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Listening Post: Lee Ritenour, Jose Gurria’s Gurrisonic Orchestra and Shostakovich’s struggle with Stalin


Led Zeppelin, “Presence; In Through the Out Door; Coda – Deluxe Expanded Editions” (Swan Song/Atlantic; CD/Vinyl). The last batch of guitarist/producer Jimmy Page’s expanded remastered catalog series is in many ways the Led Zeppelin mother lode. “Presence” is the overlooked jewel in the Zeppelin crown, an album that found the band moving into darker, more dense and progressive terrain with lengthy epics like “Achilles Last Stand” and the prog-blues mash-up “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and the balance of the album found the group indulging in some of the most funk-informed music of its career in the form of “For Your Life,” “Royal Orleans” and “Candy Store Rock”. Page has provided the finest masters extant of all three albums, but it’s the bonus material that truly makes this final batch of albums essential for fans. “Coda,” the final Zeppelin album, provided a house-cleaning for Page following the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, but here, it has been transformed into a three-disc tour de force comprised of alternate takes, unreleased pieces, works-in-progress, and the legendary “Bombay Orchestra Tapes,” which found Page and singer Robert Plant in India in 1972, tracking sessions with Indian classical musicians. Finally, we have official takes of “Friends” and “Four Hands,” a working version of what would become “Four Sticks” on “Led Zeppelin IV”. In fact, all of the bonus material tacked onto these albums is revelatory, at least for the hard-core fan. (Jeff Miers)


Lee Ritenour, “A Twist of Rit” (Concord). He’d hate it, of course, but it helps if you don’t locate Lee Ritenour on the jazz guitar spectrum at all (where he’s of course closer to the Pat Metheny side than the Pat Martino side). Forget the guitar altogether. Think, rather, of Ritenour as the pop-jazz eminence who’s the guitar equivalent of saxophonists Tom Scott and David Sanborn. In truth, this disc is better than both of them have usually been – and better than Ritenour too. What Ritenour says he’s doing here is revisiting tunes from his whole recording career. “We twisted, flipped and reconstructed those songs with a 12-piece band. Several of the songs are from my first album.” The news that John Beasley, Dave Grusin, Dave Weckl and Patrice Rushen are along for the ride should, quite properly, be treated with a “ho-hum–business as usual” shrug as another gig for left-coast studio players. But Ernie Watts, Bob Shepard and Makoto Ozone are on this thing too, which should indicate that Ritenour is taking his pop jazz chops seriously. It’s just fusion funk no matter how you slice it. But Ritenour, please remember, got into the jazz guitarist’s trade listening to Howard Roberts, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass (who gave a 14-year-old Ritenour some lessons.) Great studio players always want to prove they’re something more than functionaries and chop-meisters. More often than not, here, Ritenour succeeds. To be released next week.  (Jeff Simon)


Dave Koz, Collaborations, 25th Anniversary Collection, (Concord Records). Dave Koz loves working with singers. Last Christmas, on a yuletide album of duets, he painted a poetic picture of the camaraderie involved. He waxes eloquent on the collaborative process in connection with this compilation album, too. “There’s a message in this album about opening your heart, opening your mind, opening your arms to the idea of working with others,” he is quoted as saying. “The art of collaboration has been a theme that has run through my entire career and my entire life. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over again about how important it is to keep yourself open so you can truly understand other people, walk in their shoes for a minute and become a better citizen of the world in the process.” The reality is usually somewhat less romantic – every Dave Koz track is electronically polished to the ultimate degree, and as far as collaborations go, technology is almost always heavily involved. But he and his colleagues do attain a certain spirit. There’s something about Koz’s smooth saxophone that is just so likable, and he chooses singers who also have a warmth. Of the 15 tracks on this disc, 12 of them are from earlier releases. Some of them are pretty old. “Can’t Let You Go (The Sha La Song),” with vocals by Luther Vandross, dates from the last century. “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” with Rod Stewart, appeared originally on one of Stewart’s Great American Songbook compilations. Other collaborators include Stevie Nicks, Boney James and a host of singers including Gloria Estefan and Stevie Wonder who join in on “All You Need Is Love.” Kids will like the “Linus and Lucy” theme, from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” with David Benoit, and “Let It Go,” from “Frozen.”  (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Jose Gurria, “Gurrisonic Orchestra” (Three Kids Music). Here in the notes is some eminently forgivable exaggeration by Jeff Tamarkin of JazzTimes about this disc: “Everything about Gurrisonic Orchestra exudes majesty ... This is music that demands your undivided attention; its generous spirit of sound envelops you, seduces you and electrifies you.” It’s only exaggerated by a little, you understand. What this wildly unexpected disc proves is this – anyone who thinks that the only hugely ambitious jazz orchestras successfully mixing jazz and classical music are located in Europe needs to know about this phenomenal bunch from California and their composer and leader Jose Gurria. This is music that stays fresh no matter now many times you hear it – bracing (and almost always tonal) contemporary classical music employing strings, vocalise and woodwind and brass counterpoint along with blistering, but disciplined, free jazz solos. It’s rhythmically about as varied in a jazz way as precise composition can be without resorting to 4/4 ching-chinga-ching jazz drumming out of hopelessness and desperation.

The more you hear of this terrific disc, the more you understand that this is what Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream Music might have sounded like if all of the musicians involved didn’t still have very rigid jazz categories in their head that demarcated certain things as jazz and certain things as classical. In the tradition of truly extraordinary and very rare music, this is terrific music that is a marvelous musical genre all to itself. Gurria is a drummer who has studied with some of the most brilliant jazz composer/arrangers (Vince Mendoza, for one) but he is clearly a man intimidated by nothing and not overly impressed by anything but his own inspiration. Bravo.  (Jeff Simon)


Shostakovich, “Under Stalin’s Shadow: Symphony No. 10 and Passacaglia from ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’” performed by Boston Sympnhony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons (Deutsche Grammphon.) A brilliantly conceived and exceptionally performed disc. Here is the way one should employ the venerable Boston Symphony in this century. The vicious, soul-crushing gavotte that Dimitri Shostakovich was forced to dance with Stalin and his unspeakable cultural minions and bureaucrats was replete with moments of musical heroism. Here are two of them that are seldom heard from his oeuvre compared to the fifth, fourth and first symphonies and instrumental concertos. His opera “Lady Macbeth of Mstensk” which Stalin ordered denounced by toadies as “coarse, primitive and vulgar” featured the Passcaglia heard here. Shostakovich was then an “enemy of the people” and someone whom friends were afraid to greet on the street. At best, he’d be known as a “bourgeois formalist” rather than a “proletarian realist.” Stalin finally died in 1953 after a decade of trying to subjugate Shostakovich. Judge for yourself if the second movement of the composer’s 10th symphony is a portrait of Stalin. It’s a powerful and too infrequently played symphony conducted here by a musician raised in the old USSR who now says “I could not live without the music of Shostakovich.” What a long way from “coarse, primitive and vulgar.” Superb in every way.  (Jeff Simon)

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