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CD reviews: Guitarist Julian Lage shows he's an up-and-comer

| Sunday, June 12, 2011


Julian Lage Group (Emarcy)

Guitarist Julian Lage leads a 21st-century jazz-chamber group on "Gladwell." It is made up of Lage's acoustic and electric guitar, tenor sax, bass, cello and drums, and focuses on cohesive unit play almost more than individual efforts. The latter are there, of course, but what makes the album stand out are the work of the whole on works such as "Listening Walk" and "Cocoon," which are energetic and contemplative, respectively. The created-on-the-spot nature of "Autumn Leaves" does that, too, this time in a more jazz-oriented way. Somewhere in between the two schools is "Margaret," a display of ensemble and solo work. All over the album, Lage, who also is a member of vibist Gary Burton's current band, shows delicate and thoughtful work as fine upcoming voice in jazz.

— Bob Karlovits

'Community Immunity'

Curtis MacDonald (Greenleaf)

"Community Immunity" is an odd assortment of music in its imaginative and daring nature. Built around Curtis MacDonald's crisp alto sax wailing, it offers music that is never quite melodic, but always is listenable and creative. It ranges from driving, angular, aggressive pieces such as "Second Guessing" to "The Imagineer," an almost-gentle bit of wandering. MacDonald's play is facile and tonally solid but never relaxed. His solos don't seem to develop melodically, but they are far more than explorations of arpeggios. Some pieces are particularly striking. "Mosaic" wants to be melodic, but never quite gets there. Yet, it stands out in its final statement, when MacDonald is accompanied by Becca Stevens doing a wordless vocal and the violin of Andrea Tyniec. "The Living Well" is a cooker based an fast, etude-like statement. Nowhere is this album predictable or easy-going, but never is it unlistenable.

— Bob Karlovits

'This Is Country Music'

Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

This is country music, indeed. Unlike a lot of superstars, Brad Paisley does more than just pay lip service to the tradition. But there's a reason he's also the CMA entertainer of the year -- he has the talent and charisma to make the music accessible to a modern audience. "This Is Country Music" follows the familiar Paisley pattern, going for a split between dark realities and sunny pleasures. Much of it stands with his best: "A Man Don't Have to Die" and "I Do Now" are sobering ballads that never get maudlin; "Eastwood" is a brisk western instrumental that showcases his guitar prowess alongside a whistling Clint; "Life's Railway to Heaven" takes a bluegrass spin on the gospel standard with Marty Stuart and Sheryl Crow; and "Don't Drink the Water" is a rousing honky-tonk lark with Blake Shelton. At 15 songs, however, the album could use some paring. "Remind Me" is another duet with Carrie Underwood that's not much better than their previous exercise in sap, "Then." Paisley is also growing too fond of glib throwaways that seek to play on his sly boy-next-door charm, and he pads this set with at least three forgettable ones: "Camouflage," "Working on a Tan," and "Be the Lake."

— The Philadelphia Inquirer


Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi (Capitol)

"Rome" is a soundtrack album without a movie, a spaghetti Western ode to Sergio Leone in which promiscuous producer Brian Burton, also known as Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, Broken Bells, U2), teams with Italian composer Daniele Luppi and a pair of distinctive vocalists named Jack White and Norah Jones. Recorded in the City of Seven Hills at Forum Studios, once Orthophonic Studios, where Leone recorded the mind-bending, evocative scores for "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in the West," the new "Rome" might risk being too respectful of its source material were it not for White and Jones. The vocalists bring a personal touch to their role-playing, with White well suited to the role of crooning caballero riding into town at sunset (and sounding more at ease than in any of his other recent side projects) and Jones bringing enough sultry eroticism to tunes like "Season's Trees" and "Problem Queen" to assure that there's more to "Rome" than just captivating atmospherics.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

'Director's Cut'

Kate Bush (Fish People)

Kate Bush originally wanted the title track of 1989's "The Sensual World" to include passages from Molly Bloom's soliloquy at the end of James Joyce's "Ulysses," but Joyce's estate denied permission. Recently, that changed, and the reclusive singer rerecorded the song as originally envisioned, retitling it "Flower of the Mountain." That prompted her to revisit 10 other songs from that album and its successor, 1993's "The Red Shoes," to record new vocals (and some new drums) and remix the original tracks. These aren't radical reimaginings, aside from electronic manipulations to "Deeper Understanding" and a few others, and Bush's vocals usually follow the originals' contours. Fans will definitely want to hear "Flower" and the minimalist "This Woman's Work." But ultimately, "Director's Cut" is a fascinating placeholder -- there's an album of new material in the works, rumor has it -- and a gift to the already converted.

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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