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Block takes duets to new level

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 8:48 p.m.
Dan Block's 'Duality'
Brandi Disterheft's 'Gratitude'

REVIEWS

‘Duality'

Dan Block (Miles High)

Versatile reed player Dan Block takes a better approach to duo performances on “Duality” than some singers did in theirs. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand all did releases in which they sang with partners who sometimes created an inappropriate pair. But Block offers 11 performances in always suitable settings. Sometimes, he even cheats and performs in a trio. On tenor, alto, baritone and clarinet, he works with pianists Ted Rosenthal, bassist Lee Hudson, vibist Mark Sherman and singer Catherine Russell among others. The selections vary as much as the players involved. Russell's “If You Could See Me Now” by Tadd Dameron is one of the most striking pieces. Also included, though, are Jerome Kern's “Long Ago and Far Away,” George Gershwin's “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise” and Dmitri Shostakovich's “Lyric Waltz” from “Dance of the Dolls,” which Block does on clarinet. This album never stops offering something different.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Gratitude'

Brandi Disterheft (Justin Time)

Like an Esperanza Spalding who focuses more on jazz than funk, Brandi Disterheft mixes strong talents on upright bass with a good sense of song. “Gratitude” is an album that looks at jazz in many ways, from her vocal version of “Compared to What” to her original Horace Silver-like “Open.” It also has a nicely played and fresh version of “But Beautiful” and a solo bass look at “The Man I Love.” Her play isn't the only thing that makes this album a strong jazz outing. She is joined by a cast that includes Pittsburgh trumpeter Sean Jones, saxophonist Vincent Herring and pianist Renee Rosnes.

— Bob Karlovits

‘R.E.D.'

Ne-Yo (Motown)

Ne-Yo has said that the follow-up to his coolly received 2010 concept album “Libra Scale” represents a kind of creative retrenchment — an effort “to just get back to the basics,” as the R&B star recently told Vibe Vixen magazine. You get some of that from the first two songs on “R.E.D.” — “Cracks in Mr. Perfect” and “Lazy Love” — both of which Ne-Yo co-wrote with Shea Taylor, who also produced. The album's third cut, “Let Me Love You (Until You Love Yourself),” seems designed to remind us of simpler times by recycling a portion of its title from the 2004 Mario hit that was one of Ne-Yo's first big songwriting successes. After that, though, “R.E.D.” doesn't really stick to the idea of less is more. In “Don't Make 'Em Like You” the singer teams with Wiz Khalifa for a relatively bumptious hip-hop track, while “Forever Now” and “Shut Me Down” extend Ne-Yo's flirtation with pulsating dance music. Tim McGraw even joins him for a lightly country-fried duet in “She Is,” repaying a favor Ne-Yo did McGraw on the latter's “Emotional Traffic.”

— Los Angeles Times

‘Music From Another Dimension'

Aerosmith (Columbia)

If Aerosmith's definition of the sound of “another dimension” is indeed true, the world is a much less mystical place than we would like to believe. Rather than offering previously unimaginable tones and visions, “Music From Another Dimension” delivers riffs, cliches, solos, yowls and a virtual banquet of the same one-dimensional tropes Aerosmith has been offering for years. Mixed in, however, are a few gems that might be considered worthy additions to the band's catalog were they offered without such grand promises. It's not that Aerosmith's first studio album of all-new material in 11 years doesn't rock. It's loud, brash and proves that vocalist Steven Tyler can still yelp (and occasionally sing), the dueling guitars of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford can still find big blues-based riffs, and drummer Joey Kramer still hits hard, keeping pace with bassist Tom Hamilton. But there are only so many original combinations of blues riffs and sexual boasts one can deliver in a single lifetime. “Out Go the Lights” features Tyler referencing the tired novelty-shirt joke about “liquor in the front,” and the same song includes the line, “roses are red,” which Tyler follows with “my lips on you.” And “Another Last Goodbye” sounds like a “Weird Al” Yankovic parody of its power ballad “Dream On.” Whatever dimension Aerosmith has claimed to visit, it certainly wasn't a new one.

— Los Angeles Times

‘Psychedelic Pill'

Neil Young with Crazy Horse (Reprise)

Neil Young has often found ways to push forward while looking back, whether writing nostalgic songs as a young man (“Helpless”), exploring American history (“Pocahontas”), or periodically reconnecting with his longtime pals in Crazy Horse, as he does on “Psychedelic Pill.” He's been playing with guitarist Poncho Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Frank Molina since 1975, and they're still a lumbering, powerful, intuitive force, as they proved earlier this year on “Americana,” their rewardingly idiosyncratic take on old folk songs. Even more than that album, “Psychedelic Pill” is a Crazy Horse-lovers dream, a two-disc set that alternates 3- to 4-minute garage stomps with four epic tracks that stretch from eight to nearly 28 minutes and allow plenty of time for Young to dig deeply into his distortion- and feedback-drenched guitar solos. It's a companion piece, in a way, to “Waging Heavy Peace,” Young's new autobiography, with first-person songs about channeling his rage (including his frustrations with recording technology), about his admiration for Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, about being “Born in Ontario,” about the failed (or foiled) dreams of the '60s.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

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