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Singers contrast in styles but get the point across

Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

‘Fig Tree'

Deborah Latz (June Moon)

‘Samba, Jazz and Love'

Cristina Braga (Enja)

Singers Deborah Latz and Cristina Braga succeed in creating albums that work well in their strict definitions. Latz's “Fig Tree” is a straight-ahead, no-fooling jazz album in which she presents classics ranging from Randy Weston's “Hi-Fly” to George Gershwin's “S'Wonderful.” She adds three originals to this collection and gets great support from a crew including guitarist John Hart and reed star Peter Apfelbaum. Her contralto voice is strong, and she attacks each tune with enthusiasm that includes a little scat-singing. Meanwhile, Braga offers a good Brazilian collection on “Samba, Jazz and Love” in which she sings some of the all-time favorites including “Desafinado” and “So Danco Samba.” But the album's strength is in the shape of its quintet that is built around her harp and Arthur Dutra's vibes and features tasteful work from Jesse Sadoc on trumpet and flugelhorn. On harp. Braga stays in the background on most of the vocals, but on two instrumentals she creates a piano-like sound. The album has a flavor mindful of the heyday of Brasil '66.

— Bob Karlovits

‘8'

David Arnay (Studio N)

Pianist David Arnay has put together an album with a premise so forced, it is shocking how well it works. The title, “8,” is the number of musicians on the album, which grows by one number on each track: so the first piece, Duke Ellington's “Caravan,” is a solo by Arnay; the second track, “11/1211,” is a duet by the pianist and bassist Edwin Livingston, and so on. Finally, there is “Dream Groove” with a four-piece rhythm section, three horns and a percussionist. Each piece is well arranged by Arney, using a good variety of instruments. For example, the quintet piece “Old Man Says” is a rhythm quartet and Doug Webb on bass clarinet. The pianist wrote all but two of the pieces, those being “Caravan” and John Coltrane's “Giant Steps,” which the band does in an uncharacteristic laid-back tempo. It is a sextet piece with the four-piece rhythm section, Webb on soprano sax and Paco Loco on guitar. The only drawback to this album is that it runs only 38 minutes. Come on, David, you have a great idea here, let these guys open up a bit.

— Bob Karlovits

“Southeastern”

Jason Isbell (Southeastern/Thirty Tigers)

Jason Isbell's fourth studio album since leaving the Drive-By Truckers is the 34-year-old songwriter's first true solo album. Recorded largely without his band, the 400 Unit, it finds Isbell confronting grown-up stuff: getting married (to his second wife, fiddle player Amanda Shires); getting clean and sober; and, on “Elephant,” thinking about the implications of mortality while he's at it. Early reviews are dropping “Tunnel of Love” comparisons, and there's a Springsteen influence, for sure, on the superbly wrought opening love song, “Cover Me Up” and the two-faces-have-I duality of “Live Oak.” The tone is mostly subdued, save for “Super 8,” a raucous rocker and a terrific tune, but jarring in the more contemplative context. “Southeastern,” though, is the strongest set of songs yet from the Alabama writer who instantly distinguished himself as a formidable talent in his days with the Truckers but who hadn't realized his full potential until now. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit are among the performers at the WYEP Summer Music Festival on June 28 at Schenley Plaza in Oakland.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘American Kid'

Patty Griffin (New West)

Patty Griffin started writing the songs on “American Kid” as a tribute to her father shortly before his death in 2009, then put the project aside to tour with Robert Plant and release “Downtown Church,” a gospel-flavored 2010 album of mostly covers. “American Kid” finds Griffin working with Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. She also works with Plant: He co-wrote “Highway Song” and harmonizes with her on three songs. Mainly, “American Kid” is stripped to the core, built around Griffin's steely Southern vocals and solo guitar. There's a cover of Lefty Frizzell's “Mom & Dad's Waltz,” but the album otherwise consists of Griffin's tough-minded, truth-seeking tunes. It kicks off by examining the freedom death provides on “Go Wherever You Wanna Go,” and it ends with the elegantly pained “Gonna Miss You When You're Gone.”

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Big Sur'

Bill Frisell (Okeh)

Guitarist Bill Frisell has created a sound all his own, fluid and languid at its core but capable of dissonant distortions and pointillistic precision, and he has flexible and eclectic tastes. In the past few years alone, he's released albums of John Lennon covers and abstract solo-guitar improvisations; worked with folk singer Abigail Washburn, Brazilian singer Vinicius Cantuaria and avant-garde composer John Zorn; and revived his electronic experimental project Floratone. “Big Sur” is an outgrowth of an artist residency Frisell did in California and finds him playing with violinist Jenny Scheinman (who shares the lead on many tracks), violist Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Rudy Royston. The Big Sur Quintet, as the group is called, mines the wide-screen Americana styles Frisell has been exploring on and off since at least 1997's “Nashville,” with touches of surf rock (“The Big One”), chamber jazz (“Hawks”) and folk balladry (“We All Love Neil Young”). The strong melodies, genre-blending and flashes of humor are nothing radically new from Frisell, but they're still rewarding.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘13'

Black Sabbath (Vertigo/Republic)

What made Black Sabbath menacingly epic was that there was always a sense of careening in the music. Every fat Sabbath recording, from its eerie, eponymously titled 1970 debut to 1978's awful “Never Say Die,” sounded like they were lurching through a sludgy tunnel or leaping from a tower in a suicide pact with Beelzebub.

Singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler aren't quite as possessed on this, their first album in 35 years. Yet, producer Rick Rubin has done black magic with Sabbath's clammy wall of woe — swelling guitars and murky megawatt rhythms — as Osbourne rants about despair and devils. Rubin pumps up Sabbath's thick chords — “Age of Reason” one scabrous, hypnotic, riff-driven monster, Iommi's signature — and pushes the guitarist into new territory with a jazzy acoustic-electric mix on “Zeitgeist.”

It's not easy hearing metal's evil king (with the wife on the chat-show circuit and a daughter working alongside Joan Rivers) trying to get it up for ghouls and gloom. Thankfully, Osbourne has a flair for the bleakly anguished turn of phrase and sounds fantastically robust on the echoey “Damaged Soul” and “Live Forever.”

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

 
 


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