CD reviews: 'Mirth and Melancholy' shows more about Marsalis' abilities

| Sunday, June 5, 2011

'Songs of Mirth and Melancholy'

Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo (Marsalis Music)

Branford Marsalis is clearly the most engaging member of his musically wealthy family. Whether on his collection of classics "Romances for Saxophone," as a guest with Sting or on this duet album, "Songs of Mirth and Melancholy," Marsalis always is finding new truths about his instrument. This disc with pianist Joey Calderazzo is a collection of seven originals from one or the other, one piece by Wayne Shorter and one by Johannes Brahms. The are played in a virtuosic way with respect to the music and to each other. The album has variety that ranges from a uptempo "One Way" by Calderazzo to his classically flavored "Hope" and Marsalis' "The Bard Lachrymose," which has the same formal nature. This is one not to pass up. It is available Tuesday.

— Bob Karlovits

'Nice Work If You Can Get It'

Boilermaker Jazz Band (Self-produced)

Being a band made of specialists can have its drawbacks. It can make the musical work all too predictable. But that specialty probably means the performances are first-rate. Such is the case with Pittsburgh's Boilermaker Jazz Band's "Nice Work If You Can Get It," made up of 19 songs of the Dixieland-traditional jazz flavor. Songs such as the title track, "S'Wonderful" and "What Is This Thing Called Love" offer no surprises of fresh interpretations. But the excellent arranging and performing work of clarinetist Paul Cosentino and singer Jennie Luvv, among the others, provides good listening for fans of that genre. The band is joined on this album by guitarist Joe Negri, cornetist Jon-Erik Kelso and saxophonist Michael Hashim, the latter two New York City specialists in this area of jazz.

— Bob Karlovits

'Life Fantastic'

Man Man (Anti)

It's been three years since Philadelphia quintet Man Man last released an album, 2008's "Rabbit Habits." At that time, the band was known for their combination of rock, gypsy, jazz, and folk music, and for off-the-wall, energetic concerts. "Rabbit Habits" retained their off-kilter rhythms, raw vocals and affinity for toy instruments and slightly organized cacophony. But the album also had melodic, structured, and even poppy songs. "Life Fantastic" continues in that direction. Under the direction of producer Mike Mogis (of Saddle Creek fame), their latest effort is filled with visceral shrieks, aggressive and angular melodies and frenetic screaming. It also brings in '60s Beach Boys surf rock, tropicalia, and tango, while the influence of Eastern European gypsy punk -- a la Gogol Bordello -- has never been more pronounced. While the band has always done the mournful and depressing well, this album finds them writing songs that are delicate and even beautiful.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

'The Road From Memphis'

Booker T. Jones (Anti)

Booker T. Jones is in the midst of a late-career renaissance. The organ-playing maestro won this year's best pop instrumental album Grammy for "Potato Hole," his 2009 collaboration with the Drive-By Truckers. That album, his first in nearly two decades, emphasized his country-soul roots, which reach back to his Stax heyday leading Booker T and the MGs. "The Road From Memphis" shifts to funk and R&B, with the Roots as his backing band. It's a perfect pairing. "The Hive" and "The Vamp" work deep funk grooves, and Jones plays with judicious restraint; "Harlem House" and "Walking Papers" recall the Meters' New Orleans syncopation. Guests drop in: Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey (who has an impressive new album of his own) and a stellar cast of vocalists -- My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Lou Reed and Sharon Jones with the National's Matt Berninger. Booker T. doesn't need the extra star power, though: He's the master.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer


My Morning Jacket (ATO)

During the course of five studio albums, My Morning Jacket established itself as one of America's best rock bands, rooted in Southern country rock but wide-ranging and experimental. Blessed with the heavenly vocals of Jim James, My Morning Jacket dabbled in soul and funk on 2008's fantastic "Evil Urges. The long-awaited "Circuital" curtails some of that wild eclecticism, although it does veer into heavy psychedelic set pieces several times. This mostly live-in-the-studio album contains a few underwhelming tracks (the repetitive "The Day Is Coming," the ambling "You Wanna Freak Out"), but it also has one grand anthem ("Circuital"), one playful celebration ("Outta My System") and several transcendent ballads, "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" among them. "Circuital" is the first MMJ album in a long time that's less than epic. But it's still wonderful.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

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