Pianists take different routes to sophisticated jazz
Aaron Goldberg (Sunnyside)
David Helbock Trio (Traumton)
Pianists Aaron Goldberg and David Helbock are working in time machines. Goldberg says his album, “The Now,” is a creature of the times it was recorded. Any later or earlier session would have produced a widely different product. Helbock's “Aural Colors” owes its existence more to the past and to structured musical thinking.
“The Now” is a delightful bit of sophisticated trio jazz built around a blend of Goldberg's compositions and pieces such as a Pat Metheny-like “Trocando Em Muidos” and Charlie Parker's “Perhaps.” The bebop of the latter contrasts nicely with the smooth, Brazilian beauty of “Triste Baia da Guanabara.” The pianist is joined by bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland to form a creative unit. Helbock, meanwhile, takes his music from a pure jazz feeling to one that is a little more structured. At times, it resembles serious concert music with a jazz heart. The three movements of “Sechs kleine Klaviedstucke” (“Six Small Piano Pieces”) all have have improvisation and a drum-bass role rooted in jazz. Yet, they all seem to be more strictly confined to defined melodic lines. Don't be afraid, though. They move nicely, and “No. 2” even has a bit of soul. The band also offers “AM — Anonymous Monkaholics,” a witty look at Thelonious' sound. Meanwhile, “Para Hermelo” and “Yellow Meets Red” are bits of pure jazz.
‘Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis'
Various artists (Nonesuch)
As a tie-in to “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coen brothers' film about the New York City folk scene in the '60s, T Bone Burnett gathered an impressive cast of artists to perform folk in concert in New York City in late 2013. The double-album “Another Day, Another Time” documents that event, filmed for a Showtime special.
It's a multigenerational, collaborative affair, ranging from old-guard veterans Joan Baez and Bob Neuwirth to established stars Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and Jack White, to younger bands such as the Punch Brothers and Lake Street Dive, to the film's star, Oscar Isaac. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings anchor the proceedings, appearing on their own or with Conor Oberst, Colin Meloy or Baez. The live recording suits these acoustic, sparse songs, too, whether it's an old traditional number such as “The Midnight Special” or a newer one such as the Avett Brothers' “All My Mistakes.” The set is similar to what Burnett did with “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”: It's both a primer and a lively update.
Mark Ronson (RCA)
Producer and composer Mark Ronson goes beyond his most famous work — the warm, updated soul sound on Amy Winehouse's best recordings — to find a fired-up sonic mix for his solo efforts. With its buoyant live-band blend of electro, disco, new wave, and R&B, Ronson's 2010 “Record Collection” came close to perfection. “Uptown Special” goes just a little further. You have the lava-lamp psychedelia of its trippy tracks, with Tame Impala's Kevin Parker. You have a grittier groove, as in the aptly titled “Uptown Funk,” with partner-in-crime Bruno Mars. And you have nastier stuff, as in the James Brown-like “Feel Right,” featuring the shouted-out soul of New Orleans' Mystikal.
Ronson's instrumentalists are a huge force in “Uptown Special's” melodic funk: Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar, R&B rhythm giants Steve Jordan and Willie Weeks, harmonica giant Stevie Wonder. Like the stalwart session legends of Stax and Motown, these guys lay an exquisite groundwork for Ronson, lyricist-author Michael Chabon and their team of interpretative singers. Parker adds a cottony sound to “Daffodils,” and powerhouse Keyone Starr gives “I Can't Lose” a sensual dynamic not heard since the reign of Chaka Khan.
Meghan Trainor (Epic)
Meghan Trainor won't ever have to worry about being a one-hit wonder. Her debut “Title” (Epic) is filled with future hits she co-wrote that show off a variety of influences cobbled together into a style she can call her own.
Trainor builds on the combination of girl-group-pop and hip-hop that fuels “All About That Bass” and “Lips Are Movin'.” “Walkashame” makes the most of the sweet harmonies, before it adds the big hip-hop beats. “Mr. Almost” is Andrews Sisters-cute, too, until Shy Carter tosses in his very current rhymes. It's a catchy formula that should fill the airwaves for the rest of the year, faltering only on the clumsy ode to drummers, “Bang Dem Sticks.”
Trainor is at her best, though, in the more timeless songs. The island-tinged “No Good for You” is a sunny treat, while the classic-sounding soul ballad “Like I'm Gonna Lose You,” with John Legend, will stick with 21-year-old Trainor throughout her sure-to-be-lengthy career.