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3 Cohens take a thrilling 'Tightrope' walk

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.


3 Cohens (Anzic)

The talent of Anat, Avishai and Yuval Cohen make this album hardly a walk on a “Tightrope.” While it sounds like a contradiction in terms, the three instrumentalists perform mostly a cappella on the album. That term really means singers without accompaniment, but, in this case, Anat's clarinets and tenor sax, Avishai's trumpet and Yuval's soprano sax are the voices. They tend to play alone, but pianist Fred Hersch joins them on “Song Without Words” and Thelonious Monk's “I Mean You.” Bassist Christian McBride sits in on “Just Squeeze Me,” and drummer Jonathan Blake is on Avishai's “Black.” But the real centerpiece is the work of the three as they offer five improvised “conversations” and creative versions of pieces such as Art Farmer's “Blueport” and a thoughtful “Estate.” Anat also give a closing “Mantra” a deep tone with her bass clarinet. With lesser players, this album would be branded “experimental”; with the Cohens, it's called “successful.”

— Bob Karlovits

‘Gathering Call'

Matt Wilson Quartet and John Medeski (Palmetto)

Drummer Matt Wilson and pianist John Medeski use their combined talents to make “Gathering Call” a near-brilliant look at jazz. From the bare melody of “Hope (For the Cause)” to the mainstream “Main Stem,” the two put together an exploration of a wide range of the music. The group, which features the saxophones of Jeff Lederer and the cornet of Kirk Knuffke, never falters in expanding its search. “Get Over, Get Off and Get On” is a blues-based tune that is rather traditional without being stale. But “Some Assembly Required” and “How Ya Going” use curious rhythms and harmonics to create a newer sound. Medeski has a big role throughout the album and stands out greatly in a duo version with Wilson of “Juanita.” They take this song from the 19th century and turn it into a thoughtful ballad. It is another look at the thinking that creates this album.

— Bob Karlovits

Strauss: ‘Don Juan,' ‘Death and Transfiguration' and ‘Till Eulenspiegel'

Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Reference Recordings)

The first release by Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on the Reference Recordings label features distinctive and compelling interpretations in committed performances heard in a new sonic perspective.

Honeck tells the stories of the three Richard Strauss tone poems using vivid contrasts within each piece. Eruptive crescendos and powerful sustained passages are more than matched with delicate and affectionate nuance. The slower passages in “Don Juan” and “Death and Transfiguration” are uncommonly slow, but are well sustained in their own ways. “Till Eulenspiegel” is exceptionally dynamic and features superb solos by principal horn William Caballero.

The recordings were made in June 2012 at Heinz Hall concerts by the Sound Mirror production company based in Boston. They have immense impact and color as well as blended sonorities more characteristic of seats upstairs than downstairs.

The large woodwind section is impressively presented, and the blend of flutes with violins is fine indeed. The brass section is less prominent than I remember from the concert I attended, though the horns could not soar more impressively than they do on this CD near the end of “Don Juan.”

String playing includes wonderful soft nuances which are very well caught by this recording, which also honestly reflects the conductor's emphasis on top and bottom lines. Solo playing is naturally set, without spotlighting.

Honeck modifies Strauss' orchestration by adding extra notes for timpani and bass drum. The most audacious of Honeck's retouchings is replacing four measures of timpani rolls in “Death and Transfiguration” with doubling of the notes played by the string basses.

— Mark Kanny

‘The Woman I Am'

Kellie Pickler (Black River Entertainment)

On her new album “The Woman I Am,” Kellie Picker merges the tradition-minded sound of her previous album with contemporary country touches in a manner that proves how well the two can blend and still speak to the modern world.

Continuing to mature into a top-class country singer, the former “American Idol” competitor has grown from a competent interpreter of others' songs into an artist with her own vision and style. As a songwriter and vocalist, she's held onto the charm of her back-country personality while growing into a confident stylist who can adapt to the glossy entertainment world that sometimes has tried to push her aside.

She's at her best on sensitive ballads (“Tough All Over,” “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” “I Forgive You”) yet nicely handles roots-rich stompers like “Selma Drye” (about her grandmother), “Buzzin' ” and “Ring For Sale.”

Add Pickler's name to the list of women making outstanding albums in a year where men dominate country radio and the media.

— Associated Press

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