There's plenty of color passing through Holland's 'Prism'
Dave Holland (Dare2)
Bassist Dave Holland and his band create a musical “Prism” on their new album. He and the other three members of the band create various shades of sound the way a prism splits light. From a rather disappointing opening number, “The Watcher,” which has the sound of some electric numbers of the '80s, they move into a clever blend of guitarist Kevin Eubanks' electrics and Holland's acoustics. On “Choir,” for instance, drummer Eric Harland kicks the band into speed, which is met by Eubanks and pianist Craig Taborn. Behind it all is the rhythmic ticking of Holland's acoustic bass. While that number symbolizes what the band can do on forceful numbers, “The Empty Chair” displays a more contemplative approach. In another direction, “The True Meaning of Determination,” is a nine-minute exploration that gives each player overlaying lead lines. The light always is shining through this prism.
— Bob Karlovits
‘Night in Calisia'
Randy Brecker and the Kalisz Philharmonic (Summit)
Composer Wlodek Pawlik found in trumpeter Randy Brecker the jewel that totally suits his celebration of 1,850 years of his city's history. Pawlik's “Night in Calisia” is a jazz suite honoring the history of Kalisz, Poland, the area around which the Romans explored in their search for gold. He has created an attractive, melodic work on which Brecker stars with his fine, restrained work. He plays in a classical style, never stretching into forced upper registers but always showing total command of his instrument. Sections such as the up-tempo “Orienthology” are driven by aggressive string-section work while “Follow the Stars,” is a thoughtful ballad. Besides writing the piece, Pawlik also offers fine piano work that comes close to rivaling Brecker as a solo standout. “Night in Calisia” nicely succeeds in mixing the symphonic and jazz styles.
— Bob Karlovits
‘The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You'
Neko Case (Anti-)
The title of Neko Case's eighth solo album is unwieldy but apt: Many of these songs come from a place of anger, frustration or depression — quite different from the love songs that were the core of her last album, 2009's “Middle Cyclone.” The almost a cappella “Near Midnight, Honolulu” recounts an incident of uncalled-for verbal abuse of a child; the eerie, mysterious “Bracing for Sunday” involves incest and murder. On “Man,” Case uses her powerful, forthright voice to undermine gender expectations; it's a combative power-pop gem that sounds closer to her work in the New Pornographers than anything she's done before (several of her NP bandmates help out on the album, as do members of My Morning Jacket and Calexico). “The Worse Things Get” is wrenching and discomforting, but there's love here, in “Calling Cards,” and there's beauty, in “Night Still Comes,” in a cover of that other Nico's “Afraid,” and in virtually every note that Case sings.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
‘Love in the Future'
John Legend (Columbia)
Ever-classy John Legend has crafted a deeply romantic and soulful dowry with his fourth solo album, “Love in the Future,” his first since 2008's “Evolver.” Think of it as a bedroom suite (with the action starting in the living room on “The Beginning”), complete with two interludes and a lot of meaningful pillow talk. Legend has said that much of the album is autobiographical, and the lyrics do appear to trace the progression of a relationship, from seduction (frisky singles “Made to Love” and “Who Do We Think We Are,” featuring Rick Ross), through revealing one's insecurities (“Open Your Eyes,” “Save the Night,” “You & I”) to the upbeat playfulness of “Caught Up.” Optimism abounds, as do intricate piano-driven melodies overseen by producers Kanye West and Dave Tozer.
— USA Today
Sly and the Family Stone (Epic Legacy)
At the beginning of 1969, Sly and the Family Stone released a 45 that paired “Everyday People” and “Sing a Simple Song,” the first an idealistic singalong with a winning, childlike melody and irresistible pop hooks, the second a slice of pure, hard funk with an irresistible groove. Few bands have been equally adept at formalist pop and unadulterated funk as Sly and the Family Stone, the mixed-gender, mixed-race band led by Sylvester Stewart from 1966 to 1975. The well-annotated, four-CD set “Higher!” contains the familiar hits, often in their mono, AM radio-friendly original mixes, as well as select album tracks. But its real value is in how the outliers, including 17 previously unreleased tracks, display the breadth of Sly's genius through early, pre-Family Stone garage-rock singles, brilliant live performances, instrumental workouts, eccentric experiments and late, post-Family disco tracks.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
Warren Wolf (Mack Avenue)
Warren Wolf keeps establishing himself as the strongest up-and-coming vibes player in jazz. He is not a virtuoso like Gary Burton, but has the soul and heart of Bobby Hutcherson. “Wolfgang” perhaps is best seen by the title track, which has the classical sound of one of the most famous people with that name — that Mozart fellow — but also has soulful improvisations. “Annoyance” is a quiet ballad, featuring the bowed bass of Christian McBride. But the album also roams to a rollicking “Grand Central,” which sounds like the rail station, and a mellow “Sunrise.” Maybe the strongest feature of the album is the varied and talented personnel, which features pianists Benny Green, Aaron Goldberg and Aaron Diehl; drummers Lewis Nash and Billy Williams Jr.; and bassists Kris Funn and McBride. While Wolf is the obvious star of the album, the work of the rest helps to contribute to a rich session.
— Bob Karlovits
Allen Toussaint (Rounder)
Allen Toussaint's “Songbook” is one powerful volume. The collection of 21 songs shows the heart and legacy of the New Orleans songwriter-singer-pianist. Recorded live at Joe's Pub in New York City, the collection includes “one or two I didn't write and wish I would had, or one or two I didn't write and glad I didn't,” Toussaint says. The songs tend to be short, done with energy and a great deal of fun. It features songs such as “Shrimp Po-Boy, Dressed,” “Soul Sister” and “Holy Cow,” which deals with the difficulty of handling a collapsing relationship. But the best part of the show is the version of his well known “Southern Nights.” In 13 minutes, he blends the song with a rich monologue about family get togethers in New Orleans. “Songbook” also includes a performance DVD with an interview of Toussaint. It is available Sept. 24.
— Bob Karlovits
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