Jazz ensembles go beyond the skills of their leaders

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

‘Tomorrow's Past'

Giovanni Moltoni (C#2 Music)

‘When Flooded'

Matt Holman's Diversion Ensemble (bjurecords)

Like good athletic teams, the groups of Giovanni Moltoni and Matt Holman go far beyond the skills of their leaders. Guitarist Moltoni leads a quartet that is dominated in sound by Greg Hopkins' trumpet rather that of Moltoni's guitar. That might be because Hopkins's crisp tone sails above the quartet. The group is piano-less and, hence, quite light-sounding. Tunes like the trumpeter's ”Green Line” and the guitarist's “Just a Thought” have a post-modern freshness. “Prosser's Waltz” meets the lilting three-quarter time of its title but has more of a groove than most songs that bear that name.

Meanwhile, Holman's “When Flooded” features a quintet with a sound that owes much of its richness to the clarinet and bass clarinet of Mike McGinnis. The group sometimes has more the sound of a classical concert quintet than a jazz band, particularly on that andante “Tutti.” A muted Holman and McGinnis exchange bouncing eighth notes in “Tandem” to create a theme that arises from nothing. The rest of the instrumentation — Christopher Hoffman on cello, Nate Radley on guitar and Ziv Ravitz on drums and percussion — helps create the concert-ensemble sound.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Musica Para un Dragon Dormido'

Emilio Teubal (bjurecords)

Argentinian Emilio Teubal has created a jazz suite more than songs to fill an album with his “Musica Para un Dragon Dormido (Music for a Sleeping Dragon).” The nine pieces of the work for sextet are built around rather minimalist themes that grow through their solos rather than the tonal repetition some composers might use. It is like Philip Glass meets Dave Douglas. Sometimes, in back of a solo, the other members of the sextet offer thematic lines that create greater form than might be there. The clarinet solo of Dan Sadigursky on “The Constant Reinventor” and his sax work with Teubal on piano in “El Tema de Ludmilla” both make use of that form to create solos that are great parts of the composition. Sadigursky gives the sextet a strong voice, enriched by the cello of Erik Friedlander. With the composer on keyboards and piano and Moto Fukushima on six-string bass, the sextet takes on a versatile sound that varies as much as the nature of the pieces. It is a clever bit of writing that probably will not be enough jazz for many listeners. It is available Tuesday.

— Bob Karlovits

‘The Messenger'

Kevin Eubanks (Mack Avenue)

Freed from the daily grind of “The Tonight Show,” guitarist Kevin Eubanks slows down to release his second CD. The set, with saxophonist Billy Pierce playing a key role, covers a broad palette of musical flavors from funk to folk, from Jeff Beck's rocking “Led Boots” to a worldly take on John Coltrane's “Resolution” (with the bass sung by Take 6's Alvin Chea.) The outing is surprisingly low-key, with four of 11 cuts in deep ballad mode. Eubanks, an heir to one of Philly's great musical clans — brothers Robin on trombone and Duane on trumpet appear here — is adept at making immediate connections with an audience. The L.A.-produced set could have gone so much mushier and commercial, but Eubanks keeps the standard high and ends up making a legit jazz session that both snarls and finds some beauty.

— Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Tooth & Nail'

Billy Bragg (Cooking Vinyl)

The first album in five years by the bard of Barking, Essex, is a largely subdued affair that plays to Billy Bragg's underrated strengths as a writer of tender, subtly revealing love songs. Bragg is best known as a political firebrand and the guy who collaborated with Wilco on the Woody Guthrie project “Mermaid Avenue.” “Tooth & Nail” is produced by Joe Henry and features a stellar band of backing musicians, including pedal-steel player Greg Leisz. The CD nods to both the firebrand and the musicologist in Bragg, with a downcast cover of Guthrie's “I Ain't Got No Home” and “There Will Be a Reckoning,” a vow that justice will one day come for the downtrodden. Alas, on that track, frankly, Bragg sounds enervated and ineffectual. That song and the Golden Rule positivity of “Do Unto Others” come off stale, but elsewhere, the 54-year-old song craftsman is effective in his middle-age comfort zone, whether pondering big issues in “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” or promising that he can compensate for his sorry home-improvement abilities with his skills with a guitar and pen in “Handyman Blues.”

— Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Delta Machine'

Depeche Mode (Columbia)

Strangely, British synth-pop's first — and, once, fussiest — hitmaker Depeche Mode has long had an obsession with Mississippi Delta music. As with previous albums, Dave Gahan musters a soulful falsetto and a gutsy baritone wail on “Delta Machine” to go with his deadpan monotone croon. Guitarist and primary composer Martin Gore likes his blues licks and gospel choirs, heard on dozy numbers such as “Slow” and “Goodbye.” Where “Delta Machine” veers from the past several Depeche Mode records is in its willingness to get dirty and creepy. After the rote bigness of the so-so “Heaven” and “Welcome to My World,” the rest is an oddball electronic dream. “Should Be Higher” is nu-doom-disco at its most delicious, with Gahan's tender lyrics toying with memories of his onetime addictions (“Your arms are infected/ they're holding the truth”). “My Little Universe” and “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve” toss around the timeworn sonic cliches of minimalist house, techno and industrial-tronics and come out victorious. And while Gore is still Depeche Mode's principal songwriter, Gahan gets several compositions into “Machine's” mix, each murkier and eerier than anything he has penned previously. Nice show of progress after 33 years in the synth biz.

— Philadelphia Inquirer

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