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CD reviews: Saxophonists Fuller, Herring not to be missed

| Sunday, July 11, 2010

'Decisive Steps'

Tia Fuller (Mack Avenue)

'Morning Star'

Vincent Herring and Earth Star (Challenge)

Saxophonists Tia Fuller and Vincent Herring are not to be passed up. On her "Decisive Steps," Fuller rips through a collection of 10 mostly original songs, showing a soulful approach but a technique that is speedier and more dignified than expected. The album is highlighted by a visit from Pittsburgh's Sean Jones, who offers a solo on the blistering "Windsoar" that increases the temperature Fuller sets. While the album generally is a display of her toughness, she exhibits ballad skills on "I Can't Get Started," which features a visit from bassist Christian McBride. Meanwhile, Herring's "Morning Star" takes an equally contemporary approach to an equally original lineup. He offers a slightly soulful version of John Coltrane's "Naima," but the album is dominated by tunes such as "The Thang," a bit of funk from keyboard player Anthony Wonsey. Fuller's album is more dramatic in its excitement, but Herring lifts his album with well-conceived solos. The album also includes the bass work of Pittsburgh native Richie Goods.

— Bob Karlovits

'Jasmine'

Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden (ECM)

Pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Charlie Haden create near-definitive duo work on "Jasmine." Offering marvelous versions of eight songs that are mostly ballads, their work is flawless in performance and understanding of each other. Jarrett's play, obviously, creates the dominant sound on the album, but Haden's backup work also takes a large role. Add to that his well-conceived solos, and the work on the album is as equal as a duo should be. The best number probably is "For All We Know," which is presented in a way that reflects the existential questions it raises. But "I'm Going to Laugh You Right Out of My Life," with its opening solo statement by Jarrett, is a near rival. They offer a version of "Body and Soul" that is slightly brighter than would be expected, and also show that easy-going mood on "No Moon at All." Joe Sample's "One Day I'll Fly Away" is a rather overlooked gem, and Jarrett and Haden polish it to a new brightness. Like most of Jarrett's efforts, this is a must.

— Bob Karlovits

'Custom Built'

Bret Michaels (Poor Boy)

If there's one thing Bret Michaels learned in winning this year's top prize on "The Celebrity Apprentice," it's expanding a brand to appeal to the widest possible audience. Michaels drenches his new disc, "Custom Built," in country-fried grease that's a jarring departure from his 1980s-hair metal franchise. It's a strategy that paid off for fellow hair heroes Bon Jovi with "Lost Highway," which became one of their biggest albums ever. Michaels does likewise here, reprising Poison's power ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" with Brad Arnold, Chris Cagle and Mark Willis. And his duet with Miley Cyrus on "Nothing To Lose" is catchy enough to become a major hit. But ultimately, this all sounds and feels fake, the obvious attempt of a guyliner metalhead pandering to a new demographic. It's doubtful true country fans will love this album, and just as doubtful Michaels' metal minions will warm to it either. Don't underestimate Michaels, who is one of the hottest rockers around right now. After the fiddles and steel guitars are packed away, it won't be long before he's back in pink and purple spandex, belting out "Talk Dirty To Me."

— The Associated Press

'Street Songs Of Love'

Alejandro Escovedo (Fantasy)

Alejandro Escovedo is a lifelong rock 'n' roll striver who isn't about to let up until he gets his due. From his punk beginnings with the Nuns, to the '80s guitar-army brother act True Believers, to the chamber-rock swagger he's brought to a highly productive solo career, the Austin, Texas, songwriter has long been in the business of making intelligent, impassioned records that leave ardent supporters to scratch their heads and wonder why he's not more famous. On "Street Songs Of Love," Escovedo, again working with producer Tony Visconti and frequent co-writer Chuck Prophet, turns up the volume on a bracing set of lovelorn tunes that gather wall-of-sound force, then break for interludes of contemplative beauty. Highlights include "Tula," a touching tribute to the late Mississippi novelist Larry Brown; the rousing "Faith," a heart-swelling duet with Bruce Springsteen; and the closing "Fort Worth Blue," a delicate instrumental elegy to Stephen Bruton, the guitarist-producer and Escovedo collaborator who died last year.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

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