CD reviews: Allison Miller, Ron Oswanski, Lil Wayne, The Strokes
‘No Morphine, No Lilies'
Allison Miller (The Royal Potato Family)
Drummer Allison Miller has played with a variety of performers including Brandi Carlile and Natalie Merchant, but “No Morophine, No Lilies” continues to prove her role as a no-fooling jazz drummer. Her Boom Tic Boom band features pianist Myra Melford, bassist Todd Sickafoose and violinist Jenny Scheinmann and is the center of the album in its post-modern look at jazz. They operate as a quartet, but sometimes become a trio, as in “Waiting” or “Six Nettles” in which Scheinmann sits out. But the band gets bigger, too, as on “The Itch” where it is joined by trumpeter Ara Anderson or “Early Bird” with Eric Friedlander's cello. Sometimes, the guests don't work well. Steven Bernstein joins “Speak Eddie” on slide trumpet, but the tone of that hybrid horn is almost unsettling. Through all of this edgy jazz, Miller offers percussion that is powerful when it needs to be and tasteful when appropriate, as on the somber “Spotswood Drive.” It is available April 16.
— Bob Karlovits
Ron Oswanski (Palmetto)
Recordings that are led by Hammond B-3 organ players can take on a bit of a sameness. Ron Oswanski manages to avoid that issue on “December's Moon.” The work of the Hammond masters — Jimmy Smith through Joe DeFrancesco — has created something of a funky style that sets the bar for the instrument. Oswanski adds a soulful flavor to the album on the funky “White Meadow,” but, also on the Hammond, he gives “Sleeping Beauty” a simpler grace. He moves to accordion to create eastern sounds on “Ukrania Polka” and “Solo Por Undia.” But he settles down to piano on the pretty “The Rain Song” and Fred Hersch's “Evanessence,” an obvious tribute to Bill Evans. The other members of the ensemble give the album a great deal of strength: bassist John Patitucci, guitarists John Abercrombie and Jay Azzolina, saxophonist Tim Reis, and drummers Clarence Penn and Ian Froman. With their talent — and his — “December's Moon” is good in not being defined as a Hammond B-3 album.
— Bob Karlovits
‘I Am Not a Human Being II'
Lil Wayne (Young Money/ Cash Money/ Republic)
Audiences are very understanding when it comes to Lil Wayne, but a lame Wayne album without the raw, vicious verve that fills his best work — that's out of the question. Yet, here we are, faced with tepid, liquid sky-synths, mealy metal guitars, cheap beats and limp rhymes. This sort-of sequel seems half-baked. Wayne's usually focused, ire-filled treatises are blurry rather than boisterous. Most of Wayne's naughty talk is so tedious that if this album were phone sex, you'd fall asleep. The violent inventiveness of “Trigger Finger,” the poetic spaghetti-Western “God Bless Amerikka” and the slithering, salacious “Curtains” (where an Auto-Tune-heavy Weezy spends time “getting cake like I'm Jewish”) are delicious. These are exceptions to this album's rule-of-thumb dumb. The spooky “Gunwalk” is dull and abrasive at the same time. The tame hardcore of “Hello” is stupid. Still, his voice is one of rap's most cutting instruments, with its bitter Bob Dylan-like sneer. Just avoid the lyrics, and you'll get through it.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Strokes (RCA)
It's tempting to write off the Strokes' “Comedown Machine” as a mediocre result of the contractual obligations blues. The band's fifth album completes its contract with RCA. That alliance started so well back when “Is This It?” arrived in 2001 and continued on 2003's underrated “Room on Fire.” But the bare-bones packaging, in which the name of the label is twice as big as that of the band, reinforces the notion that “Comedown” is a getaway album. The Julian Casablancas-led fivesome's career has indeed been one of diminishing returns: A recent article in Stereogum convincingly argued that the New Yorkers have made their biggest impact as hipster fashion models rather than musicians. Acting like they just don't care has always been the Manhattanites metier. But “Comedown Machine's” failings don't seem to arise from disaffection so much as from uncertainty. The album is spotty, for sure, but mainly because Casablancas and crew seem unsure as to whether they should fall back on the taut, propulsive Strokes-of-old sound, as in “All The Time,” or take a stab at something new.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer