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Big band's 'Moment' is all about material

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 9:00 p.m.
Mumford & Sons' 'Babel'
Van Morrison's 'Born to Sing: No Plan B'
Ezra Weiss' 'Our Path to This Moment'

Reviews

‘Our Path to This Moment'

Ezra Weiss with The Rob Scheps Big Band (Roark)

On this album, the material sets the theme more than the performers. “Our Path to This Moment” is a presentation of the music of pianist-composer Ezra Weiss by the Oregon-based Rob Scheps Big Band. While it is a good display of the tightness and sound of the band, the star here is the post-modern writing of Weiss. He casts a contemporary sound in his work, but is strongly influenced by jazz from the hard-bop school and beyond. But its rhythmic and harmonic approaches take the music steps beyond there. For instance, the sound on “It's You or No One” is way past the direction many hard-bop quartets might give the Jule Stein-Sammy Cahn classic. Weiss, who sits in on piano on two pieces, shows his clever arranging techniques steadily. On “Kungaleta,” the trombone and saxophone sections take turns producing the dominant sound. Then, he creates a version of “Wayfaring Stranger” that moves from a somber opening on Greg Gisbert's trumpet before exploding into a sizzler.

— Bob Karlovits

‘So Is the Day'

Bria Skonberg (Random Act)

It seems only fitting that guitarist John Pizzarelli should make a guest stop on trumpeter Bria Skonberg's “So Is the Day.” She, after all, adds a vocal side to her performance much as Pizzarelli does. Well, almost. A singer can play the guitar and vocalize at the same time, something the horn prohibits. But she sings on five of the albums 12 songs, nine of which she wrote. One of them, “I Wish I Hadn't Forgotten,” even features Pizzarelli. Skonberg does well as a singer, particularly on the gospel-tinted “My Friend.” She has a fine voice and a good sense of song. Skonberg also is a convincing trumpet player. While she does not have a powerful range, she has decent tone and technique. She also has a good outlook on music, doing a gently dancing version of Erik Satie's “Gymnopedie No. 1,” which has fine backup flute work by Victor Goines. This is an album that makes a listener forget about trumpet would-be Saskia Laroo.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Babel'

Mumford & Sons (Glassnote)

“I'm a cad, but I'm not a fraud,” Marcus Mumford exclaims on “Whispers in the Dark,” the second of many shouted-out manic strummers on his band's follow-up to 2009's multiplatinum debut, “Sigh No More.” Mumford doth protest too much: Nobody's accusing the scruffy urban folkies of being the slightest bit inauthentic. The trouble isn't that they don't lay their hearts on the line; it's that they do, each and every time, with glasses raised, banjos plucked and sweat on their brows. The band's sudden shifts from loud to soft to loud again worked for Nirvana and served them well on “Sigh No More” hits like “Little Lion Man,” but it grows aggravating over the course of a full album, like the cacophony of voices emanating from the titular tower. Best consumed in small doses.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Push and Shove'

No Doubt (Interscope)

With Gwen Stefani's solo excursions as an electro-hop diva behind her, the “Hollaback Girl” and the rude-boy ska guys she came in with re-commence their album-making career. “Push and Shove” comes 11 full years after “Rock Steady.” With the exception of the skank-ing “Sparkle,” this isn't nearly the intimate dancehall-pop quartet from Anaheim that started its ragamuffin life in the late '80s. No Doubt now updates the rhythmic surge of “Rock Steady” while finding a new (wave) way of reminiscing. With Stefani, 42, still in baby-doll vocal mode, it's the raging sounds around her that add dramatic sizzle and thrust. The affirmations of “Settle Down” are surrounded by a Santigold-ish arrangement, a Caribbean-inspired groove that's jerky, yet gentle. “Push and Shove's” title track (featuring Diplo's Major Lazer) is a loudly buzzing percussive workout with twists to keep the nu-rave kids intrigued.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Born to Sing: No Plan B'

Van Morrison (Blue Note)

Van Morrison is cranky. On “Born to Sing: No Plan B,” he's upset with capitalism, worship of money, the abuses of the “global elite,” the sound of “some kind of phony pseudo-jazz” and the pettiness of others. Throughout his career, he has used songs to rail against record-company abuses, but his 35th solo album contains his most overtly political work. His lifelong spiritual quest continues in songs such as “Mystic of the East,” but he's more concerned with voicing his disillusionment with the secular world. Morrison has few peers for longevity and continued vitality, and he's mastered a consistent, comfortable and appealing style that melds blues, R&B and jazz. And he's still a peerless singer, locking into phrases and nursing varying meanings through repetition, scatting happily and crooning soulfully, even when he's venting.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

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