recent live jazz performance discs. ½ (Jeff Simon)