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Disc reviews: John Hollenbeck, High on Fire, Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot

Jazz/Cabaret

Barbara Levy Daniels

Come Dance With Me: A Tribute to Jimmy Van Heusen

[BLD Productions]

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Buffalo singer Barbara Levy Daniels has been gigging around New York City in some prominent cabaret rooms. Joining her on this disc is some high-power talent, including the great saxophonist Houston Person, who performed with her at the Metropolitan Room. Her rhythm section – bassist Boris Kozlov, drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi and pianist John Di Martino – played on her last CD. Guitarist Gene Bertoncini completes the group. All involved are wonderfully modest performers and all seem to understand not only the concept of teamwork but the wisdom of “less is more.”

Daniels’ voice has improved over time and now she has soul. She feels what she sings and can give two identical lines completely different inflections. The band lets her shine. Person’s style is sweet and laid back. So is Di Martino’s, sort of in the style of Count Basie. All the musicians seem to be listening to each other, and hidden throughout the 12 songs are lots of sly, funny touches. In “I Thought About You,” as soon as Daniels asks “And what did I do?” Person echoes the syllables on the sax, back at her.

Daniels is conservative as a singer and sometimes could make a little more of the songs’ lyrics, especially since her musicians give her so much room. But she has a good understated dramatic sense. She has a rare, beautiful way with ballads and does slow, fearless takes on beautiful songs like “Imagination,” “But Beautiful,” “Like Someone In Love,” “Darn That Dream,” the bittersweet “Oh You Crazy Moon” and the great “All My Tomorrows.” Brava.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

Metal

High On Fire

Luminiferous

[eOne Music]

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High On Fire vocalist and guitarist Matt Pike has done little to dissuade the media-fed masses that he is anything other than dangerously close to batty. Pike blathered to Rolling Stone last week concerning reports that he was becoming the sort of conspiracy theorist given to making offhand statements like “9/11 was an inside job, dude.” The new HOF album “Luminiferous” underscores the idea that Pike isn’t kidding .

No matter. You don’t go to High On Fire for lessons on alien surveillance. You go to High On Fire for guitar riffs. And “Luminiferous” is stuffed beyond reasonable capacity with them.

It’s possible that “The Black Plot” has more meaning for Pike than it might for the listener, but regardless, the tune comes galloping out of the gate with such force that you are prone before its lead-footed approach, a slave to its relentless push and its fierce but memorable hooks. “The Falconist” is metal of an epic scale, of the sort that might make the Iron Maiden of “To Tame A Land” proud, and is also notable for the manner in which Pike is able to make his brazen growl of a voice a purveyor of genuine melody. Oh, and the guitar solos – Pike, backed ably by drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz, performs some serious high-decibel aural exorcisms here, cutting through the Motorhead-like sludge to up the excitement ante every time his boot stomps down on his distortion pedal.

“The Dark Side of the Compass” is the album’s high point, as it moves through its metallic paces, grooving hard beneath Pike’s menacing howl, and providing an ample playground for drummer Kensel’s fleet footwork. Ferocious, indeed, but within that rage is an interplay that is as musical as it is muscular. As if to make sure you notice this fact, “The Cave” follows with a slab of dynamic psychedelic rock.

You can buy into Pike’s theories, or not. Either way, “Luminiferous” makes a powerful modern metal statement.

– Jeff Miers

Jazz

John Hollenbeck

Songs We Like a Lot

[Sunnyside]

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Maybe love isn’t better the second time around, but this disc proves that it can be just as good. When John Hollenbeck collaborated with these same people on “Songs I Like a Lot,” I was, frankly, so in love with the resultant disc that I couldn’t get it out of my disc player for weeks. That was in 2013. The same thing happened a month ago with this. If I had unlimited funds, I would buy one for everyone I know and care about.

Here is percussionist/composer Hollenback again with the same incredible cast – singers Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, this time with pianist Uri Caine. And once again, the idea is to find cherishable pop music without doing anything to “unpop it” while, at the same time, giving it magnificent jazz orchestral settings in the greatest Gil Evans/Bob Brookmeyer tradition.

The songs are great by any reckoning – Pete Seeger’s “How Can I Keep From Singing,” Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, the Carpenters’ Burt Bacharach favorite “Close to You” and the Fifth Dimension’s Jimmy Webb beauty “Up, Up and Away.” Along with them are Hollenbeck originals “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground” a setting of poetry by Kenneth Patchen and his Rumi setting called “Constant Conversation.”

Just to make sure that contemporary pop music isn’t forgotten, there’s a brief two and a half minute “de-rangement” of the big Daft Punk hit “Get Lucky,” which is translated into Russian. I have no idea why, but whatever Hollenbeck wants to do on this disc, at that point, should be fine with all of us.

This is the second time in a month that this particular tradition of orchestral jazz has given us a masterpiece. The first was the Maria Schneider Orchestra’s “The Thompson Fields” on ArtistsShare. What you’re hearing with these truly extraordinary jazz artists is jazz giving itself permission to luxuriate in pure haunting beauty with no guilt whatsoever. And with Hollenbeck, you’re hearing such shameless and luxurious intelligence applied to melodies that are both familiar and beloved.

And, as the leader/arranger proves, just as lovable when they’re given such hardy but exquisite instrumental settings.

Leave plenty of room to be hearing this music continuously for days or even weeks.

– Jeff Simon

Classical

Dvorak and Varese

The “New World” Symphony and “Ameriques”

Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot

[Seattle Symphony]

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The performances of both works here, by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, are very good without being in any sense, unusual or special. What is extremely unusual – and therefore altogether special – is the idea of putting these two works together on one disc, no matter how diametrically divergent they are in the classical repertoire.

It took more than a little chutzpah to put together two such wildly different musical visions of “the New World” by European composers – Antonin Dvorak’s classic and still marvelous orchestral warhorse symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and Edgar Varese’s sonic vision of the new world for huge orchestra “Ameriques.” Varese was so in love with the idea of America that he had no interest in the native and folk musics that so enraptured Dvorak that he imitated them perfectly in an original “largo” melody in the symphony’s second movement.

No European composer ever fell in love with America more winningly than the Czech Dvorak. At the same time, no European composer ever wanted to absorb New York City’s “lonely foghorns, shrill peremptory whistles” more than Varese in a work that so identified the very idea of America with discovery and newness itself. To Varese, America was exploration nationally incarnate. There are other performances that convey the mad passionate gigantism of Varese’s “Ameriques” better than this one does, but the idea of so brilliantly giving us two such polarically opposite musical expressions of the meaning of America deserves enormous praise.

– Jeff Simon

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