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Singers show how to handle (or not) jazz tunes

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 8:09 p.m.

‘Beautiful Life'

Dianne Reeves (Concord)

‘Promises to Burn'

Janice Borla Group (Tall Grass)

There is a good reason Dianne Reeves' current album, “Beautiful Life,” is on the Concord label rather than its jazz counterpart. Calling it jazz would simply be wrong. On this, the wonderful singer becomes only a crooner singing pretty songs. The album features great guests on each song, but even they cannot lift it much beyond background music. Trumpeter Sean Jones, under-rated saxophonist Tineke Postma, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, among others, all are part of a great side crew, but don't help clear the skies of its “Story Weather.” Just the opposite takes place with Janice Borla's “Promises to Burn.” She is part of a sextet that goes after tunes that range from Bill Evans' “Funkallero” to the contemporary sound of Bob Mintzer's “RunFerYerLife.” Besides tunes that have the modern jazz sound of Lennie Tristano's “Lennie's Pennies,” the album also includes a laid-back reading of “Some Other Time” from Leonard Bernstein's “On the Town.” Guitarist John McLean, saxophonist Scott Robinson and trumpeter Art Davis add solos that create the jazz so lacking on the Reeves release.

— Bob Karlovits

‘The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint'

Ambrose Akinmusire (Blue Note)

From its opening “Marie Christie” to a 16-minute “Richard,” the new album by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is something of a suite disguised as a jazz album. “The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint” is a work of more than 75 minutes that, at times, finds a comfortable jazz groove. Mostly, however, it is an examination of seriously structured music with a jazz-flavored vocabulary. For instance, “Our Basement” has a haunting lyric sung by Becca Stevens and is supported by a string quartet. “Ballad for Those Absent” is a recited list of names of people involved in violent, racially connected incidents. “Bubbles,” in a sextet with saxophonist Walter Smith, is accessible but, at the same time, is aggressive and forceful in its structure. The most disappointing piece is the long “Richard,” which hints it will be a tour de force for Akinmusire's excellent play but never gets beyond its repetitious, directionless manner.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life'

Various Artists (Rhino)

One of the greatest heavy-metal vocalists, Ronnie James Dio left an indelible mark on the genre through his work with Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his solo career. The tribute album “Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life” brings some of the biggest names in metal to honor Dio, who died in 2010 of stomach cancer. Proceeds from the album go to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. Tops here is an epic nine-minute medley by Metallica that starts and ends with “A Light in the Black” and weaves in “Tarot Woman,” “Stargazer” and the frenetic concert opener “Kill the King,” probably Dio's best Rainbow song. Adrenaline Mob's cover of “The Mob Rules” sounds so much like Dio, it's scary, and Anthrax adds a molten version of “Neon Knights.” A big disappointment is Judas Priest singer Rob Halford fronting a Dio solo-band lineup on a low-octave version of “Man on the Silver Mountain,” where you keep waiting for vocal bombast that never happens. And was there really no one better than comedian Jack Black to cover the classic “Last in Line?”

— Associated Press

‘The Rite of Spring'

The Bad Plus (Sony Masterworks)

The Bad Plus has taken on many guises over its career, tapping the songs of Aphex Twin, Ornette Coleman and Black Sabbath along with its own to craft a sound rooted in jazz but most consistent with a genre called The Bad Plus. Now, for the ninth studio recording, the trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King is taking on an orchestra. Tackling Stravinsky's knotty masterpiece “The Rite of Spring” may sound audacious, but the trio has been here before, delivering a stout take on the composer's “Variation d'Apollon” on the 2009 album “For All I Care.” Buoyed by Anderson's plucked bass and King's surging cymbals, Iverson zigzags through “Spring Rounds,” which dissolves to a flickering finish akin to the start of a rain. “Games of the Two Rival Tribes” gallops atop Iverson's unraveling melody, and “The Sage/Dance of the Earth” coalesces behind the rhythm section into a misshapen sort of swing. The Bad Plus mostly sets aside improvisation in an effort to capture Stravinsky's modernist vision, but, in some ways, it's never sounded freer.

— Los Angeles Times

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